Written by Karen Elzinga

Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved

All rights Reserved- No part of this book and its contents in the written word or picture maybe reproduced or transmitted in any way shape or form without the strict written authorization of the author. This includes but is not limited to electronic or mechanical means with the inclusion of photocopying or re-recording ontoonto disk.

Warning/Disclaimer: This books purpose is for the educational advancement. Any lesson followed by free will does not guarantee that injury to person or property will not occur. The author and publisher shall not be held responsible and shall not accept any liability in any matter by following this lessons instruction. Please utilize common sense.

Art And Fire

The Fine Art Lesson is about how you can portray fire in art. I experiment with burning artworks, making and creating artworks with a fire related theme and building 3D and art installations all with different fire angles.

Disclaimer :Please note that whilst Karen Elzinga burns artwork she will not be held for any liability claim coming from the following reading of her lesson. Please use common sense.

Sometimes an artwork can influence and change a person's thought process, especially if the message the artwork is portraying resinates with a person.

Environmental works for example have endless possibilities for doing just that. But is the change to do with the work itself or the words surrounding the work. The story can often be as important as the artwork.

Let's take a look at some artworks created from the use of fire and the key concept idea.

The first art work is photographical, taken from an installation or sculptured creation. This work looks at the birth of fire through the eyes of nature.

Nature or Nurture? – Birth of a fire bug!

Planted the various sized match sticks, in mass and intermitted through out the trays and planted cuttings to mix it up.
Overview of going on, play around with the setup, and keep moving till it looks perfect to you.
Play with lighting also, it can make huge differences to your final photographs. Try early mornings, for the best light.
For a glow try lighting your work in places for a subtle elegance.
The match sticks are at differing stages of maturity. The tall are strong, straight and ready for action, some displaying their lack of control by firing much earlier then expected. They vigorously excrete their flame for up to 6 seconds, before their in built programming fires its own self destruction, killing the matches but leaving the young and vulnerable safe and secure, for now! But what of their long term fate! Well scientists believe most will grow to end as nature intended, peacefully in BBQ's or by adding flames to candles. Unfortunately a rogue few will learn to be destructive after spending many years confined to a cardboard box. This confined space and lack of nurturing seems to send the match heads mad and thus when released they pop, flick, ignite and are unforgiving.... Burning landscapes!

Ignition – The passive Fire Starter

Sketch and tease out your ideas before starting and your artworks will be more solid in their meaning and more easily understood by the viewers.
Don't be affraid to go with weird ideas, art challenges peoples thoughts and ideals, and artists push boundaries to get conversation around certain topics that influence them in some way.
Always do simple sketches and tease out your ideas.
Idea – How cigarette butts end up being a cause of landscape fires.

Concept – The humble cigarette is not only lethal to humans it seems. Many a smoker disregards their used cigarette out of their car window, somehow assessing this action as not littering. So what of the consequence of this action, well ignition is. I am going to do a work based purely from the cigarettes angle, if it were alive how would it escape to the freedoms of the landscape where unknown to it, it has the power to create a new cancer to the landscape – FIRE!

Idea- To melt together colour plastic mosaic pieces to form a sculpture representing fire.

Concept – to Use a camp stove to melt plastic pieces on top of chicken wire that hopefully could be moulded into an interesting fire representational form.

Purchased plastic mosaics
Set up camp gas hotplate
Laid out multiple layers of mosaics over the top of chicken wire
Turned on gas stove
Within 10 seconds the plastic mosaics were on fire, burning as if they were paper. I was really surprised at how quick they went up, l expected them to melt not be so full of fuel. I had to throw them off the stove real quick onto the ground to put out with water, it was quite the angry little fire
Despite its short life, the plastic did melt together and even though the surface looks a little chard, it still had an element of interest to it.

I knew l could do this a different way, so to the oven inside l went to try again.

Experimentation is a big part of being an Artist

It is imperative that as an Artist you explore various materials so your reference library of knowledge grows for how you can work with various materials, how far can you change their initial meaning. What is successful and unsuccessful with each material investigation.

