Pyrographer Peter Drewett makes elemental art using fire and wood, inspired by nature and his imagination.

Story By Mike Greenslade

Just off the Pacific Highway at Wells Crossing, south of Grafton, NSW, Peter Drewett sits in his shack surrounded by an abandoned pear orchard. On his lap is a de-barked and seasoned stick from the orchard, resting on a pockmarked cushion. A small plume of smoke rises from the stick as Peter presses an electrically heated wire element into the tawny, bare wood. It takes three burns to complete the first circle around a node from which a twig has been removed and it will take perhaps several thousand more before the design is finished. Peter is nearing completion of a three-year project to make 100 walking sticks, each with their own unique design and character. It has been a long journey to get here but, as Peter says, “The act of creation is better than the destination.”
Peter was travelling around the Northern Territory in July 2000 when he chanced upon his art. While staying with Peter Yates, who was then involved with Desart, an arts centre in Alice Springs renowned for its fair-trade Aboriginal art, he made a personal discovery. Sitting around a campfire in Peter Yates’ sizeable backyard, Peter found a piece of old sparkler wire, bent the tip over and thought to himself, “I wonder what happens if I do this?” He placed the end of the crude implement in the embers, heating it until it glowed. Removing the red-hot wire from the flames, he pressed it into a piece of old mulga wood, branding a mark into it and taking his first step to becoming a pyrographer.
Pyrography (literally “drawing with fire”) is the art of burning images or patterns into wood, leather or other organic mediums such as gourds. Peter had discovered for himself an ancient art, practised by craftspeople around the world for centuries. Inspired by the Aboriginal woodcraft he’d seen at Desart, and without any formal tuition or knowledge of established techniques, Peter created his first humble piece.

This story excerpt is from Issue #84

Outback Magazine: Aug/Sep 2012