Trillium flowers grow wild in the moist dappled sunlight forests of the pacific northwest. They are easily identifiable by their three large leaves below a single flower that has three petals and three small side leaves. Todd was out hiking with a friend and took a stunning picture that I immediately fell in love with so I used it to create the second artwork in my wallflowers series. In this tutorial I’m going to try a slightly different approach and show you how I look at reference material to create artwork. Without further ado, let’s get to work on the Trillium wallflower pyrography tutorial.
SKILL LEVEL: 1
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Trillium pattern
ABOUT THE WOOD – –
In my Wallflowers series I wanted to present a different option than some people might consider for sourcing wood; a local home improvement store or a lumberyard. A local store carried long boards of maple that came in an assortment of widths.
I purchased an 8 foot long board (2.44 m) that was 6 inches wide (15.2 cm) and it cost around $45 dollars. The board was cut into 4 inch (10.2 cm) long chunks, so I ended up with a quite a few 4” x 6” (10.2 x 15.2 cm) chunks of wood.
The store carried boards of other widths both smaller and larger, and, of course, the wider the board the more expensive it becomes. Some of the boards were so wide that you could cut them into 8 x 10 inches (20.3×25.4 cm) planks. We selected the 6” (15.2 cm) wide board because Todd needed it for something and I got the leftovers. If it wasn’t for that I could have gone with the cheaper 4” wide (10.2 cm) board and had it cut into 6” long (15.2 cm) chunks.
As I said, Todd needed part of the board, so I got the remainder that he cut up for me. I ended up with 9 pieces of maple; 7 measure 4×6 inches (10.2×15.2 cm) and 2 measure 5×6 inches (12.7×15.2 cm).
Since this is #2 in the wallflowers series, I still have plenty for future projects.
Do you have to use maple? Heck no. The only thing I would recommend is that the board be light in color and not have a lot of grain lines in it. Poplar can be a good choice and some people really like pine as it’s fairly inexpensive and readily found. You just have to go to the store and see what is available.
Don’t have a saw? Most lumber yards and home improvement stores do, so they can cut up the board for you.
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Mist the board with water to raise the grain and let it dry.
Sand over the board again with 220 grit or higher sandpaper and now the board is ready for use.
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.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines.
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
STEP 4 – EMBOSS THE NAME
Trace the flower name along the lower right edge of the board. Using the writing pen tip on low heat, deeply press it into the surface of the wood along the lines of the letters. This works well with straight lines, but I found it to be a bit more difficult with the curved portions of letters. Fortunately with this name there weren’t many curved letters. This photo shows the name after I was done.
After burning, use something with a sharp point like an X-acto knife tip to scrape along the bottoms of the letters to remove the graphite that got shoved down there.
Another option is to burn in the letters very dark and deep. Then scrape out the charring to reveal the light wood. I’ve used this method for animal whiskers, but didn’t think about using it for this until I wrote up this blog. In my tutorial for the Bengal tiger I detail how to do this option. Bengal Tiger Tutorial.
STEP 5 – BACKGROUND
Burn the background a dark brown-black color. This will make the flower and leaves become the main focus and it will make the artwork pop. I used long parallel vertical (up/down) strokes for this. For more information about the stroke along with lots of pictures, please refer to my blog on Using the Shading Pen Tip.
Edge along the flower by burning a dark thick line along the outside edges of the flower. This creates a buffer zone, as I call it, and when it is done you can turn up the pen heat and/or burn with a faster hand movement to finish the background. The reason is that you don’t have to burn right up to the seam where two items meet. Seams usually have crisp sharp edges, so they are a place you should slow down and be precise. While edging, make sure to keep your pen tip in optimal position.
Notice how the edge of my pen tip is on the outside edge of the blossom. This is optimal position so that I am only burning on the background and not the blossom. I mention optimal position a lot in my blogs because it’s important. Keeping optimal position ensures your edges are clean and crisp and that you are burning where you intend to burn.
Make sure to use the flat of the shading tip when you burn over the embossed name. This will allow the tip to glide over the area and leave the lettering nice and light.
