From utilitarian items like cutting boards, wooden spoons and kitchenware to decorative wall hangings, Christmas ornaments and other pieces of art, Erica Harrington said she believes one thing about the creations she makes from wood: The sky is the limit.
“It all depends on the piece,” she said. “I can burn a skill that evokes mystery or a simple, fun sunflower that is lighthearted. I just hope people appreciate the art and the nature you can find the wood. I love the contrast of man-made art against something nature created.”
Harrington, who spent her early life in Quincy but has lived in Rockland since high school, began the hobby of wood burning four years ago. She picked up a hot pen from Michael’s riding a random burst of curiosity, and burned her first few lines into a pine 2×4 board she bought at a hardware store.
“I really didn’t even know how the hot pen worked, but the minute the smoke came up and I smelled that burning pine, I knew,” she said. “You never know what new skill will open up a new opportunity.”
She started simple with the cheapest materials she could find, burning easy shapes into slabs of wood as she learned different techniques and started to experiment. She soon branched into different woods like olive, birch, acacia, bass and rubberwood – she has a closet full of samples waiting to be turned into art – and really hit her groove when she decided to take a risk and create a portrait of a friend’s pet who had recently passed away.
“For a lot of people, their pet is like a family member. It’s a lot of pressure to perfectly capture their personality, the look in their eyes,” Harrington, 48, said. “To have people trust me with something so important, it’s mind blowing to me.”
From there, the world opened up. She learned how to leverage her training in drawing – she has a degree in illustration – to create shading using various levels of heat and different amounts of pressure. Christmas ornaments with pet portraits are now Harrington’s best selling item around the holidays, and she’s made portraits of famous people or movie scenes. She’s branched into abstract line art and has even added paint to certain works.
Depending on the item, she will use different types of wood and different types of oils. For kitchen items, she uses pre-processed cutting boards and wooden spoons she seals with a food-grade mineral oil. For other pieces, she lets the base speak to her, and follows the natural patterns and grains of the wood.
One particularly funky piece of olive wood was turned into a mermaid, whose tail followed the natural bend of the grain. For another piece, she used the raw wood edging to create a natural frame around a portrait of Jack from the movie “The Shining.”
“It’s meditative, it’s gorgeous, I just love it. I couldn’t believe that you could put this permanent art on wood,” she said. “You have to know how to make the shading look soft, how hot to run the tool, how light of a touch to use, how long to stay in one place. There was definitely trial and error to find my style.”
Her entire life as an artist has been trial and error in a way, said Harrington, who calls herself “a regular at Michaels” craft store. Before landing on wood burning, she painted wine glasses, made acrylic beads and even owned her own cake company. Now, she’s a part-time cake decorator at a Marshfield shop and owner of Erica Harrington Art.
“I have a tendency to jump from hobby to hobby, but word burning really just stuck with me,” she said. “There is so much you can do with it – home decor, fine art, small gifts. I never get bored.”
Photos in this post were taken by the wonderfully talented Greg Derr. They were originally published in The Patriot Ledger.