It's been about 20 years since I started painting with fire. Initially an accident, the process of mixing wax with oil paint and igniting the mixture has progressed from something I struggled to control, to a highly refined process.
My moment of invention happened when I was only just starting to think about being a professional artist. I had no idea how to use oil paints. To be honest I knew how to sketch and that was about it.
But I did have a brain buzzing with ideas. One of these was a self portrait that would be a cross section of myself. A wax mould of my face, moving through layers of skin, blood and finally DNA. In the livingroom of my tiny flat, I began working with wax to create a mask of my face and then started to drip the wax into paint.
Heating the mixture over a candle to see what would happen the canvas started to burn. The paint and wax mixed into a molten mess. I added more mixture and reheated the back of the canvas. The whole thing went up in flames. After blowing it out it looked unlike anything I'd ever done before. And to top it off, I'd just experienced the best adrenalin hit. It was all good.
During the next few weeks I became totally immersed in experimenting, burning and seeing what I could create. Then one day whilst having breakfast I looked up. The ceiling in my flat was totally black. I can only imagine how the place must have smelt. It was time to get a studio!
Over the next few years and now with the industrial space I needed, the process developed quickly. Cheap wax candles moved to a more refined wax paste. The paints improved in quality as did the extraction. I worked on larger more adventurous pieces, the flames grew ever higher. I thrived on the danger of it all. The adrenalin rush became addictive.
I began working at a frenetic pace. Within the space of only a few weeks, I had put together over ? large scale artworks and with the help of some very supportive friends, I transformed my warehouse studio into a gallery for my first public show.
It was the most surreal experience. One day I was sitting in my tiny kitchen melting wax onto something the size of a coaster and now suddenly I was mingling with art collectors at my sell-out show. Amazing. Yet terrifying. It was all a little too much too soon and I had to escape the city for a remote part of the countryside to mentally protect myself from the sudden flurry of public and media interest.
In doing so I lost my industrial unit and it became logistically, as well as creatively important, that I harnessed the fire painting process. That I controlled it rather than the other way around.
After I met and then married my wife, we had an agreement that I wouldn't experiment with painting with fire when she wasn't at home. We lived on the outskirts of a forest at the time and she was constantly worried that one false move and I'd set fire to myself and take the studio, the house and the surrounding countryside with me.
It was a well-founded concern. I had steadily burnt my way through a variety of wooden picnic tables and it was a frequent occurrence for her to arrive home to the sight of me cooking dinner in blackened, charred overalls.
But I eventually finessed the process. The most important aspect being perfecting the painting mixture recipe.
On a basic level, it is still oil paint mixed with wax. Now I make a wax paste made with white spirit and refined beeswax. The proportions must be exact. The resulting paste is a solid when cold and has to be heated before being used on the painting. I hand ground all the paints myself. It gives me ultimate control over how it will react when I set it on fire.
Finally I use various home-made Damar resin mixtures to provide the 'sooty' flame that is critical in creating so many of the marks on the painting.
The mixtures are hot during the painting process, dripped onto the painting from hot jars. Then ignited. Using a mixture of a blow torch and compressed air I manipulate the flaming paint mixture to create the effect I want. Constantly rotating the support to control the direction and intensity of the flame and smoke.
The process now is quick, very intense and just a little dangerous. My perfect creative process.
Several tables may have bitten the dust during the last 20 years. As have many pairs of overalls, quite a lot of my arm hair and, on one occasion, an eyebrow but I'm now really happy with the process.
Today I work in a purpose built outdoor fire painting area and clients often come and watch me create their fire painting commissions. My young daughter is so used to watching me work that she thinks everyone's Daddy paints with fire for a living.
The journey has been an interesting one and no-one is more surprised than me that I am still in one piece.