In this pyrography ‘how to’ blog / lesson / tutorial I want to demonstrate how to create this gingerbread house using nothing but lines (background excluded). I’ve found that when I’m learning a new hobby, in the beginning, it can be very useful to follow along with someone else. This way I can concentrate on learning the techniques and not worry about coming up with my own art. Another goal is to provide a lot of practice drawing lines as lines are easier to master than shading. Lastly I wanted to show how you can give your art a more three dimensional appearance by just using lines.
Why dedicate a project to drawing lines? Lines form the foundation of almost all art and pyrography is no exception. So it’s important to be able to draw lines that are smooth, consistent in thickness, color, and free of blemishes. Plus I have this philosophy that if you can draw smooth lines with your wood burner writing tip, then you will be able to use the other tips well too.
There are 6 major items that can influence how well your lines burn: wood smoothness, grain lines, grain direction, tip heat, hand pressure, and hand speed.
- Wood Smoothness. I cannot emphasize enough the need to thoroughly sand all of your wood before burning. Rough patches can snag the tip making it pause and that pause, even if slight, can create blobs and charring. It really doesn’t take that long to properly prep the wood for optimal burning, so I highly recommend taking the time to do so. Sand, wet out, and sand again (unless you’re burning on plywood). Read my blog “Wood Types and prepping wood for Pyrography” to get a more detailed explanation of this process.
- Grain Lines. Grain lines tend to darken when heat is applied. Depending on the type of wood, the grain lines can be a lot softer and the tip (especially writing tips) will be more prone to sink into the area. Oak is one wood that I have a lot of problems of this nature with. I have found a couple of things to help keep this from happening: a) lighten my pressure when I get to a grain line, b) burn on either side of the line, but not on the line directly, or c) use my X-acto knife to scrape away blemishes. I have varying degree of success with these steps, but find I’m getting better with practice.
- Grain direction. The direction of the grain lines can aid or hinder burning. When you are burning with the grain it is a lot easier and the burn tends to be a little bit darker and wider than burns done across the grain assuming all other factors are the same. So generally if I’m burning in the same direction the grain runs I can burn faster, but when burning across the grain I have to slow down to get the same results. So what does burning with the grain mean? Generally this means you are burning in the same direction that the grain line (growth ring) is traversing. In this example, you can see the grain lines that are running from left to right. Grain lines are not straight or even close to it most of the time and they also vary on how close together they are. In the lab pubs project it was a lot easier to burn in a horizontal direction (left to right) that it was in a vertical direction (up/down) because the horizontal direction was the grain line direction.
- Tip Heat. The hotness of the pen tip is one of the biggest factors in blob creation. Each time the pen is lifted from the wood surface, heat starts building up, and when the tip touches the wood again it will transfer this heat to the wood. If the heat is too high it’s almost impossible to prevent this from happening. Plus high heat has a tendency to char or brown the area past the tip so drawn lines are not a crisp. I tend to burn on a med-low heat and seldom change it.
- Hand Pressure. Keep your hand pressure light when burning. Extra pressure means you will be more prone to snag the tip as it sinks into the wood. Remember that this is wood burning and the goal is to tone the wood with the burner not emboss or carve it. Do not hold the pen in a death grip. You will not have a much control and it will be harder to create fluid lines. If your hand starts cramping in a short amount of time, you are probably gripping the pen too hard and/or applying too much pressure.
- Hand Speed. The speed you burn at needs to be kept constant for consistent results. To get results like I am producing, burn at a lower heat and move the pen across the wood with slower speed. You can get lighter or darker lines just by slowing or increasing your speed.
The gingerbread house was created using lines and only lines (background excepted) using a writing tip. I used the same tip for the entire project, but again the background is an exception to that. Now if you find you’d prefer to use other tips, by all means do so as that’s how you discover what works for you. There is no absolute wrong or right to this and you can modify it if you like. Think there are too many decorations on the house? Reduce the number of them. Don’t like the little wire fence? Leave it out. This is your project, so own it. The only important thing is you work on learning to create pyrography art. Like with everything, practice makes perfect so let’s get going.
