Pyrography, the art of burning words and images into wood and other materials, has been around for a long time. Although the oldest known surviving example of pyrography was dated to before 700 AD, many experts believe pyrography to be much older, over 3000 years.
In its oldest forms, experts believe it would have been done by using charred wood or stones heated in a fire, on something like clay or soft wood. However, no known examples of this survive.
Pyrography in the Past
Peru is believed to be one of the birthplaces of pyrography, with the oldest known example being a container decorated with hummingbirds and flowers. Pyrography in warmer countries where gourds grow was often done on the hardened and dried shells of gourds. A lot of these have been found in South America.
The earliest known work from North America was dated 1819, and is an engraved and colored wood panel of a gentleman and a lady standing on either side of a tall flowering plant.
Pyrography has a long history in Europe, with it becoming especially popular during the Victorian era. Earlier artwork in Europe includes the piece worked by artist Joseph Smith, who created the portrait of the Earl of Camden in 1816.
In 1960 Pablo Picasso made a wooden box for barber instruments as a gift for his friend, and engraved on it with pyrography a bullfight and the words “Para mi buen amigo Arias”, meaning “To my good friend Arias”.
The Differences Between Now and Then
Leaps and bounds have been made in the advancement of wood burning tools. The machines used nowadays by artists leave the old poker methods in the dust when it comes to intricate designs and speed of work.
Doing pyrography was a very long process before the invention of the soldering iron in 1921 and soon after that the basic pyrography pen. Artists would have to heat metal pokers in a fire and then quickly do as much as they could, before having to heat the poker again.
Machines like the soldering iron and solid-point burner that would heat up relatively quickly and stay hot for the whole process made the art a lot simpler.
Nowadays, pyrography is a lot easier to get the hang of and there are a huge range of tools available to use. Materials on which to do art is also easier to get, and pyrography art is done on wood, leather, dried gourds, bone, even paper and eggshells.
The Art of Today
Pyrography is a widespread hobby all around the world. It’s now easier than ever to begin and the range of tools and materials available to pyrographers mean artists never have to run out of inspiration.
Some pyrographers are able to make a living solely off selling their art online. A trend that has been picked up is decorating musical instruments like guitars and violins with pyrography, and often the results are stunning.
With the invention of laser cutters sensitive enough to use for pyrography and wire-nib burners, the art is becoming more and more advanced and refined, and pictures can be almost as lifelike as photographs.
Pyrography was not only a prominent art in the past but will no doubt continue to be an art in the future as well.