I had decided that for Christmas I would create some pyrography art for gifts. This would serve two functions: a) items to practice with and b) gifts to give. I had several store-bought wooden plaques and decided that they would be perfect for my idea. As a bonus, if people didn’t like them, I wasn’t out anything other than my time. Since the only way to learn is to practice, time is what I needed to spend.
Material used: Thin wood Plaque
Size: 11 x 5
Completed: September 2015
My oldest niece is a game fanatic. She probably plays more games than even my mother does. Yes, you read that right; my mother is a big gamer. Back before home video games, she would be in the arcade at the local pizza parlor playing games and fighting with the kids half her height and a quarter of her age over who was up next to play. Back to my niece, I asked her one day what her favorite game character was and found out it was Zelda’s Link. Armed with this information I went searching the net and found an image to use.
I liked this particular image because it was in action vs just standing there, it fit nicely on the plaque I had, and, more importantly, it enlarged decently. Unlike a couple other images I liked that turned to blurry blobs when I tried to enlarge them past the tiny 2×2 inch pictures they were on my computer screen.
After transferring the image onto my plaque and making sure it was centered properly, lesson learned from the rose fairy, I was ready to go. First step was to evaluate the image and decide what my dark and light areas would be. This decision was pretty easy as my dark areas were going to be the leather on his boots, gloves, belt, pouch, and sword sheath. The light areas would be his face, leggings, and sword leaving his green tunic for a middle value.
When I’m burning I tend to bounce around the piece mostly because I think it helps ensure I keep the tones in proper relation to other sections. I’ll work on a spot for a bit, then move onto a different spot and work on it. I do try to work on the most difficult or least forgiving area first, so for this piece that was Link’s face. My reason is that I don’t want to get the piece mostly done and then mess up the most critical part of the art. Many projects have found a permanent home in the garbage can because the critical area didn’t turn out well.
I did run into troubles with the face and I wasn’t super thrilled with how it turned out, but decided it was good enough. There are 2 spots that I really disliked; the nose and the jaw line. Noses are my nemesis and I hate doing them, so I avoid doing portraits mostly for that reason. I almost always end up with either a really, really long nose that takes up 2/3’s of the face or a nose that looks like it belongs on a baby. On this one I managed a merge – a longer nose with that baby bulbous look. Even though I didn’t care for the nose, I decided I could live with it.
While the problem with the nose was of my making, the jaw line problem was a result of the cheap and very dry wood. I hit a soft spot when I was reworking (defining) the area below the jaw line. The pen tip sunk quickly into the soft spot and changed the contour of the jaw. At this point I had completed the face and a couple of other sections, so I decided that I could live with error especially since I was doing this mostly for practice. Yes, it was going to be a gift, but the intended recipient is a teenage girl who doesn’t seem to be overly thrilled with much of anything that doesn’t involve shopping at malls or playing her video games. I know, I have a bad attitude.
Some of the textured areas turned out well and I was impressed with what could be accomplished with a wood burner. A couple of areas I really liked were his right pant leg and the belts/straps. I ended up using a needle tip to get some of the fine detail around these areas done since they were so small. In retrospect I’m surprised it turned out as well as it did given the amount of detail, the size of the piece, and my limited experience in this medium.
In conclusion, I was fairly pleased with this piece. It’s not something I’d want on my wall, but did prove that pyrography could produce something that had similar detail to drawing. The very low quality wood really created a lot of extra challenges that could have easily been avoided by using better wood. This plaque was a ¼” thick, had a lot of grain, was very soft and extremely dry, but like with most things until you try it you don’t know. Looking back, months later, I’d compare burning on this wood plaque as the equivalent to learning to paint using those cheap plastic ‘hobby’ paint brushes; it was mostly a lesson in frustration. It would have been a much better experience with higher quality wood.
The plaque I used was intended more for paint crafts versus wood burning. The difference the wood quality made is something I didn’t discover until my next project, the bald eagle, when I used much nicer wood. I was amazed at how much easier it was to produce fine pyrography.
What I learned:
- Use a better quality of wood. The poor quality combined with my lack of pyrography experience created a lot of extra challenges a beginner would be well advised to avoid.
- Soft, dry wood is very difficult to fix mistakes on. My X-acto knife tended to gouge regardless of how lightly I used it.
- Choose an image with good resolution! It’s very essential to making your work easier. If the image is blurry and doesn’t have clean lines, it will make it more challenging if you don’t have a lot of drawing experience. I wasn’t familiar with this character, so I spent a lot of time comparing my progress with the reference to make sure I was staying on track.
- Pay attention to the grain when transferring your image onto the wood. I didn’t want any of the grain veins in the character’s face and I knew that would create problems for me. The faces are probably the most important part to get right since people are more familiar with them and can readily tell when something is off.
- Avoid using really thin cheap wood for projects you intend to keep vs practice on. Also look the plaque over and make sure it doesn’t have a lot of grain lines going through it.
Oct 2, 2015