There’s a lot of hyperbole out there, whether in the art world or elsewhere, with so many people saying that they are the best at what they do or that they are unique. To my knowledge, though, I really am the only one in the world who paints portraits using fire. That means I have pioneered a new medium and have had no teachers or mentors to learn from. Forget instruction manuals or YouTube videos - from the moment I first used a blow torch at USC, I have been figuring out on my own how to use a destructive element to create incredibly detailed portraits, and I have loved every minute of it.
As you might expect, my biggest breakthroughs have come from the mistakes I have made along the way. Isn’t that always true? You can either be knocked to the ground by your screw ups or get over them and instead analyze what went wrong and do something differently next time. I chose to learn from them, and as a result, I have seen my ability grow.
In the beginning, I drew on wood panels and then began integrating the use of blowtorches. Their effect was so intriguing to me that I stopped using pencils altogether. As I progressed, I did more wood burnings and noticed that the flame would do something unexpected. Maybe if I shifted the blow torch in my hand in a certain way, that would make the flame respond with a specific movement, and there would be a cool effect. I had discovered a new technique, so I leaned into it. By experimenting like this for months and even years, I was able to build an arsenal of techniques that would give me the ability to create fire portraits that no one else can make.
It’s been this sort of discovery process but almost playful at times. Take my hands, for instance. How I use my fingers is the latest technique I’ve developed. I use them to put claw marks into the portraits, and I love what that does to the portrait. I’ve also begun discovering what happens if I focus on a black section and set it on fire to make it crackle. It results in wood that has this wonderful texture to it, and it feels great when I run my fingers over it. There are so many new things I can do with fire that I plan to push this medium as far as I can go. I want to really see what is possible and where it takes me.
Honestly, ten years ago, I never would have thought it would be possible to do what I am able to do now. It’s just been a decade of trial and error, and what I have discovered has both blown my expectations and given me a deepening respect for fire as an artistic medium. The portraits I create quite frankly look like magic.
When people come to my studio, they have already seen my website and pictures of what I have created. They know that I am a fire painter. Even though they are familiar with what I do, they still can’t believe that I use fire and nothing else. They expect it to be some kind of trick, I think, and are amazed when they see that I use only a blow torch or flamethrower. I believe that’s part of what they enjoy about the experience: understanding that they really are encountering something completely new.
I am just getting started on what’s doable with fire. Each portrait results in a new discovery, and that’s exciting to me as an artist. I will continue to explore this medium as long as I can continue to learn, which I suspect will be for a very long time.