Christ of the Mines Pyrography Art wood burning


Todd and I were going on a vacation to the four corners area and I always research our trips to see what there is to do and see.  I discover a marble statue called the Christ of the Mines that was located in Silverton, Colorado.   Since that would be one of our places to visit while driving along the San Juan Skyway, I told Todd I wanted to see the statue in person.  While we were there Todd took several photos and I liked one of them well enough to turn it into a pyrography project.  This blog is going to talk about the creation of the Christ of the Mines pyrography artwork.

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

I do not consider this to be a tutorial blog, but I included a pattern at the end of the blog in case you would like to try it on your own.

Statue from several hundred feet away

Finding the statue was pretty easy as Silverton isn’t that big, but I did a lot of huffing and puffing to get to the statue.  First off Silverton is located at an elevation of 9300 feet (2.83 km), and I’m not use to that.  My house is closer to 450 feet (137.2 m) in elevation.   In addition to the elevation is the fact that the statue is located on this steep hill overlooking the town.    This picture shows the statue at the halfway mark up the hill.

I googled the statue and it’s located 500 feet (152.4 m) above town, so it wasn’t far to the statue, but it was a very steep hike up to it and the above picture doesn’t begin to convey that.  While I was seeking out information about the statue I also found out that the statue is 16 feet tall (4.88 m), weighs 12 tons (10,886 kg), and was completed in 1959.  The local lore is that the statue was built in the hopes that it would help the depressed economy that the mines were experiencing at the time.   After a few months of the statue’s completion and dedication “a renewed mining effort was begun….and mining in Silverton began one of its most profitable periods.”  I quoted this from the following website:     Obviously I cannot attest to the validity of the statement as I wasn’t alive at the time, but it’s a beautiful statue in a very picturesque setting.

Burning the trace lines on very pale wood


When I decided to create this artwork I knew that I would need a super pale unblemished piece of wood to properly render the marble statue.  Todd made me a wonderful board for that and in this photo I’m burning in the trace lines onto it.





This artwork was made up of three basic parts; dark background, rocks, and the statue.  Since the white marble wouldn’t show up well without some contrast, I decided to work on the dark background first.

Starting on the dark background


I began by darkly outlining the edges along on the rocky alcove.





Working on the background behind the alcove


I did the same basic thing for the sky behind the alcove using a combination of uniform and pull-away strokes to accomplish this.






Continued work



Here I’m finishing up the sky.






Almost done with the dark alcove



In this photo I’m finishing up the dark shadowed area in the alcove.





Done with the background



Here’s how it looked after I was done with the dark background.  Looking at it I should have darkened up the upper right corner area some more.




Starting on the rocks



With the background done I started working on the rocks.  Each one was burned individually.




Continued work on the rocks



Continued work on the rocks.




Front of alcove almost done



In this photo I’ve got almost all of the facing rocks along the front edge of the alcove done and now I’m starting to work on the recessed area.




Continued work



Continued work on the recessed area.




More work on the alcove rocks



More work on the recessed area.






One last rock to burn in

The rock area was actually very easy to create.  I first outlined the rock and then fill it in with a combination of circular motion and short vertical (up/down) strokes.  The key to this process is to keep the surface irregular.   During this process a pattern, if you will, starts to emerge of light and dark areas.  At this point I further darken the dark areas with more small circular motions.

I’ve described circular motion and the other ways I used the shading pen tip in a separate blog.  If you need more information I would recommend reading it:  Using the Shading Pen Tip.     

Starting on the last rock

Here I’m starting on the last rock.  I already did small circular motions along the right edge and now I’m doing some vertical strokes.  Already there are a couple of highlights and darker specks on the rock.

Continued work



Continued work on the rock.  Again notice that the surface is very irregular.



Re-working some small areas



I’m re-working the dark spots by adding a touch more color.


Almost done



Almost done.





Done with the last rock






Progress photo




This is how the artwork looked after I finished the rocks.





starting the dark shadows on the robe


I normally work on the eyes first, but the face was so small I saved that for later as I was afraid I’d mess it up.  Instead I started on the dark shadows of the statue.




Continued work on the shadows


I burned the shadows a brown color instead of dark brown-black because I wasn’t 100% sure how dark they needed to be yet.






Working on the folds on the arms of the robe


I tend to bounce around the artwork burning a little here and there.  I think I do this so I can check to see how things look as a whole.




Working on the dark shadows along the bottom of the robe

Plus with the darker areas burned in it’s easier for me to find where I’m at.  I’d better explain that comment further.  When I’m creating art based on a real item, I use reference photos.  As I’m burning, I frequently check the reference photo to make sure I’m rendering the art accurately.  Christ of the Mines featured this long flowing robe, so the more dark shadows I burned in made it easier for me to compare my art to the picture.   In this photo I’m burning the dark crease on the first fold below the knee.  I count them, so when I’m working on the next fold I’m mentally thinking this is the second fold along the knee, etc.  It helps me keep track of where I’m at.

