WATER LILY WALLFLOWER PYROGRAPHY TUTORIAL wood burning
Water Lily is the fourth installment in my Wallflowers series. What I find interesting about white subject matters like this is how much color variation they have. The petals of the water lily have many hues of grey on them and the center of the lily radiated a yellow glow from the sunlight striking the yellow stamen. Burning white flowers is a great exercise of using subtle color to define individual petals. This tutorial will explain how to create the Water Lily wallflower pyrography artwork. An added bonus to this tutorial is creating an out-of-focus effect on the lily pads behind the water lily.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 2
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Water Lily pattern
- X-acto knife
ABOUT THE WOOD – –
In my Wallflowers series I wanted to present an option for sourcing wood than you might normally consider; a local home improvement store or a lumberyard. A trip to a store near me revealed 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 have with enough 4” x 6” (10.2 x 15.2 cm) chunks to do quite a few wallflower projects.
The store carried boards of other widths both smaller and larger, and, of course, the wider the board the more expensive it becomes. The six inch board was selected because Todd needed it for something and I got the left over. 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).
Do you have to use maple? Heck no. The only thing I would recommend is that the board be pale in color and not have a lot of grain lines. 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
You always need to prep the wood surface for burning by sanding with 220 grit sandpaper so it has a smooth surface. For more details about prepping wood and the different types of wood I’ve burned on refer to this blog: Wood Prepping.
STEP 2 – BURN NAME
Cut out the name of the flower, coat the back with graphite, and position the name on the lower left corner of the wood. Carefully trace over the letters and check the accuracy of the trace before removing the paper pattern.
Next carefully burn around the edges of each letter with a writer pen tip with the heat setting around medium.
Then fill-in the center of each letter with the writer pen tip, and, at this point, the heat setting can be turned up to medium high. You want to burn deeply into the wood and since this is maple, a higher heat helps accomplish this goal.
Lastly, use the tip of an X-acto knife to scrape away the dark burn and reveal pale wood. I do want to point out how I’m holding the knife. Notice that I’ve got my fingertip near the middle of the blade. This keeps the blade from flexing and makes it easier to scrape the charring away.
Here’s how the letters looked after I was done. I didn’t worry about making them perfectly clean as that can be done later. I wanted to get the basic shape embossed into the wood so I can burn the dark background without losing the letters.
STEP 3 – 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.
On the pattern there are some areas with lots of dashed lines, these are shadow areas. I highly recommend tracing them in as dashed or dotted lines as it will help you distinguish between the petal edges and the shadows/contouring on the petals.
STEP 4 – BURN TRACE LINES
STEP 5 – BACKGROUND & SHADOWS
Using a shader, burn over the embossed name. Use the flat of the shader when doing this so you don’t burn down into the embossing.
Next darkly burn around the outside of the water lily petals.
Turn down the heat on the burner and use the FLAT of the shader to burn along the line of the lily pads.
Notice how the flat of the shader is producing thick lines. Compare those thick lines with the sharp thin lines that the lily petals have. The lily pad lines aren’t as crisp.
At this point we’re going to LIGHTLY burn in the marked shadows on the lily petals, so TURN DOWN THE HEAT. The goal is to create a very light tan color so we can erase the pencil marks. We’ll refine the shadows on the petals later. For reference, my unit goes up to 10 and I had the setting between 1 – 1.5 since I was burning on maple; a very hard wood. If I was burning on basswood, a softwood, I would have the setting between 0.5 – 1.
With the heat turned way down, lightly burn in all of the marked shadows on the pattern.
Notice that you can still see the pencil marks on the petals. That’s okay as we’re going to erase them. Don’t try to make the shadows as dark as the pencil marks. Instead the goal is to burn the shadows a light tan, so they are just dark enough to see after the pencil is erased.
With the graphite erased, resume burning in the background.
When you burn near the lily pads, use a small circular motion to burn near lines defining the edges of the pads. Small circular motion is literally just that. I’m burning small circles, so small they are almost solid in color, as I burn my way along the lily pad edges. If you need more explanation, I have a blog where I discuss how I use the shader in much greater depth. Using the shader.
