This is the second installment of my portrait tutorial series. As promised this tutorial covers the entire face instead of just the eyes and nose as the last one did. Ok, I didn’t burn in the top of the head, but that area isn’t any different than the forehead or the cheeks. I will be covering everything you need to know to complete this tutorial. We will transfer the image, create the artwork, sign off on the artwork and discuss fixing mistakes. Also, I will be testing out a different brand of watercolor paper for this tutorial.
One last thing, I want to apologize now for the bad color of the photos. They are screen shots from the video and the camera turned everything a blue hue. I need to get better lighting for my studio.
Now, let’s get started.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
I rate this as a level 3 because you need a good ability to create uniform color and smooth gradient color. Also you need to learn to see beyond familiar shapes and instead see highlights and shadows. All of these are skills anyone can learn, but the less experience you have the more difficult this will be at first.
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood or paper
- Pencil – HB or higher
I used a tombow eraser because it always has a small erasing area, so is good for when precision is needed, but any pencil eraser will work. A kneadable pencil eraser would be great as you can shape it to be any size you need. Tombow eraser.
Please note that while I provide a link to the products, I do not receive compensation if you buy them. Also I did not look to see who was selling the item at the lowest price. Instead I used the link for the first item I found.
In one of my previous tutorials I explained how to make a Sepia and Grey Tone Value Finder. I do think that such a tool would be very beneficial in portrait work. Obviously it is not absolutely necessary as I didn’t have one for this artwork, but it might be helpful. Value Finder
STEP 1 – PREP THE SURFACE
This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.
If using paper, then I recommend securing the paper on a sturdy backer board of some sort. This will prevent the paper from warping. Also I recommend using hot pressed paper versus cold pressed. The reason is that hot pressed paper will have a smoother surface on it. When looking for paper be aware that hot pressed paper will often designated by the letters HP, and cold pressed with CP.
I am using a scratchboard by Ampersand because I had one on hand. A piece of plywood or even thick cardboard will work. Amazon Ampersand
This photo is the backside of a project I burned on paper. All of those tan and brownish marks are areas where the paper got hot, and that heat will transfer to whatever the paper is on and discolor it. That wouldn’t be good for your table, countertop, etc., so place something UNDER the paper to protect the underlying surface.
For this portrait I’m testing out 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper by Lanaquarelle. I’m going to tell you right now that I did not care for burning on this paper, so I’m not going to provide a link as I think it would be a waste of your money.
At the time I wrote this tutorial, Jan 2020, I was working on the pyrography portion for the sixth installment of the portrait series. The paper I’m using for that portrait is my favorite so far. It is a hot pressed watercolor paper by Winsor & Newton, and it is great for burning on. Here’s a link to that brand, but make sure to get the Hot Pressed variety. Winsor Paper
I used white artist tape to secure the paper to the backing board. The tape has a medium to low tack rating and is acid-free, so it is less likely to damage the paper like scotch tape would. White Artist Tape.
STEP 2 – IMAGE TRANSFER
Now we need to trace the image onto the wood or paper. I will cover the basics of what needs to be done, but if you have more questions I have a video that goes into the subject in much greater detail. Tracing.
Print out the image on regular copier paper. In fact, while you are printing, print out two versions of the image. The first we’ll use for transferring and the other will be used for reference during the burning process.
Instead I recommend using a very low tack paper tape like first aid tape. Paper Tape.
Next use a pencil or ink pen and start tracing in the image. I prefer pencils because they produce finer lines, and I use a mechanical pencil so I don’t have to sharpen it. Since pencil lines don’t show well, I’m using a red ink pen to draw over the pencil lines I’ve already traced. If you look closely you can see some of the pencil marks that I haven’t drawn over yet.
I recommend using a combination of solid and dashed lines for this. Use solid lines in areas with clearly defined edges; the iris, edge of the hat, crease in the eyelid above the eye, etc. Use dashes or dots to mark transitions or shadows.
Once you are confident of your trace lines, then remove the image and place it nearby. Look over the traced lines and if any seem too light, then draw over them with a graphite pencil. Again do not use heavy pressure when doing this.
With portraits the majority of the lines will be dashes as there are very few areas on the face that has clearly defined edges. This photo shows the image after I was done tracing over it. As you can see there are very few solid lines on the image.
STEP 3 – SET UP and GENERAL INFO
The reference photo should be close by and placed in a spot where you can always see it very easily. Again, I’m left handed, so for me the best spot is to have the reference photo placed to the right side of where I will be burning. That way my hand never obstructs my view.
Something I found that worked wonderfully was to cut out a small piece of the paper and secure it to the backer board near the burning. This way it was always close by to test the pen tip on. Since I wasn’t burning really dark on it I didn’t have to worry about heat transfer. IE – charring the paper under it. Unfortunately I didn’t think of this until the fifth installment of the portrait series, but I guess that is better than never.
Before we start burning I want to give you some general guidelines and provide an overview of how we’ll work on the portrait.
- Always tap or blot your pen tip on the scrap material BEFORE working on the portrait. This will remove any excess heat and prevent dark blotches from happening when the pen tip first touches the paper.
- Let the paper cool. I found that when I reburned too much in one area the heat seemed to bring out the paper texture more. I found that I got better results if I burned for a little bit and then left it alone to cool down. Once cool I could reburn back over the area and get better results. I do want to point out that I didn’t notice this happening with the Winsor & Newton paper.
- Use the flat of the shader when burning over pencil lines. This will prevent the graphite from getting shoved down into any burn marks.
- Erase the graphite as soon as you don’t need it anymore. I burned up to a line so I would know where the edge or transition was at, and then I erased the pencil lines.
