One day in May 2021
I did not actually plan on making this project at all. My good friend was looking for some help and inspiration for making a pyrography present for her significant other. While I was happy to help her out, I also wanted to make something of my own, so the idea came to me to add a bit of Avatar-themed decor to my apartment.
Now, Avatar: The Last Airbender and its associated franchise has been around since 2005, but I missed the entirety of its initial run (as well as that of The Legend of Korra) just as how the skills of waterbending bypassed Sokka. The reason behind my folly was that our household did not have cable, so Nickelodeon was a foreign concept to me throughout all of my childhood. It was not until Spring of 2020, during the early stages of the pandemic, when I was lying in bed and having nothing better to do than sleep, eat, and think about the transience of life, that I decided to finally check off Avatar from my must-watch list of television programs.
Worth. The. Wait. What an amazing show! Such highs and lows not typically found in a program marketed for a younger audience, as heavy themes including revenge, jingoism, betrayal, and redemption find themselves weaved throughout the tale. I ended up binging the Legend of Korra afterwards, and it was not until the final few episodes of this show that Netflix released both series on its streaming platform. I then proceeded to catch up on the graphic novels as well. Too bad they haven’t yet made a movie on Avatar: The Last Airbender, though!
The pyrography kit is by far and away the most pricey item on the materials list, though the project can be done without any wood burning whatsoever. As the pyrography kit was a birthday present from a close friend of mine, I wanted to try it out in any way I could.
Pyrography is a fun hobby that is tricky to learn and master – however, anyone can trace out lines from a minimalistic design, so the best way to enter a hobby is to start small with the basics steps.
I wanted to keep the design simple, and a quick Google search on “Avatar: The Last Airbender” + “Art” + “Minimalism” turned up a selection of options. In particular, I was drawn immediately to a wallpaper depicting five of the major characters of Avatar from cartoondistrict.com. From left to right, we have Sokka, Toph Beifong, Aang, Kitara, and Zuko.
As I wanted the focus of the viewer to be on the elemental representations as much as on the characters themselves, the more abstract the design the better for my purposes.
I only had four pieces of the Blick Studio Wood Panels, so one of the characters would have to be left out. The choice was obvious: poor, poor Sokka, but he is the only one of the five who is a “non-bender.” The remainder – Toph, Aang, Kitara, Zuko – represent Earth, Air, Water, and Fire, respectively. Aang, as the Avatar, masters all four elements over the course of the series, but he is still at heart an Airbender.
There were a couple small adjustments I made with the design. For one, while I painted the background of the wood panel green, blue, and red for Toph, Katara, and Zuko, respectively, I kept the wood panel of Aang an unfinished, natural tan appearance to symbolize Air. The other adjustment I made was to color in the hair and faces of the characters to provide some colorful ‘pop’ to the wall art.
All this consisted of was printing out the designs on a sheet of paper, and then taping on end of the design to an edge of the front face of a wood panel, then slipping in the transfer paper to transfer the outlines of the design to the wood. Afterwards, I proceeded with the wood burning aspect – slow and steady, but not too slow lest the surface chars!
With the wood burning complete, I then proceeded to paint the backgrounds for Toph, Katara, and Zuko. It took a couple of layers for coverage, especially with the green, but I got it done in the end.
As I mentioned before, a pyrography kit is not necessary at all to completing the project, but I find that the sharp outline from pyrography makes it much easier to paint in the various areas.
All that was left was to paint in the faces and hair of the four heroes… voila, all done!
Given that this project took only a few hours, at most, I would have to categorize it as a success. Nevertheless, there are always nits to pick:
1. The Eyes of Aang and Zuko: I like that the designs of Toph and Katara do not have eyes, and upon reflection, I think I should have refrained from tracing out the eyes of Aang and Zuko with the pyrography tool.
2. Zuko’s scar: I experimented a bit with literally burning the area around Zuko’s eye with the pyrography tool, but the result wasn’t as strong as I had hoped. However, I think this would be a cool idea to undertake, so if I had to redo this project, I will more carefully attempt to use the pyrography kit or a butane torch to “touch up” Zuko a bit.
3. Epoxy Avatar State: If I were to address nitpick 1 in another fashion: Aang’s eyes glow bright blue when he enters The Avatar State, and one way to achieve this effect would be to add some shiny blue colorant to epoxy inlay. This would likely necessitate some CNC work to route out the areas of Aang’s eye and arrow tattoo, but the effect would be striking.
4. Elemental Symbols: I also considered adding in an elemental symbol to the corner of each of the wood panels, one for each respective elemental bender. I wasn’t sure how to proceed for Aang’s case, however, and ultimately decided against including this detail to the design.
Though this project may be done with, I still have a few other Avatar: The Last Airbender project ideas floating around in my mind:
1. Scroll Saw Art – I have been on the fence for some time now on whether or not to delve into the craft of scroll sawing, but if I do, one of the first characters I would make would have to be of Uncle Iroh enjoying some delicious tea.
2. Avatar Map – perhaps more easily completable with a laser cutter, but it would be a neat companion piece to the maps of Manhattan and Westeros that I have previously made (I will eventually write these up as posts as well).
3. Avatar Elemental Coasters – This would actually be quite straightforward with a CNC router and would look great with epoxy inlay.
The four Avatar pieces neatly decorate a small portion of my apartment, and it’s comforting to see four members of Team Avatar as I go about my day – akin to the feeling that enters Uncle Iroh’s heart when he experiences the rich experience of jasmine tea.
As a side note, the gift that my friend made turned out superbly, so I will also make sure to complete that post down the line, perhaps with input from the friend herself.