Steven Spazuk: Bird on smoky head

All images courtesy of Steven Spazuk

Who needs acrylics or oil paints when you have the power of fire? That's the question that comes to mind when you see the gorgeous paintings of French artist Steven Spazuk, who literally sets his canvases alight before sculpting the resulting soot into the image he desires.

It's important to be careful when playing with fire — but we wouldn't call Spazuk's gorgeous work mere "play."

"Working with soot is like working with chance. The path the soot takes is as random as the path a fish takes in the water or a bird in the air," Spazuk explains. "I capture soot to immobilize chance. For me, spontaneity and chance are what make my creative process effective. An unexpected direction always leads to discovery."

Steven Spazuk: Beluga in the city

When Spazuk first began developing his fire painting technique in 2001, the most obvious hurdle to conquer was preventing the fire from immediately engulfing the paper canvas. To prevent the flame from catching the entire canvas on fire, he started using thicker cardboard-like paper that could stand up to a direct flame. The next challenge was figuring out the best way to preserve these delicate paintings, which are prone to smudging. After testing countless fixatives and spray varnishes, he found a combination that worked well, and he's been mastering his technique ever since.

Another interesting aspect of Spazuk's process is his use of unconventional materials to sculpt the soot. For example, in his bird series, he used real feathers to accurately mimic the fine, delicate features of plumage. He's also made brushes from unconventional objects such as Barbie doll hair or the end of a frayed rope.

When painting a portrait of his wife, he made a special brush from the hairs she lost while battling breast cancer. After nine months of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and radiation, she was "reborn a warrior" — a sentiment that shines through when you examine the portrait:

Steven Spazuk: Wife's portrait

Take a look at the video below to better understand his process, and continue further down to see more examples of his beautiful artwork.

Steven Spazuk: Collage
Steven Spazuk: Flowery head
Steven Spazuk: Gold bird
Steven Spazuk: Bird and vines
Steven Spazuk: Collage
Steven Spazuk: Embrace
Steven Spazuk: Bird on thumb
Steven Spazuk: Birds and bushes
Steven Spazuk: Wispy person
Steven Spazuk: Smokey face
Steven Spazuk: Bird and grenade
Steven Spazuk: Gold leaf portrait
Steven Spazuk: Birds and red string
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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.