Todd & I were in Spokane for a little vacation and during one of our many walks around the riverfront park we spotted this large dragonfly sunning himself. Fortunately we had a camera with us, so Todd was able to get a great photo of him. The photo, combined with a wood panel ‘canvas’ I wanted to test out, meant I had a new project. This blog is going to talk about the creation of my dragonfly pyrography artwork and the wood panel canvas I burned it on.
I always peruse through art and craft stores just to see what’s there. Todd was with me and he spotted some wooden ‘canvas’ panels. I’m always on the lookout for different things I can burn on, so I bought two of them. One measured 8×8” and the other was a 16×20” (20.3×20.3 and 40.6×50.8 cm) canvas.
This particular brand of wood canvas, Art Alternatives, is made out of birch plywood. For plywood it has a super smooth surface, but it wasn’t as smooth as a solid board of basswood or maple. Regular plywood tends to splinter, small slivers of wood chip out, during some of the techniques I use when burning. Amazingly the wooden canvas panel did not splinter, but, like all plywoods, it has a grainy texture I don’t care for.
The texture has these small recessed lines that won’t color, so it looks grainy and I don’t like that. This close up photo shows what I’m talking about. Yes, I’ve been told I’m excessively picky about my artwork.
One thing I really like is the large variety of sizes you can buy the wood canvas panels in. An online search shows that they range from a small 4 x 4 inch (10.2 cm) on up to a large 48 x 72 inches (121.9 x 182.9 cm) panel. Depending on the variety, they claim to be surfaced with basswood or even maple. I haven’t tried one, so I don’t know what the surface is like. What I really dislike about the wooden panels is the price. The small 4 x 4 costs around $3-4, but the larger ones can cost several hundred dollars each. Amazon (as of 5/2017) sells value packs of the canvases bringing the price to something more reasonable, but not all sizes are available.
Enough about the wood panel canvas. Let’s talk about the artwork. As usual I start with a pencil tracing on the wood I will be burning on. One reason I loved this dragonfly was because of all of the fine vein lines in the wings. I did not, however, particularly enjoy tracing and burning in all of those fine lines.
This photo was taken after I got done burning in all of the trace lines and erasing any residual graphite.
If you want to create your own dragonfly artwork, this photo is as close to a pattern as you are going to get from me. Near the end of this blog I have the source photo so you could use that to trace onto the wood as I did. Challenging yourself is always a good thing, but keep in mind that this is not a tutorial blog, so I’m not going to be explaining each step that I did.
As usual I’m working on the eyes of my subject first. I liked the dragonfly’s eyes because they were so dark, and they had a couple of tiny bright light reflections.
After the eyes were mostly done, I started concentrating on the wings. They proved to be more difficult to burn than I was expecting. All of those fine veins that were so interesting looking took forever to color in properly. Basically a lot of the cells were burned individually. My word cell refers to each small shape bordered by tiny veins.
The photos below show progress of the upper right wing getting burned.
The bright reflection spots on the wings were one of the features of the dragonfly that was visually appealing to me. While I was burning the wings, I marked those spots with a white charcoal pencil. This made them easier to see and avoid. Plus the charcoal resists the heat of the burner tip.
It’s interesting to me that I seldom if ever use a white charcoal pencil when I draw. I always wished they would be left out of drawing kits and would prefer another black charcoal pencil. Since I’ve gotten into pyrography I use white charcoal pencils all the time. They resist the heat of the pen, so the underlying wood is less likely to brown up. Addition benefits are that charcoal marks are easy to see and they erase very easily.
Here I am burning around the white charcoal spots. Look at how those marks really stand out, making them super easy to see and avoid.
I’m not sure what the dragonfly was resting on, but it was probably some dried up grass seed head.
I decided almost immediately that I wasn’t going to try and replicate it exactly, so instead when for a general impression look. I drew in a couple of guidelines for a few of the darker areas and that was about it. It wasn’t the main focus of the artwork, so it didn’t need to be exact. Overall I thought it turn out fairly well.
Below are pictures of the real seed head and my interpretation of it.
When I shaded the dragonfly’s body I had debated on how dark to make it. I wanted it to stand out from the background, but I didn’t want it to be so dark it seemed brown or black in color.
Here I’m almost done coloring the body for the first time. I actually ended up re-burning (darkening) it up several different times before I decided I was happy with the color.
