With this tutorial I will explain how to create the Dewy Leaf, which is the 4th installment in my mini project series. This mini project will explore how to create out-of-focus leaves in the background and in-focus leaves in the foreground. To add visual interest and a little challenge to the project, the in-focus leaves have dew drops on them. This project relies heavily on circular motion but also uses uniform strokes. These two burn methods are used in almost every single piece of pyrography art I have created, so you will continue to see them in my work. In this tutorial I will explain how to use these burn methods to create the look of the Dewy Leaf.
There is reader submitted artwork at the bottom of the blog, so please check that out.
Let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 2
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 4” x 6” (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Dewy Leaf pattern
- White Charcoal Pencil
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper.
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. Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.
STEP 3 – PEN STROKES
As I mentioned in the intro, this project was created using Circular Motion and Uniform Strokes. Before we go any further, let me explain what these burn methods are.
This thick line was burned the same as the previous photo, but the difference is that the circles are much smaller and they overlap slightly. This removes the hole in the center of the circle and the gaps between each circle.
I continued the line out further and you can see that the line is not uniform in color. Part of that is because I was burning at a much higher temperature than normal as I wanted the strokes to show up well.
Here I’m starting a new patch of circular motion.
This patch is much wider and that is accomplished by changing directions I’m burning in. I don’t lift the pen tip from the wood. Instead I’ll burn a couple of circles in one direction, change direction and burn a few more, repeat.
Continued work on the wide patch of circular motion.
If I wanted to darken up a section of my patch, I just burn more circular motions over the area I want darkened. I want to point out that I do not adjust the heat setting on my burner when I do this. Wood will continue to darken up with repeated re-burn no how low the heat setting on the burner is. Granted, if the heat setting is super low it’s going to take a while.
Continued work on darkening up a section.
A uniform stroke is created by pulling the pen tip towards you (this is easier anyway) at a set speed that allows the resulting burn to be the same color throughout the stroke.
The heat setting your burner is on will determine how fast or slow you have to move your hand to accomplish this.
When you are filling in an area with uniform strokes the individual strokes should be touching or slightly overlapping.
If you look at the photo, you will notice that I’m using the side of my pen tip when doing this. I can produce wider strokes with the side of the pen and I find that this position is more comfortable for me to burn.
Finishing up the patch of uniform strokes. My patch isn’t perfectly uniform in color, but for a quick demo it’s pretty darn good.
Let’s recap the information. Circular motion is used to create soft wide lines and patches of irregular or non-uniform color, whereas uniform strokes are used to give an object a solid base color that doesn’t have a lot of tonal variation to it.
STEP 4 – BURN THE OUTLINE
The first thing we will do is burn the outer lines of the leaves. As you can see from the photo, this step begins to show the difference between the in-focus and out-of-focus look. Equip a shader pen tip on your burner and let’s get to work.
Begin by burning along the outer edges on the leaves in the foreground; these are the in-focus leaves. Note my pen tip placement in the picture. Just the tip of the pen is on the edge of the leaf. The rest of the pen is angled over the background. This is optimal pen tip position to get crisp clean and very defined edges.
Continued work. Rotate the board, as needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you burn along the edges of the in-focus leaves.
For the leaves in the background, use the flat of the shader pen to burn circular motion along the edges of the leaves. The background leaves are the ones that are out of focus.
Using circular motion along the edges will produce a wide or thick line that has very soft edges.
Continue to use circular motion to burn along the edges of all of the leaves in the background.
Use a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite by rubbing it over the surface of the wood.
STEP 5 – DARK BACKGROUND
When you get close to a leaf edge burn alongside the thick line we burned in the previous step, but try not to overlap or burn on the line very much.
When burning next to the in-focus leaves, burn right up to the edge of the leaf.
You can also use uniform strokes to fill in the background as I’m doing in this photo. I have found that it is easier to burn uniform strokes if you burn them in the direction of the wood grain. It is also easier to burn when you pull the pen towards you. The piece of plywood I’m burning on had a horizontal grain direction, so I’ve rotated the wood to be able to pull the pen towards me as I burn with the grain direction.
Remember to keep your pen tip in optimal position when working along the edges of the in-focus leaves. This will ensure you don’t accidently burn on the leaf.
In this photo I’ve switched to a larger pen tip and I’m using uniform strokes to fill in the area.
Areas like the background are great places to test out different pen tips. You start to get a feel for the tip without worrying about the need to be precise.
