A while back Todd got into fractal wood burning, or Lichtenberg Figures burning as some call it. Fractal wood burning is done by using electricity and I’ll explain it a bit more at the end of the blog. He gave me several pieces he had done so that I could try wood burning on them. Since most of the time his fractal burns reminded me of coral, my mind went to sea creatures. I first tried a sea turtle design, but that turned out terrible. My next attempt was the seahorses and while they didn’t turn out as grand as I was hoping, I think the process of creation is worth discussing. During the tutorial blog I will explain how I created the Entwined Seahorses pyrography artwork.
Watch a time lapse video of the artwork being creating by clicking on the icon to the left.
Artist submitted art at the bottom of the blog, so please check it out.
SKILL LEVEL: 2
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Ball tip (optional)
- 8 3/4 x11 (22.2 x 27.9 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Entwined Seahorses pattern
- White Charcoal Pencil
Foreword: note that during some steps of the explanation you will be able to see that addition work has been done. Please ignore this and concentrate on the items I’m discussing as the addition work will get discussed later.
A quick word about the pattern. Since there are two seahorses I drew them on the pattern using slightly different colored ink to help differentiate between the two. The seahorse in the back is a dark brown and has thinner lines whereas the front seahorse was drawn with a black ink pen.
Here’s reference photo to help you with this one. Yes, it’s not a great photo, but it’s the best I had to do this project with.
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper.
Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet. Let the board dry and then sand again.
This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.
STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD
I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects. It’s cheap, easy, and gives me control on what I want to include. Print off your pattern on light weight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern. Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.
For more information on pattern transfer please refer to my blog: Transferring Patterns.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines. I have to really emphasize the need to keep the lines around the ridges very pale.
Burn in the trace lines using a writer pen tip. Keep the burn lines as light as possible so you don’t end up with a coloring book style of artwork.
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
STEP 4 – FACES
First we will burn the face on the seahorse in the back.
Start by darkly burning along the bottom edge of the face. The key to keeping the outer edges sharp and clean is to keep the pen in optimal position. This means the edge of the pen tip is along the inside edge of the face. This ensures you are burning on the face and not on the background.
Next burn the top of the head a medium tan color, but leave the two circular spots unburned for now. I used a small circular motion to fill in this area. Note that I wrote a blog about how I use the shading pen tip, so if you need more information about the different types of strokes I mention in this blog please read: Using the Shader.
Darkly burn the snout. Note that I left the lips (end of the snout) unburned, and I’m not sure why. My guess is that I was debating on how closely to replicate the reference photo.
Burn the iris a dark brown-black color. I used my micro-shader for this, but you might find it easier to use a writing pen tip.
Lightly color the rest of the eye a tan color. Also darkly burn on the face around the eye.
Here’s how the face looks so far.
Using a small circular motion fill in the two circular spots a tan color.
Do a final burn around the face to finish it. First darken the lower half of the eye, but leave a slight ‘lip’ next to the iris. Darken the horn and work your way down to the snout.
Finishing burning the snout a dark brown color.
Last thing to do is very lightly burn the fins near the back of the head. Keep them pale with even paler ends. Then burn in some fine lines on the fins with the razor edge of the shading pen tip. Switch to a writing tip if that’s easier for you.
Now we will burn the face on the front seahorse. Keep the front seahorse paler so the two are distinguishable from each other. Note – when I did this seahorse I got carried away with the snout and it ended up being super long. I later shortened it up, but most, if not all, of the pictures will show the longer snout version.
Shade the knobby bumps on top of the seahorse’s head. Shade them so the back side is darker than the front and the bottom is slightly darker than the top.
Next burn in the fine gill lines using the razor edge of the shading pen tip. Again, if it’s easier, switch to a writing pen tip for this step.
Burn along the bottom of the face a medium tan color and keep the pen in optimal position. Also burn in the lip line.
Burn in the iris. Again, use a writing pen tip if it’s easier.
Fill in the face so it is tan in color.
Continued work coloring in the face.
Continued work coloring in the face. Keep the lower parts of the face darker than the top and darken up underneath the eye.
Continue to color the face and notice the cast shadow under the eye.
Further define the gills by burning the area between the gills a medium tan color.
Here I’m almost done with the face.
Lastly lightly color the fins and burn in some fine lines on it.
STEP 5 – CHARCOAL THE RIDGES
Using a white charcoal pencil draw in the ridges on both seahorses.
Please note – that while it’s obvious I had started burning the bodies before I covered the ridges in charcoal, I highly recommend applying the charcoal before starting as it made burning the seahorse much easier. At least it did for me.
STEP 6 – BODIES
Like the faces, we will burn the seahorse body on the back seahorse first.
Start defining the area under each ridge along the outer edge. (pretend the white charcoal is in place).
Next darkly burn along the outer edge of the belly.
Next extend the color and let it fade the further from the edge you get.
Now fill in each segment along the right edge, or back, of the seahorse to a medium to dark brown color. Make each segment darker just under the ridge and fade the color a bit when you reach the bottom of the segment.
Do the same thing with the next group of segments, but also fade these out as they near the belly.
This pictures show my continued work on the segments. Yes, I slowly built up the color by repeatedly burning over each segment.
Again this photo shows the continued work on building up the color. I’ve mentioned before in other blogs that my process of re-burning to build up color is the key to how I produce highly realistic looking artwork.
On the upper part of the body there were some small folds that were a bit paler than the surrounding area, so carefully burn around them.
This photo shows the small folds completed and I’m currently working on the last outer segment just above the seahorse in the foreground.
Here’s a progress photo.
