Gauri Bansal’s interest in pyrography — an art form involving a woodburning tool used to create patterns on wood or other materials — came out of nowhere.
It all started when her older daughter came home five years ago with a piece of floral artwork she created using microtip pens on archival paper. Bansal took one look at the art and all of a sudden had an urge to woodburn it.
“Mind you, I had never woodburned before. I had never held a woodburning tool before,” Bansal says. “I can’t tell you why that day I wanted to take her design and woodburn it. I didn’t want to paint it. I didn’t want to sketch it. I wanted to woodburn it.”
Afterward, Bansal went to a craft store, bought the tool, asked her daughter to draw a similar design on a piece of wood and started woodburning. Bansal says she didn’t really bother reading the instructions and didn’t even realize that wood traditionally needed to be prepared beforehand.
Now, years later, Bansal has become an expert in the craft of pyrography, largely focusing on functional art and selling pieces through her business, Prettyful Creations.
Originally from India, Bansal moved to Madison 20 years ago from Maryland. Throughout her life, she’s been drawn to creative pursuits, especially with her mom who did a bunch of crafts herself. “As a kid, I would sit and crank the machine for her as she sewed,” Bansal says. Bansal also painted and practiced art in high school before later earning bachelor’s degrees in home economics and information systems.
Bansal was searching for a creative business of her own and tried selling candles on Etsy, but something clicked when she held a woodburning tool for the first time.
“The one thing I had never heard of, never done, never seen — that’s become my career,” Bansal says.
Prettyful Creations is not Bansal’s day job; she works for the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, but she hopes to someday transition to working as an artist full time.
When Bansal starts a project, she prepares her wood by sanding it, then uses her tool to make a design. The tool is essentially a 1,200-degree ballpoint pen with nibs, or tips, of varying sizes that burn lines of different thickness. “As long as you can draw and write, you can woodburn,” she says. “You can basically trace your design on the wood … and then just go over it with your hot tool.”
Bansal typically freehands her coasters and mandala- and henna-inspired designs, but for larger, more intricate wood pieces, she’ll sketch out the patterns beforehand.
There is a large online community of pyrographers specializing in all sorts of techniques. Bansal says she naturally gravitates toward mandala or henna patterns. Everyone has their own style and they bounce ideas off each other, she says. “As far as an artist, I’m finding that my style [involves] line drawing which just suits [me well] for mandalas and henna designs,” Bansal says.
Bansal’s first few pieces incorporated henna designs. (Henna is an art form practiced in many cultures and countries, including India, Morocco and Yemen.) From there, she started creating mandalas, which are circles with eight parts that are meditative to draw and look at, and each mandala design has a specific meaning. Traditional mandalas originated in areas where Hinduism and Buddhism are practiced, and the designs start with a center point incorporating lines and symbols around that point. While Bansal typically starts with traditional patterns by dividing her designs into eight sections, she calls her mandalas semiauthentic since she veers from tradition in order to incorporate more variety.
Bansal aims to keep her art functional, meaning that there needs to be an intention for everything she does. Her larger focus is on accenting the home with beautiful things that have a purpose, such as cooking spoons, coasters, tea light holders, salad servers, key holders, bottle openers, cutting boards, wine caddies and serving boards.
“I absolutely will and can do custom orders if somebody wants to have wall art,” Bansal says. “I’ve done several for my own house, but as far as having them in my store, my personal choice is to make things that can be used.”
Looking back on her decision to take up pyrography years ago, Bansal says she never expected it to be such a great fit. She says it felt like the universe telling her it was time for her to be happy after she took so long looking for something of her own.
“This fulfills me like nothing else,” Bansal says. “I can bring my design, my culture — I can open the doors for a conversation.”
Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.
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