STEP 6 – BACKGROUND LEAVES
The next area we will burn is going to be the background or out-of-focus leaves. This is another great spot to test out pen tips.
Here’s our reference photo for this project. Take a few minutes to really examine the photo and make some observations about it, but just concentrate on the background, or out-of-focus leaves, as this is the area we will be working on. The background leaves have some detail to them, like veins, but the details are fuzzy or indistinct. Some of the leaves seem to have dew drops, but they appear as blurry white specks on the leaves. The further back the leaves are, the darker they are. The leaf stems are deep red in color. If you are wondering, the picture is of my red flowering Astilbe plant.
I chose circular motion for this because this burn style tends to produce color variations in the burn. Those color variations become part of the general leaf texture.
Use circular motion to burn in the center vein on the leaf to the immediate left.
Burning the vein with circular motion will produce the same results we got along the edges of the leaves; wide or thick lines that have soft edges. I want to point out that I didn’t increase the heat setting on my burner when I burned the vein; instead I just slowed down my hand speed.
In this photo I’m burning uniform strokes to give the leaf a base color. Over the years I’ve discovered that burning an initial layer of color makes it easier to add layers. I equate this to painting a wall that has never been painted before. The first layer of paint seals and primes the surface and each layer after is quicker to do and covers better.
I’ve switched to a slightly larger shader to speed up this process a bit. I mentioned in the last photo that I applied a base color to the leaf and in this photo I’m burning over the base color with circular motion to give it texture.
Continue to burn in the background or out-of-focus leaves.
Remember that the darker the leaf is, the further in the background it will appear.
The leaf stems should be burned so they are medium to dark brown in color.
Also I want to point out that you can contour and then give the remaining parts of the leaf a base color or give a base color and then contour. Try different styles on separate leaves and see which you prefer.
The below pictures are progress photos of the background leaves being burned in.
STEP 7 – FOREGROUND LEAVES
The first thing we will do is use a writer pen tip to burn in the trace lines.
After the trace lines are burned in, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. I’m using a kneadable eraser in this picture, but any eraser for pencil will work.
Now we’re ready to burn in the leaf, but let’s examine the reference photo first. Here’s our reference with the in-focus leaves a bit more zoomed in. Take a few minutes to really examine the photo and make some observations about it. One of the first things I almost always do is note where the light source is coming from as this determines shadow locations. In this photo the sun, or light source, is above and a little to the left, so the shadows are below and to the right.
The white arrows in this photo are showing some of the highlights on the leaves where the sunlight is striking.
The red arrows are pointing to shadows or darker areas on the leaves. The leaves curl downward the further from the stem they are, so they gradually darken as you get closer to the end of the leaf.
The reason the leaves have highlights and shadows is because their veins are a touch recessed; creating shallow valleys, if you will. Light affect all valleys the same way. The wall closest to the sun is in shadows and the far wall is lit up as the sun can strike it.
So let’s apply this rule to one of the veins. The black arrow is pointing to one vein and it is the bottom of the shallow valley. We already determined the sun is above and slightly to the left, so the closest “wall” is located above the vein. The red arrow is pointing to the closest wall, and it is in shadows. The white arrow is pointing to the far wall that is lit up from the sun striking it.
Switch to a shader pen tip and start burning in the leaf, but avoid the dew drops. We will burn them in the next step.
When you burn in the leaf, work slowly. This will make it easier to avoid the dew drops. Also, turn the heat down on your burner to compensate for the slower hand speed. For reference, my Colwood goes up to 10 and with the micro J shader I’m using I would normally have the heat setting between 2 and 2.5. Since I’m working very slowly, I turned the heat setting down to 1.25. Keep in mind that the setting you should use can vary greatly from the one I used. My pen tips are older, so they don’t require as much heat as new ones do. The type of wood you’re burning on also has a huge impact on the heat setting.
Notice how I’ve burned in the thin side veins so they are a several shades darker than the base leaf color. I’ve also added the shadowed ‘valley’ along the upper wall on this leaf.
Look at this photo and notice how I colored this section of leaf to a base color and I’m currently burning in the shadowed valley wall. You can alter the order you do the steps, as the end result will be the same.
I want to point out that in pyrography the base color is ALWAYS the lightest color of the area/object on which you are working. So in this case it’s the lightest color on the leaf I’m working on now. The reason for that is because it is much easier to darken a burn area than it is to lighten it back up.