Continued work. Use care not to color the flower petals.
Another thing I did to ensure the lily pads had soft, blurry edges was to burn a brown band around the lily pad using circular motion. This created a transition zone from the lily pad color to the dark brown / black of the background.
Finishing up the transition zone band.
Next, burn a dark brown / black band next to the transition zone band and it’s ok if they overlap. Again, use the circular motion to create this band. The reason for the circular motion stroke is that it doesn’t produce hard crisp lines or edges.
Now burn the rest of the background so it is dark brown to black in color.
Continued work on the background. I often burn uniform strokes in one direction to get a brown foundation burned in.
Then I rotate the board to burn uniform strokes in another direction to finalize the darkening process. This seems to produce a smoother background for me. You can try it to see if it works well for you.
Here’s how the artwork looks so far. I left a “lily pad” shape in the lower right corner as a place to sign the artwork.
The only thing left to do with the background is burn the lily pads. Make the small lily pads a fairly uniform color of brown.
The small lily pad to the left of the flower is nearly done. Notice that it doesn’t have a lot of tonal variation to it; it looks flat.
With the larger lily pad it is very dark near the lily petals. I did this for contrast and to give the impression of the petals casting shadows onto the pad.
Reduce the color of the lily pad to brown as you near the left side of it.
STEP 6 – FLOWER
Here’s our reference photo. Look at this photo and notice all of the different hues of grey the petals have. Also notice how the lower petals have pinks, greens, and a couple have vein lines. I think they are technically greenery as they are the protective covering the flower had before it opened. Lastly look at how the center of the lily radiates a soft golden glow from the sunlight striking the yellow stamen.
For each petal you need to look at the reference photo and then replicate the shadows and contouring it has.
REMEMBER to keep the heat setting on your burning pretty low as we want to keep the flower looking white. This means our color range should be light to dark tan with the dark tan color used sparingly.
Start with the lowest petal. Looking at the reference photo the petal is fairly uniform in color with a triangular spot which is paler as it’s not shadowed. Burn in the petal until it is a uniform color of tan, but avoid the sunny triangular spot.
Use the razor edge of the shader to burn in the vein lines found on this petal.
The next petal to the right has a spoon shape to it in that it curves up at the end. This means we see a lot of the underside of the petal and just a little bit of the top side. Shade or color the underside of the petal so it is tan color. Make it a similar hue as the first petal.
Looking at the reference photo, you can see that the end of the petal is the darkest spot. So darken up the end of the petal to match this by burning it a dark tan color. This is one of the few spots we’ll use dark tan on.
Lastly, very lightly burn over the top of the petal so it is very pale tan in color.
The next petal to the right is curled up and slightly inward on both sides. Also the underside of the petal has some green on it and this petal is the only other petal we see vein lines on. Lastly the petals’ curved sides cast shadows onto the top surface of the petal and it has a triangular patch that isn’t shadowed. Start by coloring the outside of the petal so it is tan in color.
Continue to build up the color so that it gradually deepens to dark tan along the bottom and end of the petal.
Next carefully burn a tan line just under the lip of the far curved side of the petal.
Then begin to burn the top side of the petal a tan color, but avoid the un-shadowed triangular patch.
Remember to rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position when needed. In this photo I’ve rotated the wood so I can burn a dark tan line along the edge of the curled up petal.
Burn a dark tan line along the edges of the petal we just finished burning.
Continue to build up the color on the petal surface so it is dark tan in color.
Lastly burn in the vein lines with the razor edge of the shader.
Next we’re going to burn the two lower petals on the left. Looking at the reference photo reveals that the lower petal is in shadows. The upper petal is curled and has lots of green on it. Start by burning the lower petal to a tan color.
Next burn the cast shadow on the upper petal that falls along the top of it.
Then burn the gradient “green” on the lower part of the petal. Burn this so the color fades as you get closer to the top of the petal.
Remember to rotate the board when needed to keep the pen tip in optimal position. In this photo I’m burning along the bottom of the top petal and I’ve rotated the wood to make sure my lines are crisp and clean.
