Burn art

Willamette valley pastor fulfills lifelong creative pursuits

Don White of Aumsville, who has been creating art since he was a child, now uses woodburning tools to further his artistic interests.


Don White of Aumsville, who has been creating art since he was a child, now uses woodburning tools to further his artistic interests.

Blending theology with creativity, Aumsville artist Don White loves to find ways to use his passion for art in his ministry.

Raised in the lush Columbia Gorge, he was surrounded with artistic inspiration since childhood. He pursued a career in ministry, but retired early to follow his creative ambitions, particularly in writing.

“I wrote, illustrated and self-published my book, ‘A Puritan Pilgrim,’ a modernized version of William Bradford’s 400-year-old journal of the Mayflower passengers,” he says. Having studied Puritanism in graduate school, their story has always been a passion of mine.”

A self-taught artist, his first artistic love was pencil on paper. He has won awards for his drawings and paintings, and still enjoys it, but the past several years he has channeled his creative energy into pyrography — an art form that involves burning images into wood with specially heated tools.

“Though my work and education have mainly been in ministry and theology, creativity has always been a crucial part of who I am, and I’ve often found ways to use my creativity in ministry,” White says. “But I’ve had a passion for art since my earliest memories.”

Although most of his art was either drawing or painting, picking up a burning tool in a department store craft section stirred his curiosity.

“I was hooked,” White says. “It didn’t require a large work area as with my paints, and there was something about the process of burning creative images that helped me deal with the stress of graduate school and ministry. I began doing decorative art and craft fair goods, but soon found many professional artists who were doing exhibition-quality burn art.”

For many, the term “woodburning” often conjures up images of “Cub Scouts burning crude sailboat images onto a chunk of lumber,” White says. “Comparing that to what professional burn artists are doing today is like comparing crayon work to any fine art. Also, since the introduction of advanced burning tools, artists have been doing dazzling work, not just on wood, but leather, paper, bone and other surfaces.”

White says many artists prefer the more generic term “pyrography” to woodburning because of common misconceptions about the process. He prefers the term “burn art.”

One of the greatest challenges about burning art into wood, he says, is that the wood has its own idea of what it wants to look like.

“The grain, color and texture are all there before a burn artist begins to create,” he says. “However, I find that as an advantage. The unique color and grain pattern often lends itself to artistic inspiration, and my work becomes a collaboration with the wood.”

White finds it gratifying to create art by using the basic elements of wood and fire.

“In fact, pyrography has been used as therapy in some places,” he says. “The pace of the art forces one to slow down and focus on the creative process, in ways very similar to meditation.”

White has directed woodburning groups with at-risk teens, which often lifts mood and boosts their morale, he says.

“My favorite works are usually the ones I am currently working on,” he says. “I’m creating some fantasy-themed pieces right now. However, the piece I’m probably most satisfied with is ‘Wolfscape,’ which dramatically portrays the wolf as a natural part of the Northwest landscape and gives tribute to the countless acres of forest tragically burned recently in the Columbia Gorge. Burn artists often find themselves depicting wildlife because there’s something so natural about etching animal images onto wood.”

White knows very few artists and writers making a living solely through their creations, and credits his wife Cheri for helping him live out his dream.

After living in southern Oregon for over 20 years, they moved to the Salem area two years ago to be closer to their family.

“We have three daughters, two small grandsons, and our youngest daughter is a missionary in Honduras,” White says. “My wife is an oncology nurse at Oregon Oncology Specialists, saving lives every day. Her parents live in Turner.”

He also acknowledges Cheryl O’Deay, owner of What the Quirk gallery and gift shop in Stayton, for displaying his work.

“Fortunately, you don’t have to be a professional to experience the joy of creativity,” he says. “For those with creative dreams, one has to make time and space to create, no matter how small. You have to make creativity a priority. And you have to be satisfied with the process, because whether it’s writing or fine art, creativity always looks messy in the beginning stages. You can’t be a perfectionist.”

He also cautions comparing amateur work with that of professionals.

“Craft and artistry take time to develop,” he says. “Your poem or art may go no further than your own wall or as a gift for a special person. But that is OK. The important thing is that you are expressing your creativity.”

His blog, CreativeFire.org, details his passions for writing and fine art.

“My novel is taking shape, and my office is filled with beautiful pieces of wood begging to be turned into art,” White says. “Fortunately, people continue to request me to create works for them, and sometimes it is difficult to keep up. That’s a good thing.”

White also looks forward to being involved with art shows and events in the area.

“Growing up in the Columbia Gorge, I feel very much at home here, and I am thoroughly enjoying making friends with other local artists and writers,” he says. “I’m encouraged to see that the arts are thriving in Marion County and the Santiam area.”

Of note

Donaldwaynewhite.com or find him on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Linked In.

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