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Woodburning & Pyrography

‘I can smell the softly waffling stream of smoke as the pen burns into the wood. I am concentrating to keep a steady hand and a keen eye on the image that is coming to life…’

My little loon bedside table box.

Woodburning is something I really got into for a while, which was inspired by my lake life, though I was, for the most part unable to do this craft while at the lake because my cabin world has no power. For most people up at my lake, they have upgraded so many systems and most people have some sort of power now, so they can ‘plug’ in to a power source when they need a tool running such as in woodburning. I always called this type of activity ‘woodburning’, I had actually never heard the term, ‘Pyrography’ when I started out, to be truthful. I have since heard and recognize the terms, and now I know that if you are doing this craft you are referred to as a ‘burner’, or a ‘pyrocrafter’.  I was inspired to try this based on the wealth of shapes that have inspired me, shapes based on the forest, such as trees, grasses, and bushes, but mostly I wanted to recreate images of the animals, reptiles, insects, birds, and fish that live in my lake environment. 

I loved to burn the images of animals into the sticks.

In this day and age there are so many ways to create a design to use to woodburn. I started out by drawing the images all by hand, while referring to books and magazines I had at the cabin. Later, when I got going into more elaborate designs, I did trace one or two out of books, because in those days I was completely unaware of copyright laws back then. May I say to you that my intention was to create woodburned pieces for personal enjoyment and use, and not for resale. Today, there are many ways to find copyright-free, or royalty-free images with which to use in your projects. Furthermore, you can now integrate computer programs, with clip art and royalty-free designs and images with which to use for this type of craft. If you are going to do woodburning for commercial purposes please ensure you are using legally safe images for your work. As I was doing my art, as a hobby for myself, and to make pieces honouring the creatures who reside at my lake, and to simply use my pieces as a means to decorate my cabin, I just referred to what ever I could find as images, mostly books around the cabin or my city home that I already owned. Robert Bateman’s art is exquisite, and I have been a big fan of his for as long as I can remember. I own several of his books. I did refer to some of his pictures of animals for my woodburning projects. Thank you, Robert, you are a genius at what you do.  My ‘spirit’ animal at the lake is The Common Loon, and so I woodburned a loon image on the lid of a small trinket box. For many years, this box has sat on the dresser by my bed, for those few little odds and ends, such as my lake jewellery, to go into. I was very pleased with the box when I finished it. 

A spider, a 'creative' symbol.

I also woodburned a little wooden disc with a spider on it. That piece has sat on my cabin bookshelf for several years. Spiders are not my favourite thing, so I am not even sure why I used a spider as an image source. The funny thing is that the finished piece has always sat on that bookshelf, the one that is nudged up by the front corner of the cabin, and I will say, that is the one place that always tends to get a healthy complement of spiders and webbing. It is one of the first places I clean when I arrive back up to my cabin and is truly the one place that appears to be my cabin spiders’ fave homing spot. Is it coincidence then that I did that spider wood project and it sits there? Maybe, it’s been so many years now since I did it, but it surely a fitting spot. The spirit stone meaning of a spider is ‘creative’, and, there is nothing more incredibly creative than the intricacy of a beautiful spider web, though I prefer them to be outside, and not inside. A spider web inside spells there is a spider inside. I saw a granddaddy sized one here once in the bedroom. As ‘bush girl’ as I consider myself, I did no sleep as well for a few days.

My biggest projects accomplished while I was on my ‘woodburning fling’, were the walking sticks I created. I made several, but I will mention the three or four of the most special ones I did in this story. The first project was a walking stick I found, a piece of driftwood, I think, and it had a small forked area where there was a branch joint at the top. I woodburned several animal images into this stick, from the bottom up, and it became one of the most important items I have owned in my life. The walking stick was originally just going to be something I made for one of my boys, with a plan, of course, to do a second one for my other child. This first stick had groupings of scenes, and I burned a loon and her chick in the water, a frog, a squirrel, an owl, an eagle, a wolf, an elk, a mountain range and several trees. Finally, I woodburned my son’s name on it.

The owl on the 'Magic Stick'.

At the time, my boys were in their youth, and attending the Scouting Programs, which I have always been a huge fan of. They did Beavers, and Cubs, and then Scouts, before they started to lose interest in those teenage years. So, when you own a piece of property in the forest on a lake, off-grid, and remote, as I am fortunate enough to have, it is a brilliant idea to have your children attend the Scouting or Girl Guide programs because they learn so much about the natural environment and learn invaluable survival skills. I myself, was a Brownie and a Girl Guide.

The second woodburning cane I did for the other son, encompasses images related to Scouting, survival and the wilderness. I will go into more detail in a minute, so please read on. I would like to still explain about the first woodburning walking stick I did, the ‘Magic Stick’.

