Valentine’s is generally considered the holiday of love and I wanted to create a tutorial for the occasion. My previous Valentine project was a two part ordeal and fairly complicated, so this time my goal was to create something a bit more simplistic. With a few hours of brainstorming, and a couple of concept sketches, I created the Valentine Plaque. I like to think that I not only accomplished my goal of creating simplistic art, but that I also created art that is visually intriguing. This tutorial is going to explain how to create the Valentine plaque. Plus, at the end of the tutorial, I will give a couple ideas to customize the artwork, share a first ever problem I encountered, and explain a little of my brainstorming process.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 2
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Knife Tip (optional)
- Large shading tip (optional)
- White Charcoal pencil – NOT colored pencil
- 9×12 inch (22.9 x 30.5 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Valentine Plaque pattern, Val 2 pattern
There are two patterns for this project. The Valentine Plaque is the main pattern and the second, Val 2, is the decorative pattern for the ribbon in the background.
Below are images of the primary pen tips I use.
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
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 lightweight 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.
Remember to check the trace lines for accuracy and/or missing information before removing the pattern.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
Burn over all of the traces lines.
Use care at the intersections. I’ve drawn the letters so the decorative curves appear to be weaving up and below each other. I’ve marked an intersection with a red circle and notice how the top of the H goes over and under the lower curve. The white paint on the photo indicates which section is on top.
Switch to a knife tip or any tip with a sharp edge and burn in the ribbon lines. Keep your hand in a fixed position and move your arm to burn the lines.
Next switch back to a writing pen tip and lightly burn in the background decorations on the left side of the board. It’s important to keep the decorations tan or lighter in color. They are background filler, so if they remain pale in color they will accent the artwork instead of competing for attention.
STEP 4 – LETTERING
OPTIMAL PEN TIP PLACEMENT – –
NOTICE the placement of the pen tip in this photo; I call this Optimal Pen Tip Placement.
The end of the pen tip is right on the outer edge of the heart. Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am burning only on the heart and not on the background around the heart.
Optimal pen tip position ensures that you are burning where you INTEND to burn and that your borders are crisp/clean. Very clean clear edges is very important with the hearts and the letters in this artwork.
Back to work.
Draw in the highlights on the letter H using a white Charcoal pencil. I purposely did not indicate them on the pattern for three reasons. 1) It makes the pattern a bit cluttered and harder to follow, 2) it is good practice for you, and 3) you might not want highlights in your artwork.
I have mentioned this numerous times, but I’ll say it again. You must use white CHARCOAL and not a color pencil for this. Color pencil contains wax that will melt and char very quickly. Charcoal, on the other hand, doesn’t use wax binders and the charcoal resists the heat of the pen. Plus charcoal erases very easily from wood.
Here’s how the letter looked after I was done. Notice how I only drew highlights on the thicker segments of the letter.
With the board positioned so it’s easy to keep optimal pen tip position, start to darkly burn along the outer edge of the letter. Note that I have my pen angled pretty steeply, so I’m burning a fairly thin line.
Why am I using a shader instead of a writer for this step? Quite simply I’ve found that the shader glides over the wood better producing a smoother line. Plus by changing the angle I hold the pen tip, I can control the thickness of the line burned with a shader. If you are interested, I discuss this in greater depth in my blog: Using the Shader.
Burn all of the lines that are easy to burn. Remember to pay attention when you are burning at an intersection.
Then rotate the wood and burn along more of the lines.
Continue to burn along the outline of the letter, rotating the wood as needed, until you have burned along all of the lines.
Here’s how the letter looked after I was done. The charcoal is still there, but it’s a little hard to see in this picture.
Rotate the wood as needed, and burn next to the charcoal lines. Try to avoid burning on the charcoal as it only resists the heat, but doesn’t completely block it.
Next erase the charcoal and use a writing pen tip to darken the lower spots on intersections.
Just to make sure there isn’t any confusion, I marked the spots in red on this photo that would be burned dark with the writing pen tip.