- Writing tip or point tip nib
- Piece of wood around 8 x 7 inches. (you can reduce or enlarge the pattern size if needed/desired)
- The attached pdf pattern Gingerbread House pattern
This is the list of the steps we will be taking to drawing the gingerbread house
- Outline & erase residual pencil marks
- Darken outer lines (plus roof lines, and front panel)
- Draw horizontal lines on flat roof
- Draw vertical lines down each shingle
- Shade below each shingle (short lines, close together, and at slight angle)
- Candy Canes (lots and have them dark)
- Horizontal lines on the porch deck
- Slanted lines on all windows (keep the slant direction the same for all windows)
- Roof shadows on house
- Vertical lines on the door, wall shadows, recess lower walls
- Fine tune (darken) all of the decorations & add window/wreath shadows
- If desired, darken the background
Step 1: Transfer
All of my projects start out the same in that I have to transfer the pattern to the wood. I discuss different methods in detail in my “transfer patterns to wood via stamp, iron, trace,” so here I’m only going to mention briefly how I do this. I copy/print the pattern on standard copier paper, coat the backside of the paper with a 3B graphite pencil, tape pattern to wood (graphite side to the wood), and trace over the pattern with a sharp pencil (I use 4h). I call this method the tracing method. Because this pattern has so many straight lines, I used a ruler while I was tracing it onto the wood. If you look closely as the smaller picture you will see the results of the tracing. Also I left the pattern in the picture to show how I put a little x on the areas I’ve already traced. I find that this helps me keep track of where I’m at and what still needs to be done. If you want more information about this and other methods of transferring patterns, read my blog Transferring Patterns.
Step 2: Outline & Erase
Turn heat on med-low setting (I have mine set around 3.5) and trace over the pencil marks. I do not burn my outline dark and it’s a good habit to get into especially if you want to create fine art pyrography. A lightly burned outline is the equivalent of a pencil sketch on paper; you sketch light and then flesh out the sketch. That’s our intent here except we’re using a wood burner instead of a pencil. I did try using a ruler to keep the lines super straight, but the metal on the ruler acted as a heat sink so I free-handed the lines. As you go along you might notice that lines drawn with the grain line are a lot easier to do. The piece of wood I was using had horizontal (left/right) grain lines, so all vertical (up/down) lines took me longer to create.
Use an eraser for pencil and rub it over the entire artwork to remove residual graphite. Note it’s a good idea to make sure the work has cooled before you rub an eraser over it. I’ve actually had an eraser stick to the wood when I used it too quickly and the wood was still very warm. As stated any eraser for pencil will do and I have two artist erasers on hand for this (kneaded eraser, white vinyl eraser). The pink eraser at the end of a standard #2 pencil also works just fine. I don’t own any #2 pencils, so I use separate erasers. Remember – no absolute wrong or right.
Step 3: Darken Outer Lines
Two options here: turn the heat up a setting or two or slow your hand speed down. Do a dark line along all of the roof edges, outside wall/floor edges, and the wall edges on the main entrance. You can also darken the wire fence at this point (I think I ended up doing it during step 15).
We are just defining the outer edges of the house to make it stand out a bit more from the background. Probably not an important step if you plan to darken the background, but originally I wasn’t planning to do that. After I was done I decided that the house needed to pop more from the background, so darkened it up.
Step 4: Horizontal lines on flat lower roof
If you turned the heat up in the step 3, turn it back down for this one. Draw very close horizontal lines running parallel to the roof lines along the flat part of the lower roof. The intent is to darken this area up a bit which will make it seem recessed and it places more emphasis on the vertical structure of the house.
Step 5: Vertical lines on each shingle
Draw vertical (up/down) lines on every shingle. There should be gaps between each of the lines. The lines on the top (upper) roof I drew straight up and down and the lower roof I angled very slightly. My intent was to try and make the lower roof look less steep, but I doubt it will really matter much either way.
