Justin Willams wasn’t too fond of school growing up on Hatteras Island.

He preferred to surf and fish.

But he did like art.

So when he moved with his wife to Raphine, Va., and eventually left the custom cabinet business, his mind took him back to those days of drawing and painting.

And fishing.

“At first I was going to do carving because of my experience with cabinet-building,” said Williams, 37. “So I sketched out a drawing on wood and was ready to carve.”

Something caused pause and Williams instead picked up a wood-burning tool.

It was a moment last year that has resulted in Fish Burn, a business where he combines his love of fishing, hunting – basically all things outdoors – and art.

“It’s going well and a lot of people are taking an interest in it,” said Williams, who lives on a 300-acre farm with his real estate agent wife and their three children. “Social media is really helping. I mean, I’m doing a piece for a guy in Texas.

“I want it to be as unique as possible, but there aren’t any limits to what I can do.”

While the former Buxton resident – he’s lived in Raphine in the Shenandoah Valley for nearly 20 years – works mostly on commission, he envisions one day having a gallery near the entrance to the family farm.

It’s proximity to Wade’s Mill – the oldest, continuously running grain mill in the state that was founded in 1750 – won’t hurt with foot traffic.

“I’d like to have a little cabin with a gallery and where I can work,” he said. “It’s amazing the amount of people who visit the mill and we’re right next door.”

Williams also holds an FAA drone license and does aerial photography for his wife’s real estate business.

And while he has adapted to the trout-heavy freshwater fishing scene in the Blue Ridge Mountains, he mostly loves the saltwater fishing of his roots. He returns to the Outer Banks often and sometimes fishes in Lynnhaven Inlet for speckled trout, puppy drum and striped bass.

His pieces go for about $85 a square foot.

“I find that it’s often more appreciated and understood than skin mounts,” he said. “And it’s a lot cheaper than a mount.”

The size depends on what the customer wants. A recent piece combined his aerial photography skills with his love of shallow saltwater fishing. It depicts a skiff with an angler on the bow targeting a small school of puppy drum.

But he’s not limiting himself to his own passions.

“We can do whatever the customer wants and I can let them take a look at it before I start burning,” he said.

“I’m working on one for a fisherman who caught his personal best striped bass at Smith Mountain Lake. It features a map of the lake along with the fish.

“He didn’t want to see it. He wants it to be a surprise.”

By the looks of Williams’ work, it’s a safe bet that the angler will be more than pleased.


  • Be Forbes
    Posted February 23, 2021 1:01 pm 0Likes

    GREAT work, Lee! I can almost smell the wood burning.

  • Justin Williams
    Posted February 23, 2021 3:49 pm 0Likes

    Thanks Lee! The burnt wood smell is on my clothes no doubt!

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