Here’s how the letter looked after I was done.
Now do the same steps for the rest of the letters.
Do you have to do the steps in the exact same order? No. You can edge first, draw in the highlights, and then fill-in the letter avoiding the highlight.
Do you have to draw in the white charcoal highlights? No. Just be extra careful when burning around the area they are located.
Do you have to have highlights? No. That’s the beauty of creating your artwork, you can change it to suit your preferences.
Below are photos showing my work burning in the rest of the letters on the plaque.
STEP 5 – HEARTS
I burned the small heart in the upper right corner first since it was least noticeable and I needed to test out how best to burn it. Yes, I should have tested out on a scrap piece of wood, but I never think about that beforehand. Only if something doesn’t turn out will I start wishing I had done a test burn.
First, outline the heart by burning a thick dark line along the edges.
Keep the pen tip in optimal position the entire time to ensure the outline of the heart has crisp, clean, well-defined edges.
You can control how thick of a line you burn by changing the angle you hold the pen. The higher the angle means a thinner line as less of the pen tip is in contact with the wood.
Next build up the heart’s border by burning around the edges using using a small circular motion.
Then start filling in the heart by burning uniform strokes. I found that using a slightly larger shader helped this step go faster.
Use pull-away strokes along the edge of the heart to extend the dark color and help the color transition from the dark border to the brown center.
Start the stroke on the edge of the heart and pull it away from the edge towards the center of the heart. Note that I repeatedly burned overlapping strokes to get a smooth look.
One more thing, you control the length of the stroke by how fast you move your hand. Fast hand movement means a stroke that quickly fades in color, so the resulting stroke is shorter. Slower hand movement means you will get a longer and darker stroke.
Continue to darken the heart until you reach the desired color level. I found that burning uniform strokes in different directions gave me a more even look. Plus burning with the grain is easier and produces smoother lines. My board had horizontal graining, so I turned the board on edge to burn with the grain. Vertical (up/down) strokes on my board meant I was burning against the grain, and it was a little harder to get smooth looking strokes.
To further blend the transition area I used a small circular motion with the shader pen tip. The transition area is where the pull-away strokes end and the uniform colored center starts.
I decided I didn’t like how wide the light reflection spot was, so I thinned it up a bit.
Here’s how the little heart looked after I was done.
After I was finished with the plaque, Todd looked at it and asked me what the white crescent shapes where on the hearts. If I have to explain what they are, then I didn’t burn them correctly. So I sanded over the crescents with 280 grit sandpaper to remove the right hard edge and re-burned the highlight spot.
Here’s how the heart looked with the reflection reduced. Notice how the left or upper side of the reflection still has a crisp hard edge to it, but the right or lower side is softer and less defined.
My pattern originally had crescents drawn on the hearts, but I revised it to just show where the highlight begins. Now you have control of where the highlight ends.
Please note that I did not fix the reflection spot on the hearts until after I was done with the plaque, so many of the pictures will show the hearts with the white crescent. Just keep in mind those crescents were eventually altered.
Outline the heart by burning a dark thick line along the edges.
You might ask why not just omit the outlining and jump to the pull-away strokes? Try it and see what you think. For me, burning along the edges ensures I have crisp, clean, well defined heart. Plus the thick outline creates a buffer zone, as I call it, within the object. The buffer zone means that I don’t have to start my pull-away stroke precisely on the edge of the object to get a crisp clean edge; it already has one.
Notice how I burn right up to the left edge of the reflection spot. At some point I do burn along the edge of the reflection line to make it crisp.
Next fill in the center of the heart by burning uniform strokes with the shader.
An important key to uniform color is to avoid a high heat setting on your pen. It’s an easy temptation to turn up the heat and get this done faster, but that increases the risk for blotches and streaks. The goal is to have the pen heat just high enough to get a uniformly colored stroke for your hand speed. BUT it’s very import that the heat isn’t high enough to create a dark blotch when you lift up the pen tip up and move it into position to start a new stroke.
