Smoke Art
20 Sep 2021
by Katy Rink

A Shrewsbury artist began experimenting with a brand new technique in the medium of 'fumage' during lockdown, using smoke to create beautiful artworks from soot and this is the result!

Lockdown carved out space in our lives for experimentation with some startling results - from Shrewsbury's entrepreneurs and creatives, we have seen some remarkable and exciting new projects born of the pandemic.

Artist Caroline North began to play with a new technique 'Fumage' - a surrealist art technique made famous by Austrian-Mexican artist Wolfgang Paalen, in which impressions are made by the smoke of a candle or kerosene lamp on a piece of paper or canvas.
Caroline admits here medium is 'a little unusual' - but the results are spectacular and she is delighted to be holding her own exhibition in The Bear Steps Gallery balcony from November 15-27 this year.

She says: "During the 2021 lockdown I started to develop my own technique in the medium of Fumage. This is a medium whereby an artist uses the smoke from a candle to deposit soot on canvas or paper and create images from the soot using various tools. As soon as I discovered this medium, I immediately fell in love with it and believe I create uniquely beautiful animal and wildlife portraits."

The technique is quite obscure, with little information available about it and very few practitioners, particularly in the UK. Caroline, a self-taught, amateur artist with a passion for detailed wildlife images, usually works in Pastel and graphite.

She explains her new direction: "The fumage technique incorporates relatively detailed images, with a little touch of pastel in strategic places, such as the eyes and beaks. I first do a light sketch of the image that I want to produce and add any light pastel accents that I want to show though in the final picture. This gives me a basic structure to the picture and gives me an idea of where to smoke and in which general direction I want the smoke to move.

"I then hold the picture over a candle and gradually deposit the soot in small areas at a time. The soot is so delicate, it needs to be treated with the utmost respect and so gentle tools are required to create texture and form and more traditional tools, such as a fine eraser can be used to create the harder lines.

"Once the soot is on the picture I use feathers, sponges and cocktails sticks to create feather and fur texture. The natural shades of the smoke and occasional scorch on the paper gives fabulous natural texture and I tend to leave some areas of the picture untouched so that the natural smoke texture speaks for itself."

The finished results are quite awe-inspiring. Caroline entered the elephant fumage painting into the SAA Artist of the Year competition and is very proud to have been selected as a finalist out of several thousand entrants. Two of her pieces were also selected to be part of the Shrewsbury Arts Trail this summer and were exhibited in the Old Market Hall.

She adds: "I had such positive feedback from my initial works that I decided to put on my own exhibition in The Bear Steps Gallery balcony this November. This will feature around 20 fumage pieces with some pastel and graphite pieces if space allows."

Caroline I will also have two or three fumage pieces in the Shropshire Arts Society permanent display in St. Mary’s Church throughout December.

"I am so genuinely excited to show Shrewsbury my unique painting style!" Caroline says.

Check out Caroline's Social Media:

Facebook - @carolinenorthart

Instagram - @carolinenorthart