Another progress photo



Here’s another progress photo.







Starting on the face



Eventually I had to work on the face and I actually used my micro shader for most of it.


continued work



Keeping the heat setting on low was super important while working on the statue.    My goal was to create soft smooth looking shadows and I’ve found I accomplish this better using a low heat and multiple passes.


Continued work


Despite the small area I spent a lot of time working on the face. I didn’t want to have to erase anything, so I built up the color very slowly.



The face after I was done with one burn


Here’s the face after burning a first or second time (not sure).  I don’t remember how many different times I reworked the face before I was finally finished, but it was several.


Back to working on the robe


In this photo I’m back to working on the sleeves of the robe.  When I re-burn areas I’m usually just adding more contrast in the shadows (darkening them up) or blending the edges a bit more.


Shadow edges marked

In this photo I’ve marked the hard edge and soft edges of a shadow.  Most of the folds in the robe have a similar set up.  There is a hard edge with a crisp line on one side and that fades away to a soft edge on the other side.   The soft edge doesn’t have a line that defines the end of it.   The medallion I’m currently working on is another example of that.  The outer edges of the medallion are crisp, but the color fades as it reaches towards the center.

The knee


In this photo I’ve circled the knee section in red.  I’m going to explain a little about how I created this look as I was rather pleased with how it turned out.  The reason I liked it was that I thought it actually looks like the knee is bent.




Darken along the side of the leg


First I’m slightly darkening up the side next to the leg.  You might be surprised to know that I burned almost every surface on the statue.  Yes, it still looks ‘white’ but that’s only because of contrast with the dark background.



Starting the shadow to the left




Here I’m starting on the shadows area just to the left of the knee.





Continued work on the same spot


And more work on the spot.  With this photo I think it’s easier to see the shape the shadow is taking.  Notice how the left edge of the shadow is hard, but the right fades and doesn’t have a defined line of where it exactly ends.


applying color below the knee


To make the kneecap look like it is sticking out or rising up from the surrounding area means that the top of the knee cap needs to be the palest spot in the area.  So in this photo I’m starting to burn in the area under the kneecap.



work on the folds below the knee



In this photo I’m working on the folds along the bottom of the robe, but already you can see the knee is becoming the palest spot in the area.



continued work on the lower part of the robe



Continued work on the folds.  The more work I did to darken the around around the knee helps with the optical illusion that the knee is rising up.   Optical illusions are one of the reasons creating artwork feels like magic to me.



Wood rotated to make it easier to burn


Here I’m continuing to work on the fold and I want to point out how I’ve turned the wood to make it easier on myself for burning.  The need to rotate the wood is dependent on the direction I’m burning.  The goal is to keep the pen in optimal position.

Close up of the knee area


This photo is a close-up of the knee area after I was all done burning.  Notice how most of the folds have a hard left edge and then the color fades away on the right side.   Soft and subtle fade away color is the key to the statue’s smooth marble look.





Below are side-by-side photos of my final artwork and the reference photo for comparison. 

Final Artwork
Reference photo










I made a couple of minor departures from the picture.  1) I didn’t burn in trees behind the alcove, 2) I kept the pedestal a basic semi-smooth dome, 3) I didn’t try to re-create each rock, and 4) I ignored the weird cast shadow in the alcove.  The weird shadow came from a lamp post and I thought it would detract from the artwork. 

As promised, here is the pattern.   Christ of the Mines pattern


Todd thinks that this artwork is the closest I’ve come to creating something that looks like a photograph.    You may or may not agree with that assessment.  I think it turned out well, but like most of my art I see things I wished I had done differently.  I do readily admit that I’m hypercritical of my own work, but one thing that really bothers me is that the upper right corner of the artwork needs to be darker.  After the artwork was lacquered I lost some color from that area.  I know that losing subtle color will happen but I can’t seem to learn this as I keep making the same mistake over and over.  In the grand scheme of things that’s probably a pretty minor thing to be bothered by.

Since it seems like I’m always picking my work apart, I’m going to state some things I like about it in an effort to quit focusing on the negatives.  I like the smoothness of the statue and all of the shadows caused by the wrinkles and folds of his robe.  I love the extreme contrast between the dark shadows and the statue.  Plus I think there is a pleasing contrast between the texture of the rocks and the smoothness of the marble.

If you’re ever in the area go check out the statue.  It’s really an impressive sight to see this large statue overlooking this quaint town up in the mountains.  The drive to Silverton was filled with beautiful the scenery that begs for you to stop, take a picture or two, and just enjoy.

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The artwork measures 7 by 12 inches (12.8 x 30.5 cm), was burned on basswood, and it took me 12 3/4 hours to complete it.

Until the next blog,


July 28, 2017

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