Finishing up around the letters.
Once the buffer zone is done and the letters carefully burned over, then fill in the rest of the background with a dark brown-black color.
Almost done with the background. The background was filled in with straight strokes using the side of my shading pen tip vs the front end. This gave me more surface area to make broader or wider strokes. If you have a larger shading tip I recommend switching to it so as it will cut down on how much time it takes you to do this step.
Another thing I need to mention is that I had the heat just high enough to burn darkly, but not so high that it gouges the wood as this photo shows. Really high heat will burn channels (or gouges) in the wood, but a lower heat and slower hand speed prevents this; I wanted my black space background to be smooth.
While burning the background it can be very useful to have a small fan in use. Direct the fan AWAY from you so that the wind it generates is not blowing on you. Having the fan in this position pulls the smoke away from you, so your eyes (and lungs) won’t get irritated.
The small fan I use runs on batteries, clips onto edges, and the blades are made out of foam. I like that because if I accidently bump it, nothing gets hurt or damaged. I found it on Ebay under a listing for a baby stroller fan and it cost around 10-15 dollars.
One last thing about the background. In the previous wallflower tutorial, Apple Blossoms, I used a small circular motion to fill in the background. This montage photo shows the two next to each other. Uniform strokes produce a completely different look than the circular motion does. If you want all of your wallflowers to have the same background type, then please do so. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; this is your artwork, so own it.
STEP 6 – CAST SHADOWS
The first thing I do with all reference photos is determine where the sunlight is coming from. After all of these years of creating art I still do this, but it’s almost a subconscious thing now. With this photo the cast shadows give away the sun’s location; it’s located behind and to the right of the flower.
I marked the approximate location of the sun with a yellow circle. The two cast shadows I marked with red arrows; 1) from the flower, and 2) from the right leaf.
Next burn in the two cast shadows to a dark brown-black color. Because they are not touching the background they can be made the same color as the background. Otherwise they would need be to paler in color.
Edge along the cast shadow borders and then fill it in with a dark brown-black color.
Do the same with the cast shadow from the flower. Here I’m edging along the right side of the shadow. Notice that the pen tip is in optimal position so I’m are burning inside the shadow.
Rotate the wood and then burn along the left side of the shadow.
With the shadow edged, fill in the shadow so it is a uniform dark brown-black color.
STEP 7 – THREE LARGE LEAVES
The next step is to burn in the three large leaves. I’m going to cover each leaf individually. The first leaf I will cover in great detail and then I will reduce the amount of detail with each subsequent leaf. One more thing I need to mention is that I tend to re-work areas. By this I mean I will burn a section and then decide it needs to be slightly darker, more contrast, etc. Basically I’m going back to an area to fine tune it. Because of the way I’m teaching this tutorial I’m going to present the information in the actual order I burned it. Hopefully that doesn’t make it confusing, but if it does just let me know for future tutorials.
LOWER LEFT LEAF
The first leaf to burn will be the lower left leaf.
Here’s a close up of the leaf in the reference photo. I tend to work on the major defining dark areas first. I see two items that really stand out to me.
1) There is a torn spot on the left that I marked with a yellow arrow.
2) There is a main vein that I marked with a red arrow, and it runs the length of the leaf.
Darken up the torn spot, but maintain contrast between the spot and the background. This means that the tear needs to be lighter than the background otherwise it will disappear and become part of the background.
Let’s look at a close-up of the main vein and analyze this vein in detail.
1) The vein is recessed, so the leaf rises up around it creating a little valley along the vein (marked with a white arrow). 2) The valley is thicker at its origin near the stem (marked with a yellow arrow). 3) The valley thins out the further left it goes and it gets very narrow at the bend (marked with a blue arrow). 4) The lower edge of the valley has a crisp edge (marked with a purple arrow). 5) The upper edge or wall, if you will, of the valley is in shadows and fades away as is crests the top of the valley (marked with a red arrow).
First use the razor edge of the shading pen tip to burn in the left side of the vein there it is very thin (item #3). While it might be hard to tell from the photo, I have the pen tip steeply angled so I’m only burning with the thin edge at the very end of the pen tip.
