Jeff Revelle relies on the sun when he creates his art.
“I call it solar art,” said Jeff, 45, of his wood-burned pieces. “I never met anyone who does this kind of art.”
The former Belleville resident sits down in a folding chair outside his Hazelwood, Mo., apartment. He holds a round wooden disc, 18 inches in diameter, in one hand and a magnifying glass in the other, then waits for the sun to heat things up.
In a matter of seconds, a fiery bright light appears and the wood begins smoking. Jeff then guides a magnifying glass over the pencil lines he has drawn. A steady hand is a must, something Jeff developed from soldering at a previous job.
He uses the small magnifying glass for detail, such as the pointillistic-style dots on the Martin Luther King portrait. He picks up a large square ribbed magnifier called a Fresnel to burn background areas.
“The Fresnel — it’s clear plastic with grooves in it and focuses light into a narrow band — burns a light about 1/2 inch thick,” he said, “this one, makes a 1/16. I use it for the small lines ... I get the circle (of light) as small as I can get it and that’s when it will catch fire.”
The Fresnel surprised him.
“I was like, OK, wow. I didn’t think I could get that much power from a piece of plastic,” he said. “It will catch something on fire pretty quick. The actual flame is 1 1/2 to 2 inches.
“I usually wear sunglasses because the light is pretty intense.”
An hour later, Jeff has a finished portrait, scene or company logo. That morning, he worked on a design that combined the Belleville fountain with the News-Democrat logo.
Jeff got the idea for solar art when he was 15.
“It was August of 1985 that I started with this. My mom saw me burning leaves and said, ‘Do something constructive.’ Dad was in the lumber business. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now.”
Examples from the 500 or so pieces he has made fill his living room. President Obama, Smokey the Bear and the statue of Liberty. The Katniss character from “The Hunger Games.” An American flag in brown tones and the St. Louis baseball Cardinals bird-on-the-bat logo. Still lifes and portraits. Some pieces he paints after the burning process is complete.
“It’s relaxing,” he said, looking around the room. “I like doing portraits for people, to bring a smile to their face.”
He also likes the challenge of company logos such as Coca Cola, Home Depot and Budweiser.
“I work for Home Depot (as a lot associate at the Florissant, Mo., store). That’s where I get the big round pieces and medium-size rounds.”
Store manager Jeremy Kirksey had Jeff create a piece for him with a Mizzou Tigers theme.
“I asked if he could do something Missouri Tigers-related,” said Jeremy. “I said, ‘use your creativity.’ It was well beyond any expectations. Anybody who walks into my office asks me where I got it. I bought one for the district manager as well.”
Jeff did a Dallas Cowboys logo for him.
He even repurposed a slice of wood cut from the bottom of a Christmas tree to make a Home Depot logo ornament.
His only mishap?
”I almost caught my jeans on fire. They kind of smoked. I may have been talking to someone and still holding the magnifying glass. Other than that, I’ve been pretty careful”
Jeff credits his parents and Belleville West High School with his art interest.
“Dad (Norman Revelle) did a little bit of drawing. Mom (Martha Broom) was a (substitute) junior high teacher back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. They helped me with my creativity. I took art in school. I won $150 in an art contest my senior year. For a drawing class, we had to come up with a slogan for ‘We the People’ for the 200th anniversary of the constitution. It was on a poster.”
Jeff moved to St. Louis in 1992, and now shares an apartment with his sister Lori Revelle. They have a boxer-Australian cattle mix named Mardi, a parakeet named Fred and three cats, Oreo, Oliver and Juan. A sweet painting he did in high school of his Bassett hound Sam hangs above the sofa.
He plans his solar art around his work schedule and the weather report.
“I’m always watching the weather. I work outside 80 percent of the time at Home Depot.”
If it’s kind of hazy in Hazelwood, his wood will still catch fire. A puffy cumulus cloud makes him pause. So does a gust of wind.
“Clear skies, not windy is the best condition,” he said, looking up. “Here comes the sun.
“I’ve done this in zero temperatures, and I’ve done it in Arizona where it’s 120 degrees.”
He’s also tried it with marshmallows.
“Occasionally, a neighbor stops by and asks, ‘What in the world are you doing?’ or ‘Wow, did you actually do that?’ It’s by the sun’s power, 90 million miles away,” the mild-mannered artist said in wonder. “If I’m focused on something, it will catch.”
Want to see more? Check out Jeffrey Revelle’s Facebook page. Jeff sells his big rounds for $40; small, for $30 through Facebook or call him at 314 733-5332. He also will have his art on display Sept. 26 during an art show at Norman Myers Park, 8700 Midland Blvd., Overland, Mo.