Sunday, December 7, 2008

Burn, Baby, Burn!

It's 6 pm on a lovely evening in late fall and my 19 year old daughter Jenna bursts into the kitchen in characteristic high drama, "Something's burning! Mom!? Do you smell that? Somethings on fire!!! And so it is. It's my lovely colored pencil drawing that I've just spent the last month or so working on. I'm sitting in my studio bent over my work with a small wood burning tool. As I carefully singe the drawing perimeter, occasionally stamping out small areas that burn too fast, ash is flying thither and yon. If Jenna thinks I'm crazy, my kindhearted girl keeps it to herself, accepts my explanation and moves back into the safety of the world outside my studio door.  

What has brought me to this? It started a couple of years ago while I was working on a large colored pencil/collage project for a restaurant  in Alaska. The piece included several small vignette drawings mounted on a larger drawing of Mt. McKinley. I wanted something to give the piece a rugged, antiqued look and suddenly that old image from Bonanza popped into my head - remember the burning map accompanied by the theme music? Remember Hoss and Little Joe? Remember Dinah Shore singing "See the USA in your Chevrolet"?
Anyway, back to my project. Inspired by the Bonanza map, I got out my handy little wood burning tool and set to work. I liked the effect I got on the Canson mi tientes paper. Since then, I've used this burning (brulage) technique on many of my block prints and several colored pencil pieces as well. 

The piece above, "Conundrum", is a good example, as well as being one of my favorite recent pieces. In this piece, colored pencil was applied in gentle vertical strokes on Lama Li paper. As the paper is quite fragile, I had to be very careful to limit the number of colors that I layered. Too much and the paper would tear. Once the colored pencil application was complete, I sprayed the surface with workable matte fixative and set to work burning the edges. I have tried many different type of papers and the Lami Li burns the best. Occasionally the "burn" takes off in a glowing creep. I usually let it go a bit to see what kind of interesting shapes evolve and then quickly stamp it out when I feel it's run it's course. (It's important to keep a small fan or a breeze from an open window going, to keep from inhaling the smoke.) Also, very important to occasionally blow the accumulating ash off of the paper and the work surface. Once I'm satisfied with the results, I turn the piece over on a clean sheet of newsprint and carefully tap and brush the loose ash off. The finished piece is then sprayed with acid free adhesive, applied to mat board and pressed under weights overnight.  

It's not a quick and easy procedure but I really do love the effect it gives and it works especially well with small block prints. Actually, if truth be told, I love the process as well. The act of painstakingly destroying a portion of something I've just created is quite satisfying. I wonder what a psychotherapist would have to say about that? Well, that's my burnt paper story and I'm stickin' to it.

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