Local artist carves niche with wood burnings

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Shelly Birkelo
Friday, August 30, 2013

JANESVILLE—David Thill shaved more basswood from the Lynx he was carving Thursday morning in his basement shop.

The 73-year-old Janesville man started the piece in January, quit that same month but resumed working on it in August.

"I'll finish it in time for the show so I can explain a bit of what's involved," he said.

Thill will be the featured carver during this year's Rock River Valley Carvers of Wisconsin's Eighth Annual Show and Sale. He is among 45 exhibitors and vendors who will participate in the event Saturday, Sept. 14, at the Blackhawk Center on the Rock County 4-H Fairgrounds, 1301 Craig Ave.

Thill began carving in 2006 after tiring of craft shows.

"I wanted to do something different," he said.

Thill enrolled in a bird carving class at Blackhawk Technical College. He liked the first session so much he signed up for two more and invested in a wood burning system to create the details of bird feathers.

Thill is a pyrographic artist. He draws with fire--or wood burning--a captivating art technique that dates to the Victorian and art deco period.

“The first step is burning the drawing, then I color with oil pencils before I use a small brush to smear the color until I get the look I want,” he said.

About 20 of his framed 15-by-17-inch wood burnings, primarily of wildlife, will be on display and for sale during the show.

He works from photographs or borrows from calendars or magazines.

"Whatever periodicals I can find without copyright trouble," he said.

Since 2007, Thill estimates he has created nearly 40 woodcarvings that he mostly has sold at shows.

He is a member and treasurer of the local carvers club and a member of the Capital Area Carvers of Wisconsin, Madison.

Thill's prized award is first place at the 2012 Sheboygan woodcarver's club show, where his General Store wood burning took the top prize. He finished it after investing nearly 100 hours.

"I had a good feeling it would win first or second, so was ecstatic," he said. "I've gone to that show two times and won three awards."

He also won the Capital Area Carvers of Wisconsin Best of Show 2012 for his original Wells Fargo wood burning depicting a stagecoach and horses. It hangs on the living room wall of his west side home.

"This was the very first big scene I did. I wowed 'em and myself," he said.

"I was really happy with the outcome."

Thill is enrolled in a Janesville Senior Center art class and said carving keeps him young.

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