What is Pyrography?

Malcolm Tatum

Pyrography is a form of art that involves the use of burn marks to create images and other designs on wood, leather, or similar materials. Sometimes referred to as wood burning or pokerwork, this art form has been around for centuries. Examples of this technique can be traced back to ancient Egypt as well as a number of African tribes.

Driftwood is a popular material used to make pyrography.
Driftwood is a popular material used to make pyrography.

In order to create an art piece using pyrography, all that is required is a heated tool of some sort, and an appropriate surface that serves as the canvas for the images. The tip of the tool is applied to the surface, leaving behind a slightly scorched indentation. Multiple applications together create the image or design desired by the artist. It is possible to use wood sections that are sanded and relatively flat, or inscribe images onto objects such as driftwood. In like manner, images can be applied to sections of tanned leather.

Wood burning is a popular type of pyrography.
Wood burning is a popular type of pyrography.

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The heating tool used in pyrography varies. Simple approaches include using a standard metal fire poker that is heated in an open fire. It is also possible to heat the tip of a section of wire and use this approach to creating highly detailed designs in leather or wood. Over time, artists engaged in this type of art learned how to shape different tips for use in the design. This makes it possible to create images that are not unlike pen and ink sketches.

Along with the traditional method, it is also possible to utilize machinery in the creation of pyrography. There are two specific types of machines that are used to mass-produce art of this kind. Wire-point machines provide the ability to create highly detailed images and designs. Solid-point machines are configured with tips that vary in size and shape, and are often excellent for stamping an image onto a piece of wood or leather.

The choice of wood for the creation of pyrography art makes a difference in the appearance of the final design. When a relatively plain background is required, artists will use woods with a finer grain. However, there are some artists who prefer wood where the grain is more pronounced, incorporating the rich layers of shading into the design itself.

Along with using wood and leather, some pyrography artists will utilize other objects. One popular alternative is a hard-shell gourd that has been thoroughly dried. By varying the size and dimensions of the gourds, it is possible to create an attractive set of art objects that are ideal for display in the home or office. Just as wood can be sealed once the images are burned onto the surface, gourds can be treated to enhance and protect the wood burns so the images retain their appearance for many years.

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Discussion Comments


Use a solid point burner. You can buy tips to do almost anything, from shading to calligraphy. They even sell them in kits.

To add color to your burning, use oil pencils, then seal.

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