Rotate the wood, as needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you’re working on the vein.
Burn in the veins on the lower partial leaf.
Then burn the surface of this leaf and, again, avoid the dew drops.
With this leaf I decided to burn in a base color and then I will contour (shade) it.
Here’s how the leaf looks so far.
Start contouring the leaf by darkening up the end of the leaf since it has a slight downward curl.
Continued work. The color gets darker the closer to the end of the leaf you are.
If needed, use a writer pen tip to burn around the dew drops; filling in any spots missed by the shader.
Also, if needed, use the flat of a Xacto knife tip to restore any dew drops that might have been burned over. Scrape lightly when doing this, so the wood doesn’t get gouged.
Rotate the wood, if needed, to burn the vein in optimal position.
Next burn the surface of the leaf, but avoid burning on the dew drops.
With this large leaf, I worked in sections. So I would color, contour, and restore any dew drops before moving onto a different section.
If you look back at the reference photo, you’ll see that leaf has red edges. To replicate this, use a writer pen tip to darkly burn along the edges, but only do this where the leaf overlaps other leaves as it won’t show on the really dark background.
Note: spot sanding pens are made of fiberglass and designed to remove rust from metal, so when using rub VERY lightly. The goal is to remove a touch of color, but not gouge the wood. Since it is very easy to gouge the wood with these pens, especially plywood, I can’t emphasize enough the need to use a very light pressure with them!
Continue to color and contour the leaf.
Notice how the edges and the end of the leaf are a touch darker than the area I’m currently working on. This gives the impression the leaf is curling downward slightly.
There are a lot of dew drops on the in-focus leaves, so remember to work slowly as this will minimize the number of dew drops that get accidently burned over.
Here’s a progress photo. Notice how the leaf gets darker near the outer edges. Also notice how the palest area is next to the center vein as this is the ‘far wall’ getting struck by the sunlight.
Continued work. I want to point out that even though I only have the heat set to around 1.25, I’m working slowly enough that I’m still getting a nice rich tan color. When I darken up the leaf, I don’t adjust the heat setting. Instead I just re-burn over it until I get the desired darkness.
Working on the last section of the leaf.
STEP 8 – DEW DROPS
The last thing we need to do is take care of the dew drops. For this step I’m not going to use the reference photo. Instead I’m going to explain a simple way to render the dew drops that I think produces fantastic results. Before I explain the process, let’s discuss the general characteristics of a dew drop.
Sunlight strikes the front of drop and for this tutorial the front is the upper portion of the dew drop. At the striking point, the sun creates a bright (white) dot or small dash where it enters the drop. The light travels through the drop and hits the back side of it where it reflects or bounces and this illuminates the back of the dew drop. Lastly, there is a cast shadow behind the dew drop. The wider or thicker the shadow, the bigger or taller the dew drop will appear. I have a 4-step process to replicate the dew drop characteristics in pyrography and they are:
1) Mark the highlight, 2) burn the edges, 3) burn the front, and 4) add the cast shadow behind it.
First mark the highlights with a white charcoal pencil. DO NOT use color pencils!! Color pencils contain wax that will melt and char upon contact with the heat of the pyrography pen tip. Charcoal, on the other hand, will resist the heat and erases easily.
If it helps, mark the sun’s location with the white charcoal pencil. With the sun’s location marked use this to help place the highlights on the dew drops.
Here’s the demo after the highlights were drawn in. Notice how all of the highlights are in the same basic location on each dew drop. They are positioned so they are on the side closest to the asterisk.
It is very important to keep all of the highlights in the same direction. This means that if you place the first highlight in the upper left, then all of the other dew drops need their highlights to be in the upper left. It would look wrong, or off, if you had one that was opposite of the other dew drops.
Next, use a writer pen tip to burn around the edges of the dew drop. This clearly defines the edges and ensures the edges have crisp clean lines.
Also use the writer pen tip to burn around the charcoal highlight.
Burn in the front of the dew drop using a shader; if there is room. If not, switch to a smaller pen tip like a writer pen tip. The front edge near the highlight of the drop is the darkest and the color fades near the halfway mark.
Make sure to place the shadow on the opposite side from the highlight. So this means that if you placed the highlight in the upper left corner, then the thickest part of the shadow needs to be located behind the lower right corner.
Continued work on the cast shadows.
Erase the charcoal with a pencil eraser and you’re done.
Here’s the final result of the dew drop demo.
