The Abstract Dragonfly Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

In this blog I’m going to explain how to create the abstract dragonfly pyrography artwork I did.  When I was first learning to burn wood, it was tough getting a smooth result with the shading tip.  I discovered it was a lot easier to accomplish it in small areas at a time.  There are lots of small areas to work on in this project, so maybe this will help you learn to use the shading tip.  Plus I will demonstrate several different techniques with the shading pen tip to create some interesting texture.   

Since this is a free form picture, there is no wrong or right with this project and you are free to experiment with different textures, pen tips, etc.  Hopefully you will have a good time in the process.   The only thing I would recommend is to make your artwork look cohesive or balanced by using the same technique for each area.   By this I mean that if you use a stippling pattern (lots of dots) for one of the dragonfly’s wings then use that same stippled pattern for the wings on the dragonfly in the opposite corner.

MATERIALS NEEDED:  

  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • Any other tips you’d like to experiment with
  • Piece of wood approximately 6 x 6 inches. (you can reduce or enlarge the pattern size if  needed/desired)
  • Attached pattern Abs Dragonfly pattern

STEP 1 – Transfer Pattern

I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects.  It’s cheap, easy, and gives me control on what I want to include.  Print off your pattern on light weight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil  (I use one in the B ranges), place pattern on wood, tape in place, trace over pattern with a sharp pencil, remove pattern, and you’re ready to burn.    You might need to cut the pattern down in size so you can see where to place it on the wood.     You might have noticed that the photo isn’t of this particular artwork – I didn’t take one of me doing the tracing step project, so I used one from another project.

 

STEP 2 – Burn the Outline

Outline burned in

With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines.  After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. 

Burning the outline

 

 

 

 

STEP 3 – Burn Border Decorations

Border Decorations burned in

In this step I’m going to burn in the decorations that are on the outside border.  I used the shading pen tip, but you can use whatever tip works best for you.    While burning this project I kept the pen on medium low heat and didn’t change it.  What I did was either slow down or speed up how fast I moved the pen tip over the wood.    I prefer this style of burning (especially in fine art applications) as I tend to bounce around while I’m working.  With a lower heat I won’t end up with dark blotches if I switch from a dark section to a light one.     

Starting on the gentle hills, I went around the edge of each hill burning a semi-dark border and then filled in the center with a fairly uniform tone.  I chose to leave the small dot white, so avoided burning on it, but if it’s easier make the dot super dark.

OPTIMAL PEN TIP POSITION

Optimal pen tip position

IT’S IMPORTANT to note the pen tip position in the picture.  The edge of the pen tip is on the inside edge of the hills border.  This pen position ensures that I only burn in the hill section instead of the areas nearby it.   If there is only one thing you walk away with from this tutorial, I hope it is that correct pen tip placement is what ensures crisp/clean borders.  It is also what ensures you are burning where YOU INTEND to burn. 

Turn the wood, when needed, to ensure optimal pen tip placement.   You can also angle your hand in weird positions to accomplish this, but if you’re burning for any duration of time it’s much easier to just turn the wood.

 

 

Burning all of the same type or lines first

To save time I found it helpful to burn all of the border edges for different (but matching) sections instead of finishing each item individually.  This let me spend more time burning and less time turning the wood to keep my pen tip in optimal position.  In the example photo I’ve burned the straight edge for 3 of the hills (4th and top hill wasn’t done yet).  After I burned the straight edge, I turned the wood so I could easily burn the curved edge and then I filled in the hill with color.

 

 

 

Gentle Hill close-up

In the close up photo I’m showing the finished product of the hills. The arch over the hill received burning along the outer edge (side opposite the hill) and that was it.   I wanted the seam edge (line where the hill and arch meet) to be pale for contrast and I left the little dots white for the same reason.

 

 

 

 

 

Outlining the little arrows

The little arrows got the same treatment as the gentle hills.  I burned a dark border along the edges and then filled in with uniform tone.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burned all of the outline and then filled in

Notice how the  photo to the right shows I’ve burned all of the borders first and then I start filling them in (in the picture the first arrow is just starting to get filled in).

