In this blog I’m going to discuss the Baby Claire artwork I created. This was a commissioned piece I received recently and it was a rush job. A co-worker needed a birthday present for his fiancé and he had a little over a week to get her something. He asked me if I had any artwork for sale, but instead of answering yes or no I asked him what sort of art did his fiancé like? Art is a very personal thing and everyone has their likes and dislikes. Not to mention, most people tend to pick out art to go with their existing decor. In the end I told the guy if he came up with something fairly simple, I could get it done over Labor Day weekend. He thought about it and then asked me if I could do a portrait of his baby daughter, Claire. I accepted the commission.
Normally I wouldn’t accept a portrait job, but I was feeling a little confident after working on a portrait for my sister. I was given a photo of Claire and I started plotting out what I would do. My first thought was to burn the image onto a little craft trinket box because they are small and don’t take a lot of time, but that also meant going to the store and I didn’t feel like it. Plus the craft box is something that sits on a shelf and I thought a baby picture would be something someone would want to hang on a wall.
One consideration with all wall art is size. The larger the piece is the longer it takes me to complete it and I was on a tight time frame. In 7 days time I not only had to get the artwork done, but I also had to leave enough time for the artwork to get properly sealed and cured which can take 3-4 days. This meant I had to keep the size smaller. When I printed the photo I liked the look and size, so decided a standard 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 24.5 cm) portrait is what I would do.
Luck was on my side as Todd had a poplar board that was large enough, so all he had to do was cut it to size. Otherwise he would need create a board for me to burn on and that takes a day or two.
Todd got the board cut to size and sanded, gave it to me, and I went to work. This photo shows the piece after I traced the pattern onto the wood. Notice all of the vein lines in the wood. Not my ideal piece of wood to burn on, but it’s what we had on hand.
On this particular artwork I used the shading tip to burn in the trace lines. This was a departure for me as I normally use the writing pen tip, but the shading tip can produce softer lines and I needed soft lines.
Continued work burning the trace lines
When I stopped working the first night, this is as far as I had gotten. Basically I had an outline with the nose, mouth, and eyes fleshed out a little bit. I’d have to admit that it’s almost creepy looking.
The photo is a progress photo of me burning to get to the first stopping point.
This photo shows the results of another hour and a half of work. I’m slowly shading the artwork to give it that three dimensional look that I like to produce. I often re-work areas 3-4 times as I slowly build up the layers of color to get the depth and tonal range correct. Pyrography is not a fast art, but then I’m not sure if there is an art form that is fast.
I tried to remember to take a picture each time I stopped burning, and this is one of those times. I’m not sure how much time I’ve spent so far to get to this point as I didn’t write it down.
In this photo you can see I’ve started working on the background inside the oval area. I wanted to get this area done so the babies skull would be noticeable.
Now that the oval area background is done and it really makes Claire the focus of the art.
In this photo the shirt Claire is wearing has been burned in. The results ended up looking more like a fuzzy blanket, but I like the look. In the reference photo Claire actually had a shirt with some saying on it, but I thought it would make the artwork too busy and shift the emphasis away from Claire’s happy face. Not to mention it would take me that much longer to get this done, so I simplified things and omitted all of that.
Below are close up photos of the shirt for comparison.
To create the fuzzy blanket texture I used the same technique I use when rendering fur; lots of short zigzag lines. Seriously, that’s what I use. The zigzags are close together, so you really can’t tell that’s what I’m doing, but it’s a wonderful quick way to add a fuzzy fur like texture.
The other thing I did in this session was put a little peach fuzz on Claire’s head, but that’s difficult to see in these photos.
The baby is done and now I’m doing the final step of burning the area around the outside of the oval. I had originally thought of making it look like leather, but that’s pretty time consuming effect to create. Also I knew that the customer had a preference for rustic styled furnishings, so I decided a rustic background would fit in better with their decor.
You might wonder why I burned in the background outside the oval at all since it would have been much quicker to leave it alone. Judgement call on my part as I just didn’t like how the pale wood background competed too much with the subject.
The rustic look is pretty easy to accomplish by burning long thick lines or bands that vary in color. Just make sure to have some very light and some very dark bands when you do this. I also draw in a few really dark super fine lines randomly on the board to give it a cracked look.
Below is my artwork and the reference photo, so you can compare and decide for yourself how well I rendered the artwork.
What do you think? Did I create an accurate portrait? Do you like the changes that I made?
Speaking of changes, as I mentioned in my last blog, simplifying the subject, one often needs to simplify the subject matter to create a better piece of artwork. The photo is really cute, but it’s in color. Many of the busy spots in the photo (like the blanket and her shirt) don’t always translate well into a monochromatic piece of art.
That’s why I simplified the blanket the baby was laying on and the shirt she was wearing. Less stuff to detract from subject; Claire. One other thing I’ll point out is the dark oval in the reference photo. I used a photo editor and inserted a round shape. Afterwards I changed the attributes of the shape so there was no fill color (it became transparent) and I made the border line around the shape very thick and dark in color. This became a “frame” that I could drag around and change its size as I determined what looked best to me.
Welcome to this world baby Claire. I hope that you will live a long happy life filled with many wonderful adventures. Also, Happy Birthday to Claire’s mommy; I hope that you like my artwork.
Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions. The artwork measures 8 ½ by 10 ½ inches (21.6 x 26.7 cm) , was burned on poplar wood, and it took me 7 hours to complete it.
Sept 9, 2016