Since I first picked up a butane torch at USC and decided to see what it could do as an artistic tool, I have created thousands of fire portraits. While you can see the progression in my skills in each one, I still like all of them because there are memories behind them. They tell a story about my evolution as an artist and about the people I have been fortunate enough to meet. That’s one reason why when I am asked which portrait is my favorite, it’s hard to say. Also, I am innovating and getting so much better that my favorite portrait is almost always one of the last three or four I’ve done because of the improvements and new techniques I can see in it. It’s one of the things that keeps me working on the medium. If I ever master fire, I will work on something else. As I am constantly learning new techniques for this medium, I suspect that day may be far off in the future.
I have kept everything I have created, and I do mean everything. I’ve got my earliest artwork from back when I was five years old, when I knew I was going to be an artist. Even at that age, I was signing and dating every drawing. That artwork may have been made by a child, but he was still a very serious artist. As I reflect on how devoted I was to my art as a kid, I respect what I was able to do even then. Today, I have shelves that are full of the drawings, paintings, sculptures, and burnings I have done throughout my life. I like to look through them sometimes and see how much stronger an artist I have become.
I do have ones that I am partial to, but it is less for the technical ability behind them and more for the history. Therefore, each object is sort of linked to a specific memory for me. Many times that memory is of the model, whose essence I worked to capture in the portrait. I like to relive the moments that went into creating each picture and to remember how I was changed by the encounter as much as the person was. There may have been a joke told that cracked both of us up, or perhaps I heard a sad story that affected me deeply. I am never the same person after I make a fire portrait.
There are a few pieces at home that are valuable to me, including the very first burning I did. That was an experiment or turning point for me as an artist, and I like to reflect on it and on who I have become since then. I enjoy those portraits because as I pioneer this medium of fire painting, it’s important to look back and see the steps and progression that have allowed me to get to where my work is now.
One of my favorite portraits is from just a few weeks ago. It was the first one I have ever done on cherrywood, and I really liked the grain of the wood and how I was able to blend the model’s facial features into it. The portrait is of a teenage singer/actor, and it looks just like her. In particular, I was able to capture her emotion, especially in the eyes, and I am very proud of it.
So, what is my favorite piece? I can’t really say definitively because I still have more portraits to do. Each one, however, will bring me an indescribable gift: the opportunity to really see into a person and to forever capture their soul using only fire and hardwood. For that reason, I think I will always see every portrait I make as being my favorite. It could be no other way when I work with such highly interesting people who let me into the essence of who they are.