THIS IS THE LAST PAGE FROM MY WEBSITE
ABOUT NEDRA DENISON - PAINTER, GOURD & PYROGRAPHY ARTIST & AUTHOR
Nedra Denison is an Award Winning Artist and Author Specializing in Oil & Acrylic Painting, Gourd Art and PyrographyUPDATED 11/27/19
As a child I had no idea that what was developing in my heart & soul was a passion for art. My favorite pass time was doodling. What started out as simple doodling eventually turned into a passion to learn more. Had it not been for my parents desire to nurture the budding artist in me I never would have discovered my true passion. I can only hope that they can see what their nurturing allowed me to accomplish since their passing.
About the artist Nedra DenisonMy name is Nedra (short "e", as in "Ed") Denison and I have been doing Pyrography 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 with Ken Davies at Paier School of Art (later called Paier College of Art) in New Haven, CT. My interest back then was in doing still life & landscapes.
I started traveling as a child with my family and there was always a camera attached to my hand.
Growing up in New England gave me lots of opportunities for taking photos of fall foliage, lighthouses and my favorite...seascapes. Traveling was in my blood and my parents were convinced there must be gypsy in my blood. My career provided me the opportunity to move around the country. Vacations included trips to places such as Italy, Spain, Southeast Asia, Mexico and other places throughout the USA which gave me ample subject matter for my art. I took photos all along the way and still have most 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 my job in 1992. I was unable to work and had lost all interest in art. As my mind healed I discovered that my body wasn't bouncing back. I was diagnosed with degenerative disk disease and fibromyalgia. What this means is that I suffer from pain due to over active nerves that never shut off. Pain became my constant companion & I have learned to just "deal with it". Over the years I learned to pace myself & it never really slows me down much.
It was many years later after recovering from my "meltdown", that my husband, Alan, a woodcarver, got me interested in woodcarving and I started to rediscover art but found that my interest & medium had taken a 360o turn and it took on a whole new meaning. My interest in woodburning started while taking a woodcarving class at a Texas Woodcarvers Guild Spring Rally in the mid-1990's. I was sitting next to a group of people who were woodburning 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 get my life back on track and 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. My therapist rejoiced as she watched me heal through my art & was thrilled at the difference in the "emotion" I was able to capture in my art as my mind & body healed. So, don't let anyone tell you that art is not therapy because it is!
I use a variety of tools such as a solid point single-temperature, a mini torch and a Razertip variable temperature burner. I experimented for a couple of years trying to find just the right technique that would achieve the effects I was looking for and then perfecting it. The technique I finally perfected that worked for me is what I call my "smooth shading (gradient tones) technique" which creates the effect of 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 because I use my tool much like a paint brush. It is this smooth flowing technique that makes my work softer & more natural looking. There are no outlines or lines in my work, all the "edges" are created with the shading which is blended smoothly. Of course I do use other techniques depending on the look I am attempting to achieve for each project.
I enjoy woodburning a variety of subjects but while living in New Mexico, I fell in love with the Native American culture and that love has been captured in much of my work since then. As a child, my parents had wanted me to do portraits and although I tried, I was never happy with the results until discovering pyrography. My doctor suggests that it was my life experiences during my healing process that helped me see and feel things differently and helped 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. The eyes are alive & you can feel the emotion".
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 in the short time since learning pyrography. Since moving up to the expert level in Pyrography I continued to win blue ribbons, Best of Division and other awards such as Best of Woodworking, Judges Choice and Best of Show for my Golden Eagle. After achieving the ultimate award I felt it was a good time to retire from competition.
I taught pyrography for over 10 years throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, Oregon Texas, Washington and New Mexico, at woodcarving rallies, colleges, group classes sponsored by woodcarving clubs and private classes in my studio.
My philosophy as a teacher was to provide a hands-on class 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 classes themselves.
I hope you will take a few minutes to CHECK OUT MY ARTWORK.
