I wanted a part of my current sculpture project to be black. A black that wasn’t paint. A black that didn’t hide the fact the I was working with wood. A black that, from a distance, identifies form as a two dimensional silhouette. A black that was the wood and not something that sits on the surface. I wanted simplicity that also offered a sense of depth and complexity.

How do I make the idea become reality?

A year ago I would have used a black stain, paint or maybe even shoe polish in an attempt to achieve the effect. However, experience has taught me that a surface application wasn’t going to give me the depth I was striving for. Especially if I wanted to emphasize wood grain. So, it was with some hesitation that I asked myself…

What about fire?

Until this point, I’ve been reluctant to introduce fire into my process. Somewhere along the way I thought that burning was expected of an artist who works with wood. It felt obvious, which to me translated to unoriginal. As it turns out utilizing fire to create a desired effect is a natural evolution of the creative process, especially when using wood as a sculpting medium.

The process is an extremely interactive one. It goes beyond any other surface finish I’ve ever done…it’s crazy exciting!

As flames lick the surface the wood darkens, grain becomes physically more pronounced, then seems to disappear completely under a smooth layer of carbon. A hiss of steam fills the air as water cuts through fire, halting the process. The surface instantly becomes an iridescent black that rapidly changes to matte black as it begins to dry. When I scrub through the freshly scarred layer and wash away the char I uncover something new, revealing itself in a ruby-toned black, glossy and reflective. Finally, dried for a second time, I discover the wood grain has become exaggerated, tactile. Rich sepia tones lie next to luminescent black raised surfaces.

From a distance my eyes read the form as a black silhouette. Yet, as I get closer the texture becomes more pronounced and raised beneath my fingers. The range of colour and tone create a finish that goes beyond the surface of the form.  Success!

Charred cedar driftwood, beetle-kill pine sphere and rough-cut red cedar, ©Candace Sanderson

So far it’s been way more fun than I anticipated. While others may enjoy the flames, but the sculptor in me loves scrubbing off the layer of carbon. Clouds of charred wood blow away in the wind and wood grain reappears with a promise of beauty beneath the destruction.