Simplifying the Subject – – Sailboat Drum Pyrography wood burning

Simplifying the Subject – – Sailboat Drum Pyrography

In this brief blog I’m going to discuss how I took a photo and simplified the subject matter to create the artwork for the Sailboat drum.   The drum was made by my husband and father-in-law as a gift for dad’s great grandson, but then they plopped it on my art table expecting me to do some artwork.   I searched through my pictures and found a sailboat that would suit my purposes.


Let’s take a closer look at the sailboat picture.   I took this photo while I was on vacation in Florida’s Key Largo area, and, as you can see, it was of a tourist boat that offered cruises around some of the islands.   So, in my effort/need to simplify, the first thing to go was the advertising sign with the phone number on it.   The second thing to go was all of the people.






All of the arrows in this picture show the things I removed when I transferred the image to the wooden drum.   Since I was putting this artwork on a wooden drum for a kid and the area was small 4 x 4 inches, I wasn’t too concerned about rendering every minute detail of the boat.   First of all I doubt it would be noticed due to the size and secondly I was only after the basic impression of a sailboat.




A quick note about how I use photos.   I always crop the image so it contains just the subject matter I’m after.    So as you can see from the original image, there is a lot of ocean in the photo.   When I was editing the photo for the artwork, I cropped most of the ocean out of the photo.





After I get the subject cropped, I size the image for the area needed.  Sometimes I have to resize the image a couple of times before I get it right, but once I do, I coat the back of the printout with a graphite pencil and trace over the image to transfer it to the wood.   It’s during the tracing step that I leave out the items I don’t want.  After I’m done tracing the image I clean my trace lines with a pencil where needed.  What I’m looking for are areas that I missed, or the line might be a little blurry.  Once that is done, I’m ready to start burning.

Read my blog on TRANSFERRING for more information tracing patterns onto the wood and in the blog I also discuss alternate methods like ironing.   


The picture on the left shows the outline I traced onto the wood from the printout and cleaned up.  I had to draw over one of the rope ladder as the graphite smeared in one section.  Also the outline of the boat wasn’t sharp, so I tidied that up too.   







After the outline is traced I lightly burn the trace lines with a writing pen tip which is being show in the next picture.








For the rope ladders I found that the knife tip worked wonderfully to give me short, thin, precise lines that are mostly straight.   I will point out that the Colwood tip is actually called a Rounded Heel, but I refer to it as my knife tip.

I will readily admit that I only use this tip when drawing straight lines as I have a lot of difficulty making curved lines with it.   Probably something I’d get better at with practice, but I haven’t seen a need yet. 





The knife pen tip tends to bite deeply into the wood which can give some interesting effects in your artwork.  Keeping the heat lower on the pen allows you to cut into the wood leaving pale deeply etched lines that look white when you burn over the area.  The photo to the right shows this.  The white lines form the seams between the boards on a building.   On the sail boat I used this effect with one of the rope ladders along the far left sail.  In the right setting this is a wonderful effect to use.






After lightly burning in the trace lines I start shading the artwork.  Shading is a process of coloring an area to create the different tonal values that not only differentiate items, but also give objects their 3D appearance. 

A tonal difference example is the hull of the boat compared to the sails.   The hull is a much darker in tone than the sails, so this makes them look like they are different colors, if you will.  





The best example of  a 3D appearance in this artwork is the top sail.  I accomplished this by giving the sail some really dark shadows where the fabric folds to make it look curved.











Don’t be afraid to embellish or add things to your art that is not found on your reference picture.  That is what art is about.   They don’t have to be major things; for example I changed the name of the boat to the name of the child who will receive this drum.  I also made one of the top flags a bit longer so it was flapping in the wind.  Lastly I added a small cresting wave the bow of the boat.


And, because I love the work my husband does, below are a couple of photos showcasing the beauty of the wood he chose for the drum.  The wood is poplar and this particular board had greens, yellows, and some dark browns figured through it.








I hope I provided some useful information in this short blog that you can use in your own artwork.  Before I completely sign off I will answer a few commonly asked questions.   This project was burned on wooden drum that measured 12″ x 6″ x 5″ inches (30.5 x 15.2 x 12.7 cm) and it was made out of poplar wood.  The artwork, which was placed on a side panel of the drum, took me 2 ¼ hours to complete and measured 4 x 4 inches (10.2 x 10.2 cm).   


Sept 3, 2016

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