My personal sideI have been involved with animals most of my adult life. While living in Texas and trying to heal from my "meltdown", an angel in the form of a Golden Retriever came into my life. I named him Max (after my father) and he was the catalyst that helped give me a purpose in life again. He was an amazing guy who just loved people and it occurred to me that I was not the only person that needed Max in their life and so I decided it was time to share this angel with other people in need.
I started volunteering at a local nursing home for some time & it was an amazing experience. The photo on the right with Max in sunglasses was the very first person we worked with in the nursing home. Robin Tannenbaum was a
wonderful lady who adored Max & we would visit with her in her room & when she was recovering from a stroke Max helped her with her walking exercises.
I realized I needed to do more so Max & I traveled to Dallas to be evaluated to be Delta Society certified therapy dog/handler team. We passed with flying colors...or should I say Max did.
Since I had been an Oncology Social Worker for many years, my mother was dealing with a terminal illness and I had recovered from a major melt down, I decided that I wanted to work with people who were also dealing with serious life challenges. So we began volunteering at Hospice. The lady with the green shirt is Jennie who was not accepting help from the Hospice staff & was dealing with anger & denial. We were asked to visit her & see if we could help. It became clear that Max was a natural and was born to be a therapy dog, helping people forget their pain, even if for a brief period of time. That smile on Jennie's face says it all and I was told that it was the first smile on her face in a very long time. The volunteer coordinator & director at Hospice asked me the next day after our visit what on earth we did because Jennie had called right after we left & thanked them for sending us to visit. She also agreed to have the pastor & other services come visit. Max had been able to reach Jennie & help her in a way no human could. Jennie was able to work through her anger, fear & denial. She talked to Max about what she was feeling through all the stages & when it was time, she was ready. We continued to visit her until the day she passed & Max was in bed with her when it happened.
|MAX & JENNIE|
When Jennie passed her family had asked us to come to her Rosary & funeral & to sit with the family. An honor that touched me in a way nothing else could compare to. To my surprise that photo of Max & Jennie (photo on the left) was blown up to poster size & was sitting on an easel next to her coffin in the funeral home. It brought tears to my eyes when I walked in & saw it. Everyone in the room had heard about Max & what he had done to help Jennie get past her fear, anger & then acceptance. Most important was that after many years of not seeing her estranged daughter they were able to heal wounds & Jennie was finally at peace before she passed with Max on her bed curled up by her side.
It didn't take long for me to realize how much of a need there was in the community for more people to do pet therapy so I traveled to Houston to train to became a licensed evaluator for the Delta Society. The following year I went to Washington state to attend training to become a licensed instructor for the Delta Society and on my flight home the inspiration to start a pet therapy program,' Angel Paws", in Waco became my dream. I returned home with a new mission in life. I remembered back to the very first day I was working with Max at a local nursing home and how everyone reacted to this golden angel. He made people smile who had not smiled in years. He brought tears to the eyes of family members watching their loved one respond to his attention and I remember the words of so many people calling Max an angel sent from god. He was an Angel with paws.... "Angel Paws". It brought tears to my eyes thinking about it and by the time the plane landed I had a new purpose in life. When I met Al at the airport I told him that I was going to start a pet therapy program in the community & I'm going to call it "Angel Paws". His response was, "I wondered how long it would take for you to realize what you needed to do".
With the help of the volunteer coordinator and director of Providence Hospice, Max and I met with the CEO and Director of Nursing at Providence Hospital to discuss my dream of starting a Pet Therapy program at their facility. Max and I walked into the Administration offices and EVERYONE fell instantly in love with my golden angel. Even the CEO got on the floor to give Max a hug and within 5 minutes of our meeting they had not only agreed to the idea, but had allowed me to develop the entire program working together with the infection control department. Within two months the program started and we were ready to work along with two other teams.
Max & I would go to the hospital on Thanksgiving & Christmas mornings & visit patients on the wards who were alone but I really never knew where I was
On Christmas Max & I would visit patients in the hospital. I would go up to the wards & Nurses in the hospital would give me a list of patients who were alone & had no family. Max became "Santa Paws" & he brought holiday joy to the patients.
