Cedar Creek Gristmill Pyrography Art wood burning

One day I decided that I wanted to create art featuring a covered bridge, so Todd and I drove to a nearby bridge to get some reference photos.  It was a rainy nasty day (typical for Washington), but we were armed with coats and brought umbrellas to shelter the camera.  The covered bridge was next to this old gristmill, so Todd got lots of photos of both.  After going through the photos the one I liked the most was of the gristmill.  Ironically, I still haven’t done the covered bridge.  In this blog I will discuss the things I learned while creating the Cedar Creek Grist Mill pyrography art.    

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




Here’s the photo Todd took that I based the artwork on.






This photo shows the grist mill after I traced it onto the wood.  There was so much stuff that it took me several days to get this step done.  The ‘stuff’ was all of the seams between the boards, the lines between the shingles, etc.  Looking back I shouldn’t have transferred so much stuff as I ignored most of it.






Then it took me another 2-3 days to burn in the trace lines.  Granted, I’m only working an hour or two each day on this, but that’s still quite a bit of time.





While working on this project I discovered how wonderfully useful the knife tip is.  It is super thin and is perfect for burning straight thin lines.   The tip also cuts deeply into the wood, which depending on the situation can be a good or bad.






The actual Colwood tip name is rounded heel, but I think of it as a knife tip since it reminds me of my X-acto knife






I’ve noticed that I tend to burn the darkest areas of my subject matter first.  Unless the subject is an animal, then I almost always work on the eyes first.  Obviously my subject here wasn’t an animal, so, as this photo shows, I’ve burned in some of the darkest spots on the gristmill.




The shading tip is perfect for this.  I can use the edge of it to draw lines of varying width and, more obviously, I can use the flat of the tip to fill in and shade the art. 






Continued work burning in the dark areas









I started working on the front of the gristmill with the shading tip, but the window panes were pretty small and I was having troubles not burning on the wood frames.






Here I’m experimenting with a different pen tip (not sure which one), but I didn’t care for it.  For one thing the shaft was super long, so it felt awkward to me.  My use of the word shaft refers to the section of the pen tip between where it connects to the burner and the end used for burning on the wood.   I will be honest and admit that I have 20+ tips, but I don’t use most of them.  Every once in a while I will test out a different tip, but that’s about it. 





For me I’ve found that the shading tip (tight round) and a writing tip (micro writer) serve my purposes just fine.   Note that I bent the tip of the shader to make it easier to use.





Those two tips are my workhorses and I use them in ALL of my artwork.  There are a couple others I use on occasion like large shaders for filling backgrounds, the knife tip for drawing straight lines, and ball tips for stippling on animal noses.   If someone were to ask me to recommend one pen tip for pyrography, then hands down without any hesitation my answer would be Colwood’s tight round shading tip.  I will admit I haven’t tried any other burner units, but I also have no desire to as I’m very happy with the results I’m getting.

Ok, I’ve babbled long enough about the pen tips, so I’ll get back to the subject of this blog; the gristmill.  As this photo shows, I switched to the writing tip to edge around the windows and then I filled them in with the shading tip.






When I shaded the sides of the building I used long vertical strokes that followed the direction of the boards. 










I used the flat or bottom edge of the shading tip for this, but I used the side edge because it was longer so it covered more surface area in one stroke. 








I even used the shading pen tip on the roof, but for that I used the flat of the tip.  I also varied the angled to change how much of the flat was in contact with the wood, so this changed how thick or thin the resulting lines were.








Another reason why I love this particular shading tip is that the tip’s thinness allows it to easily follow the groves lines I burned with the knife tip when I was burning in the trace lines. In this photo you can see the section of roof I’m working on and how I’m following the knife tip lines and varying the thickness of the lines. 








I previously mentioned that the knife tip cuts deeply into the wood and, depending on the situation, that can be a good or a bad thing. With the gristmill I discovered it was a good thing because when I burned over those deep super thin lines a ‘white’ line emerged.  This line became the seam line between the boards.  I was not planning on this, but was very pleasantly surprised by it.









Here’s a progress photo of the gristmill so far. 






A good chunk of time was spent just shading the boards on the side of the gristmill.  








Continued work





All of the window panes received the same three step process that I worked out with the first window.   The first step, as this photo shows, is to edge them with a writing pen tip.







Then I filled one side of the windows in with the shading tip.   I worked the same side on all of the windows before switching to the other side of the windows.