Also take advantage of the wood rotation to burn a crisp clean line along the outer edge of the upper petal.
Darken the lower petal to a dark tan where it peeks out from the upper petal.
Finish shading/contouring the petals.
Here’s a progress photo of the artwork thus far.
Now we’ll work on the petal to the immediate right. The reference photo shows that this petal is mostly in shadows. First darken the cast shadow on the right side of the petal.
Next build up the color along the bottom of the petal.
Next petal is located to the immediate left. Look at the reference photo and notice that the petal has some unique shaped cast shadows on it. Begin by burning in those shadows.
Work on the shadows along the curved edge of the petal.
Our next petal is just to the right. The reference photo shows this is another petal with cast shadows on it from petals above it. Begin by darkening up the lower portion of the petal and the tiny curved cup end (spot marked by a red/black arrow).
Continued to build up the lower portion of the petal and the cast shadow.
Now we’ll burn the two petals just above the one we did. We can only just see the tip of the petal on the left. The reference photo shows that the petal tip doesn’t have anything special going on, so it can be burned to a light tan color. The other petal is slightly curved and has some shadows along its edges. Begin by darkening up the shadow along the edges.
Burn the left petal so it is light tan in color.
Finish up burning the shadows on the larger petal.
The next petal over will be the petal we work on now. The reference photo shows that we only see the side of this petal and it’s mostly in shadows. So start building up the shadows along the side of the petal.
Remember, when needed, rotate the wood to keep your edges nice and clean when burning.
Finishing up the petal.
Our next petal is the adjacent petal to the right. The reference photo shows that we only see the backside of this petal and it has lots of shadows on it. Begin by darkening the left half of the petal.
Notice that there is a sliver of slightly paler color in the middle of the left side shadows. I find it’s easiest to burn along one side, say the left, and then burn along the opposite side. This leaves a thin band that is paler than the surrounding color.
After the left side of the petal is shaded, take another look at the reference photo and notice that the right side has two curved bands of cast shadows on it. Start burning the top curved band on the right side of the petal.
Then work on the second, wider, curved band on the petal.
Next we’ll work on the adjacent petal below the one we just finished. The reference material shows that this is another petal we only see the backside of and it too has a couple of curved cast shadow bands. Start burning in the middle curved shadow band.
Next burn in the upper curved band and extend the burn to the left side of the petal.
Burn down the center of the petal to darken it up and eventually connect with the center curved shadow band.
Finally, burn in the last curved cast shadow on the right side of the petal.
Here’s a progress photo of how the artwork looks so far.
Now we’re going to burn the top petal that partially frames the stamen. Looking at the reference photo we see that this petal is shadowed on the right and has a little lighter shadowed swath through the center of the petal. Start by burning in the shadow on the right of the petal.
Finish the petal by burning in the center shadow, but avoid burning on the stamen.
Looking at the reference photo for the next petal over reveals that the petal is mostly in shadows. Also there is a thin curved petal edge on the right that is in the sun. Start by burning in the shadows on this petal.
Our next petal will be the one right behind the stamen. The reference photo shows that this one is illuminated with a yellow glow and that the right side has some shadows on it. As we are working in a monochromatic color scheme, we don’t have a way to convey the golden glow, so instead just work on the shadows. Keep the overall color on this petal light.
Very, very lightly burn the left side of the petal so it is a pale tan color and avoid the stamen.
The next petal will be the one in front of the stamen. The reference photo shows that we only see the backside of this petal and it’s mostly in pale shadows. Also the edges of the petal are paler than the center. Begin by darkening up the left shadows.
Then start burning the shadows on the right side.
Make sure to connect the left and right shadows near the top and near the middle of the petal.
Now we’re going to burn the 3 stacked petals starting with the closest. The reference photo shows that all three petals have slightly curved edges that are pale, but the rest of the petal is in shadows. Start by burning the shadowed center of the first petal.
Then burn the shadowed center of the next petal.
Next start burning the shadowed center of the last petal.
Note that the shadowed center of the last petal is not uniform in color. The left side is much paler than the right, so let your color fade as you reach the left side of the petal.
