Gunpowder Drawings

I am currently working on gunpowder drawings.

It is a technical challenge for several reasons: fire and paper are not best friends. The coloration has to come from a certain amount of the burn being forced into the paper or singing the top. The gunpowder itself would rather just burn up leaving very little mark on the paper, so a certain amount of compression is necessary.
Here are some working images:

Gun 3

and here is a video of the drawing process:

Here is the newest thing I am hassling with… a man with water-tower or windmill legs:


On the first phase of gunpowder burning (shown above) the paper was burnt into a black mess in one area… design solutions abound. Below is about 8 hours of masking and cutting before the first burning.

masking process for "tower man 1"

Here is the result of phase 2 :: the second burn to silhouette the figure and add some interest.
I also cut out the badly burned areas.



5 thoughts on “Gunpowder Drawings

  1. Hi Ryder,
    Greetings from Gabriola Island, BC, Canada.
    I was fascinated by your process of gunpowder drawing. I’ve long wondered if I could merge gunpowder drawing with silverpoint drawing – a passion of mine.

    Could you expand on, “The gunpowder itself would rather just burn up leaving very little mark on the paper, so a certain amount of compression is necessary.”


    Gerrit Verstraete
    Drawing Society of Canada

    • Gerrit,
      Yes, the compression is what gives the drawing a certain spread of color and the density of color. Gunpowder itself is flammable, but would rather burn air than singe paper, much like high concentrate alcohol will burn on your hand without really singing your flesh.
      If you check out some of the videos on the blog you will see that I often use Painters Tape (blue tape) to hold the gunpowder in place and marginally compressing the powder against the paper. I have also used matt-board and plywood with a fuse to make sure the burn spreads outward rather than up into the air.
      I hope that helps a bit.
      I think using gunpowder as a rubbing material rather than a flammable material would work well with Silver point. (Like Ed Ruscha’s Gunpowder drawings.) What might be interesting is to see if the Silverpoint or some other substance could act as a resist against the chemical infused burn of gunpowder. Just a thought. Maybe a direction I should try.
      I have also been thinking about adding chemicals that would produce coloration, much like Jake Gilson’s art.
      Thanks for the comment, and let me know how your experimentation goes.

  2. Ryder;

    I recently became aware of gunpowder drawing and would love to explore the process. I have not had much luck finding any “how to” references. I am getting some minimal information from your and Cai Guo-Qiang’s sites. What are the options to use for base paper/medium? What’s the source and type of gun powder? Do you ever use fuses? Any reference(s) you can recommend? What success have you had with adding tints by mixing in other metals into the gunpowder? Sorry if too many questions but i am really fascinated by process and the whole concept of destructive/constructive nature of the process.

    How does one find out what pieces of yours are available to acquire and where?

    • Bruce,
      Thanks for your interest. I find out most everything by trial and error.
      Funpowder… The first Gunpowder I used was a Winchester 748 and later a Hodgon h380. (both have a medium burn rate and a nice coloration) I torched a couple pieces using some high burn rate magnum powders. Which was fun in retrospect, but at the time it was frustrating. And I used a fuse a couple times, but due to a series of flaws in the compression technique and some mistakes it was not as successful as I thought it would be. So I have not used one since.
      Chemicals or metal frags… nope still have not done it, so I am not sure how it works. I have been making big architectural pieces lately and have sort of put the gunpowder work on the back burner.
      As for substrates…. It depends on how much bleed of powder you want. Canvas with paint on it behaves differently than a panel of wood with paint and for paper it depends on the surface. I have been using ‘stonehinge’ paper lately with good results. The issue with burning on paint is that it bubbles from the heat, which can be cool, but most often is just messy.
      As far as available works… Inquiry through me is fine. I still have most of the pieces you can find on my website. (I have sold all the tower men.) Just let me know what you find interesting.

  3. Hi Ryder,
    Hope you can be of help. I’m trying, without much help, to buy locally (san francisco area) a jar, meaning quantity, of black gunpowder. I will be using the powder for a series of drawings and have had to put them off as I’ve had a difficult time getting the powder. I just came by your name & work on the web.

    Could you please give me some reliable references?
    Thank you,
    valerie jacobs

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