I do realize that some of you might be thinking that the Dewy Leaf has a LOT of dew drops and it’s going to take forever to burn them all in. I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly it can go. I wrote a tutorial dedicated to creating dew or water droplets and in that tutorial I filled a 4×8 inch (10.2 x 20.3 cm) board with lots of droplets in varying sizes against a background that gets gradually darker. It took me 2 hours to burn the entire board including the background, so it really doesn’t take long to create a dew drop. The water drop tutorial covers how to add drops after the fact and what to do on really dark backgrounds. Here’s the link to the article if you’re interested in learning a little more about creating droplets: Water Droplets.
With the demo done, I hope you agree with me that it’s pretty easy to create dew drops. I do want to mention that when I was working on the Dewy Leaf I discovered part way through that it was much easier to use a standard writer pen tip to do all of the burning instead of my normal combination of micro writer and J shader pen tips that I used in the demo.
Use a white charcoal pencil to draw in the highlights on the larger dew drops.
Use a writer pen tip to burn around the edges of the drops including the highlights.
Then burn the front of the dew drop. In this photo I’m using the C Writer pen tip.
Erase the charcoal marks. You can wait until after the cast shadows are burned in before erasing the charcoal.
Progress photo. The cast shadows still need to be added.
Burn in the cast shadows.
Now we’ll work on the dew drops on the lower left leaf. Start by drawing in the charcoal highlights on the larger dew drops.
I want to point out what I’m doing in this photo. There is a vein line running below this dew drop, so I’m burning that line on the dew drop with a writer pen tip. Offset the line in the dew drop from the vein line, this will give the impression of water distortion.
Use the writer pen tip to burn the edges of the dew drops and burn around any charcoal highlights.
In this photo I’m burning in the cast shadow. This shows that you can alternate the order you do the 3rd and 4th steps.
Then burn in the front of the dew drop.
In this photo I’ve switched to Colwood’s C Writer to burn in slight cast shadows on the tiny droplets along the lower part of the leaf. These dew drops were so small that I didn’t try to draw highlights. Also, on the really small droplets I didn’t burn the front of them.
If needed, use the flat of a Xacto knife tip to scrape in any highlights that were burned over on the larger droplets.
Erase the charcoal and, if needed, fine-tune any dew drops.
Again, use a white charcoal pencil to draw in the highlights on the larger dew drops on the big leaf.
Burn the edges of the drops.
Burn the front of the drops and the cast shadows. As you can see, I’m using the C Writer pen tip for all 4 steps. I’m also working one section of the leaf at a time. I’m trying to demonstrate that you can alter the order you burn in the dew drops.
Continued work burning in dew drops.
Erase the charcoal marks.
Continue to work on the remaining dew drops.
If needed, use a X-acto knife to scrape in highlights on the semi-small dew drops.
STEP 9 – FINE-TUNE
Critically look at your artwork and determine if it needs any fine-tuning. Todd and I both thought the out-of-focus leaves on my artwork were too vague and needed more definition. I used circular motion to add the suggestions of veins and made the edges of the leaves a little jagged.
Below are photos of this being done.
At this point I thought I was done, but after I took the final photo and uploaded it to my computer I discovered another area I didn’t like. The white arrow is pointing to a spot on the leaf I thought should be darker, so I quickly darkened up along the upper edge of the leaf.
Below is the comparison of my final artwork with the reference photo.
We’re done. I hope you found this tutorial enjoyable and full of useful information. As always, I love to hear from you so leave a comment and let me know what you think.
I am dedicating this project to Mario, who back in Feb of 2018 asked me to create a video demonstrating how to create the out-of-focus look. Yes, I know this is a written tutorial, but there is a corresponding video. Mario, I know it took me a bit to get to this, but I hope it was worth the wait and answered your questions.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on die-cut Birch plywood that measures 4 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches (12.1 x 16.5 cm). It took me 8 1/2 hours to complete the artwork. That said, this is not a race or contest. I only put how long a project takes me because it is almost always the 2nd question I get about my artwork. The first is usually, “how did you do that?”
Until the next blog,
June 1, 2018
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This artwork was submitted by John Hagemann. John’s been wood burning for a couple of years, and decided to try creating dew drops. He did a fantastic job! His uniform shading is amazing and if it wasn’t for the fact that I can see a couple of grain lines here and there, I would have said he was burning on paper. Very well done. John, thank you for sharing your work with us.