How Matt Beyrer Transforms Wood into Extraordinary Works of Art
Typically, when an artist needs materials, they’ll go to an art store or make an online purchase. For artist Matt Beyrer, however, it means a trip to the lumberyard.
Beyrer doesn’t use mediums like canvas and paper to create his mesmerizing art. Instead, he chooses the time-honored medium of wooden planks and cleverly incorporates the wood’s natural grain into his compositions.
As you might expect, Beyrer doesn’t simply grab any old board off the shelf. In a recent interview with Park West Gallery Director Morris Shapiro, Beyrer discussed the arduous process behind how he transforms wood into unforgettable works of art.
Finding the Needle in the Pallet
The first step is choosing his wooden panels. He heads to the home improvement store, where he politely asks the employees to “pull down all the pallets that they have” so he can examine each four-foot by eight-foot piece of wood to find ideal wood grain patterns. He says once he explains why he is being so selective, the employees are all too eager to cooperate.
“It’s not just like I’m some critical carpenter who’s building this house and looking for the perfect piece,” Beyrer says. “When I show them what I’m doing and what I’m trying to achieve, they’re like, ‘Oh!’”
Preparing the Planks
Beyrer’s preparation doesn’t end with finding the right wood. Once the perfect pieces are found, Beyrer takes them back to his studio where he cuts them into planks. From there he sands them down, smoothing the surfaces.
Even when the wood is cut, Beyrer still has work to do. He explains that when he first experimented with painting on wood, he found that colors in the blue and green families became distorted due to the natural color of the wood.
In his search for a remedy, he attempted to whitewash the boards, but this only covered the wood grain he had sought to highlight. That’s when a blast from his past gave him an idea.
Beyrer recalled helping his grandfather build wooden reindeer as a child. To add details to the reindeer, his grandfather burnt the wood to bring out the edges of the angles and the antlers.
“I remember growing up as a kid, he would build these things and the best part for me was he would let me torch them,” Beyrer says.
Beyrer replicated that technique, taking his blowtorch to his planks and letting them cool. He then whitewashes the boards while keeping the wood grain patterns visible, allowing him to paint in cool color palettes. He continues to use this technique to this day.
Finding the Right Balance
With the wood finally prepped, Beyrer sketches his composition then begins painting. The artist compares the delicate balance of maintaining the wood grain to painting with watercolors. If he accidentally paints a section too dark and covers the grain, he has to correct it or start the painting anew.
“There’s no way to really lighten it back up except to paint into it opaquely, and then you lose the wood grain. So it’s kind of like a hit or a miss,” Beyrer says.
Having honed his technique, Beyrer says one of his long-term goals is to find the perfect plank of wood to create his biggest work yet. So far, his largest painting measures in at four-foot by six-foot, but he hopes to one day find an ideal four-foot by eight-foot piece of wood that can become a giant work of art.
“I don’t care if it takes me a year to paint into it, I just haven’t come across it yet. But I’m looking,” Beyrer says.