In this photo I’m almost done with the second coloring of the body. The sides are a little darker and the segment lines a bit more defined.
The bulk of my time with this artwork was spent on the wings.
I would work for a bit on them and then switch to a different area.
One of the areas I switched to was the stalk the dragonfly was resting on. In this photo I’m working on the stem.
In this photo I’m back on the seed head. The seed head took me a bit as I built up the texture and color. My artwork often starts out the with a mental image of how dark or light I want the different items to be, but often that changes because more contrast is needed.
Usually my intent with increased contrast is to make the artwork look better. An example of this is the dragonfly’s wings. As you can see, the actual dragonfly had translucent sections on his wings. Those translucent areas wouldn’t translate well on this particular work because there wasn’t enough contrast between them and the background, so I made them a tan color instead. Now if I had wanted to keep the wings translucent I would have had to color the background for the contrast. Or, to put it another way, white doesn’t show up well on white.
Below are some photos showing me working on the wings.
In the dark sections of the wings there are thin pale veins that run through them. To create the veins I burned darkly on either side of the vein line. This photo shows I’m starting the burn on the left side of a super small vein.
Here I’ve got two of the thin veins in place and I’m burning the space between the veins a dark brown-black color.
The photos below show the continued work on leaving the pale thin veins in a dark section of the wing.
With the dark section done, I’m back to working on the rest of the wing. The veins in the white sections of the wings were easier to do as I could just burn a line to represent them.
The tan sections on the right wings went fairly quickly as they didn’t have a lot of light reflection spots. The wings were bent forward slightly, and as the light was located more on the left the light didn’t strike them the same way.
The dragonfly’s hairy body was another area I’d work on to take a break from the minute detail on the wings. All of the hair was burned in with the razor edge of the shading pen tip.
In this photo I’m working on a dark section on the upper left wing.
I ended up switching to a writing pen tip to see if that made it easier to burn in all of the fine detail.
After a few minutes I switched back to the micro shader. I find I can produce smoother lines with the shader. The writing pen tip is more prone to snagging on any irregularities the wood has compared to the shader. Sometimes the wood grain lines are enough to snag the writing pen tip. When this happens it causes a short pause in the burning that results in a darker thicker spot on the line I’m burning.
This photo shows me working near the end of the wing. Notice all of the white charcoal marks on the wing? I drew those in to make sure I didn’t accidently burn over them as they are light reflection spots.
I found it worked fairly efficiently to draw in the reflection spots, burn, erase charcoal, and move on to a new area.
One thing the writing pen tip was wonderful for is re-burning any vein lines that disappeared when I burned over them. They didn’t really disappear, but they didn’t stand out as much as I wanted. Yes, it’s all about the contrast.
Here I’m working on another section of the wing and again have the reflection spots marked.
Continued work on the wing.
This photo shows how I’m starting on the lower left wing and again have white charcoal to mark the light reflection spots.
This photo shows the continued work on the lower left wing. The upper left wing is visible and the charcoal has been erased at this point.
Here I’m doing the final re-burning of the dragonfly’s body. The wings are almost done, but I haven’t erased the white charcoal yet from the one wing.
Below is the reference photo and my artwork for a side-by-side comparison.
Obviously I cropped the dragonfly a bit as I had a small space and I really wanted the left wings as they had most of the light reflections. Cropping aside, looking at them and comparing the two, what do you think of my artwork?
After comparing them I’m sure you noticed some of the changes I made to the artwork like removing the other dried stocks and seedpods. I also darkened up the body of the dragonfly to make sure it stood out better against the empty pale background. I also colored the translucent areas on the wings a pale tan. Sometimes you have to deviate from the reference to make the artwork look good.
Since you can’t have too many pictures I put some of the stopping point pictures I took. Stopping point is the time I’ve finished burning for the day and I take a picture of the artwork’s progress.
The Dragonfly artwork ended up being a lot more challenging than I originally expected it to be. What was so appealing to me visually, the veins and light reflection spots, ended up being the very things that made it challenging because of their size. Overall I like how the artwork turned out. My only regret is that it was burned on a plywood surface, so it has a grainy texture in a few areas. Maybe I’m just too picky, but if I had known it would turn out so well I would have used a solid wood board instead of plywood.
Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions. The artwork measures 8 x 8 inches (20.3 x 20.3 cm), was burned on wooden canvas panel, and it took me 12 hours to complete.
Until the next blog,
May 26, 2017