In this tutorial blog I’m going to explain how to create the colorful butterfly pyrography artwork that I put on a wooden book. The wooden book was nothing more than a hinged box that was designed to look like a book. I bought the box at a craft store and when I saw it I had this instant vision of a butterfly on a flower. My vision was that the book covers would show the same image, but opposite versions of it. The front looks down on the butterfly and the back looks up at the butterfly. This is one of the few times where I had a clear vision or concept of what I wanted to do. Plus the project was a lot of fun, and it’s very easy to do.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 1
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Box 9 ¾ x 7 3/8 inch (24.8 x 18.7 cm)*
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Butterfly Book Front pattern, Butterfly Book back pattern, Book Border pattern, Book Binder pattern
- Ruler & Pencil
- Black Fine Tip Permanent Marker
- Colored Pencils
- Blending Stump
- Pearl Ex pigments (optional)
*Note that you do not have to use a wood book to do this project. Instead you can place the butterfly on a regular lidded box, or a flat board and hang it on the wall.
Colored Pencils used:
Black – Prismacolor 935
Cadmium Yellow – Polychromos 9201-107
Cobalt Violet – Soho 138
Dark Chrome Yellow – Polychromos 9201-109
Dark Green – Prismacolor 908
Indigo Blue – Prismacolor 907
Light Green – Prismacolor 920
Moss Green – Soho 182
Orange – Prismacolor 918
Pale Sage – Prismacolor 1089
Parrot Green – Prismacolor 1006
Peacock Green – Prismacolor 907
Permanent Green Light – Soho 181
Permanent Green Deep – Soho 184
Prussian Blue – Soho 161
Ultramarine Violet – Soho 155
Violet – Prismacolor 932
White – Prismacolor 938
Yellow Chartreuse – Prismacolor 138
Pearl Ex pigments use:
DESIGNING THE BUTTERFLY
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water. I only wetted the outside surfaces of the book box. Let the wood 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.
The wooden on this box was VERY DRY. Unfortunately, the front cover or lid of the box bowed; a lot. I had to re-wet the front and back of the lid (very liberally), place a weight on the board, and let it dry. I was hoping this would flatten the board back out and it did. I would recommend that if you use a box similar to mine, that you place a weight on the box after wetting it out to make sure it doesn’t warp when drying.
STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD
There are several patterns for this project and I started with the Book Border pattern. Coat the back of the pattern with a good thick layer of graphite and align the pattern near the edge of the book.
Be aware that you can align the pattern with the edge of the book or not. That is your choice to make. If you place the pattern similar to how I did, make sure to measure and mark a straight line on the wood to line the pattern up with. Afterwards, trace over the design to transfer the lines to the wood.
Before removing the pattern, pull it back a bit and check your trace lines. If you missed any spots then let go and trace over the missed spots. As you can see, I do apply a very generous layer of graphite to the back of the pattern.
Now coat the back of the Book Binding pattern with a layer of graphite, position it onto the side of the book, and trace over the design. I did mark the center of the binding and drew a line down the center of the pattern. I matched up the lines to ensure the pattern was positioned in the center.
With the butterfly you can decide how you want it positioned on the board. I wanted part of the wing to wrap around onto the side of the book. I also wanted part of the wing to overlap on the design along the edge of the book, so I placed the butterfly on the board at a bit of an angle.
Here’s how the front of the box looked once I was done. Yes, I know the pencil lines are hard to see against the grain lines. The last thing to do is put the trace the back cover pattern on the back of the box. For some reason I didn’t take a picture of this step, but I’m sure you understand what needs to be done.
STEP 3 – PYROGRAPHY TIME
I want to mention that when I create any pyrography artwork that I plan to add color to, I ALWAYS do the pyrography portion first. I never burn over paints, colored pencils, sealants, stains, etc. The reason is that all of the products contain chemicals, binders (glues), pigments, dyes, metals, etc. Most manufacturers don’t list what they put into the product as they fear the completion stealing their formula. Some items, like cadmium, can release toxic fumes when heated/ burned over, and the health risk isn’t worth it to me. Safety lecture done, so let’s start burning.