What is the magic setting to achieve this? I wish I could tell you, but there are too many variables. For example, I have to use a higher heat on maple wood than I do on basswood. How big is the pen tip? My Colwood burner goes up to 10 and the pen tip I use the most often (Colwood tight round) requires I keep the heat setting around 2.5. If I switch to one of my larger shaders I have to increase the heat setting to 4 to get the same results. The more pyrography art you create the faster you will learn what heat settings work best for you.
Here’s how the heart looks so far. It needs a bit more work to look smooth especially around the transition zone. Again, the transition zone is where the pull-away strokes end and the uniform coloring takes over.
To smooth out the transition zone I burned more pull-away strokes along the edge to extend the color a touch further into the heart. Also I rotated the wood and burned more uniform strokes in different directions.
One other thing I do is use small circular strokes along the transition zone to smooth it out. I also rely on the circular strokes to create the gradual color to the right of the highlight
Here’s how the heart looked after I was done.
Remember, I ended up sanding down and re-burning the reflection area. This photo shows my working on the re-burning.
Here’s how it looked after I was done.
All we have left is the double-hearts on the left.
Again, darkly burn a thick line along the outer edge of both hearts.
Next burn pull-away strokes along the outer edge of both hearts.
Then start to uniformly color the center of the hearts with uniform strokes.
Rotate the wood and burn uniform strokes in different directions to build up the color and get a smoother looking finish.
Lastly use circular strokes along the transition zone and the reflection.
Yes, I did have to sand down the reflections on the double hearts and re-burn them like the others.
Here’s how they looked after I was done.
I want to take a moment and point out the time involved with the hearts. I show a couple of pictures and this might make it seem like burning in the hearts took mere moment. No. The small heart took me around 30 minutes, the medium sized hearts around 45 minutes, and the large heart was closer to an hour of work. I did multiple passes of pull-away strokes and numerous uniform strokes before I was happy with the hearts. Keep in mind the times I listed doesn’t include the fix I had to do on the reflections; something you hopefully won’t have to do.
STEP 6 – RIBBON
The first part is pretty easy as all you need to do is burn the two ribbon borders a uniform tan color.
Keep the pen in optimal position and take your time when burning along the edges.
Remember to rotate the board so the pen’s edge stays in optimal position when burning along the opposite edge.
The last thing we need to do is burn the wide center of the ribbon.
Coat the back of the ribbon pattern with graphite and line it along one edge of the wide ribbon segment.
Trace over the pattern to transfer the design and check for accuracy before removing the pattern.
When tracing in the pattern on the little section to the left of the hearts, again line up the pattern with one of the ribbon edges and trace over the pattern.
Switch to the writing pen tip and turn the heat to low (around 1). Burn over the trace lines using a heavy hand.
Using a heavy hand means that you are pressing the pen tip deeply into the wood to create an embossed design. Slight heat helps this process without adding color.
After burning in the trace lines, rub over the entire ribbon surface with an eraser to remove residual graphite.
I also very gently rubbed over the burn lines with a sanding pen to help remove some of the graphite that got embedded in the deep lines. The sanding pen I use is made out of fiber optics and is used to remove rust from automobiles. Needless to say, if it can remove rust from metal it can also remove wood. That’s why I say use very gentle pressure. The goal is to remove some embedded graphite, not sand out the work that was done.
Next burn over the ribbon with the shader until the ribbon is light to medium tan in color. Note that the darker the color the more the embossed lines will show up, but it might also make the word “day” not stand out as much.
Again keep your pen tip in optimal position when working along the edges. I used a circular motion on the ribber and I avoided the thin border at the top of each scallop.
Here’s a close-up of the ribbon and you can see how I mostly avoided burning on the thin border between each scallop. Also you can see there is a fair amount of residual graphite in the embossed lines. I really used a lot of pressure to create deep lines with the writer tip.
