Sun Art

You only need a block of wood, a magnifying glass, the sun, and patience to make sun art.

| July/August 1979

As more and more people realize that our planet's safest energy source is actually its nearest star, folks are beginning to use direct sun power to heat homes, distill fuel, and more. In fact, we recently learned that Jim Harless of Oak Ridge, Tennessee has developed an ingenious method of putting the clean "celestial" energy to work. Jim's clever idea has provided him with hundreds of hours of soothing, creative recreation. Yet we here at MOTHER EARTH NEWS can't help but think (without in any way meaning to criticize J.H.'s hobby-time habit) that the Tennessean's brainstorm could also be expanded into a nonstrenuous, profitable home business!

And exactly what is this "hot off the fire" potential pocket-stuffer? Why, it's the fine craft of sun art!

Jim's been carving art objects with sun power for over a year now,  and his "natural" etching has turned out to be the most relaxing and expressive craft he's ever tried. Mr. Harless has found solar wood-burning to be so pleasurable an activity for its own sake that he's just beginning to realize he can turn a nice profit by selling his artwork! (Some of his sun-burned scenes—which only took an hour to complete—have been snapped up for $8.00 apiece at various craft shows.)

Best of all, anyone can afford to try his or her hand at this solar-age art idea (for fun and/or for money!) because the Volunteer Stater's imaginative pastime requires absolutely no significant investment. Jim's entire "equipment set" consists of odds and ends of light-colored wood, a can of varnish, a soft lead pencil, a pair of polarized sunglasses, and an inexpensive hand-held magnifying glass!

How Wood Burning Art Works

As Jim describes it, the process of sun etching is simplicity itself. Just find yourself a sunny location, possibly some area where you can copy an attractive natural subject. Then sketch the outlines of your artwork in pencil on a block of lumber (the "canvas" needs to be one of the paler woods, like pine or fir so your dark etching lines will stand out by contrast), put on your eye-protecting sunglasses, and hold a three- to four-inch-diameter enlargin' lens above your wood piece so that all the sun's rays which pass through the glass disc get focused on one part of your sketch. Before long, a faint trail of smoke will begin to rise as the concentrated beams burn a smoldering "dent" in your wood block. When that pinpointed spot has been "carved" as deeply as you wish, simply move the lens slightly to "groove" more of your sketched-in line.

And that's it. You'll soon burn in your complete penciled pattern and have a beautiful, "natural-looking" work of art. The attractive design will combine the rough and rustic quality of a broad, sunburned line (close detail work is pretty much impossible) with whatever interesting form you've chosen to depict. Then you can put a couple of coats of varnish on top of your project, to help the finished piece endure and to prevent carbon smearing. (You may also wish to accent one or two areas of your graphic art with some colorful enamel paint.) By the time you finish your first scene, a new sun-carving idea will no doubt have popped into your head and you'll be eager to start in on your next piece!

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