Next rotate the wood, decrease the pen angle, position the pen tip so it points towards the bottom edge of the valley, and then burn along the vein until it meets with the left. As you near the thin area of the ‘valley’ on the left, increase the pen angle so you get a decrease in the burn width.
By burn along the vein in this manner, it will take care of all of the remaining items discovered during the detailed analysis.
With those two items burned in, it is easy to divide the leaf into three quadrants. I painted a red line around each quadrant and assigned a number to it. We are going to work on Quadrant 2 first.
Again, as I like to work on the major features of the area, the first thing I really noticed was the four deep veins. The vein marked with a yellow arrow has the same characteristics of the main vein; recessed, upper wall is shadowed, the lower edge is crisp, and it tapers off on the left. The three veins marked by red arrows have the same characteristics too EXCEPT the left side is wider than the right.
First burn in the side veins using the razor edge of the shader pen tip.
Continued work on the veins. Also, I’ve thicken up some of the veins, but this is one of those times where I ended up going back to fine tune an area. So instead of jumping forward to show you those pictures I will talk about the veins again when I did the fine tuning.
The next major feature is the bend in the leaf. Look at it and notice how the lightest area is on the crest and the darkest is on shadow below it. I marked the crest with a white arrow and the shadow below it is marked with a red arrow.
First darken the shadowed area. For the majority of the filling in of leafy areas I used a small circular motion.
Next shade the rest of the area to the left of the vein a tan color. Make sure to leave the top of the crest the lightest spot.
The optical illusion of making something look elevated from its surroundings, depends on having the top be the lightest spot compared to its surroundings.
Time to look at the main vein in the reference photo again. 1) First of all the vein continues along the leaf and eventually curves out of the frame. Where it leaves the frame is marked by a yellow arrow. 2) As the main vein curves it get very thin or narrow and then widens back out near the end. The curve is indicated by the white arrow. 3) Lastly the shadow direction changes. The red arrow points to the original shadow direction located on the ‘upper’ wall of the vein valley. Near the end of the vein it becomes almost vertical, so the ‘upper’ wall becomes the left side of the vein. With the direction change, the shadow moved to the right side of the vein which is also where the yellow arrow is pointing.
Rotate the wood and burn along the right side of the main vein where the shadow shifted to. Make sure to keep the pen tip in optimal position so you are only burning on the right side.
Now burn all of the remaining areas located to the left of the main vein a tan color.
In this reference photo, I’ve got the spot marked where there is a slight recessed area below the main vein. Notice how the lower edge of the depression follows along the thin vein. Also it’s important to note that there is a reflected light spot near the main vein and this reflection is marked with the yellow arrow.
First burn along the vein and keep the edge of the pen tip so it follows along the upper side of it. Keep the angle low to get a thick line.
Next shade along the vein so it is darker in color near the thin vein but fades as it nears the main vein.
Burn the rest of the area a tan color.
Continued work on the rest of the area.
You probably noticed the pine needles, I’ve marked them in red, and I found them distracting, so I’m pretending they don’t exist.
Now it’s time to fine tune some areas. First finish thickening up deep veins along the far left of the leaf.
Last re-burn the changing shadow area so it’s a little darker.
Now we’re going to burn in quadrant 1 or the top portion of this leaf. Here’s a close-up of the area. Look at the picture and what do you see?
The first thing that really stands out to me is how thick the ‘valley’ is on the main vein (marked with a red arrow) near its origin. Also there is a lot of light striking the surface of the leaf (marked with a white arrow).
First thicken up the valley wall on the main vein. Make sure to let the color fade as it reaches the flat part of the leaf.
Also keep the pen tip in optimal position so you don’t burn on the ‘lower’ portion of the valley.
Tone or color the area between the main vein and the next vein a tan color.
Looking at the reference photo again, let’s move to the end of the leaf in this quadrant. What I notice is there is a bend in the left (marked by the red arrow) and there are a few smaller veins that have slight valleys to them (marked with white arrow).
First burn in the valleys on the few veins that have them. The remaining small really shallow veins might need to be darkened slightly depending on how dark you burned the trace lines.
