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The art of pyrography

From scenic vistas to portraits, artist Andreea Barbu will create anything onto your wooden furniture using an old technique known as pyrography. Marc Buhagiar finds out more.

Andreea BarbuAndreea Barbu

Pyrography is not a 21st-century invention; it was actually quite popular during Ancient Egyptian times. And yet, most people you’d mention it to would draw a blank as to what it actually means. What is pyrography exactly? The answer is simple; it’s the art of creating beautiful intricate designs on a wooden or leather surface by literally burning the designs into that particular surface.

Pyrography artist Andreea Barbu does just this, but she doesn’t practise her art on any wooden surface. What Barbu does is more cutting-edge; she transforms old boring furniture into an artistic masterpiece which is simply breathtaking with its complex designs. Barbu uses a special burner, not unlike a soldering iron, for her pyrographic art.

“Pyrography is old, but executing it on furniture is quite a new thing as not a lot of people know about this, let alone do it. In Malta, especially, few are aware of this art. When I decided to buy pyrography tools, I went around asking and people had no clue what pyrography is. I had to order the tools online from eBay because in Malta it was impossible to find anything related to the craft.”

Barbu was first introduced to the art of pyrography at the tender age of eight during arts and crafts lessons at her primary school. Originally from Romania, the artist explains that it is quite common in her country for children to try their hand at pyrography in primary schools.However, in time, she stopped practicing the art. “When I was a child, I found other things interesting, so I forgot all about it. Then, I saw some pictures related to pyrography and it came rushing back. I was thinking, ‘Hey, I can do that’ and I had the urge to do get back to it. I had forgotten how much I liked it. So I ordered the machine and the wood and I started again. Since then, I haven’t looked back.”

At first, Barbu said that she got back into it as a means to pass the time. However, she soon realised that her craft had improved substantially since her childhood years. She could now create elegant complex designs, which gave her the idea to start her own business and take up pyrography as a career.

“Many people find themselves with old furniture that they would like to renew, give it a new look and lease of life. That is where I would come in, transforming the existing furniture into something completely new,” she says.

The artist is currently working on her own personal furniture, experimenting with design and technique to test the waters and assess whether customers would be interested in custom-designed furniture. Asked what sort of designs she specialises in, her reply is that she is eclectic in her approach.

Barbu, in fact, can recreate a variety of images such as self-portraits, natural views, and Celtic designs, to mention but a few and is willing to design anything that catches a customer’s fancy. “Everyone has their own particular taste and the technique allows you to recreate any image, really.”

But how does she manage to get such impressive shading in her woodwork? Barbu explains that to achieve different shades, you have to burn the wood to different degrees – a process which is highly time-consuming, but which yields such awe-inspiring results that it is truly worth the time and effort. “You need to have a lot of patience. If you don’t have patience, you won’t manage. The time spent on the piece of furniture depends on its size and on the model. Backgrounds can take up a lot of time. For example, if the background is all black, it would take more time to make the background than the actual design because I’d have to burn the whole surface and the tip of the machine is quite small,” she says. Barbu also explains that the artist needs to have a particular eye when it comes to shading with burns as it’s very easy to go wrong since you’re burning wood.

Barbu has also experimented with colours in her work but does not consider this to be true pyrography. “I’ve done self-portraits for my brother-in-law, in which I’ve used colour. However, I don’t consider it true pyrography when using colour. True pyrography means creating different shades only from burning, depending on the strength of the burn. My opinion is that the best pyrographic paintings are without colour as they look more natural.”

So what does she prefer burning onto blank wooden spaces? She seems to be inspired by nature mostly. “What I like most are views – sunsets, gardens – specifically Chinese gardens because they’re so beautiful, waterfalls, anything related to nature. I also like Celtic designs and cartoons.”

She says that she finds the time spent carrying out this art immensely relaxing. However, the most satisfying part to see is the finished final result, after having successfully transformed regular old furniture into something tastefully unique.

“When people see something simple that I can transform, they are usually shocked at the result,” she says beaming with pride.

“I’m trying to raise more awareness about it in Malta and maybe I can start a small business,” says Barbu. No easy feat, considering most on the island have never heard of pyrography before. What her business needs is people who appreciate the time and effort that goes into her customising their old furniture, and she is hopeful that people will be attracted to her work.

Asked whether she sees herself doing her pyrographic work in another 10 years, the answer is, without a doubt, yes. “It relaxes me and it calms me. I consider it much more than a hobby, I see it more as a career move. The best job is to do something that you love,” she says.

Barbu is clearly passionate about her work, as she’s lost track of time while working, sometimes working into the wee hours of the morning, lost in her ecstasy of wood burning, much like any artist who is consumed by their work.

For more about Andreea Barbu’s pyrography, contact her on andreea.adina34@gmail.com or find her work on Facebook: www.facebook.com/woodburning0/

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