Fay Helfer - July Featured Artist


Fay Helfer

Berkeley, California

Your website: 

Last time you ate a pancake?
Many years ago, I’m more of a crêpe girl

Favorite day of the week?

Favorite website besides your own?

booooooom.com and butdoesitfloat.com



Give us a brief description of you and your work.

 Although I’m always experimenting with new mediums, my current focus is on pyrography, pastel, and natural pigments. As a medium, pyrography and pigments on wood is much like a tattoo on flesh. The marks burn the wood, chemically changing it’s properties, and the pigments absorb into the wood, dyeing the surface layers. Like tattoos, this seems permanent, but destruction is always an option and atrophy over time is inevitable. I would say there’s a definite vein that runs through my art that expresses the essence of existence to me: impermanence and transformation.


Can you describe your technique and procedure of how you create your artwork?

I start with a basic idea and collect reference images, or plants and objects from life whenever possible. I don’t really draw out thumbnails or plan anything beforehand, I like to sketch directly on the wood and see where it goes. When I reach something I like, I start burning and sometimes paint simultaneously, then erase or sand off any pencil marks. Final stages include burning in the darkest darks, then painting the highlights and glints, and sealing it all in.


How did you get into pyrography and what type of tool do you use to do the actual burning?

When I was about 7, my grandparents gave me a woodburning kit. I used to decorate Calabash gourds and hang them as bird-feeders. I loved the look and feel of making these marks and especially the smell of burning wood. Almost two decades later, I bought the same tool (a Wall Lenk woodburner) on a nostalgic whim. A hobby turned into sales and commissions, then last year I upgraded to a Razertip Pyrographic Burner, which is fantastic for details and has temperature control. I still use my old yellow Wall Lenk tool with the standard nib for the bulk of my work though.

Where do you find the natural pigments that you work with? Are you limited to specific colors or can you mix them to create a large variety?

From the grocery store or my kitchen. I mainly find pigments from spices, fruit skins, onion skins, roots, husks... etc. I’ve experimented with a lot, but lately have narrowed it down to mixing the three primaries (red, yellow, blue) which can produce a wide range of colours. I also use pastels as a powder mixed with water, and mix them in the pigments to get certain colours. The yellow I use is just turmeric and water. The blue I have came from a friend who gave me some indigo powder she brought back from Morocco. Reddish colours are easier to find, I mainly use berry skins and beet peels, mixed with Kanku (the red turmeric powder used in Hindu religious ceremonies).


How did you discover your talent for art? Do you have formal training?

I always loved drawing and making things, and was lucky to have creative parents who supported and harnessed my passions. I took lessons with local artists and friends of the family, then had the opportunity to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design.  There, I discovered the technical side of art and studied animation (digital and stop-motion), and sculpture.


What’s your goal as an artist?

To keep soaking up inspiration while exploring this never-ending compulsion to make, and hopefully inspire others along the way.

From where do you draw inspiration?

Nature and nonsense.


Why do you choose to show your artwork on Plywerk?

I love the ideals, quality (quirks) and aesthetic of Plywerk.

What is your favorite subject matter to create?

People, plants, creatures... organic forms.

If you could have any superpower what would you choose?

Invincibility with healing powers.


 If you could pick any two celebrities to be your parents, who would they be?

Gene Wilder and Reggie Watts.

What kind of jelly do you like on your PB&Js?

Bonne Maman - strawberry preserves.


How would you describe yourself in three words?

I would not.

Favorite coffee drink?

Espresso with honey.


Breakfast cereal of choice?

Rice Krispies.

Top three movies of all time?

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, The Secret of NIMH, and Jurassic Park.


More about Fay

Fay is originally from the island of St. Martin/Maarten and holds an MFA from the Savannah College of Art and Design. She works outside as much as possible, and often finds tiny yellow splatters on her paintings. Almost all of her artwork contains insect poop.

Win a Fay Helfer print on Plywerk

Post a comment below and you will automatically be entered in a drawing to win a Fay Helfer print mounted on 3/4″ bamboo Plywerk!!! We’ll select a winner at random at the end of the month so make sure you come back to the blog in early August to see if you won and to check out the new featured artist! We’ll ship it anywhere in the continental US for free. If you win and need it shipped internationally, you’re on the hook for shipping costs. Sorry to be so mean.



17 thoughts on “Fay Helfer - July Featured Artist”

  • Katie L

    I love her stuff and the ideas behind her creations. Very cool! Thanks for sharing!

  • Christian

    Wow! I wasn't familiar with pyrography before this feature, what a unique process! The natural texture that comes from the wooden canvas along with the fact she uses natural ingredients and spices to color the work makes it that much cooler!

    The variety of patterns and forms expressed throughout her work clearly show how passionate she is about the natural beauty found in nature, from insects on the heads of beautiful women to plant and organ hybrids. The transition from heart to plant is incredibly seamless leading me to believe something like this could really exist in some undiscovered alien world. Fay's work is imaginative and fantastical, sparking my own curiosity about the way nature grows, adapts and mutates.

    Pretty funny interview too, she clearly has a great sense of humor and quirkiness to go along with all that talent. Totally in love with the works she's created here and I can't wait to see what she shows us next! Hope I can win a piece!

  • Alyssa W

    Breathtaking! I can't get over how vivid the dandelion piece is!

  • Kristin

    Had a woodburning kit as a child and really dug it (minus the burnt fingertips). Unfortunately, it never panned out for me. Nice to learn about the elevation of the technique. Love the work!

  • Trish Kuhlman
    Trish Kuhlman July 5, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Not only is her use of medium beautiful, but seeing the subjects (spider plants, snails, sour grass - or wood sorrel) reinvigorates my interest in these sometimes overlooked beauties.

  • Sofia S

    Fay your work is fantastic. It is really refreshing to see how can use old tools with new perspective.

  • Jack Lin

    Beautiful work.

  • Naomi

    Love the mix of pretty and visceral...

  • Julia

    Amazing artwork! And the details. Very beautiful.

  • Courtney Novak
    Courtney Novak July 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

    beautiful work!

  • brian sigler

    That is really amazing work.

  • Neal Handloser

    Wow, such cool work! Hard to choose a favorite..

  • Paul

    Gorgeous stuff!

  • Kristin Paperman
    Kristin Paperman July 28, 2013 at 9:03 am

    Remarkable what a lot of talent and discipline can do. Beautiful pieces.

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