I kept my pen heat and speed the same as I did for step 4, so the only difference is how close the lines are together. The flat roof looks darker because there are a lot more lines present in that space.
Back to the shingles I purposely drew the lines on each shingle vs drawing lines from the top to the bottom of the entire roof. My method takes a little more time, but it results are more visually appealing roof with greater depth and dimension. In the picture I took, you might notice that the right lower roof shingles don’t look drawn here, but that’s just the bright light reflecting on the work and washing out that area.
Step 6: Shade below each shingle
This step is going to make the shingles really pop out. Below each shingle, draw very short closely packed lines along the curved edge. Again, the heat setting on my pen has not changed from its normal 3.5 setting. The lines look dark because of are how many lines I drew.
Step 7: Candy Canes
On this step you can turn up a heat a little or slow down your hand speed a lot. Draw lines following the curve of the candy cane in alternating sections. You will be drawing very closely packed lines here and it’s perfectly ok to go over existing lines as you want the sections to be dark.
Step 8: Porch Deck
If you turned up the heat in step 7, turn it back down. In this step all we are doing is drawing
horizontal lines along the porch deck. The lines are the same as the way the shingles were drawn in that there are gaps between the lines.
Step 9: Windows
This is another quick and easy step. Draw semi-parallel lines that slant on all of the windows. Keep the slant in the same direction on all of the windows. There should be gaps between the lines as we are just giving the windows a little tint.
Step 10: Roof Shadows
In this step we are going to draw short vertical (up/down) lines just under the roof line. This will make it appear as if the roof is casting a bit of a shadow on the house. The lines will be short and closely packed like we did on the shading of the shingles. The back walls will have slightly longer lines than the main wall with the door on it. This will make the other walls appear further back.
Step 11: Door, wall shadows, and recess porch
To make the front entrance seem more predominate we are going to add more shadow lines, but this time along the sides of the wall. First draw short horizontal lines along the upper floor wall and then draw slightly longer horizontal lines along the first floor. This will result in the front entrance wall appearing brighter and more predominant than the other walls on the house.
Next draw vertical lines on the front door. There should be gaps between the lines, unless you’d prefer a darker door, then draw more lines and put them closer together.
Lastly in this step we will make the first floor walls under the porch recess (get darker) by drawing vertical lines on them. I didn’t draw my lines very close together and in retrospect I should have drawn a few more
Step 12: Fine tune decorations
In this step all I did was darken the decorations on the house and create a few ‘shadow’ areas around the wreath and windows. I went over every decoration, darkening them up and filling in the loops, swirls, circles, leaves, bells, etc with tone. I also colored in the wreath and made it pretty dark in color.
My last window treatment was to add a thick dark line along the upper arch of each window to give them a little more depth. I also added several dark lines on the underside of the curves on the wreath to make it appear like it was casting a shadow on the door.
Step 13: Darken background (optional)
This is an optional step. I used a shader tip turned on med-high heat (between 5-6) and went over the background to make the house really stand out or pop. I drew crosshatch lines on the area by the front door to darken it, but not make it as dark as the background. I left a little gap between the background and the lines of the fence on the porch so they would still show. I’m rather undecided if I like the little fence, but it’s there now.
That’s it. We’re done. I hope you enjoyed this project and learned a lot from it. If nothing else this project demonstrated how you can use lines to give your work more depth. We accomplished this by changing the direction, frequency, and darkness of the lines that were drawn. Give this project a try and keep in mind you can simplify it by removing decorations or add more decorations if you prefer. The important thing is to just get started.
Now for some reason almost the first question I get asked is how long it took me. This particular project took me 2 1/2 hours. The wood used is basswood and it measures 8 x 6 3/4 inches. Lastly I use a Colwood super pro II.
Below are two pictures to show the contrast of how the art started out with a basic outline and the final results.
Jan 16, 2016