For me, I find this method speeds up my time spent burning, but you may or may not agree.

 

 

 

 

STEP 4 – Burn Outer Repeating Arches

Outer Arch burned in

This step is fairly similar to step 2, but the big difference is a graduating tone instead of a uniform one.  First I burn a band or thick line on one edge of an arch.  I chose to burn

 

 

 

Working on the arch

the edge closest to the dragonfly.  After burning the band / thick line, move the pen tip slightly in from the thick line and sweep the pen along the length arch creating a second band or thick line butting up against the first one.   Repeat this process, move pen tip inward and burn another band/thick line next to the one you just burned.  Continue to do this until you reach the opposite side of the arch segment you are working on.   This will give you a fairly uniform color across the arch segment.  

 

 

 

Finishing up on the arch

To get the gradient tone, go back to the starting point and repeat the process. Make sure with each repetition that you decrease the distance from the starting edge.  Or put another way; on the first repetition make sweeping colored bands over the entire arch segment.   On the second repetition make sweeping bands of color over ¾ of the arch segment.   One the third repetition make sweeping bands of color only over ½ of the arch segment….and so on.    This will slowly build up the tone/color in such a way that the arches are darker on one side and slowly fade out on the opposite side, to create the illusion that each arch is curved or rope like.  

 

STEP 5 – Burn the Pointed Ovals

Working on the 3rd pointed oval

In this picture you can see that I’m working on the third oval, 1 & 2 are done, and the last oval I haven’t started on.

This might start sounding very familiar; start out by burning a band or thick line around the entire edge of the oval, move the pen inward and burned another band or thick line….    Continue this process of moving the pen tip in towards a center burning another band of color as you go.  Repeat until you reach the center and then start over, but on second repetition don’t go all the way to the center of the oval.     

This process is very similar to the previous step we just did.  The only difference is the shape of the object requires us to burn the bands in almost a circle instead of straight lines.

 

STEP 6 – Burn the Yin/Yang Spheres

Yin/Yang close up

In this step the first thing I did was burn a dark border along the outside edges of the yin/yang or ‘s’ shape in the center of the sphere.   I wanted the yin/yang to pop from the sphere and to accomplish this I needed a high contrast.

Outlining the shape

 

 

 

 

 

 

After outlining

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

working on the dot

How it looked once i was done outlining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continued work on the dots

Next I did the little circles/dots on the ends of the yin/yang shape.   I actually used the shading tip for this by placing the edge of the pen tip on the edge of the dot, held it in place for a second or two, rotated the wood ¼ turn and repeated.   This meant I was burning ¼ of the circle at a time.  Since I was holding the pen tip in one place for so long, even on medium-low heat I got a very dark mark.  Once I was done, I had a very dark circle with a tiny pale center.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shading the spheres

After doing the dots, I shaded the spheres.   First I uniformly toned the sphere by making broad strokes that started on the edge of the sphere and went to the yin/yang shape.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing the sphere

Second, after applying the uniform tone I greatly darkened along the outside curves of the yin to increase the contrast.  It ended up looking like the yin/yang was casting a shadow on the sphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

close up

Third, and last, I went around the edges of the ‘s’ and burned them a very  light tan color.   The great thing was I didn’t have to try to keep the pen tip only in the ‘s’ area since the sphere was going to be dark.   This helped speed up this step. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 7 – Burn Lines Behind Spheres

Lines burned behind spheres

Again I used the shading tip on this step to show how easy it is to draw very fine thin lines with it.  To do this, just turn (angle) the tip so only the razor edge of the pen tip is in contact with the wood. 

 

 

 

drawing a line with the razor edge of the shading tip

I drew my lines semi-parallel to each other and had the two different sections angled towards the ‘s’.  After I was finished I thought the lines ended up resembling sunburst rays.   I left the small circles white or uncolored.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 8 – Burn the Maple Leaves

Maple Leaf close up

The first step in burning  the maple leaves is to define the center vein.  I did this by drawing two very thin lines pretty close together down the center of the leaf.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next angle or turn the pen tip on its razor edge to draw the side veins.  If it’s easier for you, use the writing pen tip instead.   See below for photos demonstrating this.

