Pen of Fire

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Amanda draws all of her pieces by hand. She sketches the designs first in pencil and then finishes them with a woodburning pen. Occasionally she will add color to her artwork.

Pyrographer Amanda Phelps shares the art of burning wood

Amanda Phelps loves the outdoors. It’s one of the first things the California native brings up in conversation, and it’s even more evident when you see all of her hand-drawn animal sketches, a collection that when put together would probably number in the hundreds. A self-taught artist, Amanda has been painting and drawing for most of her life. But it was just a couple of years ago, at the suggestion of a loved one who recognized her talent, that she decided to try pyrography, or using a heated point to create designs on wood. This new art form hooked her attention immediately, and she has since formed Phelps Pyrography, a business that lets the rest of us experience a bit of the outdoors through her wood burning work. 

There are few pyrographers in the Aberdeen area, so one question Amanda is frequently asked at art shows is: How do you do that? She explains, “I use a pencil to draw an outline on the wood of whatever it is I’m putting on that particular piece, and then I slowly start to add heat, burning from the lightest areas to the darkest.” Though she is humble in talking about her process and drawing abilities, her art speaks volumes to the amount of time and heart she puts into it. Whenever she isn’t at her full-time job as a technician with Ophthalmology Associates, you can find her in her living room, bent over a wood burning pen, drawing a new portrait with fire. “Pretty much all of my spare time is spent wood burning- when I get home from work, on the weekends,” she adds with a laugh, “it’s kind of consumed my life. Sometimes I can lose myself in a project and just concentrate on it for hours and hours and not even realize it’s been that long.” 

To draw with fire, Amanda uses an electric wood burning machine that attaches to a wood burning pen. The tool she has now is of higher quality, an investment she made after going through several less expensive versions that would either break or not get hot enough. For her canvases, she chooses pieces of basswood and birchwood from the Hobby Lobby. “That’s a work in progress. I’ve tried to get cut wood and saw my own, but drying it wasn’t going well and it kept cracking, so I’m still figuring that out.” The amount of time it takes her to do a project depends on the size and details. She can make small scale items like ornaments and fridge magnets, all the way up to large wall decor. While many of her pieces are from her own designs, she also does a lot of custom orders for people who contact her to create personal pictures of things like family pets. Images of owls and giraffes are two of her favorites to create, but she also enjoys experimenting and drawing animals that she hasn’t done before. Her style can range from a prairie buffalo or deer scene, to sea turtles, to polar bears, and everything in between. 

Amanda is new to the Aberdeen area having moved here just three years ago, shortly before she picked up her first wood burner. Her first-ever art show was at Arts in the Park this past summer, and in November she had her inaugural booth at Winterfest. She says figuring out inventory, pricing, and how to set up a display at an art show has been a learning process and something that she hopes to keep doing in the future. “I would love to do more shows, more custom work, even do this full-time. Everyone remembers playing with wood burners when they were a kid, but not many people know you can make it into an actual art form like this. I think it’s pretty unique, and that’s why I’ve stuck with it.” // –Jenny Roth

To see more of Phelps Pyrography, find Amanda on Instagram at phelps_pyrography, Etsy at PhelpsPyrography, or email [email protected].