I’ve mentioned in some of my previous blogs, that I became very interested with creating pyrography artwork on leather. During my exploration of burning on leather, I’ve learned a lot, but it is still a very challenging surface to work on. I don’t practice near as much as I should to get really good with leather. Part of my problem is I hate to waste the leather as it’s not cheap. Plus, unlike wood, I can’t sand it out and start over if it doesn’t turn out. When my brother, Matt, told me he’d like a business card holder, I gladly agreed as I needed the practice. Thus a new project was born. Matt really likes the look of the Skyrim video game logo, so he picked that for the artwork on the holder.
Skyrim logo was on one side of the business card holder and Dragonborn was on the other. Here’s a link to the Dragonborn blog: Dragonborn.
I searched the net and found an image that had good resolution to use as my template and reference.
I prefer to burn along the outer edges of an object to make sure I have really smooth crisp lines, so I’m doing that before I get going on the background.
I really dislike burning darkly on leather. It’s tough to get smooth looking results and the leather loves to stick to the pen tips leaving this gunk that is tough to remove.
Helpful tip: use polished pen tips for burning on leather. Colwood will polish the tips for a few extra dollars. The polished tips glide over the leather better, the leather doesn’t stick to them as much, and they MUCH easier to clean (remove the gunk). Unfortunately I didn’t discover this until another project.
After I burned around the edges of the logo I switched to a “junk” pen tip to work on the background. I call this a junk pen tip because I don’t like to use it on wood, so if it gets damaged I don’t care.
The reason I don’t care for the pen tip is that it has a chisel tip end. I like to use the razor edge of my shader pen tips, but with the chisel tip I couldn’t do that. In this photo I had sanded the chisel end off, but I was left with a blunt end instead of a razor edge. I didn’t want to spend more time sanding to try and get a razor edge.
When you burn on leather at a high heat, the leather tends to rip or tear. To counteract that, I pressed the entire surface of the pen tip to the leather and held it there. I didn’t move the pen tip. Then I lifted the pen, shifted to a new spot, and pressed the pen tip onto the leather again. This technique gave me a dark burn result that didn’t tear the leather surface.
I want to take a moment to point out how pale the leather looks in the photo. Keep in mind that leather is tan in color, but since the background is so dark the leather is looking almost white. The extreme contrast is what makes the unburned leather look so pale.
One challenge of this project was working so small. The logo had lots of thin strips of metal along the wings, so the razor edge of my shader got a workout.
Those thin metal strips have sharp lines or edges on them as did most of the logo, so I had to frequently turn the leather in different directions to keep the pen tip in optimal position.
Watching videos of my artwork being created has been interesting in that I never realized how much I jump around the artwork. In this project I really jumped around. Especially in the beginning when I’m creating the foundation of the art, so to speak.
Creating the foundation art means that I’m burning in some of the defining areas of the artwork; generally these are the darker areas on the art.
I’ve mentioned numerous before that I use repetition, or re-burning, to build up the color and tonal depth of my artwork. The logo had lots of lines that changed angles and that altered the shadow direction.
Upon first glance at the logo, I thought it would be super easy because it didn’t have a lot of detail. It wasn’t until I got into the guts of the burn that I discovered how much detail the logo had.
One of the things I’ve discovered during my leather burning exploration is that it is easier to burn leather when it is cool. By that I mean when the temperature of the leather is cool or room temperature. The warmer the leather gets via repetition (re-burning) the more prone it becomes to tearing. To help prevent this, I let the leather cool back down before re-burning on it.
I moved to the wing and started re-burning along the crisp edge while I was letting the tail cool back down.
There were areas, like the end of the tail, which appeared chipped and broken. The texture was a lot different than the smooth metallic look of the surface, so I had to try and replicate that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining because this is the sort of stuff I love.
The end of the wing was another area that was broken off. One of the ways to convey that look is to leave a thin pale line between the different areas.
Continued work adding darkness and texture to the tail.
I used the micro writer pen tip to add the dents and dings along the wings.
My general process of replicating photos is a slow process. I use a photo to trace the image onto the leather, burn in the traces lines, and then build up the shadows. I FREQUENTLY consult the reference photo while doing this.
Leather is not a forgiving material. I have yet to find a way to fix mistakes that doesn’t leave a telltale sign. About the only option I currently have is to burn lightly and make sure the basic position, shape, etc. matches the reference photo. If it does, then I can build up the color, but I still consult with the reference photo to make sure the tonal depth, transitions, etc., are correct. If it doesn’t then I have to alter the burn and a pale burn makes that much easier.
One way to burn thin pale bands is to burn dark thick lines on either side and you’re left with a thin pale band. Keep your pen tip in optimal position while doing this to make sure the lines stay crisp and clean.
Keeping the pen tip in optimal position is how I created all of the hard edges on the logo.
The Skyrim logo was pretty dark and almost disappeared into the background. I chose to burn the logo much lighter so it would stand out better against the background.
When you create artwork, remember that you can control the contrast levels. Don’t be afraid to alter the subject matter to produce results you like.
Working on the angular tail.
Now I’m re-burning along the right wing membrane to build up the tonal depth.
Reworking the some of the small details on the left wing.
I mentioned before, that I bounced around this project A LOT as I allowed the leather to cool back down between rounds of re-burning and fine-tuning. So I would often work on the outer wings, switch to the membranes, and then return to the outer wing area.
Another re-burn on the small details on the left membrane.
When I was working on the body, I had to build up the color very slowly to make sure I kept a fairly high contrast between the body and the wings.
Adding the last of the needed darkness along the right wing membrane.
At this point I’ve got the artwork done, but now I’m fine-tuning the tonal depth and contrast levels.
Another thing I did in the fine-tuning stage was to add a touch more weathering to the logo. This came in the form of dents, dings, and pits along the surface.
The below photos show the continued work of adding the final touches to the artwork.
The composite photo below shows the final artwork next to the reference photo for comparison.
As you can see I didn’t make the logo near as dark as the reference photo, but I think the artwork turned out pretty well.
My pyrography skills have improved significantly since my first leather burning attempt. I still have some things to learn and areas that need improving, but that should come with more experience.
Matt loved how the artwork turned out and I’m happy about that. I am a bit concerned about the dark background though. Small bits of the dark background flaked off when I was stitching the leather onto the back piece of the business card holder. EEK! So I fixed them and then sealed the leather with Resolene. I have no idea if that will prevent future flaking. Matt will be my guinea pig and test out how well the business card holder weathers.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on vegetable tanned leather that measures 3 x 3 7/8 inches (7.6 x 9.5 cm). It took me 1 1/2 hours to complete the artwork.
Until the next blog,
July 20, 2018
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