Every time I would come home with Max & tell Al stories of what happened that day & he would say "you need to write a book about all the wonderful things Max is doing". I'd say no, it's just something we both love to do & it makes me feel good knowing that we put smiles on someone's face.
Max was known throughout the area through newspaper and TV stories about this amazing dog who brought smiles to everyone's face. I was receiving phone calls from the hospital or Hospice saying a particular patient or family member was asking for Max to visit a patient in the hospital or in Hospice care. He was in such demand. I couldn't keep up with it and I could not over work him so I had to get my other 2 goldens certified as therapy dogs to help with some of the visits. Unfortunately they were not Max but they did help take some of the pressure of him. After 5 years of hard work Max retired and while Providence hospital and Hospice were saddened they understood how much stress therapy dogs endure working in such difficult environments and taking on the pain of those they helped. It was time for Max to just be a dog!
One of the most important things I learned from day one working with Max was that he knew who his patient was before anyone else did. As soon as hit paws passed through the door where he was "working" that day he seemed to know what his job was. It might not be to visit his regular patient but when he started walking into the facility he seemed to know who needed him. This was evidenced one day when we were doing some work in the hospital with some of the PR people from Providence shadowing us. Max & I walked into the surgical intensive care waiting room & Max walked over to the corner of the room & sat down a couple of feet in front of a young girl with her knees up on the chair
|WACO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL HELPING THEM|
LEARN HOW TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR PETS
Before leaving Waco the "Angel Paws" group had grown to over twelve teams and became a non-profit organization complete with uniforms for the dogs and the handlers paid for by Providence. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and one that I will never forget. And yes, Max did get to be "just a dog" after a tough day at the office & he was VERY spoiled! The photo on the bottom left is Max (on the right) & his half sister Amber.
|YOUNG GIRL WHO ASKED TO SEE MAX|
When we moved to Washington I was unable to continue doing pet therapy because I was now working full time but I still had a need to be involved in something and since I had been involved in dog rescue for several years I volunteered for the Seattle Pure Bred Dog rescue. At times we fostered dogs in need or helped transport rescues to their new forever homes through our RV network of friends. It was very rewarding although I had mixed emotions because so many dogs needed our help & the Social Worker in me wanted to save the world one dog at a time.
Alan and I are now both retired from the VA and living in South Texas with our dogs. We are still involved in rescue.
My crowning achievement as an artistIn November, 2005, I underwent major reconstructive surgery on my foot and was recuperating at home for 6 weeks unable to do anything, including burning. So when it came time for the Kitsap carvers wood carving show in Bremerton, WA, I eagerly anticipated attending.
When I select a project to be exhibited or enter into competition at a wood carving show it is a difficult decision what piece is good enough. The project that I selected to enter was a Golden Eagle bust that I finished just before the show. This piece was my labor of love and not just another pyrography project. I believe that I was more meticulous than usual with this project because of that love that went into it.
I anxiously awaited the judging of Expert level entries and was thrilled when I received a blue ribbon. In Washington ribbons are strictly based on the merit of the project and not arbitrarily just to have a first, second and third place award. Often there are no ribbons given to entries at this level, so to achieve any award at the expert level is truly an accomplishment.
My dream didn't stop there, my golden eagle went on to achieve the Best of Division award, the "Judges Choice" award and the ultimate honor of winning "The Best of Show" award. This was a crowning achievement for me both personally and professionally.
My Pyrography BooksSince I started teaching classes, my students encouraged me to write a book to help people learn my smooth shading (using gradient tones) technique. My first book, "Lifelike Pyrography from Photographs" first published in 2003 is like taking my advanced class on portraits. Because there were several pyrography books already out there with patterns and some very basic techniques, I wanted to do something different that would provide pyrographers with something they really needed and was not available in any other book on the market...more advanced techniques plus methods for pyrographers to create natural, lifelike work from photographs rather than using a line-drawn pattern. The book includes a step-by-step portrait project that teaches all you need to know to create your own beautiful lifelike portraits.
