by David Hinkson
There is an old expression, “When one door is closed, another one opens”. And for artist Wayne Johnson, the closing of Barbados’ doors during the COVID-19 lockdown period between March and June 2020 certainly opened a new and so far, highly promising door as he entered into a new artistic field, that of pyrography, or wood burning
Johnson explained: “I was an airbrush artist at the Savannah Hotel, doing portraits and other work for guests, but of course when the lockdown came, the visitors stopped coming and that market dried up.
“However, I ended up watching some videos showing an artistic technique called pyrography, which was new to me, and I thought I would give it a try.”
He said it came to him fairly easily based on his experience as an artist, but it truly brought out some new skills in him and tested his mettle beyond what he was accustomed to before.
“It has taught me a lot of discipline and patience for sure. Normally with oils or water colours, you control the work, but this one can control you, because there is no room for error. With a brush you can always change the strokes if it doesn’t come out to your liking, but once the wood is burned you cannot do much to change it.”
The artist said he uses treated half inch interior decorating plywood as his “canvas” as well as wood burners with different tips as his “brushes”.
“I have found the interior decorating plywood to be the best material thus far, because the exterior wood can give you either lighter or darker shades depending on the project, and that does not always work.
“Treated wood is also important since it guarantees greater longevity. The tips come in different sizes and shapes, for example there is one I can use if I want to create ripple effects, but I find that I can play around with the various tips and get the effect I want. However, some tips are thinner than others and can burn out if you apply too much heat to them.”
On that subject, Johnson continued: “Temperature control is very important. Some designs are relatively straightforward, but for more intricate work you will need to vary the temperatures, for example when doing portraits.
“Now when you are drawing or painting a portrait with a live subject, you can get it done pretty quickly, but with pyrography, it takes longer. You can do a simple silhouette in a day, but filling in further details may take two or three days.”
Although he has only been into pyrography for the last 15 months, his work has already received significant recognition.
“The United States Embassy commissioned me to do a piece depicting its building in Barbados for one of its admirals who was visiting the island, and two other diplomats at that Embassy have asked me to do pieces for them as well.
“One of my works depicting musical icons including Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, John Lennon and Mick Jagger among others is now on display at Mojo’s in Worthing.”
“The National Cultural Foundation has also approached me and asked me about teaching classes, so I am planning to send them a list of materials because each student would have to bring their own burners and so on.
“I think it would be good to teach pyrography in our schools because not only is it a new skill the children will develop, but it will also teach them important lessons in terms of patience and discipline.
“This is an art form that you have to “caress”; you cannot be too aggressive with it. It teaches you humility and tolerance and helps you to stay focused.”