smoke painting

Calling All Angels!

Recently, on one of those days when it seemed that the world order is coming apart at the seams, I was going through a stack of unfinished Muse paintings, and found this. It was a demo I’d done on smoke painting.  And the words “CALLING ALL ANGELS” came to mind. I felt like doodling, and well, here’s what came of itcallingAllAngels

smoke painting, Silver Fox and Golden inks applied with nib pen on w/c paper

In despair after a breakfast spent doom-scrolling, I contemplate sending out an  all points bulletin. Calling all Angels!

What I have in mind is something like cupids shooting enchanted arrows, exploding our hearts and waking us up. A heavenly chorus of One Love, One People!  

BUT what if, in their all-knowingness, the heavenly quidditch players take a different approach, arm themselves with flame throwers, grab tear gas canisters (readily available in police stations), and proceed to annihilate the evil and ignorance we have become! (Hurricanes, floods, tornados, earthquakes and fire would do the trick too.)

On second thought, maybe don’t call the angels.

I guess that means we have to figure out how to rectify the damage we’ve done. . . the hard way. . . as bumbling humans.

If you want to try out this smoke painting technique, it’s pretty easy, and there’s lots of examples and directions on previous blog posts.


Sfumato, Fumage, Smoke Painting

Whatever you call it, it happens when you touch a flame to paper, just enough to let a ghost of ashy, charcoal-y gray/black touch the paper. It’s hard to stop once you get started.

You can fix it with acrylic spray, workable fixative, and then paint over. You can take an eraser and remove it in places, as I did with the teardrop shapes here. You can burn the edges of the paper or even burn wholes in the middle. But watch out! The firebug may take over.


candle smoke, collage, stainless steel acrylic, screen and paper collage on w/c paper

Smoke alarms! The embers dance a crazy dance of not caring.

It is so very thrilling, this dance of life and death.

But only when you are perched on the high wire

Or immediately after when you’ve survived and can see that your feet are still there,

Hands still clutching each other.

You’ve just seen the spirits.

That will haunt you forever.

Smokin’ again


smoke on w/c paper, inks, screen collage, 10 X 11″

Want a little mystery mixed in with your paints?  Light a candle and smoke the paper. That’s what we did in the Saturday workshop, that and a bit of brulage (burning the paper). The effect usually caused hallucinations of a sort (even without the cannabis). In this image I saw people huddling and was reminded of the novel I was reading late at night about the blitz bombing of London in WWII; people huddling in underground shelters night after night.smokespider

A second one was perhaps equally evocative (creepy?) I used a piece where I had collaged on tissue paper and purposely burned it in places where it was built up, in order to get that brown color.  I liked that so much that I made some holes with the hole punch and briefly placed the candle flame in them for some nice brulage edges. (and sprayed with water immediately to put the fire out!) Kind of spidery. . .and it took a while to figure out what to do next. . .


I started out with a more benevolent floral theme by adding some yellow ink, but ditched that idea and started dripping sepia ink.  And finally cut up an old painting and collaged on the pieces, smoking over those at the end. (I still see the spider, kind of a tarantula, but now he’s safely in a world beyond!)

Smoke Painting and Brulage, May 14


smoke painting, ink dripping and collage on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

We see the surface textures of things and miss the heart of them.

Meanwhile our lives are full of holes where creatures live out of sight and unknown to us.

But if we listen closely we can hear the skittering and feel the electric ripple of skin in that part of us that knows. . .

I do love to paint with smoke! It’s not hard.  Light a candle and hold the paper at an angle over it, letting the flame kiss the paper until you see a stroke of soot/charcoal/smoke dust on the paper.  If you wait too long, or hold the flame on the edge of the paper you get burnt paper or “brulage” (we do love those French words!)  Instant painting!  That’s what we did in Monday’s class.

It’s a lesson I’ll be repeating on May 14 in a mini-workshop in my studio.  You are welcome to come! As you can see above, we take the smoked beginning and let it lead us into more mixed media fun.  Here’s a couple more examples: “Up in Smoke” and “Smoke and Mirrors”

If you’d like to register, visit my website for more information!

Take Refuge


smoke painting, gouache, collage, graphite on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

Take refuge in others, in the community, in the family, in ancient wisdoms and modern ways.

The voyage commenses when the plane takes off.

The heart beats loudest just before.

The mind wonders “Is this right? 

Have I got the timing right?

Have I prepared properly?”

The answer is always yes. 

Yes, go.

Yes, live.

Yes, take refuge in your world which is ready and waiting for you to step into it.

The Saturday group met today for a lesson in Smoke Painting, even as my oldest son was doing the last of his preparations for an extended solo trip to Europe.  As I write he is boarding his flight to Stockholm. The butterflies in his stomach seem to have migrated to mine even though I’m not getting on any plane tonight.  So it only seemed right to capture these feelings, caused by a blurring of mother-son boundaries, in the smoke images.  Our advise to our children always ends up being for ourselves as well.  Phone home if you’re in need, or phone your best friend.  Take refuge.

Up in Smoke


smoke “paint”, acrylic inks, collage, phone book “hair” on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

The gods came to to proclaim it as the most beautiful creation, there where it lay beneath a smoky sky raining golden drops.

We smoked up my studio a bit last Monday, more with the smokin’ hot excitement of playing with this amazing form of air-born charcoal than actual smokiness from the candle we used.

Light a candle and hold your paper up against it at different angles.  Let the flame caress the paper and watch the fire spirit jump out and land on the paper in the form of a soft silvery bit of mystery.

If you want to get the lovely brown marks you have to be a bit more of a fire bug and hold the paper directly over the flame til the paper actually starts to burn.  Snatch it away and immediately extinguish it.  You may get a hole now and then.  With the 140lb watercolor paper we use, it takes a while to start a fire, so you can have lots of fun with this without needing the water bucket.  Don’t let the flame touch the edge of the paper where it can catch fire quickly.

You can also smoke paint over the top of an acrylic painting for added texture.  But if you’re going to paint over the smoke you will need to put spray fixative on it first to set the smoke.