I also wanted to do the book my way, so when I received offers from two publishers to publish the book, I opted to do it all myself. Unlike commercial publishers who have their books printed in China my book is printed in in the U.S. The printing costs are higher, but it gave me total control over how the book was published and helped the local economy rather than supporting the Chinese economy. It was a lot of work and quite a learning experience but it paid off because the book became so popular that it was revised, edited and is now in it's 2nd printing.
I knew this book was a success when it went into the second printing, but the clincher was when Cheryl Dow contacted me and said that she had bought the book "Lifelike Pyrography from Photographs" and then she started burning human subjects using my smooth shading technique.
Since I cut back on teaching when I returned to work and I couldn't clone myself, I decided it was time to go back to the basics with a second book. There still were no new woodburning books that addressed basic woodburning. So many people were still looking for a book that was more than just patterns and had good basic information as well as clear step-by-step instructions. I began working to fill this need.
My second book, published in 2004, "Pyrography 101: A Lesson in Woodburning" was a way to reach people who are new to pyrography and/or struggling to learn to make their burnings more natural and realistic. It's like
taking my class without leaving the comfort of your home. I included all the basics, from choosing the material, preparation of the wood and lots of references in the back of the book to help you find information on the various burners available and where to find them, pyrography books, resources for supplies and much more. The book has step-by-step projects for beginners to help learn the basics and gain control of shading and one intermediate pattern to help master the shading technique, so there is something for everyone. I learned a lot with the first book and was fortunate to find a wonderful editor to help with this one to make it even better (the editor also helped with the second printing of my first book). I guess it worked because this book became another best seller and is now in it's 3rd printing.
In 2004 I was contacted by two companies to produce patterns of my burnings. I agreed and began work on turning some of my original burnings into patterns. The patterns have been very popular sellers but I realized that it would be more economical for people to buy a book of patterns rather than individual patterns so I compiled all the patterns into one book entitled "Pyrography Patterns". The book contains 14 of my favorite patterns in a coil bound book. It was the first book published entitled "Pyrography Patterns". Like the rest of my books they are all distributed by Fox Chapel Publishing & ten years later Fox Chapel published a book by the same name by a different artist. I guess they couldn't come up with a more original title that hadn't already been used.
My latest book published in 2008, "The Art of Pyrography: Taking woodburning to New Limits" covers new and fun things you can do with a woodburner. In this book I tell people there is life after basswood and I am
going to show you all about it in this book! This book covers things not covered in any of my previous books.
There are step-by-step projects on gourds & on a maple burl. I have also included some patterns & a section called "Life after basswood" that includes a gallery of pyrography done by several artists on unique canvas'. Some of the examples are pyrography done on maple burls, tupelo, holly, paper, canvas, leather, tagua nuts & gourds, etc. There is information on each with along with tips for burning on the various materials.
My goal is to give people food for thought so they begin explore other materials to burn besides just basswood. It is my hope that it will inspire people to take a chance & step outside the box. My feeling is it's time to take woodburning to new limits. Its not just woodburning anymore, its pyrography and you can experience the thrill of creating unique one of a kind Pyrographic art on unique canvas' as well!
Where you can find my books & patternsMy books are all available on my Facebook pages as well as through dealers around the U.S.A., Canada, Australia and other countries. Dealers can order from me direct from me or Razertip Industries.
About competitions and the judging processI entered my first competition in 2001 at a show in Tyler, TX with a portrait of Chief Sitting Bull that won a blue ribbon in the novice level. It was the first time in my life I entered any of my art work in a competition so it was a thrill.
For the next 5 years I entered many competitions, advancing to Expert level in 2006 and winning more than 30 - 1st place ribbons at different skill levels and a variety of other awards over the next 5 years.
