Skyrim’s Dragonborn Pyrography Fine Art wood burning

A while back I made a leather business card holder for my brother, Matt.  He is a big fan of the Skyrim game and wanted the logo on one side of the holder, but was unsure about the other side.  I did some searching and found an image of a sculpture of Dragonborn that I thought looked cool.  He agreed, but before I put the image on leather I did a test burn on wood first.  This blog will discuss the creation of test Dragonborn on wood that I created.   

Click on the image to the left to watch a time lapse YouTube video of the artwork being created.   




Click on the image to the left to watch a tutorial video that takes a closer look at the horns and medallion from this artwork.




This is a photo of the sculpture or bust of Dragonborn that I thought looked so intriguing.  I was drawn to the mix of textures the image contained.  I loved how the metal, leather, and horns all added to the rich detail in the image.  What I didn’t like was the lack of a body.






I searched the net and found a screen shot from the game that showed the character.  Armed with these two reference pictures I went to work.






I traced the outline of the sculpture image onto the wood and then sketched in elements from the second reference photo to create this drawing.







Next I started burning in the pencil lines using a writer pen tip.







At first I only burned in the pencil lines along the helmet as I wasn’t 100% sure if I liked my composite sketch.  Since the helmet was ok, I started burning in the dark areas around the helmet.





One of the main reasons I like to burn in the dark areas as it allows me to easily see how “dark” I can burn light areas and keep them pale looking. 








To demonstrate, look at how dark this grey circle looks on a white background.





If I put that same grey colored circle on a black background, the circle doesn’t seem very dark anymore.







This composite photo doesn’t convey the same level of tonal contrast extremes, but it does show that the circle is the same hue of grey.







The helmet is a metallic pale grey color.  With the background being very dark, I could add a fair amount of “color” to the helmet and still give the impression that it is very pale.





I’m bouncing around the helmet right now as I start to give it shape and color.





The horns were fun to work on as they had a lot of character to them.  I just loved the rough ridges and all of the cracks on them. 







Working on the horns was probably the only area on this artwork that came together quickly and I was happy with the results.  It was one of the very few areas I didn’t have to do much retouching on.





I can’t say the same thing about his face.  This was an area I really debated about.  I liked the mysterious feeling the dark shadowed face the sculpture has, but wasn’t sure that was the best way to handle the artwork. 





My philosophy is when it doubt, move about.  So I did.  I went back to working on the helmet, but I was having a difficult time deciding how to replicate the ‘handcrafted’ look of the helmet.





The solution to my dilemma was to move onto another area and let my brain ponder the issue.   I switched to a writer pen tip and started burning in more pencil lines.







After I got the pencil lines burned in, I went back to the helmet and started darkening up areas of it.






I also darkened up his face.  My current plan was to leave the chin paler and to have just a hint of lips visible.  I had debated on leaving a little portion of the eyes visible, but decided against it.






At this point I started bouncing back and forth between the face/helmet and the armor.  The armor had a lot of rolled edges on the leather and these little rivets that made for some interesting contrast of texture.






Back to the face/helmet area to darken up the neck.







I wanted a little definition here and there on the neck, but I didn’t want it to have a lot of detail.






I took the plunge and darkened up the face leaving the end of the chin visible.







This area I’m working is a classic example of why I should familiarize myself with these type of characters before I start working on them.   I could tell that the helmet had a metal flap neck protector on the back, but what I couldn’t really tell what was under the helmet.  The second reference photo had horrible resolution, so when I zoomed in it looked like a solid mass of brown that I interpreted as leather.   I decided he was wearing a long leather cap under the metal helmet.  Yes, I know this doesn’t make sense, but that’s what I thought it was.  I did eventually discover it was hair, but I’ll save that revelation for later.




The helmet was another area that had lots of rivets on it.  I think it had more rivets than the body harness did, but I actually liked working on the rivets so the I didn’t care that there were a fair number of them.





It was easy to make the rivets pop from the surface of the helmet by leaving them pale and burning a cast shadow under them.






One of the challenging areas to work on was the medallion.  It was secured to the harness with leather straps and it had a lot of fine detail on and around it.






I worked slowly and carefully to start giving the medallion shape.







The medallion had an intricate design on it and rings of raised metal framed it.  Plus it had two square loops, if you will, so it could be secured with leather straps.






Since I had the writer pen tip equipped, I added the cast shadows to the rivets along the nose guard on the helmet.







I also re-burned over the cracks or, more likely, battle marks on the helmet.







Now I’m playing around with some ideas for texturing the helmet.  Should I experiment on the original artwork?  Probably not, but I always find myself doing so.   On the flip side, this really was my test burn before I put the art on leather.





In this photo I’m working on the eye guards, but you can see the ugly mess I made of the helm.  My texture idea did not turn out very well.  In fact, I hate it, but I’m currently undecided on what to do about it.






As I said before, when in doubt, move about.  So I moved back to the medallion and worked on the dark areas on it.








Continued work on the dark areas on the medallion.








My idea for the edge on the leather vest was to make it look like it was whip stitched, so I’m burning in the stitches.







Then I burned over each section between the stitches to make them look rounded.  Once I was done the edge looked more like cording or rope than what I had envisioned.    Right now I’m working on the rolled edges along the leather that holds the medallion.






My next grand idea was to draw random pebble shapes on the leather vest as I was trying to replicate the texture the Dragonborn sculpture had on it.







