A fiery talent

Most artists reach for a pencil and paper to create works of art, but senior Jonathan Tan’s tools of choice are fire and wood.

For nearly three years, Tan has practiced pyrography, the concise burning of wood to create images and designs, as a self-taught artist.

“A few years ago, I got my first wood burning kit for Christmas,” Tan said.

Soon after, Tan started an Instagram account, @jt_pyrography, for his pyrography and started posting pictures of his art.

“I wanted to document my progress and see how much I improved,” Tan said.

Recently, Tan posted his most complex artwork to date: a sea serpent. After around four hours of sketching and five hours of burning over the course of one and a half weeks, the project was complete.

“I’ve never taken art classes or anything, so I was surprised by how well it turned out,” Tan said.

Given that Tan’s work requires lots of attention to detail and precision, one of the main tools he uses is a thin, a wire-tipped burning tool.

“Most experts use the wire tip because you get more flexibility with what you want to do and you can also modify the tips you use,” Tan said.

Due to its thinness, the wire tip heats quickly and makes consistency difficult. If not careful enough, the heat variability can easily cause uneven burning, leading to unwanted errors.

“If you mess up, you might think that there’s no way to fix it, but actually you can sand the wood, which removes the top layer,” Tan says.  

However, sanding erases errors up to a certain degree and the resulting wood may look pockmarked. In order to better plan his pieces, Tan thinks about how an image would look in greyscale and sketches a design using pencil on a plank of wood. Afterwards, he goes over the sketch with a burning tool, adding texture, detail and depth of tone to the plank. Most of the wood he works with comes from Michaels, but on occasion he switches to a different medium such as coconuts.  

“With pyrography you only have one color: black,” Tan said. “You just have to learn how to shade really well like in pencil sketching, where you control the tone by applying pressure.”

Tan plans on selling the piece, along with his complete collection of artwork, on Etsy. He and his sister started a joint account one month ago where she sells her calligraphy and stickers alongside his pyrography. However, only his sister’s artwork is up for sale as of now; Tan hasn’t listed his pyrography on the site.

Due to college applications, Tan hasn’t been able to work on his craft. When he’s free, Tan said he plans to continue being an independent artist and to sell more artwork online.

For the time being, however, he’s content with being part of the online pyrography community he discovered three years ago.