Two of the biggest influences (and blessings) of my life were my lake property, and my children. As I had been coming to the lake since I was a small child, lake life, and being out in nature was a huge part of my life. When I got married and had my children, I brought my husband and then my children to my most loved place in the world. And so, my woodburning projects were based on the lake creatures and my children. That first walking stick became the subject of a book I wrote for my boys called ‘The Magic Stick’. (You will find other references to it in my posts and stories, and I am, at the time of this writing, editing and working on the illustrations for it to digitally publish it myself).  The story is, in a nutshell, a story about two young boys at a lake who end up on a fabulous treasure hunt along the lake, after finding a message in a bottle, and then another message. (I won’t reveal too much here, I’ll save it for the young readers out there). The boys end up with a ‘Magic Stick’, and one boy receives a spell, wherein he is able to transform into different living creatures, such as a loon or a squirrel and live as the creature for a time. This was my way to teach my children about the wildlife at my lake. My stories about the young boy as he lived as an animal or, bird, or crayfish, etc., was a means of teaching them through listening to the adventures I dreamed up and wrote. Naturally, I did a fair amount of research with which to share in the stories about the creatures so they got the correct information. The ‘Magic Stick’ that I had woodburned and created, was the catalyst in the story with its magic powers of transformation for the young boy. I had my son pose for a picture with ‘The Magic Stick’, when he was young, and I will be using it for the book. (Sometimes I take pictures because I would like to do something special with them one day, and not just because I am enjoying the photos I take. In this instance, I am delighted that I took the photo with my young son, because he is now grown, married and over 6+ feet tall, and in his 30’s. I could hardly get him to pose for the special ‘Magic Stick’ photo these days.) I always believed in reading bedtime stories to my children when they were little, and so, when we were at the cabin it was no different. As they snuggled down in their little bunk beds, I read to them, The Magic Stick, often by flashlight, because my cabin was so dimly lit back then. I would ask them as they snuggled into bed which animal or creature they would like to hear about that night, and they would ask for the loon story, or the beaver story, or whatever. It was a beautiful time in my life to have my boys living and learning and loving my beautiful lake life. It was a truly magical time of my life. I have always loved being a Mom, and being a Lake Mom was the best thing in the world. The second walking stick I produced was a little more sophisticated than my first one, that is, ‘The Magic Stick’. The intention of this second one was to be more practical piece, and to be used as a reference for those Scouting trips as well as lake vacations. This walking stick had not only pictures of animals, mountains, forests, etc., burned into it, but animal footprint references, a compass, Star constellation references such as the Big and Little Dippers, and a Morse code reference with the whole alphabet and the numbers 1 to 10. It had a ruler from the top on one side in inches, and in centimeters on the other. There were references to the parts of a tree, twig and branch parts, and flower parts. There was a reference to tree seeds which were shown with the different pine cones, etc. I illustrated and listed Trail Signs. There was also a reference to Ground Signs. Then I added images of a fish, a raccoon, a deer, a woodpecker, an eagle, mountains and trees, and I burned into it my older son’s name. Added 2/3 of the way up was the image of an Angel I added, because Angels are so important to me and I believe we all have one. This was my way of sending a Guardian Angel with my son when he went out into the bush camping with his Scouting Group. I even added sort representation of the Scouting symbol on the top, opposite the Compass Reference.  This stick is over 5 feet (approximately 152 cm) tall, and I was delighted how it turned out. Both of these sticks were a labour of love for my boys, and an enjoyable experience for me to create for them as I got my ‘craft fixes’.

I added into the burning on the walking stick the Morse Code.

Several paw prints for ease of identifying them was added to the Scouting walking stick.

The Guardian Angel I added to both sticks to look after my boys.

I did several other projects, but I will just mention a couple here. One, was another walking stick personally made for my stepfather. After he passed and his cabin on a lake sold, my mother gave it back to me, because I had made it. It is a cherished memory of him, and I’m grateful. This walking stick, I added a rubber tipped bottom to, and I added a leather wrist strap that went through the stick for him to use as a grip when he went walking by his lake. (His lake property was in another part of the country to my lake, and was a full home, with power and amenities, and outbuildings. My mother and he used it all year, and boated in the hot dry summers, and snowmobiled in the cold winter sunshine. I will write about it in another post.) On my stepfather’s walking stick I burned in the images of my parents’ beloved dogs, they were labs. Mostly, they had three at a time, big, beautiful black or chocolate labs, and they bread them several times. (What a lot of work that was!) I used his favourite photographs, and then traced the images so that my woodburned images of his dogs were accurate and recognizable. I added dog prints and patterns and burned my stepfather’s initials into it. He really appreciated that walking stick when I gifted it to him. Ah, such good memories, my stepfather has been gone for decades, and my beloved mother, who I miss every day, as well. Sometimes we can cherish the material things they once had or owned and still feel their presence, at least that is how I feel. 

My stepfather's 'doggies' cane I did for him.

My stepfather's most beloved chocolate lab.

I digress...another project I did was a walking cane, rather than a walking stick. I burned the images all the way up, and then I added a rubber bottom piece and a brass eagle head for the hand grip. It is also quite a piece and I’m very proud of it. I have kept it in case I need a cane one day, it is very unique. 

My eagle brass-handled woodburned cane.

I have not done woodburning for some time now, but I still have my burning tool, and all my reference drawings, books and notes. I also have a second burning tool which I plan to pack when I end up on the road in my little RV, if I am somewhere and have a power source, and maybe a piece of driftwood or something, but that story is for another day. I’m planning another website about my adventures in my little RV. Stay tuned. I will do a ‘How To’ on woodburning in another post. It is a wonderful craft, uses simple materials, and is very therapeutic to do, in my opinion.  I hope you have enjoyed the pictures of my wooded burned pieces. I hope you may be inspired... Just as a side note... I wrote a romance novel years ago, and am currently, (finally), working on the publishing of that piece. It will be published under the title (most likely, ‘Act One Willow Beach’). It is a novel about a single, divorced woman who lives at a lake. She falls madly in love with a famous actor who moves in next door as he studies for his next movie. She lives a simple life with her dog at her lake cabin. One of things she like to do is woodburning and she sells her pieces at a local store in the little town near her lake. I will say I wrote this novel 30 years before I divorced, (which I never dreamed I would ever be, that is, divorced), but I was doing woodburning back then, and so I added this craft to my novel. Stay tuned for that book, too, Dear Reader!

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