First vein line drawn and just starting the next one

 

Almost done with the 2nd vein line. Lines are close, but not touching

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using the razor edge to draw lines

In this photo it’s easier to see how I have the pen tip turned so I’m using the razor edge along the side of the pen.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shading the leaf

To shade/tone the leaf, I went over all of the side veins using small circular motions.  Then I colored the area around the veins and left the outer edges of the leaf very pale in color.    Lastly I went along the outside edges of the center vein and burned a dark band or thick line along it.   This created the illusion that the vein is sticking up from the surface and that the leaf curves downward along the center.  

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 9 – Burn the Pyramids

Leather Pyramid close-up

On the pyramids I created what I call ‘leather’ texture.  How much it looks like leather is dependent on the angle you view it at.   It’s really easy to create this texture, but have some patience as its slow going.  Yes, almost everything in pyrography is slow going.   First I burned a very thin dark line along the inside edge of the pyramid to clearly define its border.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Filling in with blobs

Second, I created a row of dark blobs.   To create these, I placed the pen tip in one spot and held it there for a second or two to create a dark blob or large irregular spot/dot.  While not the most elegant sounding, I’m going to use the word blob for the rest of this step.   Moving the pen tip slightly to the right of the first blob, I created a second blob.    Now I have two blobs that are very close together, but not quite or just barely touching.   I repeated this process of creating blobs until I had an entire row or line of closely spaced dark blobs.   In the photo “creating the texture” I have created a line blobs along the edges of the pyramid and have just started the next row of blobs.

 

 

 

Continuing work filling in with dark blobs

Third, I created a second line of dark blobs next to the first line, but I offset them from the first line.  Think of fish scales if that easier to visualize or the roof in my gingerbread house tutorial.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

offsetting

Lastly, continued making rows of blobs around the pyramid until it is filled with them. The end result resembles leather, or so others have told me. 

 

 

 

STEP 10 – Burn the Dragonflies

Dragonfly closeup

This is a pretty quick step.  First I went along the outer edges of the bodies with the shading tip creating a very dark edge.  Then I went along all of the body segment lines with the shading tip. 

Edging the body

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Creating the segments

With the size of my dragonflies, the shading tip I was using just fit on the segment line without extending into the area outside of the body.   I held the pen tip in place for a second or two to get thick dark lines.   

The head I just burned dark and the round segment just below the head I went around the edges and darkened it up a lot.  

 

 

 

Using the writing tip draw some forked lines

I did not do the wings in this step as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do yet, but what I ended up doing was simply drawing some forked or branching lines with the writing tip.    

I mention that I didn’t do the wings in this step as you can see the oval behind the dragonfly is done.  I will cover that in step 13. 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 11 – Burn the Center Globes

Center Globe close up

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outlining the globes

For this step I burned a dark border around the outer edges of the globes.  Notice again how I have the pen tip in optimal pen position that ensures I’m only burning inside the globe.   Also, I frequently turned the wood to burn the circles.  I only burned about 1/4 of an edge at a time before turning the wood to work on the next quarter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shading the globe

After getting the outer edge burned I used small circular motions with the shading pen tip to tone in the globe.   I went along the edges first to build up the color and then slowly worked my way to the center.   I barely applied any color to the very center.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Almost done with the globes

Instead of shading like I did, you can also do it like we did in the arches and pointed ovals where you burn in wide bands till you get to the center.  Then re-burn the bands, but don’t re-burn the center-most band.  Continue this process of re-burning until you reach the desired color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 12 – Burn the Inner Repeating Arches

Inner repeating arches close up

I did the inner arches just like I did the outer arches in Step 4.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

working on the arches

First I burn a thick line on one edge of the arch.   Then after burning the band / thick line, move the pen tip slightly in from the thick line and sweep the pen along the length arch creating a second band or thick line butting up against the first one.   Repeat this process, move pen tip inward and burn another band/thick line next to the one you just burned.  Continue to do this until you reach the opposite side of the arch segment you are working on.   This will give you fairly a uniform color across the arch segment.  

