FOR South African born pyrography artist Eben Rautenbach, the allure of Scotland’s native flora and fauna is a constant source of inspiration. Foxes, owls, deer and otters are among the subject matter for his intricate technique, which involves decorating wood with burn marks using a heated object such as a poker or metal pen.

“I was used to African animals, so when I first moved to the Scottish Borders the country’s native species really struck me… the first time I saw a red deer I was pretty blown away,” Eben, 44 admits.

HeraldScotland:

“I wanted to capture these animals in a state or scene that people wouldn’t usually see them in – a very natural state, rather than something that’s very posed. I much prefer capturing something like a simple fox sniffing around leaves.”

The self-taught artist left his homeland and became a graffiti artist in New York for a time, before finding himself working with a surfboard shaper in Ireland.

“After putting my art on some surfboards that was really when it was seen by the public properly for the first time,” he says. “Before that I was fairly anonymous as a graffiti artist, but now there was a name and a face to the image, and I was actually making money from the art.

HeraldScotland:

“Before I knew it, I was making longboards with artwork on it and then people started putting them on their walls rather than skating on them, which is when I thought there really was something to this.”

But it wasn’t until the company he worked for here in Scotland went bust that Eben decided to make art his full-time focus and become self-employed.

“Funnily enough that same year, around eight years ago, I got an invite to do the Edinburgh Art Fair,” he explains, “before that I had showed in some galleries and some of the museums here in the Borders and in Glasgow, but after I showed at the Edinburgh Fair things really took off.

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“So far I’ve been very lucky to be pretty much fully booked every year, it’s hard for me to take on new work, I do leave enough room for a few other projects though.”

Having worked on hollow wooden surfboards and skaters’ longboards, Eben is now burning his artwork onto wooden skis. “Linking up with Jamie [of Lonely Mountain Skis] and getting the opportunity to work on skis that are going worldwide, that to me is a major thing,” he reflects.

HeraldScotland:

“I never thought I would have my artwork on skis and knowing people over the world are riding a pair of skis with my custom-made artwork on them, and then hanging them on their walls… that sort of one-off element is a career highlight for me.

“It’s nice to receive accolades and be seen, but for me it’s the personal wee gains of things that I never thought would happen coming to fruition that mean the most.”

Eben’s pyrography art is immensely detailed and lifelike, taking him anywhere between a week and a month to finish one piece. “I made this surfboard once,” he recalls, “I don’t know why I decided to burn this piece onto it, I’m glad I did, but that one took a full year to burn an image of a stag standing on top of a huge pile of antlers and bones.”

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Working with wood as a canvas and a pyrography pen is not without its challenges.  “Pyrography is a lot like tattooing, and with that there’s no room for mistakes,” Eben says.

“If I sit and work on a piece and make a mistake, it’s not just a matter of getting rid of the error because you have left indentations in the wood and made it uneven. Obviously with some mistakes you could try and cover it up, but I always see it and I hate it – I’d rather start over again.

HeraldScotland:

“It’s the absolute attention to detail with pyrography that I love about it… it’s almost an obsession.”

Currently Eben is working on a number of commissions, a solo show in the Borders and has also hooked up with a number of distilleries.

HeraldScotland:

He says: “There’s so many brilliant artists in Scotland and so many great emerging artists that it’s hard to stay fresh and current. I think I’ve been very lucky so far that what I do doesn’t really go out of style…nature doesn’t go out of fashion.”

www.thepyroartist.com

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