So this is melting plastic mosaics experiment 2. After the outside open flame disaster, l turned to a slower cooking method, the house oven. I was a little concerned burning plastic inside may cause a caustic smell but it wasn't to bad with the windows open, and if the oven was hot before placing the plastic inside, then it melts pretty quickly.
I used the same process on chicken wire and layering the mosaics. This processed worked very successfully and how l figured it would go by slowly melting the plastic on a really low heat.
Here are the two melted works, one chard and one normal.

Creating the artwork

I knitted a long length of wool on cricket wicket sticks
Attached knitted length to the car window
Poured out collected cigarette butts. I tell you the quickest way to get someone to stop smoking is get a bag of butts and travel in a car for ½ hr with them. Talk about disgusting, l felt so sick and l could even taste them in my mouth it was so strong, yuck never again!
Set up the melted mosaics fire sculpture onto the ground.
This is the finished artwork!
Installation art is a interesting way of combining shape, structure and photographic elements.

Wisdom within the woods – A message from the nature!

Idea – To portray a message directly from the trees about human and tree survival

Concept – Trees need us for survival under certain conditions, we need them under all conditions, without the trees our air is poison. If the trees were to give "Arsonists " a message, if they were to give developers and land clearers a message, if they were to give the average every day Joe a message, what would it be about joint survival?

Research how other artist's have portrayed the same topic, broadening your knowledge will impact how you portray your ideas.

Artists need to be continually keeping abreast of what is currently in the art world, there's is no putting your head in the sand on this one. That doesn't mean copying someone else's ideas but it does mean broadening the scope of your own ideas with informed thinking. Often looking at other artists work will trig an idea of your own completely different from what you viewed. Keeping up to date with latest trends is also a good idea, no point trying to sell something that looks like it belongs in 1970 styling, even vintage styling today has a modern day look and appeal to it.

Picked the oldest looking tree in my backyard. This is rain forest territory where l live so the trees are very old.
Ripped the outer bark downwards to give the impression of the tree fighting back.

I like trees, and l have an appreciation for their purpose and beauty, but l have to say l felt really horrible doing this work to my backyard tree, l felt like l was taking something that could never be replaced from this old tree. I felt pain with each and every rip of the bark to get to the fleshy sappy interior that l needed. It was really bad, l have never experienced such an emotional experience that tore me up before in any work l have ever done. I find it hard to look at even as l put it all together here. Wow! I hope the viewer gets half my emotions from looking at it!
I carved out the statement, oddly l barely touched the inner casing of the tree writing the words really lightly just to get the outline, and the words seemed to literally jump out of the tree, like that kids stuff, invisible ink that comes to life when you pour something on it, it was really weird, probably why l had such an emotional connection to the work.

This work describes the pain felt by nature at the hands of human frivolity and lack of respect.

The tree is spewing out it's internal messaging, opening it's heart in an attempt to teach human kind the importance of the very air we breath. Without the humble power of the trees, we fail to exist!

We rely on the diversity of each other, as a means to both species own survival.

Ephemeral work – “Arson results”

Idea – To produce an ephemeral work based on the reality of a landscape on fire, on small scale, but made to look large scale through clever photographic angles.

Concept – To mix man made material with a natural element that combine to enhance the potential of directed fire. I want the fire to go directly up the centre of the tree hollowing it out.

Materials – Paper pulp, palm frond, matches, natural setting, camera.

It's all in the camera angle, sometimes you don't have to build a giant artwork to give the appearance of it being large.

Clever camera angles can be an Artist's best friend. If you want something small to appear large photograph it from the same height, if you wish it to be bigger, photograph it from beneath it looking up at it. If you wish it to look smaller photograph it from above angles.

I collected a piece of palm frond just the end bit that was approximately 40 cm long
I soaked recycled paper for 24 hours before placing it in the blender and mixing it into a pulp
I spooned the pulp to the inside of the palm frond
I allowed for the pulp to dry completely for a few weeks
I wrapped a length of bamboo around the top
Dug a small hole and planted the work, and dug a small hole to place the camera at the tree base to get the correct angle
It looks bigger than it actually is, it's actual size is no more than 40cm tall.