Since there was no going back, I drew the pebbling along all of the exposed surfaces of the vest.





Then I used a shader to burn over the vest to tone down the pebbling, but I’d have to admit at this point I’m unsure if my idea was grand or not.







Now I’m burning the leather harness to give it some color.






Next I started working on the arms.  This was another area I wasn’t sure how dark to make them.  Most of the time I have the ‘when in doubt, move about’ attitude, but for the arms I changed tactics.  Instead I burned a light base layer and then re-burned to give some definition or shape to the arms.  By burning the arms light, I provide contrast against the leather and the dark background.  Also, I can always darken up the arms, but reducing the darkness isn’t near as easy.




This is another area where my lack of familiarity with the character shows.  The second reference photo shows him wearing a leather vest with the harness over it.   The vest covers his torso and is made of fairly smooth looking leather.  The sculpture reference photo shows a very small highly textured vest that doesn’t appear to cover much.   When I created my composite image, I gave him both vests.






My character is either extremely well encased in leather for safety purposes, or I can view the textured leather as a decorative accent around the harness.






Now I’m adding some texture to the torso vest.  The texture is really nothing more than some thick tan lines burned at an angle.







After adding the texture, I then shaded it to give it shape.








Shading the other side of the torso vest to give it shape.








Next I added stitch marks.







While I had the writer pen tip equipped, I also burned in the cast shadows on the harness rivets.







Switching to a shader pen tip I burned dark blotches on the stitch marks to make them look recessed and the area around each stitch look puckered.  I thought this turned out well.






Continued work giving the leather vest shape and definition.








Adding the whip stitching to the leather shoulder guard.









Giving the leather shoulder guard color.








Defining the crack on the shield.








Then I started giving the shield shape.  The shield had an ornate design on it that matched or was similar to the design on the medallion.







Notice how the design I’m working on looks raised up from the surface of the shield?   This is accomplished by keeping the design paler than the shield surface and adding shadows along one side.








After deciding my textured leather idea wasn’t so grand, I re-burned over it, but this time I’m used the shader to burn around the edges of each pebble shape.  I ended up liking the resulting texture.






Even though I’m working on the leather harness in this photo, I want to point out how different the textured vest looks after I burned over it.  There is a spot next to of my hand marked by a yellow arrow that hasn’t been re-burned over yet for comparison.





Darkening up the left side of the harness and adding shadows along the wrinkles.







Adding the final touches to the right harness.









I was trying really hard to make the leather strap that is across the medallion look like it was curving down over the edges or end of the medallion.  Not sure I ever got there though.








Now I’m back working on the helmet.  The god awful mess I made before is still there, but I darkened up the helmet and this helped to hide the blotchy mess.






In this photo I’m adding a layer of dots to the surface of the shoulder guard, but I didn’t dot the raised designs.







For the shadowed areas on the shield, I added more layers of dots to darken it up.







I liked how the stippled texture looked on the shoulder guard, so I decided to add it to the helmet.







I’d have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t as thrilled with the texture when I put it on the helmet.   







But once I started adding the stippling to the helmet, I decided it cover the entire helmet with a layer of it.






In this photo I’m adding the angled thick line texture to the rest of the leather torso vest.








Guess who just discovered that the brown mass along the sides of the face was hair.  I would have to honestly say that if I had known it was hair from the start, I would have burned in the area completely differently from the start.  After all, a thin piece of leather with a gentle fold in it looks a LOT different than strands of hair. 




Trying to change the ‘thin leather’ into hair strands was not easy.  I didn’t want to ‘erase’ using sandpaper or my fiberglass sanding pen as it is hard to keep the erasing contained; especially if you’re working near any else like the leather harness, shoulder shield, the helmet, etc.   What I did to transform the area was burn lots of long lines to create thick strands of hair.  Truth be told they look more like pieces of spaghetti to me than strands of hair. 





So I burned in a bunch of curving lines and varied the color of the lines.  Then I used the flat of an X-acto knife tip to scratch in some light hairs.  The end results are not great, but I can live it.







Now I’m creating the rolled edges on the leather harness.






Then I worked on finishing up the metal medallion.








And I also worked on the strap again.








Lastly, I used an X-acto knife to scrape out a few thin highlights on the medallion.









Despite the numerous mistakes I made with this artwork, I did have fun working on it.  I discovered some new textures and that’s always a very valuable thing to me.  On the whole, I thought the artwork turned out pretty decently despite the many design flaws it has.  The artwork did serve a very important function; it allowed me to work out some technical issues before I created the leather version of it.   One of the technical issues was whether or not to use the merged image on the leather version.  The answer ended up being no.  The business card holder is small, so I kept the image much similar.


In case you are wondering, this is version of Dragonborn I did on leather.  I kept the image much closer to the image of the sculpture.



Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on bass wood that measures 6 3/4 x 8 inches (17.1 x 20.3 cm).  It took me 14 hours to complete the artwork.    

Until the next blog,


Mar 29, 2019

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2 thoughts on “Skyrim’s Dragonborn Pyrography Fine Art wood burning

    1. Hi Keith,
      I have not done an ocean or any real body of water yet. My first question is whether or not you’re using a reference photo? If not I highly recommend getting one. Yes, I’m willing to attempt an ocean scene, but why don’t you send me your reference photo or a photo of your project so I have a better idea of what you’re wanting help with.


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