In March, 2006 at the Kitsap show in Bremerton, WA I achieved the ultimate honors for my burning of a "Golden Eagle" walking away with four ribbons including: 1st place in the Pyrography category at the Expert Level, Best of Division, Judges choice and the ultimate award of BEST OF SHOW. The Judges raved about my work and said it is the best woodburning they have ever seen... One judge told me "The feathering was perfect, the depth and shadows were perfect. Those eyes just follow you everywhere you go. We could find absolutely nothing wrong with it".
It's been interesting over the years to see the difference in judging criteria in different areas of the country and at different types of shows. Each show seems to have such different criteria, skill levels and categories.
One common denominator was that most judges at woodcarving shows didn't have any knowledge or experience in general pyrography (other than to enhance their carvings with lines) and they had no understanding of the techniques or skill involved in the process nor did most of them care about learning. I must admit though that I was impressed with a couple of the judges in WA state who showed an interest in learning more so they could judge fairly. What a radical concept!
The lack of knowledge of judges in Pyrography does not make for fair judging. It's not fair to either the winner or looser because the judges are not basing their decisions on skill or techniques. Granted some people don't care why or how they win just as long as they win. But winning a ribbon is only great if it's for the right reasons, a good woodburning.
Over the years I've seen things such as competitions with no division of skill levels so the novice may be competing against a professional or even worse, their own instructor. I do find it odd that a person who teaches would even consider entering a competition knowing they are competing against their own students but if there's no rules against it I guess they see nothing wrong with it. The last show I entered a piece in competition I was really floored to hear a judge tell me how they came up with the 1st place winner in the Pyrography Category. She said "None of us really know anything about woodburning but we looked at both pieces & decided that the one with the dots looked harder to do" than the other one. My response was "how can you judge something you know nothing about"? Of course I didn't get a response but really didn't expect one. I decided it wasn't worth entering competition when the people who do the judging admit they don't know what they are doing.
My only suggestion to people who want to enter their work in competition is to grow a thick skin and do not take things personally. In most cases you know more about pyrography than most of the judges so if you are happy with it, that's all that matters.
Comments I have received about my work"Nedra. I must tell you this, too......I had the opportunity to take a look at your albums on your site the other day......I was astounded at the quality of work you produce.....those burnings are just gorgeous! Truly the best I've ever seen, and I'm not blowing smoke. You have a fan here and I continue to look forward to your postings on the forum. I hope your move went well and you were able to get situated in your new home without too much trouble after the horror-show you went through!" Bonnie B, New Hampshire (Woodcarving Illustrated forum)
"The picture you won with, the eagle head... I am pretty particular, and don't throw out compliments lightly, but that is to date the best pyrographed picture I have ever seen. I could go on and on... so I will. I have been involved in art classes and competitions all my life, so I think I have developed an eye for things beyond the picture that most people don't notice. I try to be encouraging in my comments on this site, there is usually something whether it is a texture, composition, theme, idea, or balance of a picture I can compliment on, but I try to keep more critical remarks to myself unless they are solicited. I have been impressed with many of the professional artists. What I want to tell you is that when I say that it is the best picture I have ever seen, I am not comparing you to the novices or even just the good burners on this site, but to all of the pictures I have been a fan of that were created by the best of them. They got nothing' on you Nedra. You deserved and earned the awards you received." Mel R, Ohio (woodburner.com)
Lynda Eaves who was a nationally known Pyrographic artist said of my work: "It is one thing to make a burning look like the photo, and quite another to put the 'breath of life' and personality into it. You don't just copy work, you capture the essence in each portrait"
"Having recently retired from my day job my first project was a golden eagle on a maple burl. I shared this piece with a dear friend who helped me through some very trying times and has watched my work develop through the years as I healed. Her comments regarding my Golden Eagle was the greatest compliment I could have received from anyone especially since her daughter is also an artist. "Your ability to imbue your work with the life presence of your subject is growing at a remarkable rate. This one is incredibly powerful". Tara Cushing, PhD