Because of the location of this bend, the bend shadow is on the left side of the bend, so burn the shadow to a medium brown color.
Tone the rest of the leaf in this area a tan color.
The last area in this quadrant has two veins with valleys that are located above the main vein. The bigger and first one is marked with a red arrow and the smaller one is marked with a white arrow.
Working on the bigger vein, burn along the vein path keeping the pen tip edge facing the main vein. This puts the tip in optimal position and will give you a crisp smooth edge along the bottom of this vein.
Tone the area between this vein and the next one a tan color.
Burn in the last major vein in the same manner as the vein we just burned in.
Lastly tone any remaining spots on the leaf in this area a tan color.
The last segment in this leaf is the triangular area between the two cast shadows. Time for you to try your hand at critically analyzing the photo, so look at the photo and what do you see?
What do I see? 1) There are two larger veins with ‘valleys;’ marked with yellow arrows. 2) The lower right portion of this segment is in deep shadows; marked with a red arrow. 3) There is a recessed area on the left side; marked with a blue arrow. 4) There is a ridge with light reflecting along it; marked with a brown arrow. 5) There are pine needles, but, as mentioned before, I’m going to completely ignore them; marked with white arrows. Did you notice the same things I did?
First thicken up the larger veins in this segment.
Tone the left side of the segment a tan color.
Create the ‘valley’ along the larger vein.
Burn the last larger vein on the right and darken up the bottom end.
Lastly darken up the recessed area.
We are done with the bottom leaf, so now it’s time to look at the results critically and decide if any fine tuning is needed.
For me I felt that there were a couple of areas that I needed to darken up, a vein or two I darkened up, and that was pretty much it.
With the lower left leaf done, we’ll work on the right leaf. As promised, or warned depending on your point of view, I’m not going to provide as much detail in this one.
Here’s the reference photo close-up of the right leaf. It’s time to look at it and gather information based on your observations. Ask yourself a couple of questions as you look at this leaf. How is the light striking the leaf? Are their deep veins? What about bends, recessed areas, etc?
I see the following:
The right edge and the bottom of the leaf is in shadows.
The leaf has one main vein, white arrow, and three other veins, red arrows, that all have valleys.
The leaf is almost funnel shaped near the flower stem that starts dark and lightens up as it gets bigger or further from the starting point.
There is a slight ridge along the lower edge of the ‘funnel.’
There is a recessed area on the lower portion of the leaf.
First burn the veins.
Add the shadow areas along the top vein. This would be the ‘valleys’ and the back side of the ruffles/bends.
Color the leaf from the top vein to the edge of the leaf a tan color. Adding the necessary side veins, bend shadows, etc. as you go.
Do the same process for the area between the top two veins.
Make sure to darken along the vein valley and where the section enters the ‘funnel’ at the leaf start.
Burn in the area between the main vein and the second vein.
At this point the top half of the leaf is done, so take a look and decide if any fine tuning is needed. I darkened up a spot here and there.
Burn in the area by the little side vein below the main vein. Make sure to burn the right side of it considerably darker than the left as it’s in shadows.
Color the funnel a tan color, but leave the ridge unburned. Also darken up the veins as you go.
Start defining the recessed area.
Darken the lower right portion of the leaf a brown color.
Gradually fade out the brown color to tan as you near the halfway mark on the leaf.
Fine tune the lower section of this leaf if needed. I darkened up the lower right corn a bit more and extended this shadowy area up along the right side of the leaf. The further up the leaf I went the more narrow the shadowy area became. I also re-darkened up the recession spot.
TOP LEFT LEAF
With the last large leaf, I’m not going to provide any verbal instructions. Instead I will post pictures of me working on this section. Armed with the many examples of critical analysis we’ve already done, I think you will be able to follow along.
Here’s the reference photo with a close-up of the last leaf.
Below are pictures of me working on this leaf.
STEP 8 – STEM & SMALL LEAVES
Now it’s time to burn in the stem and the three small leaves.
First edge one side of the stem.
Rotate the wood and edge the other side of the stem.
