Nephew Skye Portrait Pyrography Art wood burning portrait

My mother told me years ago that exchanging store-bought gifts is just promoting consumerism and that handmade gifts are more meaningful.  She loved to bake, so she’d make platters of wonderfully delectable cookies to give out at the holidays.   I’ve tried to continue that tradition and pyrography sure does help!   For my sister I decided to decorate a store-bought craft trinket box with a portrait of her son, Skye.   

You can watch a timelapse YouTube video of this artwork being created. Just click on the image to the left.



I actually started working on the portrait in July so I’d have time to finish it and get it shipped off in time to arrive for Christmas.  My sister is currently living in Africa, so I have to make sure all items are shipped out at least two months before the intended date.  Plus, by starting so early, I still had time for a re-do on the art if I messed up or, if it was a colossal failure, I had time to come up with something completely different.

When I worked up the concept I knew that I wanted to use the “leather” look to frame the portrait, but I also wanted something to soften it a bit.  Something that reminded me of my sister and that turned out to be yellow daisy flowers; yellow is her favorite color.  I drew in a box frame that the portrait would be centered in and then placed the daisies randomly around the frame.  




Transferring a daisy to the pattern on the box.   My daisy flower was nothing more that a circle I used a stencil to create.  Then I put a smaller circle in the center of the large circle.  Next, I drew in petals filling that started at the edge of the small center circle and extended to the edge of the large circle.  This ensured the petals were all the same length.






I did have to do a spot check to make sure the daisy placement wouldn’t interfere with my nephew’s portrait.







Next I burned in the traces lines and erased the residual graphite. 









After the trace lines were burning in I started working on the “leather” look.  This is an easy, if a bit monotonous, texture to create.   All I’m doing is burning lines of really, really dark dots or splotches with my shading tip.  Then I start another line making sure it slightly touches the first line.  I really like the results of this technique and have used it on many projects, but it is time-consuming.  Creating the leather look on the top and sides of the box took a little over 3 hours.    





The border will filled with lines or rows of blotches.  








As I worked, I allowed the lines or rows to change direction to add a little variety to the box.






Continued work.






I also burned the design on the sides of the box.  that wasn’t fun as the sides were made out of pine which I don’t like burning on.  It tends to ooze sap and doesn’t burn uniformly.






After getting the leather done, I burned in the flowers.  They were very basic flowers as I just wanted something to soften up the edges a little, but I didn’t want them to stand out too much either.   Below are some progress photos of the flowers being rendered.   



















One problem I had photographing the trinket box was the “leather” was so very dark, and this meant it didn’t photograph well.  Most of the time it ended up looking like no more than a pitch black border.   I took the box outside on a sunny day and photographed the sides of the box to showcase the leather better.   The bright light washed out the daisy’s, but it was the leather texture I wanted to capture.   Below are a few pictures of that.  








Looking at the above pictures, you can see that my leather technique really pits the box, but it does add an interesting tactile feel. 

The last thing I needed to do was create the main focus of the artwork; Skye’s portrait.








Instead of burning in the outline, like I normally do, I left the pencil marks in place and started defining the work using the shader pen tip.  I was avoiding the possibility of having any harsh lines that I might get if I used the writing tip like I normally do.







It became obvious very quickly that I needed to outline Skye’s face to help it stand out from the background.  








Starting to burn darkly around Skye’s face.









Once a I had dark border around the portrait, I continued working on defining Skye’s features.  








Below are a few progress photos of the facial features progressing along.










The hair was one area that took considerable time to get it burned in.  It wasn’t tough to do, but was an area I’d work on for a bit and then work on something else for a while.  

Since I’ve starting writing blogs and videotaping my artwork, I’ve discovered that I tend to bounce around a lot when I burn.   I think this helps me keep the piece cohesive and to be able to view each section with semi-fresh eyes.   If you work too long in one area, your eyes don’t see the detail as well; at least I don’t think so.   It’s like they become numb.  By working different areas for a little bit and then going back to them again later it makes my eyes re-evaluate what I’ve done and decide what I still need to do.    Or, possibly, this rational sounds way better than I have the attention span of a two-year-old.  

Below are a few progress photos. 












At this point I decided I didn’t like the thin band outline, so began working on making it thicker and fading out the edges a bit. 

I sure as heck didn’t want to fill in the entire background.  Creating a smooth solid background is still very difficult for me.  I tend to get impatient and that results in blotches and other imperfections.






Below are some more progress photos of the facial features being worked on.  





































Below is the source photo next to the final product. You can decide how well I did.  


Just a few more words before I sign off.   I consider this to be my first portrait in the pyrography medium.  Heck, it’s the first portrait I’ve done since high school and considering that’s been well over 20 years ago I thought I did pretty good job with it. 

My sister sent me an email letting me know she loved the box. She’s even talking about becoming a portrait artist, so I’ll take that as a compliment that I inspired her to create some art.

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The trinket box measures 8 x 8 inches x 2 inches tall (20.3 x 20.3 x 5.1 cm), is made out of birch plywood with pine sides, and it took me 8 1/4 hours to complete it.

Until the next blog,



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