Begin with the book binding side and burn a dark thick line along the trace lines. I’m using a medium ball pen tip for two reasons. 1) It produces thick lines that have the same width. 2) It glides over the uneven surface of the wood better than my writer pen tips did. I’m not sure what sort of wood was used for the side of this box, but it was very grainy and a number of sunken grain lines or missing thin lines of wood. Those depressed areas in the wood kept snagging my writer pen tip.
Notice how I place a finger on the wood. This helps steady my hand and I get better or more consistent burn results. If you look close at the burn lines, you’ll see round “dots” here and there. There’s where even my ball pen tip is snagging a bit on the sunken lines on this wood.
After you are done, use a standard pencil eraser and rub over the area to remove any residual graphite.
At some point I switched to the standard writer pen tip. I feel like I can see where I’m burning easier with the writer pen tip. Plus I like to use this pen tip to burning in the smaller or finer lines that were on a few areas of the wing.
After the butterfly is burned in, then use a writer pen tip to burn in the trace lines on the flower. I used a writer pen tip on a lower heat setting to ensure the lines weren’t very dark and remained thin.
Notice how I kept the pattern nearby. Some of my trace lines were tough to see, so I could look at the pattern and make sure I was burning the line more accurately.
The front cover or lid of the wooden box I was burning on was very grainy and pitted, so I had a very difficult time trying to burn straight lines with a writer pen tip. I switched to a shader and used that instead.
If you positioned your butterfly wing so it overlaps onto the border, make sure to burn in the border a few shades lighter than the wing. This will you will be able to easily tell wing from border.
For anyone who has read a few of my tutorials, this instruction shouldn’t come as a surprise. Keep your pen tip in optimal position when burning along the edges. This will keep the edges crisp and clean. If you are unfamiliar with my terminology, I have a blog that explains them: Using The Shader.
Here’s how the back of the book looks at this point. Since this was supposed to be the underside view of the front cover, I angled the butterfly to match the angle on the front cover or top of the box.
What I didn’t like with the back was how boring the left edge of the book looked (red arrow). The tan band along the right edge (yellow arrow) is the wood from the book binding or side of the box. I didn’t want to use the fancy book border from the front cover the back.
As I contemplated what I do I rubbed over all the burned areas with a standard pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. I just didn’t take a picture of this.
After I was done removing any residual graphite, I decide to keep the back border simple bands of color. I began by drawing some lines along the edge to create the bands. I mimicked the front cover in that I created a thin band and a wider band that extended to the edge of the book. Then I burned them to a uniform brown color making sure they were several shades lighter than the wing.
At this point we are done burning, so now it’s time to add some color.
I highly recommend using a print out of the pattern and testing out colors. Make sure to write down what color(s) you used, and how you layer your colors, so that you have an easy to follow instructions when it’s time to work on the box.
I mentioned that you should write down HOW you layered colors. The reason is that depending on your starting color, you can get different results. For example, if I start with white and then use purple over it, I will end up with an overall lighter color than I would get if doing the opposite. So it’s important to note the order you applied the colors.
Another thing to write down is how you used the color. Did you cover over the entire marking, only half of the marking, just around the edges of the marking? Whatever you did, write that down next to the color. For example, if I used white to color in the entire area I wrote down “fill with white.” If I only colored a portion, then I’d write down “fill left half with white” or “fill the right side with a 1/4 inch border (0.64 cm).” If I only colored around the edges or border of the marking then I wrote down “edge with white.” Once I was done I had a detailed list of the colors I used, in the order that I used them in, and how I applied each color. This made replicating my results easy to do. I also wrote down each time I used the blending stump.
You will discover that I use white a lot in my butterfly design. The reason is that it helps keep the colors soft and semi-translucent appearing. Also I used white as a way to blend and even out the colors.
Blending stumps or tortillions were also used to help blend the color and push it down in the grooves or depressions the wood on this box had. If you don’t have a blending stump, you can use a piece of paper towel wrapped around your finger.