Fill in the center of the stem. The stem was fairly uniform in color, so I burned it a medium to dark brown color with little to no color variation.
With the left leaf I burned it a uniform dark brown color. It was such a small area that any little details wouldn’t be noticed much.
Let’s look at the top leaf and analyze it. What do you see?
What do I see? 1) The leaf arches up from the flower, so it is darker near the flower petals; marked with a red arrow. 2) At the top of the arch it folds over and disappears from sight, but there is a small part of the underside of the leaf that is visible; yellow arrow. 3) There is a thin lip along the edge of the leaf; white arrow.
First edge along the leaf where it touches the flowers. Keep the pen tip in optimal position as you want/need a very nice crisp or sharp line between the flower petals and the leaf.
Burn the leaf a medium tan color.
Burn in the base of the leaf so it is darker near the petals. I used pull-away strokes for this. I start the stroke on the petal edge and pull it away from the petal towards the end of the leaf.
Last step is to burn the underside of the leaf that is visible. It’s a small area, so place the pen tip in the area, pause, and lift. When you place the pen tip in the area don’t place it right next to the top part of the leaf. The reason is that once you are done you end up with a “lip” along the edge that you created with nothing more that careful pen tip placement.
Here’s a photo after I was done with the stem and two of the tiny leaves. If you look close at the top leaf you will see the slight ‘lip’ I created.
Here’s a close-up of the last leaf. Look at it critically. How does the light hit it? Are their curves or bends in the leaf? Are the veins deep?
What do I see? I’m not going to mark the spots on the vein as I think by now you can follow along. The veins are pretty shallow. The left side of the leaf bends or curls under a little along the top edge and then curls upward along the remaining length of the leaf. The right side of the leaf is in shadows and the shadows along the lower portion are pretty dark. The light strikes the upper left portion of the leaf.
First burn in the dark veins and edges.
Next burn in the shadowed area along the right side of the leaf.
Rotate the wood and darkly edge along the left side of the leaf.
Burn the surface of the leaf. Remember the top left side of the leaf is the lightest spot.
Burn in the curved areas a dark brown color.
Rotate the wood, if needed, to finish burning curved areas.
Fine tune if needed. Here I’m adding a touch more color to the bottom portion of the leaf.
STEP 9 – FLOWER
Well, it’s time to burn in the flower, so we’re nearing the end of this tutorial.
Let’s start with the center of the flower.
Here’s a reference photo showing a close-up of the flower center. There is a lot going on in this spot. What’s more is I’m not going to point out all of the stuff I see because, I will be very honest here and admit that, I used ‘artistic license’ in this spot.
What do I mean by that? It was such a small area that I wasn’t sure I could replicate all of the things going on, so I simplified it. I will explain what I did, but if you would prefer to render your artwork in accordance with the photo then do it. After all it’s your artwork, so give it your own personalization.
Burn in the lower stamen using the writing pen tip. I made the stamen a dark brown color instead of trying to replicate the photo.
Next burn around the outer edges of the center nodule.
Burn the remaining stamen a dark brown.
Burn the center nodule. Avoid the “j” during this step.
Continued work on the center nodule. Lightly burn over the “j” at this point.
Next item to work on is the upper left petal.
Here’s the close-up of the petal in the reference photo. Look at it carefully and pick out the details that make-up this petal. What do you see?
First the lower portion of the petal is in shadows.
There are two ridged bands along the center of the petal.
There is a slight shadowed area on the upper portion of the petal.
First burn in the shadowed lower portion of the petal.
Next burn the rest of the petal a pale tan color.
Burn two thick lines to represent the two bands along the center of the petal.
Lastly burn the slight shadowed area on the upper portion of the petal.
The next petal we will burn is the upper right petal.
Here’s the reference photo of this particular petal for your review.
The first thing that really stands out to me is the dark streak on the petal.
While looking at the streak I noticed the three vein lines.
The next spot that I noticed was the curved dark end of the petal.
The last item that stood out to me was super pale almost translucent area on the leaf.
First start burning in the dark streak on the petal.
While burning the streak, also darken up the three veins.