The voices in my head told me to do it”. (Story of a fire starter)

Okay the next artwork we are going to look at will be based on the cause....what makes a person turn into an arsonist. I cannot stress enough the importance of gathering ideas, sketching ideas, word associating to gather work concepts and also ways of working. This is a vital process in art making that many people simply are not aware of when purchasing art. But for them to desire the finished product you must first design a work worthy of sitting on someone's wall. The most successful outcomes are achieved by enlightenment.
The above experiment was done to see how a cut out stencilled image transferred to fabric, when used in conjunction with paint and dye. I liked the finished effect and so was interested to take this further into a resolved work.
For close up pictures of the final work - download the full version of this blog at the start of it.

The material application used was fingers and pen dipped into ink, tilting and slanting the fabric and a roller. The materials used were, acrylic paint, ink, red and turquoise pen, permanent marker, and cut out paper stencil that l drew. It was done Alla prima style. I used pen and ink because l wanted it to have a real rawness about it, l did the pen work very unconsciously wanting that roughness and quick action of the pen going various directions to literally speak for itself. It also reveals a shallowness and flippancy to the work that l think works to give the feeling of a scattered and tortured mentally ill mind. I wanted to give the feeling that when a person hears voices inside their head telling them to light a fire that the mind splits as it tries to fight what is right from wrong.

Finished work – "The voices in my head told me to do it". 90cm x 70cm, Acrylic on fabric
Let's now delve into a painted work, using fire as a demonic trait, fire has long been associated with 'hell', fury, anger, evil, though inherently beautiful to watch, it's hot and nasty as we are all well aware. Let's check out the devil dancers.
Work in progress - Devil dancers after the first match is lit.

To see this in more detail simply download the full version of this entire lesson at the start of it, it has complete picture steps by step images and wording.

New idea to try

Idea – To showcase fire demons dancing in a flame riddled landscape.

Concept – The idea is the first match has been lit deliberately causing a landscape fire in the floral fields, The fire demons are joyful that such destruction has commenced and are out in numbers to investigate and make their presence felt by dancing in the naked flames as flowers wither and burn in the glowing light of the fire. Devil dancers after the first match is lit.

FIRE AND ART- It is by far not a new concept but the potential as a subject matter has a lot of weight, the topics that you as an artist can explore are numerous and vast. Just think of some topics you can explore:

1. Environment devastation

2. Lightening and fire

3. Property and fire

4. Human anguish

5. Fire by night

6. The naked flame

7. Fire causes
Final work - Devil dancers after the first match is lit. Acrylic on canvas 148cm x 116cm
Let's now delve into a painted work, using fire as a demonic trait, fire has long been associated with 'hell', fury, anger, evil, though inherently beautiful to watch, it's hot and nasty as we are all well aware.

Let's check out the devil dancers.

Added fire flames across the middle
Added flowers
Added more fire demons
Final work - Devil dancers after the first match is lit. Acrylic on canvas 148cm x 116cm

Fire Experimenting

Concept – To experiment with the style using a length of wood. l am going to use a ruler, maybe later on l'll purchase a squeegee if l like the effects of the ruler, but for this experimentation l will stick to a ruler to slide and apply paint.

Aim – To produce multi layered works using the same colours at each stage, but applied slightly differently.
To burn an artwork we must first make one! Even though the plan is to burn an artwork, if your going to photograph it, you need to create a half decent one first. WHY ?..... Because not all of your artwork will burn at the same rate, if you do it properly you should still be able to capture the over all essence of your artwork through the flames. Everyone has seen fire, there is nothing special about photographing fire, it is something that any one with a camera can do. What is hard to do is combine artwork and capture the perfect flames combining the two. That then becomes a saleable artwork picture. So play careful attention to how you design your artwork to be burnt.
I used a ruler to smudge the paint across the board in one fluid motion
Once the previous brown paint had dried completely l added ultramarine blue, and again used the rulers to cut back the paint into sections.
Red/brown was added next, l decided l liked the blue so l tried to add it so that it complemented the blue.
As this was experimental l had to loose the fact that l could have finished at the last stage as l really liked it, but l went on adding yellow and orange, allowing just a hint of the blue and red to shine through.
Use this process as a learning experience and try new techniques.

