I have a small pond in my backyard and in the spring it becomes the tree frog wooing grounds. From dusk till dawn there is a chorus of croaking frogs hoping to seduce a mate. It actually drives me nuts because they are so loud it’s hard to sleep. But I like watching the tadpoles transform into frogs, so I leave the pond in place. Another benefit is encountering the occasional frog in the yard. The frog I used as a reference for this artwork was found by Todd. The little guy was very calm and didn’t move much while he took quite a few photos. I decided to create pyrography artwork based on the photo Todd took, but I did it during the fall when the bad memories of loud croaking frogs had faded.
Most of the time I burn in all of the trace lines when starting a project, but I didn’t on the frog. The frog has slightly wet reflective skin in spots and I wasn’t 100% sure how to handle that. Instead I burned in the dark iris of the eyes and some of the lines around the dark streaks and spots on the frog
In this photo I’ve continued to burn in lines that I knew had clearly defined edges and/or I was sure how I would burn the area. I’m also using my shader to do this as it produces softer lines than my writer does.
With a few of the defined lines burned in, I started in on the darker areas of the piece.
I’m started to burn in the skin, but I’m avoiding the numerous bumps and reflective spots. Those two items are the palest part of the frog, so I have to build up the color around them to make them seem pale. Or put another way, I’m starting to work on contrast levels.
Now I’m back to working on the dark areas around the frog. I would have to say that I never realized how much I bounce around my artwork until I started watching the videos. If it wasn’t for the fact that I can sit for hours working on art I’d suspect I have ADHD. Maybe I do, but it must be a fairly mild form of it.
And back to work on the frog. I already admitted I bounce around a lot. I think part of the reason is that if I work too long in one section it gets harder to notice the little details. If I leave and come back, then I’m looking at it with “fresh eyes” and the little details are easier to notice.
Continued work on the frog. There is enough detail in the frog’s face that he’s starting to get a three-dimensional look. Creating that illusion is one of my favorite parts of being an artist.
As the background gets filled in, notice how the frog begins to pop out from the background. That’s because of the extreme contrast between the frog’s pale skin and the dark background.
I’ve gotten a little bit of the background burned completely around the frog. This helps me determine how dark I can make his skin and still have it seem pale. I’m trying to maintain good contrast between the frog and his surroundings.
At this point I decided to get the area behind the frog done. It was a tedious and boring section and if I saved it for last I might not ever finish the artwork. Todd was using his macro lens on the camera, so the frog and foreground were in sharp focus, but the background was a bit blurry. This was my attempt to recreate that look.
Now I’m working on the stuff under the frog’s feet. This area was in focus, so had a lot more detail visible.
I mentioned before that I worked on the eye several different times slowly building up the shape and color. This was one of those times.
Plus I kept slowly building up the color on his skin. It’s a lot easier to add color, or more accurately tonal darkness, in pyrography than remove it.
The frog’s feet were interesting to me. They looked semi-translucent with white patches of skin along the tops. They were a challenge to replicate in pyrography.
In this photo I’m back to working on the foreground stuff by the frog’s feet. I thought I did a decent job of having the surroundings slowly get in focus as I worked my way from the blurry background to the in-focus foreground.
In this photo I’m still working on the foreground, but the details are starting to blur out again. This particular spot I’m working on is the transition zone for that area.
I’m almost done with the background. Amazingly I thought it looked pretty decent. I’m not great with complex background, so I tend to avoid putting them in my artwork.
With the background done, I’m back to working on the frog. I would have to admit that I love the extreme contrast in this photo. It only exists because I haven’t burned a good portion of the frog’s back.
Here I’m working on the frog’s back. I created the look of the skin by drawing small circles with the shader to represent the bumps, then I burned the skin around the bumps. The darker the surrounding skin the bigger, or taller if you will, the bump seems.
The frog’s belly and throat were two more areas I re-worked numerous times. Both of those areas were white, but in shadows, so I was continually adjusting the darkness level while trying to keep them paler than the ‘green’ skin.
Now I’m back working the feet and they were another challenging area for me. This little fellas feet or hands, not sure what they are called, had a semi-translucent quality to them.
Doing some contour work on the frog’s back. My use of the word contour means that I’m shading the frog in such a way as to give him a three-dimensional appearance and features. The frog’s back has a depression area behind the eye, which I’m working on. His eyes need to protrude up from his body. The far eye was easy given it’s position, but the close eye needed proper shading to convey this.
Darkening the skin on the arm. At this point I’m essentially done with the frog, but I’m just fine-tuning spots like this. What I’m doing is adding a touch of color, or, more accurately, increasing the darkness level here and there to help with contouring or contrast levels.
Continued work fine-tuning, but this time on his leg.
Darkening up the skin on the back.
In this photo I’m adding a touch more of a shadow under some of the bumps to make them seem larger. Speaking of bumps, I had always thought that only toads had bumpy skin, but Todd’s photo proved that notion wrong.
Final working on the throat area.
And back to work on those challenging feet.
Continued work on the feet.
Lastly just a little more work on his nose or upper lip.
At this point I made myself quit. I lost count of how many times I thought I was done, so I put the artwork away for a day or two, but when I pulled it back off the shelf I decided to fine-tune another spot or two or three.
At the rate I was going I would be working on this project for the rest of my life, so I asked Todd for his opinion. His response was, “it looks fine and it did several weeks ago before you started nitpicking it to death.” Not much I can say to that.
Below is the final artwork next to the reference photo for comparison.
Looking at the reference photo and comparing it to the artwork I created, what do you think? I see areas that I could nitpick some more on, but overall I’m pleased with how the artwork turned out.
Because I love putting a lot of photos in my blogs, below are the stopping point photos. Stopping point photos are pictures I take after I’ve finished burning for the day and I use them to update my Current Projects page on this website. The last 3 or 4 is when I started nitpicking, as Todd put it. While I hate to admit he was right, he probably was. Just don’t tell him that.
Just a few more words before I sign off. Complex backgrounds have always been my bane in artwork. I have always avoided putting backgrounds as they are the quickest way for me to ruin artwork. Todd has been “gently pushing” me to work on this problem. So I’ve done a few pieces here and there with backgrounds of varying complexity. The tree frog is not only one of my more complex backgrounds, but I’d say it’s also one of my best backgrounds so far.
You know there is always one thing I love about art and that is how it seems like magic. You start out with a flat featureless board (ignoring grain lines) and transform it into something that looks three-dimensional. I love that! Plus it’s as close to creating real magic as I’m likely to ever get. Throughout the many, many years I’ve been an artist it still remains one of my favorite things about creating art.
Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions. The artwork measures 15 by 11 inches (38.1 x 27.9 cm), was burned on bass wood, and it took me 30 hours to complete.
Until the next blog,
Feb 2, 2018
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