Continued work on the dark streak.
Next burn the petal to the right of the streak a pale tan color and darken up the petal end.
On the left side of the streak, lightly burn along top of the petal and along next to the streak. Leave the almost translucent area unburned.
Next burn in the lower part of the petal a pale tan, but burn the edge of the petal slightly darker.
I decided that the streak needed to be darker, so I did that.
Plus I wanted the petal end to be a touch darker.
Now it’s time to work on the last petal.
Here’s the reference photo for this area. What do you notice when you look at it?
The first thing I notice is the big shadow. It covers a good portion of the left side of the petal and the stamens are casting a shadow.
Next I noticed all of the little shadows along the bottom of the leaf.
The petal is palest where the stamens are casting their shadows.
The bottom of the petal as this little cupped end tip (red arrow) and it forms a bit of a ridge line that runs along the center of the petal (yellow arrow).
First burn the big shadow and the stamen shadow a dark tan color.
Next burn the little shadows along the bottom of the leaf.
Continued work on the little shadows.
Lastly shade the leaf a pale tan color, but leave the spot next to the stamen shadow unburned and the lower portion of the petal darkest.
A STUDY IN CONTRAST
I love contrast and I think that all artwork needs good contrast to make it more visually appealing. To demonstrate this I want to show you how my trillium looked after I burned in the flower the first time.
It looks okay, but notice how the upper left petal almost disappears? In fact it’s rather easy to overlook the flower completely. Below is the picture again and next to it is the final picture for comparison.
Re-burning the flower made it stand out and this is the power of contrast. When you work in a monochromatic medium like this, you need different levels of contrast to replace the lack of color. With the pictures sitting side-by-side the leaves look a little darker too, but it’s just the light. The first picture was a touch over-exposed to show the color of the background better.
Another thing I want to mention is don’t be afraid to ask someone else’s opinion. When I first finished the flower I didn’t feel like it looked quite right, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I ask Todd who stared at it for a few minutes and then said that the flower disappears into the leaves. Bingo! What I disagreed with him on with was the idea of making the leaves darker. Not that his idea wasn’t good, but I liked the leaves and considered them to be the best part of the artwork. So the idea of making them darker and possibly ruining how they looked wasn’t appealing to me. Plus, I’ll be brutally honest here, I tend to be lazy. Each leaf took an hour or two to burn, whereas the flower took about an hour total. Since it would be must quicker to darken up the flower, that’s what I did.
Sometimes I will google my subject matter just to see what I can find out. With the trillium I discovered that after the flower is pollinated, it produces small fruit coated seeds that attract ants. Ants haul the fruit back to their nest, harvest the fruit, and discard the seed in the ‘garbage’ where it can germinate into a new plant.
Another thing I discovered is that the blossoms start out white, but turn purple with age. So this artwork is based on an aged flower, but I thought the flower was still very beautiful.
Lastly, it can take up to 7 years before the plant will produce a blossom and the plant can be easily damaged. If you see a blooming trillium, admire its beauty, but please don’t pick the flower as you may kill the plant.
I think this is probably the longest tutorial I’ve written so far, and I hope the extra information made it especially helpful for you the reader.
Speaking about you, I need to ask you two questions. What did you think about the approach I used in this tutorial? My goal was to try and show how I critically analyze a photo and how I interpret that into the artwork. Did I even remotely come close to accomplishing this goal? I always welcome feedback, constructive criticism included, because that is the only way I will discover how I’m doing and what improvements I can/should make.
I enjoyed working on this artwork and part of that was because I loved the reference photo. It looked like a ray of light had penetrated the forest to light up this flower. While I don’t think I conveyed that as well as the reference photo does, I still like how my artwork turned out. I really like the leaves with all of those veins crossing across the surface. I also like the dark background contrasting against tan colors of the leaves and flower.
Now to answer a couple frequently asked questions. This artwork was burned on maple that measures 4 x 6 inches (10.2 x 15.2 cm) and it took me 7 1/4 hours to complete the artwork. Remember, this is not a race or contest. I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.
Until the next blog,
Aug 4, 2017
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