Artistic creation commonly involves traditional tools like pens, pencils or brushes. However, a local craftsman utilises a pyrography pen, an electric device derived from a soldering iron. This tool allows him to burn intricate patterns and Khmer lettering onto wooden surfaces, resulting in unique and attractive artworks.

A resident of Prey Sar commune’s Piphup Thmei village in the capital’s Dangkor district, Chea Vanrith recounts that his passion for writing and drawing was first ignited during his school days. Whenever his schoolmates required illustrations for commemorative scrapbooks, he was consistently the one sought after for this task.

“During that time, my responsibility was usually to design the upper portion of the book, while my classmates took charge of the bottom section. Without fail, the books would be returned to me for further embellishment. At that time, I generally used a brush or marker pens,” he says.

The artist, who is also a TV presenter at Bayon TV, recalls that the direction of his artistic path changed during a visit to the River Festival in Kampong Thom province earlier this year. The event featured a diverse array of products, but one which caught his eye was a booth which showcased burnt paintings and letter engravings on wooden boards. Intrigued by the art form, he sought out the artist responsible. Unfortunately the artist was unavailable, though his mother was present at the booth.

It was then that he inquired about trying his hand at this form of drawing.

Following his first attempt at creating an image, he received praise from the artist’s mother, who lauded his skills as surpassing those of her son.

This moment ignited a concept in his mind – the realisation that with a pyrography pen of his own, he could craft his own designs and take his passion to new heights. He established contact with the artist and enlisted his aid in procuring a pen of his own.

He explains that his current artistic pursuits encompass painting and writing on boards, which are generally imported from China. This form demands personal aptitude and unwavering commitment. His unique approach enables him to create innovative lettering styles and fonts, which he seamlessly integrates into elaborate drawings. This approach results from his own creative impulses and extensive internet research.

Vanrith says his preference is generally for pine timber, but notes that he has recently expanded his repertoire to include bamboo. His versatility enables him to craft designs tailored to the preferences of his customers.

He discloses that single-sided keychain carvings are priced at $3, while double-sided carvings are available for $4. His larger pieces – boards which measure 15cm by 30cm – vary from $12 to over $20, depending on the intricacy of the designs. He has also begun to diversify his offerings to include diverse shapes, such as heart or cloud-shaped coffee cup coasters.

He adds that the process of creating some of his larger pieces demands meticulous attention and consumes a substantial amount of time, often spanning one to two days. One of the challenges he encounters during his work is the smoke generated, which, regrettably, leads to headaches, as he is uncomfortable wearing a face mask.

His clientele extends beyond Phnom Penh to various provinces.

Soung Sovchea, head of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, remarked on the novelty of this artistic approach. He believes innovative techniques breathe new life into age-old art forms.

For example traditional drawings were created with brushes and pencils, but the use of a wood burning pen constitutes a fresh technique within the local art scene.

“When it comes to handmade goods, their creation demands time and dedication. In contrast to machine-manufactured items, which can be swiftly mass-produced from templates, handcrafted products hold a distinct value owing to the meticulous craftsmanship involved,” he says.

“Each piece is truly unique. For instance, in the process of creating an artwork, the artist’s emotions assume a significant role. At times, a piece of art attains exceptional beauty when the artist is inspired, while on other occasions, the same composition may fail to evoke similar emotions, as the outcome is intrinsically tied to the artist’s emotions,” adds Sovchea.