Your artwork is not going to be on fire long, but it needs to be presented in way the scream interest, just because it's on fire doesn't mean your not going to see the background, so your design should be something that encapsulates the look of the flames and doesn't just look like an artwork on fire. Utilize fire colours then add some deeper colour tones to provide some depth.

Burning art is very cleansing to the sole for some reason haha, it burns off very quickly so you really have seconds to capture it on film.
Let's do another one, so l followed the same process as above.
The pictures are so cool.

Fire Experiment analysis

After the fire experiment on the painted boards, l was surprised to see little damage done to the surface of the works, the fire exhausted itself out after burning up the petrol and distinguished itself very quickly in a matter of 10-15 seconds. This allowed for repeat fires multiple times over on the same surfaces. Even after 10 times the surface looked practically intact with only very minor surface damage and alteration. I believe this type of photographical work could continue for up to 40 times on a similarly painted surface before the surface would deteriorate to a perishable state, and even then would produce maybe a more interesting fire and overall appearance to the photographical nature of this work. Overall a very successful experiment.

Creating for the purpose of burning it

Art has long had a tradition of building art for the pure purpose of setting it a light. A festival held in an American desert called the 'The Burning Man' festival build's a giant timber man and at the festival's conclusion it is set a light. That is just one example of many.


If you want to set something a light, petrol is your best friend, but from a distance, don't use a cigarette lighter or matches, control your ignition with a long BBQ lighter where your hands are importantly away from harms edge.

Don't light a fire if you have petrol spilled on your hands or body. You may just end up being the artwork.

Have someone else present in case of emergency.

Have a hose pipe close by turned on

Be sensible in your burning, you don't need a towering inferno next to a dead tree.

Karen Elzinga is not responsible for your actions, you burn at your own risk.

The photos turned out awesome.

So let's get a bit more creative with our initial artwork to burn.
Cut pipe cleaners/chenille sticks into smaller parts
One of the things to experiment with was different light and how that effects the fire colour, brightness and photographic potential. So with that in mind and the fact that l did the first one on a cloudy rainy day, l thought l would try this one on a very bright and sunny day. There is a significant difference when doing this. This one definitely looks brighter and has much more yellow in the flame.
Started with a board and staple gunned poms and chenille sticks to it
Lets try another one
Finished surface before spraying, l decided to lengthen the chenille sticks longer then in the first work to gage the difference in finished appearance
Attach hollowed pom poms to the ends of the pipe cleaners intermittently.
Attach pipe cleaners side by side, using different sizes and widths
Spray with orange spray paint
In keeping with experimentation process of time, time of day etc, this work was burnt in the dead of the night in order to see the difference in fame colour.
The fire colour and characteristics were certainly different again from the previous two day time experiments. The flame colour was much more cooler producing a much whiter cleaner light rather then the deeper and richer hues of the daytime fires. This was a really interesting fire experiment.
This was actually a great experiment because not only did l get some fantastic burning photographs, the end work was also very fascinating and quite beautiful as a set of 3
The pom poms burn super fast, so again get that camera ready, and keep the hose close by.
Working with fire can bring your work to a whole new level, but remember fire is dangerous, only burn in a contained controlled environment and with parental consent for anyone under 18 years of age.
Go to the top of this blog to download the full unedited version of this lesson.
The after burn effect, also looked pretty cool.
This was one of those freakish moments when you just go "what the hell is that". This was a purely random chance photo that straight away when l looked at it, it looked like their was a running smoke figure in the photograph, if you look carefully at the close up, it looks to have facial features even. Now l don't know if it is just me , but does that not look like a man running side on? I thought wow what a coincidence here l am doing a narrative about pyromania and deliberately lit fires, and now l have a smoke man for real running from the scene of the crime, how bizarre is that! haha
Run little burn man run!

This is so much fun, it is a process to get the initial artwork done, but burning it is both sad and exciting, but it is worth the end results.
Let's do just one more.
So here are the after effects of my 3 burns with added materials attached, l really like the effect.

Be safe in your burning and for more information please download the full version of this lesson by heading to the top of this lesson and clicking on the download tab.


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