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Gilford animal lover leaving surprises around town after discovering new ‘burning’ passion for wood art

Innisfil volunteer, artist leaving tokens of hope and positivity throughout town

Gilford resident Erin Sanderson moved to Innisfil over 14 years ago with her husband Simon and their two boys. She loves the community so much so that she has started leaving special gifts around town for people to find.

Simon is a special needs teacher with the York Region District School Board, inspired by the couple's boys Jack, 10 and Calvin, 8 who are both on the autism-spectrum.

The Sandersons have three pets; an old English sheep dog, Miss Mugs, or Fluff-a-lug; a foster pug named Forest; and a big, fat cat, Chicken.

Sanderson loves animals and once worked for animal control a few years ago, covering the Innisfil, Bradford, and Newmarket area. Now, she works part-time at a dog kennel, UnicornHill Siberian Huskies in Baxter, just 10 minutes outside of Innisfil.

Sanderson is also a volunteer with Pawsitive Pet Food Bank in Innisfil with her good friend Irene Louro. The pet food bank collects pet food donations for animals in the community.

“We collect from the community and donate to those going through a tough time." explains Sanderson.

Sanderson also sells pet food, Harlow’s Blend, an all-natural holistic line of Canadian made dog and cat food. Sanderson delivers it for free to Innisfil residents.

Just last year, she discovered a hidden talent in pyrography: the art of free-hand wood burning.

“When my dad passed away, I inherited all his tools,” notes Sanderson, adding that her father was a woodworker who made cabinets. “I started using my dad’s tools, carving and sketching, and then my mom bought me a wood burner for Christmas."

Sanderson learned how to burn intricate designs and portraits onto wood, and has since joined groups on Facebook to learn different wood burning techniques.

“If it’s clean wood, I can burn anything on it," shares Sanderson

In just the last year, Sanderson has made charcuterie boards, hand-crafted wooden knives, custom art on paddles and oars, bird houses, keepsake boxes, name signs, business logo signs, pet portraits and more. She creates the designs at home, doing custom orders for clients.

“There’s a lot of tracing, but the technique is actually burning it onto the wood," explains Sanderson. “What I really enjoy doing is when someone has an idea, we can work together to create a piece."

Sanderson uses graphite paper to trace images onto wood before burning the image with her tools by hand to get the right picture.

“If you don’t think you can do something, just try! Because you never know!” encourages Sanderson. “It’s been great for my mental health, to be able to focus on something so beautiful… I love working with people and making their dreams come true through this art."

With the current pandemic causing feelings of fear, anxiety and sadness for many people,  Sanderson started leaving some of her wood pieces in random spots around town as a way to lift spirits.

“I’ve been placing little pieces of [wood] art all around Innisfil," shares Sanderson.

Sanderson adds positive messages and inspirational quotes on the backs of the wood art designs before placing them in surprise spots throughout the town, such as park benches, restaurant bathrooms, on top of electrical boxes, or dog parks.

She says it is part of a movement across the world known as Art Abandonment.

“I just want to put a smile on people’s face!” exclaims Sanderson. “I love the neighbours and the community, the fact that everybody is ready and willing to help each other… I just want to distract people from all that is going on in the world right now."

So next time you’re out around the town, and you happen to find a wood carving with a note attached “You found free art”, keep it as a token of Sanderson’s attempt to make you smile.

To view more of Sanderson’s Pyrography, visit her Facebook page: PyrographyNerd