If using a blending stump, make sure to clean it before using it to blend new colors. What I mean by that is once you are done with the flower petals, clean the stump before using it to work on the wings. Each time you have a major color change clean it again. For example, I started on the ice green ovals along the outer wings of the butterfly. The next row of markings on the butterfly was purple in color, so I cleaned the green from the stump before using it to blend the purple.
STEP 4 – FRONT COVER
Apply as many layers of color as needed to get good coverage. Use the blending stump if needed to smooth out the color. Depending on the wood surface, it might help to alternate the direction you color in the layers. For example, the first layer is applied vertically and the second horizontally.
I started with white and filled the entire petal with an even layer of it. Make sure to color one petal at a time. Don’t use horizontal strokes and color across several petals at one.
Next use Dark Chrome Yellow and fill the entire petal with color, but apply a light layer along the top half of the petal. Concentrate the color along the lower half of the petal. The lower portion is the area closest to the flower center.
To darken up the streaks a little more, apply another layer of violet over them. How dark you want the streaks is really up to you. Heck you might not even want the dark streaks on your flower petals. Again that is your choice to make.
Note that because a lot of the coloring involves layering the same colors a number of times, I will show fewer and fewer pictures and just provide written instructions to follow with.
We’ll start with the Icy Green Ovals on the wings. For the ovals I used Moss Green, Light Green, Pale Sage, and white. Begin by using Moss Green to color a thin line around the outer edges of the oval.
Repeat the color sequence on the other ovals. I circled the oval markings with red on this photo. If you placed your butterfly so part of the wing is on the binder of the book, don’t forget that oval that is on the binder. I used a yellow arrow to indicate its location.
Now we’ll work on the gradient purple markings that run along the outer wings. For those markings I used Ultramarine Violet, Violet, and white. I began by using a white colored pencil to fill the 3/4 of the first marking. Concentrate the color along the left or upper side of the marking, and stop coloring before reaching the right or lower side of the marking.
Then use Violet to fill 3/4 of the marking, but this time concentrate the color along the right or lower side. Stop coloring before reaching the left or upper side of the marking. I applied a couple of layers of violet to really build up the right or lower side of the marking.
Then use a white colored pencil and fill the entire marking with a layer of color. After filling the area with white, switch to Ultramarine Violet and color in the right half of the marking. Blend one last time and you’re done with this marking.
Then color over the area using a white colored pencil. After that switch back to the violet and apply a layer. Follow this with one last layer of white, and then use a blender of your choice to blend and smooth out the color.
Now we’re going to take care of the Green and Yellow markings. For the assorted markings I used 3 colors: Light Green, White, and Yellow Chartreuse. Start by filling the dumbbell shaped marking with a Light Green color.
You may or may not agree, but I think the butterfly is looking very striking. I’m not a big fan of yellow or green, but I think they look great on this butterfly.
Then color along the edges of the marking(s) with Ultramarine Violet. For this marking, the edge is actually a band of color that is approximately 1/8 – 1/4 inch wide (0.33 – 0.64 cm). Afterwards blend the color with a clean blending stump, and apply another layer of Prussian blue over the entire marking.
Now fill the marking with white. As I said before, I use white to blend and help soften the color. Apply more Prussian blue. Then color along the edges with Cobalt Violet and the lightly color over the center of the marking with the same color. Afterwards apply another layer of Prussian blue along the edges. Blend and then apply a layer of white over the entire marking to finish up.
Now let’s color in the blue-purple markings. These markings use the same colors as the last ones: Cobalt Violet, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Violet, Violet, and white. Begin by filling the markings with Prussian blue
The last area on the wings to do is the spot where the blues fade to green. For this area we will use Light Green, Prussian Blue, White, and Yellow Chartreuse. Use a white colored pencil and apply a 1/4 inch (0.63 cm) wide band along the inner or right edge of the markings.
Here’s how the body looks at this point. I should have stopped here as I think this looks decent. At the time I didn’t think so, and continued on. I scraped away color to create little “hairs,” added more color, and in general made it look worse. Because I really dislike how my butterfly body ended up looking, I will stop the instructions at this point.
