So how on earth do you make a support that will withstand the heat and rigours of fire painting. Answer? Handmade gesso.
Setting fire to paint in a bonkers process that uses smoke and flames to create things of beauty is all well and good. But creating a support to withstand that extreme amount of heat and madness provided a whole other challenge. Endless days and weeks of experimentation and failure went into finding the solution.
The Holy Grail was a support which could withstand the heat whilst also being porous enough to capture the carbon deposits, resins and paints thrown at it. As with so much about the fire painting technique, I had to go back to basics, breaking down the materials and mediums to their raw forms and rebuilding them in ways for which they weren't really designed.
So now I have my perfect support. The sides are arctic pine, the front is MDF. These are both glued and pinned. Anything up to five layers of warm rabbit skin size is then applied. Turning the support 90 degrees between each coat. Then comes the vital ingredient. Gesso. For those not in the know in the world of gesso, it is a mixture of rabbit skin glue, whiting and pigment. The whole thing is made hot and applied hot. It dries to an almost ceramic finish. Stunning. The support has to be thoroughly dried before I can even think about using it. It can take up to a month before I'm happy with the moisture content and stability of the surface.
Only then does the painting begin. The whole process of construction and priming takes a minimum of two months. The fire painting itself can take less than a hour. But with another two months of varnishing to follow, the fire paintings are far from the instant artworks they may appear.