Lastly, very lightly burn over the curved edges of the petals; all three petals.
Our next petals will be the two stacked petals to the immediate right of the 3 stacked petals. The reference photo shows that these two petals are deeply curved, the centers are dark, and the curved edges are pale. Very similar to the 3 we just did. Start by burning the center of the second petal.
Burn the curved outer side of the petal so the petal edge is the palest spot on it.
Burn the curved outer side of the first petal the same way.
Lastly burn the shadowed center of the first petal.
Now we’re going to work on the petal to the right of the two stacked petals. The reference photo shows that this petal is very curled and has some dark shadows on it. Start by burn a line along the underside of the upper curved petal edge.
Do the same of the opposite side and burn the center a tan color.
Burn the dark shadow along the curved petal side. Look at the reference photo and notice how the shadow travels along the center of the curved side. Or put another way, it doesn’t extend to the top or bottom of the petal.
Next we’ll burn the petal to the adjacent left. Looking at the reference photo reveals that we only see the backside of the petal and it is in shadows. Plus there is a darker shadow running down the center of the petal. Begin by darkening up the center shadow.
Then start building up the color on the left side of the petal.
Lastly burn the little shadow that is along the right edge of the petal.
We only have one petal left. This petal is another petal that is heavily curved and has lots of shadows on it. Start by burning the center of the petal a dark tan color. Let the color fade the further from the curved edges you get.
Lightly burn the rest of the petal center.
Lastly burn the dark shadow along the curved outer petal edge.
Switch to a writing pen tip and burn the stamen a brown to dark brown color. While the stamens in the reference photo are yellow, the pale color will get lost in this artwork. The simple fix is to make them dark in color so they stand out and are easily recognized.
STEP 7 – FINE-TUNE
Let’s talk about the hue range. One of the things that I look at during this process is consistency. By that I mean I compare the coloring on each petal and make sure they look similar. If you have one petal that looks brown and the rest look tan then that’s a problem because the brown petal is out of the hue range.
Looking at my artwork, what I see is that I made my dark tan shadows too dark in a couple of spots, but otherwise the petals look consistent and in the same hue range. Or, put another way, when I look at them they all look like they belong to the same flower.
What if you have a spot you think is too dark? Use a sander of some sort and very gently rub along the area to remove a little color. I have 3 items I normally use for this: 1) X-acto knife, 2) Sanding pen, and 3) 280 grit sanding paper.
1) X-acto knife is useful for very small spots. An example would be if the heat was too high and you end up with the dark blotch on the wood. Scrape using the flat of the blade, not the tip as it will gouge, and slowly remove some color. With careful scraping you can reduce the color to match the surroundings. I also use an X-acto knife to scrape along grain lines to reduce how they darken up when burned over.
2) Sanding pen is my primary eraser for general areas. It’s made out of fiberglass and is used to remove rust from metal, so use VERY LIGHT PRESSURE! This sander will gouge channels into the wood very quickly and this is especially true with soft woods and plywoods.
3) 280 grit sanding paper is my last resort option as I have the hardest time sanding in just the problem area. Basically I make a mess of things, so I very seldom use sanding paper to fix problems.
Keep in mind that I use the X-acto knife and sanding pen a lot when I airbrush, so I’m a lot more comfortable with them than I am sanding paper.
You will have to experiment and discover what works best for you.
Below are the reference photo and the final artwork photo side-by-side.
This is the 4th installment in my Wallflowers series, so this photo shows them grouped together. Todd said he can build a shadow box that I can arrange the flowers in, but I still need to finish a few more to fill in the box.
The Water Lily wallflower is done. I hope that you will try this artwork as it is a great exercise in using subtle hues of tan to color and shape the flower. If you have a favorite type of flower let me know and I’ll try to include it in a future tutorial and give you credit for the idea. Also if you create this artwork, or any of the artwork from my tutorials, send me a picture and I’ll include it on my site at the end of the blog. Send the picture to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on maple that measures 4 x 6 inches (10.2 x 15.2 cm) and it took me 6 1/4 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.
Until the next blog,
Feb 16, 2018