Darkly burn the underside of the ridges on the tail. Don’t worry about the curled end of the tail as I will discuss this later.
Shade the rest of the tail a tan color. Keep in mind that the back of the seahorse in the foreground will have dark segments next to the tail, so the tail is kept a tan color to contrast with the other seahorse.
Next burn dark thick vertical lines along the curled end of the tail.
Continued work burning the dark thick lines.
Burn the tip of the tail very dark.
Burn lines along the side of the tail that extend from the dark thick lines. Notice how the dark thick lines were vertical (up/down), but the lines on the side angle and become more horizontal.
Continued work burning the lines to finish the tail.
Using the razor edge of the shading pen tip lightly burn fine lines on back fin.
Color the fin with pull-away strokes. Start on edge of the fin that touches the body and pull the stroke towards the outer edge of the fin. Let the color fade before it gets to the edge.
Burn the very edge of the fin darker using very short lines. The goal is to keep the fin’s edge jagged or irregular.
Erase the charcoal and soften the ridge lines by lightly burning over them.
Place more emphasis on the lower part of the ridges and the spots between the ridge knobs. The knobs are the spot where the vertical and horizontal ridges meet.
Below are the before and after photos of the ridge softening.
Now for the seahorse in the foreground. The process of burning this one will be very similar to the first seahorse.
Start defining the area under each ridge along the outer edge. And again pretend the white charcoal is in place.
Color each segment along the right edge a light to medium to tan color. The process is the same as the first seahorse. Make each segment darker just under the ridge and fade the color a bit when you reach the bottom of the segment. Make sure to keep the overall color paler than the seahorse in the background for contrast.
Below are some progress photos of my working on the seahorse’s body.
Continued work on the body. Obviously I erased the charcoal at this point, but you may wish to keep it in place.
The tail looks like it’s made of segments with a pale ridge separating each segment. So burn the segment the same color as the body, but leave the ridge paler.
Continue to burn the segments on the tail.
Continued work on the tail.
Using the razor edge of the shading pen tip, lightly burn fine lines on back fin and color the fin with pull-away strokes. Start from the body edge and pull it towards the outer edge of the fin. Let the color fade before it gets to the edge.
Burn the very edge of the fin darker using very short lines. The goal is to keep the fin’s edge jagged or irregular.
Erase the charcoal and soften the ridges just like we did with the first seahorse.
Now place some random dots on the seahorse with the ball pen tip. If you don’t have a ball pen tip then use a writing tip.
Add a couple of dots to the face.
And a couple of dots on the fin.
STEP 7 – THE CORAL
The last thing to do is burn in the coral. The coral is marked in orange on the pattern. Just burn that in darkly using a small circular motion. Obviously I didn’t do this step as I was using a piece of wood Todd has done fractal burning on.
That’s it we are all done with the seahorses, but, as promised, I will briefly discuss fractal wood burning.
FRACTAL WOOD BURNING
Todd uses a neon light power supply that he hooks up to a piece of wood. The wood has been liberally sprayed with a baking soda/water solution to help the electricity skitter across the surface of the wood.
After he’s done burning, he scrubs the wood with a nylon brush under running water to remove the loose carbon and reveal the intricate design.
Mostly he creates wooden trivets with them. We have an artful grouping of trivets on a stone wall near the kitchen. They look great and are readily available when I need a place for a hot pan to cool.
This is a picture of my sea turtle experiment. I hated it so much I didn’t even finish it. One of the main reasons for my massive dislike is the blue background. I tried painting the background with watercolors, but they reacted with the baking soda solution and ended up looking like pastel chalks. During my turtle experiment and the seahorses I discovered that don’t care for burning on the wood after Todd has done his fractal burning. The baking soda solution alters the wood forcing me to keep my burner on a super low setting (around 0.5) so it wouldn’t darken up superfast; basically I felt like I didn’t have good control for shading.
Below are the assorted stopping point photos I took. They show the work in progress as I actually created it.
Here’s the final artwork with the shortened snout. Looking at it I think I went from too long to too short. Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.
I wanted to update this page with a before/after of the artwork after it was seal with lacquer. I was curious as to whether or not the lacquer would interact with the baking soda solution Todd used during the fractal burning process.
The right side is the lacquered finished side and I’m not happy with how it turned out. All pyrography will fade some over time, but plywood is the worst for this. It fades faster and more dramatically than any other wood that I’ve burned on. The baking soda seemed to make this worse. Sections of the wood seem bleached and the artwork really faded a lot.
Another tutorial has concluded and I do realize that this artwork isn’t as grand as some of the other art I’ve produced, but it was a learning experience and I felt that was worth sharing. Plus I try to provide a variety of subjects at differing skill levels in the hopes that everyone can find something of interest and use. That is my ultimate goal with this tutorial; providing some useful information that is presented in an easy to follow fashion.
On another note, keep in mind that the seahorses can be placed on bookmarkers, picture frames, etc., so experiment around and see what you can create besides a wall hanging like I did. After all, creative experimentation is what art is all about.
Like always I welcome all feedback. I love hearing your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions. Heck I’m open to idea/suggestions for future tutorials, but I can’t promise I will act on them.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on Birch plywood that measures 8 3/4 x 11 inches (22.2 x 27.9 cm). It took me 4 1/2 hours to complete the artwork. That said, this is not a race or contest. I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot. You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the process of creating art.
Until the next blog,
June 4, 2017
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This artwork was submitted by Trish. Trish did a fantastic job and I continue to be amazed at the wide range of projects she tackles. I love the splash of color on the coral. Trish, thank you for sharing your art with us!