Technically we are done!
STEP 7 – FINE TUNE
Now is the time to do any fine tuning. I did a couple of things and the first was to reduce the brightness of the highlights on the letters.
To reduce the brightness all I did was burn over the highlighted area so it matched the rest of the letter’s color. My reason for doing this was the highlights made the letters seem too pale. I wanted them to stand out more, so once the highlight was burned over they seem more solid, larger, darker, and more prominent to me.
Remember we all have our personal preferences, so if you like the highlights then leave them in. This is your artwork, so own it.
To accomplish this I used the tip of an X-acto knife to gently (very gently) and painstakingly scrape along the pattern lines. I won’t lie; this was a tedious process that I didn’t enjoy.
Below shows the before and after of my scraping efforts.
After I finished the plaque I did try an idea for embossing the ribbon pattern using a piece of plywood.
I also tried a metal pick (metal stick with a very pointed end) and went over a few lines of the pattern.
I pressed so hard with both tools that the pattern got cut in the process.
Unfortunately the resulting lines were so shallow that they were hard to see.
Even after I burned over them they were still very hard to see. My test piece was only did a 2 inches (5.1 cm), and I thought this was more difficult than the method I did on the plaque.
I have to admit that my experiment didn’t work. I don’t have a solution to get graphite-free embedded lines, but if you come up with something please share!
STEP 8 – CUSTOMIZE
There are so many ways you can customize this to work for you such as:
- Don’t like the lettering? Search the net and find one you do.
- Or create your own – use stencils, stamps, or a word processing program
- Change the message to “I love you”
- Make a postcard that has the double heart and a small message
- Remove the double hearts and replace them with a large rose
- Add some color or glitter
There is a product called Multi-Media Vellum. I use it when airbrushing to see how a color overlay might look, and it can be useful to test out embellishment ideas with your wood burning.
NOTE – DO NOT WOODBURN ON THIS PRODUCT! It will melt and god only knows what sort of fumes (possibly toxic) will be released.
I taped a sheet of it to my project to test out some ideas.
Keep in mind that this stuff is semi-opaque (not crystal clear), so any ideas tested out will seem darker than they will be on the wood.
The first thing I tested out was using a red marker with glitter built in to color a heart, but it was too opaque for my tastes. Use extreme caution with markers as they are water-based and might bleed on the wood. I’d test it out on a scrap piece of wood first.
Next I tried a color pencil. This looks better and if I’d taken more time I could have made it smoother in appearance.
Of everything I tried, I liked the PearlEx the best because in the right lighting it was very translucent and added a touch of pearliness. Keep in mind that I’m very fond of glitter and sparkly stuff, so PearlEx is right up my ally. The color I chose was Interference Red, so depending on the light it can look white to pink in color.
Did you pick up on the how I said “in the right lighting” about PearlEx’s translucent qualities? PearlEx is a pigment that will lose all hints of translucency if the light hits it right. In this photo I angled the artwork so the light hit the pigment a bit more luminous.
In this photo I’ve angled the artwork even more and the pigment is so reflective that it almost glows. And it’s hard to see the underlying wood burning. If I were to use this type of pigment on this artwork I would apply a super thin layer to give just a hint of glow and hopefully stay translucent.
Whether or not you embellish your artwork is your choice, but if you do embellish do not brush on the sealant as this will cause the paint, pigment, etc. to smear. Use a spray on sealant finish instead.
A word about PearlEx pigments. They are a powdered pigment that you must add a binder to use. While testing out the pigment on the vellum I used water, but once the water evaporates the pigment will revert back to its powdered form. When this happens it flakes away very quickly and even just barely touching it with your finger tip will remove it.
To bind the pigment, mix it with a small amount of varnish. Even with the varnish binding you still need to use a spray on sealant to finish the board to keep it from smearing. Yes, I know this from personal experience!
OOPS – I ENCOUNTERED A NEW PROBLEM
As I tend to share what I learn in pyrography, I have to share this problem I encountered so you can avoid it.
