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15/10/2019 - 07:55

Pyrography - a Hue’s mark in the misty land

Amid the misty air of Da Lat, a crafter with a craggy look on the face is sitting attentively by his wood art.

Heated by an electric current, the pen starts to glow and scorch the wood with burned marks, creating a fine pyrography artwork bearing the very characteristic signature of Hue. It is the talented Hue-based painter Nguyen Khanh Hoang who contributes to revive pyrography in Da Lat.

Nguyen Khanh Hoang and his unique pen

Deep and profound

With a bright smile and faithful eyes, Nguyen Khanh Hoang happily introduced: “I was originally from Loc Tri, Phu Loc district. I came to Dalat for Hue and was able to survive here also because of my Hue characteristics”

Hue characteristics are what we mention the most when talking with each other: the soul and the distinct identity in such a unique artform that the young artist is pursuing. What makes Hoang himself today with such qualities are his deprived childhood and an arduous journey to define future and assert his individuality.

Born in 1979, Hoang said: “My parents are hardworking farmers. I grew up having two years of struggling with examinations (I failed my favorite major and passed another that I couldn’t afford to study). I then decided to leave my hometown for the South”. Nguyen Khanh Hoang finally settled down in Dalat after many ups and downs.

From an apprentice in a painting workshop to a goods porter, a hand sewing craftsman, a forest planter…, the young man spent nearly ten years to find a favorite job. While helping an acquaintance at Da Lat night market, he happened to see a male student selling wooden keychains with engraved texts.

Feeling inspired and totally capable, Khanh Hoang embarked on keychain crafting. Later, the young artist "encroached" on selling paintings and art words on wood.

By accident, this young Hue man came across a painter using a fire-pen to scorch wood on the street. This beautiful, unique, and novel craft dumbfounded him as he found exactly what he had longed for: an artform that featured subtle minimalism on monochromatic images.

“On closer study, I knew it was a famous traditional craftsmanship in Dalat. Yet at that time, fire-pen carving was past its prime. Only a few dedicated artists remained with pyrography,” recalled Nguyen Khanh Hoang.

A deep smoky chestnut shade

Reviving pyrography

Determined to pursue wood-burn art, the man spent two months patiently gathering all necessary supplies to make the fire-pen. But the challenges did not stop there even when all the woodburning tools came in hand. The most arduous part of pyrography lay in creating subtle lines with a shading tool far different from all other kinds of paintbrush.

Fire-pen creations are collections of wood burn marks as a result of heat. The smoky brown hue of burnt wood is the only thing that shapes the artwork.

For another two months, Nguyen Khanh Hoang learned to use the pen whose pressure when scorching could decide on the brightness and darkness of the lines.

Thus, the artist’s dexterity is to control his hand pressure and adjust proper temperature to create bright or dark, shallow or deep burnt marks. His hands when working with the carving must be skillful. “Perhaps this is why fire-pen artists are dubbed “the carvers” because just a few seconds of negligence, all the crafting efforts can become wasteful,” he said.

Previously, pyrography was often applied on pine wood, but Nguyen Khanh Hoang varied the materials to make pyrography more accessible. Besides pine wood, tamarind or sassafras wood can also become impressive pieces of art.

Not following the beaten path, Hoang explores life in addition to the scenery and classical themes. With a passion for photography, the beautiful moments he captures in photos are often used as sketch paintings for carving with striking features, creating such exquisite yet natural fire-pen drawing products.

For him, Hue is the motivation and the origin of his unmistakable identity. His wood art could say it all. From peacefully rustic and nostalgic countryside fire-pen carvings to fine portraits, all convey such a great emotional depth and comforting warmth.

Nguyen Khanh Hoang’s subtlety and ingenuity have revived Dalat’s fire-pen carving art. Now, fire-pen creations by this Hue artist can be found everywhere.

For many visitors, the young artist’s pyrography space at Dalat night market is a must-visit on their trip. They came to immerse in the air of this unique and classic wood art and enjoy the company of a dreamy Hue soul amidst the misty Da Lat.

Story by Mai Hue - Photo courtesy of the artist 

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