 

 

 

 

working on the arches

To get the gradient tone, go back to the starting point and repeat the process. Make sure with each repetition that you decrease the distance from the starting edge.  Or put another way; on the first repetition make sweeping colored bands over the entire arch segment.   On the second repetition make sweeping bands of color over ¾ of the arch segment.   One the third repetition make sweeping bands of color only over ½ of the arch segment….and so on.    This will slowly build up the tone/color in such a way that the arches are darker on one side and slowly fade out on the opposite side, to create the illusion that each arch is curved or rope like.  

 

 

 

 

STEP 13 – Burn the Large Ovals

The oval close up

On this step I darkened up the edges of the ovals, but most of the center part of oval I left very pale to help the dragonfly stand out.

Below are some progress photos.

 

 

 

 

 

Working on the oval

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continued work on the oval

STEP 14 – Burn the Center Dashes

Center dashes close up

This is another super easy fast step.  All I did was use the writing pen tip and darken in the center dash design.  I burned them very darkly, but I used slow hand speed vs high heat.   The problem with high heat to darken things quickly is it tends to char the wood in all directions around the pen tip.   Since I wanted crisp well-defined dashes, I kept the heat lower and slowed up my hand speed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burning the dashing with the writing tip

 

 

STEP 16 – Burn the frame

Burning the frame

In this step, all I did was go along both edges of the frame with the shading pen tip.   After I was done, I went back in with the writing pen tip to touch up the tight corners that my shader can’t get to very well.

 

 

 

 

Continued work on the frame

Step 16 – Four Squares

square close up

I hated how my four squares along the outside frame turned out, so I’m not going to explain how create something that ugly.  Instead I will leave you free to do as you wish and hopefully you will do something more interesting that I what I did.  Fill in the squares with stippling (lots of dots), cross hatching (drawing lots of lines the cross each other), draw a little flower in them, draw a ladybug…whatever you wish.  Obviously the squares are my least liked spot on this whole project.

 

 

 

 

CONCLUSION – 

Well, we’re done with this tutorial.  Again I want to reiterate that you do not have to make your artwork look exactly like mine.  My sole goal is just to explain how I got the look I did and encourage you to make an attempt at creating art too.   I also wanted to demonstrate a couple different ways you can use the shading tip.  The shading tip tends to be my favorite and most used pen tip in pyrography. 

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   This project was burned on basswood, it measures 7 x 7 inches, and took me 3 ¾ hours.  That said, this is not a race or contest.  I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.  You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter.  What’s important is you’re doing the tutorial, learning a little more about how to create pyrography art, and having fun (I hope).

Brenda

Feb 29, 2016

4 thoughts on “The Abstract Dragonfly Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

    1. Hi Elvin,

      there are many places to get a wood burning tool. Most craft stores have the ‘craft’ burners, just make sure to spend a little extra to get one with a temperature control (cost around $30-40). Craft burners are inexpensive, but slow to heat up and not as easy to switch out tips. Nicer & more expensive burners can be found at Wood working stores (for wood carvers) and online. I use a Colwood and really like it.

  1. Beautiful, stunning, as always. I just noticed you’re left handed! No wonder you are so artistic/creative – a trait of most lefties! Just wondering if the avenging angel got sorted out? You seem to be getting very busy wth projects – soon you’ll be full-time wood-burning! Jan

    1. Thank you. I’m wasn’t expecting anyone to say it was beautiful since I considered this as just a tutorial piece. Guess I never stepped back and viewed it in an artistic light, so to speak.

      I’m surprised you didn’t know I was left handed since it’s pretty common knowledge that most geniuses are left handed. After all my supreme intelligence is rather hard to hide. Just like my awesome dancing skills. I just faked being a bad dancer in class as I didn’t want the rest of you to feel bad. (cough, cough) Really, it’s true. 🙂

      There are worse ways to fill my time. My baking hobby is definitely one of those worse ways because it’s killing my diet. The problem is that I feel obligated to do quality control tasting as I go along. Unless I’m making something gross like gluten free mock rye bread for Todd. He loves it and I hate both the taste and the smell of it!

      Yes, the Avenging Angel got sorted out, I got paid, and customer seemed happy. Can’t ask for more than that.

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment.