Welcome to my blog! My name is Jes and I am a pyrography artist living in Brighton, on the South Coast of England. This post is a little bit about me and how I came to be a pyrography artist.
Firstly, what is pyrography? Pyrography is an art form whereby the surface cells of wood are burnt with hot wire to produce a permanent colouration without the need for varnishes or paint, though these can be applied in addition if desired. So how did I become a pyrography artist and what are my influences?
I come from a working family, and although I’ve never had a lot of money, I inherited a sense of determination to see the world with an open mind. By the time I turned 18 I was exploring remote areas of India’s Himalayas, teaching children in a tribal community. I adored India, the bustling markets- a plethora of sensational colours, smells, and noise, the traffic ridden cities, dust covered rural paths, and the stunning beauty of the mountains. I stayed in India for three short months, a trip designed for disadvantaged young people in the UK to experience different cultures and to offer a positive influence to struggling communities. I have always wanted to return, but my life (so far) has taken other directions.
After my trip to India, I went to University to study animals (and to take advantage of the travel opportunities which took me to study rhino in Africa, and then later to track wolves and lynx in Poland). I graduated top of my class in both my undergraduate degrees (Animal Science FdSc and Animal Science and Management BSc). I used my bursaries and the money I gained from a local cleaning job to fund a three month trip to Mexico where I worked in a variety of settings from botanical labs in Mexico City analysing faecal seed deposits of monkeys, to collecting samples and tracking monkeys and jaguar in the jungle on the border of Guatemala. I came home to the UK the day of my enrolment at Oxford Brookes University, jet lagged and with nowhere to live. After enrolling on the Primate Conservation Masters Degree course, and managing to find the only dog-friendly flat in the city, I studied in Oxford for one year with my boyfriend and my rescued lurcher. I loved Oxford for it’s architecture, the nature inspired stone carvings, gothic gargoyles, and cobbled streets. After my last semester, I returned to Mexico where I lead an enrichment program for rescued spider monkeys, at a small monkey sanctuary that I had fallen in love with during my first trip. I spent three months working in 40 degree heat, battling the daily plague of mosquitoes and monsoon rains whilst living in a two man tent with no electricity or running water. I absolutely thrived. Again, I found myself not wanting to leave, but my usual lack of money meant I had to return home to my parents house to write up my thesis and look for work.
After a very difficult year of unemployment, despite applying for somewhere in the region of 300 jobs, I was becoming increasingly burdened with lack of motivation. I was over-qualified, under-qualified, too experienced, too inexperienced, and everything in between. Unable to repay the lengthily bank “career development loan” which supported me through my masters degree, and unable to finance a PhD, I became totally disillusioned with rejection. I had worked so hard and invested everything to gain my “dream job” …or any job. My plans to return to Mexico kept getting postponed, and my trip back to India had been pushed into the realm of a pipe-dream. I longed to do something worthwhile, and to do something that was valued. I started a little venture to live as low-impact as I could, seeing the time in limbo as an opportunity to try a new life style and to really evaluate my affect on the planet. I gave up bottled shampoo, plastic razors and toothbrushes, instead opting for bio-degradable alternatives, and I started shopping in bulk (a hard thing to do in the UK). I found my curiosity of nature was being satisfied with learning about my place on our planet. Learning about the plethora of ways our daily lives impact the environment, from the food we buy to throw away, to the amount of nightmarish chemicals we dump in our landfill, our oceans, and even lather onto our skin.
It was this time that I found a local project based upon a successful food waste initiative that had started in Leeds- The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP). Whilst I was still receiving daily job rejection letters, I dedicated myself to volunteering for TRJFP Brighton. We collected and cooked edible food that was surplus to supermarkets and food vendors, feeding people on a donation basis whether it be in money or time or a helping hand. I ran the project with four other volunteers for 11 months, during which time I also volunteered in the Calais Jungle distributing aid to refugees. I fed my cultural curiosity by meeting people from all over the world in Calais, from volunteers to refugees; but most importantly I gained perspective.
I learned that I wasn’t so much looking for my dream job, as I was seeking to find my identity. But how can a person grow when the world they are living in takes but doesn’t give? Like everyone I met on the food project and in Calais, it was never a person’s ambition, drive, dedication, intelligence, or courage, that was the problem. It was the political and economic instabilities that fracture a person’s worth and often removes their chosen and personally crafted identity. The homeless person you pass on the street is just that, homeless, but when he sat in our Brighton cafe he was an equal. A person with his own story and interests, and his identity was not simply based upon what he lacked. I had allowed my identity to be that of a failed post-graduate, an unemployment statistic, one of the thousands within generation Y with more debt than income, astronomical rent prices, and that metaphorical property ladder fading beyond reach. All I wanted to do was live modestly with independence and a chance of saving some money to travel again.
I chose to do this through art. I’ve always been an avid drawer. At University I used drawing as a way to relax, to unwind from the stresses of exams and assignment deadlines. My artwork always comprised of crosshatch line drawing with biro on paper. I started pyrography when my boyfriend saw my drawings as more than doodles. As a talented carpenter, he sees raw material as more than what meets the eye. He can envision what those materials will become if careful skill and consideration is applied, and so he bought me a hobbyist pyrography pen and told me to draw with it. Within a month I had burnt out the poor hobbyist kit from sheer exhaustion after using it to burn Christmas presents for my friends and family for hours each day.
I shared the progress of each piece on my instagram account, which soon became busy with people checking in from all over the world, following my work and asking me for tips and advice. It was this that really persuaded me that pyrography might just be more than a way to unwind.
I now pyrography full time from my studio in Brighton, though I am looking for a bigger space for the near future. I also use a professional pyrography tool that can cope with the amount of use I put it through. I have found my passion lies with oak, what I can only describe to be the most ruggedly beautiful material in its aesthetic and folk character. I draw and burn what I love: animals, nature, and patterns that remind me of the places I’ve seen whilst travelling. I like to use pointillism, to create both delicate and heavily shaded imagery with an added story as a dedicated process. I love the all consuming nature of pointillism, which I feel does justice to a material that requires so much time in its life to mature, and then so much time after life to season. I carefully select each piece of oak based upon the drawing that will be etched and burned into its surface. I like to incorporate the grain and work with the natural contorts of the wood. I only use natural products to finish my art, bees wax and Tung Oil to name examples, both come from nature. I use unwanted clothes for rags, and all my left over’s (which are very few!) are burned in our fire place to keep us warm. In pyrography I found a way to connect with my passions, to live an environmentally friendly low impact lifestyle, and focus my thoughts on animals, nature, and travelling, the things which make me happy. In art I have found the calm in the storm that is living as a 26 year old in a complicated and often unjust Britain. Don’t ever be defined by an inability to meet societies expectations. Be defined by finding your own way to live, on your own terms. That, is your identity.