My name is Nedra (short “e”, as in “Ed”) Denison and I have been doing Pyrography and gourd art since 1999, but my interest in art started at a very young age. As a child, my parents saw that I had some artistic talent and they encouraged me to pursue the training I needed to help develop that natural talent. I began studying art at the age of 11, with my medium being pencil and oil paint. I started taking private lessons and then went on to take evening classes in oil painting at Paier College of Art in New Haven, CT. My interest at the time was still life and seascapes.
I traveled quite a bit with my family and there was always a camera attached to one hand. Growing up in New England gave me lots of opportunities for photos of fall foliage, lighthouses and seascapes. Traveling was in my blood and never left. My career gave me the opportunity to move around the country and personal travel to Italy, Spain and Asia. I collected photos all along the way and still have every one of them. After moving to New Mexico in the early 80′s my art centered around southwestern themes but my medium of choice remained oils. I continued painting until I suffered some personal health challenges due to stress from the job in 1992. I was unable to work and had lost all interest in art.
It was many years later after recovering from my “meltdown” that I became interested in getting back into art and Al introduced me to chip carving. I discovered that my interest in art had taken a 360 degree turn and a totally different meaning. My interest in woodburning started while taking a woodcarving class at a Texas Woodcarvers Guild Spring Rally around 1999. I was sitting next to a group of people who were wood burning and the smell was irresistible. I became fascinated with the effects created by burning on wood and was determined to learn how to do it. Armed with a new burner and some wood I set out to teach myself the art of pyrography. Little did I know that pyrography would be the therapy needed to become productive again. Nor did I have any idea that a couple of years later I would be the one teaching at the Texas Woodcarvers Guild Spring Rally. I experimented for a while until I figured out a way to create burnings that looked like an old sepia photo. It is a smooth, flowing technique much like a painter does with a brush. Perhaps my background as an oil painter helps me to use my tool much like a paint brush. It is this smooth flowing technique that gives my work a unique style. There are no outlines or lines in my work, all the “edges” are created with the shading which is gradient tones, blended just like a painting.
I enjoy burning a variety of subjects but I soon discovered that portraits were not only challenging but a lot of fun. I was never good at them when I worked with oils but I was able to excel at them with my woodburner. My doctor suggested that it was my life experiences during my healing process that helped me see and feel things differently and helped me to make my portraits and other works come alive. One judge in a show described my portraits as “having a sensitivity that is important when doing portraits”. It is my goal when I do a burning that when you look at them, you can feel the emotion and life in each piece. It is that “life essence” that grabs your attention and the reason why I have won so many awards for my work. I eventually moved up to the expert level and continued to win blue ribbons, Best of Division and other awards. My crowning achievement was winning 5 separate ribbons in one show including: Best of Woodworking, Judges Choice and Best of Show for my Golden Eagle.
I taught pyrography for over 10 years throughout Kansas, Oregon, Texas, Washington and New Mexico at woodcarving rallies, colleges, group classes sponsored by woodcarving and wood turning clubs and private classes in my studio. My philosophy as a teacher was to provide a hands-on experience while encouraging each student to express their unique artistic style in their own work. I enjoyed working with students of all levels and always felt so proud when one of my students won ribbons or moved on to teach themselves.
Since retiring from my job with the VA and moving back to New Mexico I decided it was time to get back to my true passion, actually doing my art. After so many years teaching and not enough time being creative I felt it was time to make some changes in my priorities. So, I’m back in my studio and learning how to be creative again. I’m doing more gourd art which gives me so much more freedom to create my own designs rather than being a copy artist such as doing pyrography portraits. Discovering gourd masks is probably the most fun I’ve had in a very long time. The more relaxed I am, the wilder my imagination gets and then the more creative my masks become.
I still love burning but now I have discovered new things that inspire me including growing vegetables and gourds in my garden. Well, I’ve now retired from three careers: 30+ years with the VA, 10+ years teaching pyrography and of course writing my pyrography books which I will now leave to the new kids.
While I’m still very busy I can pace myself more so I have time for my art, traveling and most of all relaxing. Well, I’m trying to learn how to relax but it’s something I’m not very good at…too much to do!