When I removed the pattern along with the tape, I was shocked when I discovered the tape removed some of the burning on the heart! I’ve never had this happen before. I didn’t rub over the tape or anything like that, but I have to admit that this was the first time I’ve ever applied scotch tape over an area I’ve already burned on.
This close-up photo shows the affected section. The tape peeled up some of the wood and this wasn’t something I could ignore!
I tried everything I could think of to fix it. I burned over the area. I used the writing pen tip to get down in the grooves. I used my knife pen tip to add color in the deep thin gouges. I burned over it again, but I couldn’t hide the damage.
In the end, I had to sand over the area with 280 grit sandpaper and re-burn. If I hadn’t of told you I doubt you would be able to tell, but I don’t want you to make the same mistake I did.
How to avoid this problem? There are two solutions I can think of. 1) Only place tape where you haven’t burned. 2) Use paper tape.
The paper tape I’m referring to is low adhesive tape used for first aid purposes. I have used this tape without any problems when securing patterns to leather and leather is a lot more delicate than wood.
As promised, I’m going to discuss how I brainstorm for new ideas. This started out as a simple concept of the desire to create artwork with a Valentine theme. I’ve been pondering a new series that features plaques for each of the holidays and this could fit into that series. Valentine’s Day has things that are frequently associated with it like hearts, roses, boxes of chocolates, jewelry, etc. My visualization of the holiday was something that said “happy valentine’s day” with a couple of hearts around it.
Armed, if you will, with that very basic concept I googled Valentine images to see what others had come up with. One image that grabbed my attention was a very stylized heart / ribbon image.
This is the image I’m referring to. I love how it looks. I really liked the design behind the hearts, the ribbon in the background, and how the hearts seemed a bit reflective. What I didn’t like was how stylized the hearts were and how dark the overall image was. It looks great in color, but I just couldn’t see a dark ribbon and floral spray working with “happy valentine’s day” burned over it.
During my search I also saw an image of some glass heart beads. I liked how they looked, I liked the concept of reflective glass, and I could easily substitute them in for the stylized hearts.
Grabbing my heart stencil, I drew in two hearts on the left side of the paper and added greenery plus couple of miniature roses above them. To the right of the hearts was the message and behind everything was the ribbon.
Let me explain my visualization of this sketch. The lettering and the hearts would have reflection spots reminiscent of light striking glass. My plan was for the hearts & letter to be the focal point of the artwork, so that meant they needed to be the darkest. The rose & ribbon would be faint background stuff that was pretty much one color as their purpose was to fill in the negative space around the sign and complement, not compete with, the focal point of the art.
I looked at my sketch and quickly decided it wouldn’t work because the roses would need lots of tonal variation to make then look like roses. Plus they looked clunky and out of place in the drawing. This meant the roses had to go and something a lot simpler put in its place. I erased all of the stuff behind the hearts and tried again. My second sketch was a keeper.
For something that took me a couple of hours to put together I think it turned out fairly decent.
We’re done. One of my goals with this website is to provide an assortment of projects at different skill levels in the hopes that everyone will find something they are interested in. Even if you’re not interested in the project I do try to provide interesting and useful information that will hopefully help you with your projects. What do you think? Am I accomplishing my goals?
Having said that, please note that I welcome feedback as that is the only way I will discover how I’m doing and what improvements I can/should make. I really have no problem with constructive criticism and/or ideas and suggestions about my art, pyrography in general, future project ideas, etc.
Also, I’d love to see your work, so if you did this tutorial, or any of my tutorials, send me a picture and I’ll put it at the bottom of the tutorial. Email me at: PyrographyMe@gmail.com.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on basswood that measures 9 x 12 inches (22.9 x 30.5 cm) and it took me 8 hours to complete. 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’s important is you’re learning to create pyrography artwork and hopefully having fun while doing so.
Until the next blog,
Jan 26, 2018
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