Susan Ravenstein’s creative ideas start with a woodburning stylus, a scroll saw and any handy piece of wood
By Marcy Stamper
Most people don’t think of art when they imagine burning wood, but for Susan Ravenstein, singing the surface of a board or plank with a hot stylus is an ideal means of self-expression.
Ravenstein insists she can’t draw with a pencil. But put a stylus with a special tip for woodburning in her hand, and she can create detailed sunflowers and landscapes with varied textures and patterns.
Some tips make tiny dots or ridges. A ball tip is useful for seeds in the middle of the flower, and a flat one to draw long lines for the stem or petals. Others are good for writing. After Ravenstein finishes the basic design, she uses pencils or paints to add color.
Ravenstein has been around wood since she was a kid, when she helped her father with wood projects, mostly with sanding. Along with basic safety skills, he showed her how to use a lathe, but she has taught herself to use the tools that are a regular part of her repertoire.
People are often surprised to learn that she works with wood. “Most people think men are the only ones who know how to do woodworking,” Ravenstein said. “’A woman?’ they say. ‘You know how to run a saw?’”
“I have all 10 fingers. I know a lot of woodworking men who are missing three or four,” said Ravenstein.
Ravenstein has been woodburning for about 15 years, since her husband, Jeff, bought her a stylus after her sons graduated from high school.
Ravenstein finds woodwork relaxing. Just about every night, she spends time at her kitchen table burning designs into wood, decorating boards and spoons, cork, and even paper. “As long as you use heavy paper, it won’t catch fire,” she said.
Ravenstein has recently started experimenting with burning and painting on gourds. “That’s what I like about the woodburning — you can do whatever. If I make a mistake I can cover it up,” she said.
On weekends, Ravenstein goes out to her 160-square-foot wood shop, where she has a tiny scroll saw, a miniature lathe and a needle-like drill press. She makes puzzles, trivets and pizza cutters, pens and decorative wall hangings.
During down time at Twisp Daily Business, which she owns with her husband, Ravenstein brainstorms about new projects. “If I could do this full time, I would. I have lots of ideas,” she said.
“I’m one of those people who has to think about things for a long time. Then when I do it, it works. I can figure it out in my head,” she said.
Her refusal to waste any scrap of wood ends up being a source of inspiration. “Maybe I can do a lizard and this could be the tail,” she said, pointing to an awkward protrusion. She estimates she has 500 patterns for puzzles and other projects.
She has started rummaging in her brush pile for small branches that she slices into decorative buttons. She uses the tiny drill to make holes. “I’ve got a zillion buttons out in my backyard,” she said.
Ravenstein’s woodburning designs are all originals, but she follows patterns for puzzles, which she cuts out with a scroll saw. The puzzles — particularly frogs and giraffes — are actually more popular with adults than kids, she said. One family spent an entire Christmas Eve assembling a dozen puzzles from a disorganized pile of pieces.
Ravenstein typically spends the fall making Christmas gifts for friends and family. Last year she exhibited at the Winthrop bazaar, but this year she will most likely just sell her woodwork out of their store in Twisp.
Ravenstein thinks she is outgrowing her wood shop. “I love tools. I don’t get diamond rings for Christmas. I get tools — I just want stuff for my woodworking.”