Burned Illustrations

Seeing Nature in Fifty Shades of Brown

A burned wood image created by illustrator Jessie O’Brien.

Courtesy photo

Illustrator Jessie O’Brien fell in love with the smell of burning wood. “The curl of smoke wafting through the air is very cozy — and it smells like a nice wood fire.” Using only two wood-burning tools, a “skew” and a “shader,” the Londonderry artist is able to create a life-like illustration on a flat piece of maple, plywood or a slice of burl in a medium called pyrography.

The drawing tools are temperature-controlled and she can inscribe a range of shades of brown. “They are like a sepia drawing,” she says, though her work is so realistic you could almost say a sepia photograph.

Her favorite wood surface is maple burl, a kind of crazy mass that can grow on old trees. She is able to purchase slices about one inch thick and then works with the irregular shape, grain and pattern, adding her rendering of a howling wolf, wise owl, raging tiger or just intense animal eyes in painstaking realism.
Although the purists in pyrography just use burning tools, O’Brien, as a trained portrait artist and art teacher, is comfortable with brushwork and adds white or a few colors in gouache to build more realism.

She has already taken first place honors in a couple of national competitions after first discovering the medium in a book about seven years ago. Her work can be found at League of New Hampshire Craftsmen shops in North Conway, Meredith (where she also teaches), Nashua and Concord.

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