Then I rotated the wood and filled in the opposite side.  By doing this it allowed me to keep the pen tip in optimal position and kept the time spent rotating the wood to a minimum.  




Finishing up the windows








When I was working on the tiny roof over this little outbuilding spot, I ended up liking how it looked because I had added tiny cracks and splits like the roof actually had.






Here’s a photo of the gristmills cedar shake roof.






So I ended up going over the lower roof and adding little texture lines to help make it look more like a cedar shake roof.








Here’s another progress photo.  The majority of the gristmill is done with the exception of the upper roof and the support beams.






I started working on the rocks by burning along their outer edges.








With the basic lines marked, I began creating the texture on the rocks.  I took some artistic liberties with the rocks and left all of the moss and sticker bushes off of them. 





Here’s the photo of the actual rocks.  Quite truthfully, I’m not sure I have the skill needed to reproduce that level of detail.  Plus I wanted a cleaner look that kept the emphasis on the gristmill.  Ok, I also have to admit that I was having fun creating rocks.




The group of photos below show my work on the support beam area of the gristmill.  

















Here’s a progress photo of the artwork.  This one still has the white charcoal lines I drew in for the distant waterfall, the white froth on the river, and the water from the flume (waterfall next to the mill).   White charcoal has been one of the most useful accessories with wood burning.  It writes easily on the wood, erases cleanly, is easy to see, and best of all it resists the heat of the pen tip.  So areas coated with white charcoal will stay paler than the surrounding when you burn over the area.

Again, I have to emphasize the use of white charcoal and NOT a white colored pencil.   Colored pencils contain wax, so it will melt when touched with the heat from the pen.

Finally I started working on the sign above the gristmill.  I had been putting off working in this area as I wasn’t 100% sure the best way to approach it.  It’s a very small area being only ¾” long (1.91 cm) and ½” tall (1.27 cm).  I had considered using white charcoal, but I knew I couldn’t count on the edges of the letters staying crisp and clean. 




Obviously, I ended up using the writing pen tip to carefully burn around the letters.







Then I filled in with the shading pen tip.  









A close inspection of the sign will reveal that the letters aren’t perfect, but the sign isn’t the focal point of the artwork.  I also like to think that because the sign is so small it mostly goes unnoticed in the artwork.







Since the gristmill was essentially done it was time for me to start working on the trees.  In this progress photo I have drawn in some trees with a pencil.  This allowed me to test out where to place the trees and give some basic shape to them.




With some basic tress sketched onto the background I started burning them in with the shading pen tip. 







Below are pictures of my continued work on the trees.









Unfortunately something went terribly wrong with my trees.  They ended up looking like snow covered monstrosities as the photo below shows.  Not the look I was after.  The more I looked at it, the more I hated it.


So I got out a box cutter knife and used the non-cutting edge to start scraping away the trees.  Some of the really dark shadowy areas I had burned wouldn’t go away, so I asked Todd for help.  He got out a Dremel tool sander and went to work. 

Let me be honest and tell you that this was not a good thing.  I ended up with some deep recessed areas that were very difficult to cover up.  I should have kept scraping and/or used a piece of sandpaper to remove the trees, so another lesson learned in the realm of fixing problems in pyrography.




With the snowy trees removed I burned in some new trees.  I kept the trees pale and tried not to make the same mistake as before.






Here’s another progress photo.  I’m almost done with the artwork in this photo.  Todd had been telling me to let the scene fade out like it was covered in fog.  I went with his advice, but mostly because I wanted to be done with this one. 

I’m still undecided it I like it or not.  Todd talked me into entering it in a competition and it won a prize.  The contest was the 36th annual Northwest Carvers Association “artistry in wood” show and sale that happened in October of 2016.  

The gristmill won first place for pyrography scenic in novice skill level.  Yes, I was informed that I entered in the wrong skill level, but it was my first show and I wasn’t sure if I had to work up the ranks, so to speak.  The first two skill levels had very defined entry qualifications that made it obvious I didn’t belong there, but after that I wasn’t sure.  One of the judges informed me that I should have entered in the next level up; intermediate.  Live and learn.




That’s it for this blog.  But before I sign off, I’ll answer a few questions I get asked a lot.   The artwork measures 11 x 17 inches (27.94 x 43.8 cm), was burned on basswood, and it took me 22 3/4 hours to complete it.

Until the next blog,


May 5, 2017

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