STEP 5 – BINDING and BACK COVER
Start with the Icy Green Ovals. Coloring a thin line around the outer edges of the ovals using moss green. Fill with white. Fill with Pale Sage. Blend with a clean stump. Color along the edges with Light Green. Fill with white. Fill with Pale sage. Blend one last time and you’re done.
Next we’ll work on the gradient purple markings along the outer wing. Use a white colored pencil to fill the 3/4 of the marking starting on the outer edge. Then fill 3/4 of the marking starting on the inner edge. Blend. Apply more violet. Fill with white. Use Ultramarine violet to color in the lower half of the marking. Follow this with a layer of violet. Blend and you’re done.
Now we’ll start with the upper blue markings by filling the area with Prussian Blue. Use Ultramarine Violet along the edges. Blend. Fill with Prussian Blue. Color along edges with Ultramarine Violet. Blend. Use Cobalt Violet along the edges. Fill with white. Fill with Prussian Blue. Use Cobalt Violet along the edges. Apply Prussian Blue along the edges. Blend. Fill with white and you’re done.
The remainder of the markings get the same treatment. Fill in the markings with Prussian Blue. Use Ultramarine Violet along the edges. Blend. Fill with Prussian Blue. Color along edges with Ultramarine Violet. Blend. Use Cobalt Violet along the edges. Fill with white. Fill with Prussian Blue. Use Cobalt Violet along the edges. Apply Prussian Blue along the edges. Blend. Fill with white and you’re done.
STEP 6 – SEAL
The reason it’s important to seal the artwork now, is that the matte or satin finish will remove the metallic sheen of Pearl Ex. I’m using polycrylic because the binder that I used with the Pearl Ex is a copolymer, so that sounded like it was in the same class or type of finish as polycrylic. I didn’t have any problems with the binder adhering to the polycrylic.
STEP 7 – PEARL EX
Some of you are probably wondering why bother applying Pearl Ex to the butterfly since it already has color. The simple answer is that I love the metallic sheen. Plus, the metallic sheen from the Pearl Ex pigment is very dependent on how the light strikes it. In this photo I’ve applied some paint to a board and then applied a layer of Purple Interference Pearl Ex over it, and the Pearl Ex is very translucent in this photo.
You can buy large jars of Pearl Ex, and you can also buy sampler kits. The kits will have anywhere from 10-30 different colors in mini jars and are available on Amazon and other websites. Note that It doesn’t take a lot of pigment to get fantastic results and my jars have lasted me a very long time.
The reason is that some of the powdered pigments, like the interference colors, are very hard to tell what they will look like just from viewing the pigment. This photo shows Interference Violet and the powder looks white; it’s tough to see any of the purple pigment it has. Interference colors are pigments what will display a different color depending on how the light strikes it. With interference violet, you will get either a white or violet color depending on the light. As this photo shows, you can also get areas of both colors.
All of the Pearl Ex interference pigments I used change from white to another color depending on the light. Obviously the interference gold will shimmer either a white, gold color, or a bit of both depending on how the light strikes it.
The wings received the exact same treatment as the front butterfly did. In this photo I’m apply Interference Green to the icy green ovals. The gradient purple markings received a glaze of Interference Purple. And the blue markings received a glaze of Interference Blue.
STEP 8 – VELVET LINING
Begin by using a watercolor paint that is a shade or two darker than the velvet you are using. You only need to paint along the corners. The reason is that this will hide any small areas if the velvet is missing.
Can you use acrylic paints? You can try it. I don’t like to use acrylic paints because when create a plastic film over the surface they are applied to. I worry that the glue might not bond as well to plastic as it does to wood. Water colors, on the other hand, absorb into the wood and don’t interfere with the glues bonding properties.
After test fitting and assuming there weren’t problems, apply a thick layer of glue to the bottom of the box. I use permanent stick glues for this. The reason is that if you get liquid glues too thick, the glue can soak through the fabric. When the glue dries it is VERY noticeable that the fabric has dried glue on it.
After the glue has had time to set up, gently tug along the edges of the fabric. You’re looking for any loose spots. If you find any, apply glue to the area and press the fabric firmly into the glue. Then let it set for a couple hours.