- Don’t view the portrait as identifiable objects like a nose or eye. Instead focus on the highlights and shadows.
- Work upside down if that helps.
- If you work upside down, then make sure your board/paper and reference photo are ALL oriented in the same direction.
- Use the flat of the shader when burning around dashed lines as those lines represent transitions; areas where the shadows get lighter or darker. Those shadows do not have clearly defined edges like an eye iris does.
Let me breakdown the how we will handle the portrait in an extremely simplified way.
We will burn in one shape at a time. After a group of adjoin shapes are burned in, then the pencil marks get erased. Once the pencil marks are gone, then we will adjust the color of the shapes and smooth out the transitions between the shapes. Smoothing out the transitions is done by using gradient shading between the shapes.
Before burning in the shape, you need to analyze the reference to determine how dark to burn in the shape. I use a process of constant comparison for this, but you can also use a Sepia / Grey Value finder tool. Value Finder Truth be told the value finder tool is probably much easier to do than what I normally do. Especially if you are still new to drawing.
Compare the tonal value or darkness level between shape B with shapes 1, 2, and 3. Which one is the darkest? In this case, shape B is the darkest, and it is a lot darker. I will give it a value of Dark Tan. Now compare the values between shapes 1, 2, 3. Which one of the shapes is the lightest and which is the darkest? To me, shape 3 is the lightest, so I will give it a light tan color. Shapes 1 and 2 seem very similar to me, so I will make them both medium tan in color.
Look at the thin line the yellow arrow is pointing to. Compare the color of the line with the shapes we have assigned a value to. Which one does it match the closest with? To me it looks to be the same tonal value as shape B, so I would burn the line to a dark tan color.
How does the upper eyelid compare to the areas that have already been assigned a tonal value? To me it is darker than any of the other shapes we have dealt with. I would burn this to a very dark tan or a very light brown color.
Here’s a link to the blog I wrote about making a tonal value finder tool. I did scan the one I made, so you can printer it off. Just keep in mind that depending on the printer it might not produces the same rich sepia tones as making your own will.
STEP 4 – BURNING
Equip a shader pen tip and set the heat so that you get a medium tan burn result. Remember to test out on the scrap paper until the desired burn result is achieved. Once the pen tip is at the proper temperature, then use the razor edge to burn over the solid pencil lines around the eye.
Then use the flat of the shader to start burning in some of the shapes around the eye. I am using a combination of uniform strokes and circular motion to burning the shapes. If you are not familiar with my terminology I have a blog that explains them. Using Shader
Once the pencil marks are gone, then fine-tune the shapes and smooth out the transitions between the shapes. Smoothing out the transitions is accomplished by burning over the area between the shapes to create gradient shading.
Having made the mistake I have to decide if I should fix it or leave it alone. Because of how small and dark the lines are, I’m going to leave them in place. The reason is that I think I would damage the paper a lot trying to lighten up the color. For your information, if I were to try and fix this mistake I would try using the flat of a sharp knife and try to scrape away the excess color.
I wanted to remind you that you should ALWAYS test out your pen tips on scrap paper before burning on the artwork. I do this EVERY time I switch pen tips and after I’ve paused burning while I examine the reference photo.
It is important to take frequent breaks when working on complex items. This will give your eyes and brain a chance to rest. When you resume burning you see things with fresh eyes and this lets you notice details better than eyes that are super familiar with the object do.
Resume burning in the darker shapes on the nose. I really do think it helps to stop thinking about the nose as being a nose, and instead just concentrate on individual shapes created by the dashed lines.
Then resume burning in the individual shapes around the eye. This area on the face was used to demonstrate constant comparison, so the values have been assigned. It should be a simple matter of burning the shapes to those tonal values assigned in the demonstration.
Now switch to a writer pen tip and burn the pupil. Since I chose not to fix the mistake I made on the right eye, I have to replicate that on the left eye to make the portrait look normal. A reminder that the dark line along the edges of the iris is now what the reference photo shows, so don’t mimic this. I am just explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing.
Also, burn some thin lines that radiate outward from the pupil. This should be done on both irises. Vary the length and the darkness level of the lines. This will help mimic the texture the irises have.
Switch to a writer pen tip and burn a layer of dots over the tongue. Do not burn the dots really dark. The goal is to replicate the bumpy texture that is found on the tongue and subtle dots will help accomplish this.
Then switch back to a shader and do any fine-tuning that is needed. I burned over the tongue a bit more and the photo shows I’m re-burning over the skin near the mouth. In fact, I ended up re-burning over most of the chin.
STEP 5 – SIGNING
STEP 6 – FIXING
I made several mistakes while working on the portrait and tried different ways to fix them.
I also tried using an ink pen eraser on areas where I didn’t have to be very precise. That didn’t work very well. It abraded the paper giving it a very rough texture. When I burned over the area it looked blotchy.
Here’s a comparison photo of my artwork and the reference photo. It’s okay. I think a lot of the problem is how blotchy or unsmooth the burning looks and a lot of that is the paper. Not all papers are equal.
The paper I burned on for this portrait was 140 pound, hot pressed, 100% cotton, acid-free watercolor paper by Lanaquarelle. I already mentioned that I did not like this paper. It was very difficult to get smooth results. Plus if I burned in one area for too long it would start looking blotchy. I really disliked burning on this paper, and I don’t recommend it.
That’s it for the second installment in the portrait tutorial series. I was a little disappointed with how this portrait looks, but I know that is because I don’t care for the blotchy look the paper texture created. I continue to learn a little more with each portrait and I’m feeling more confident with burning on paper.
Let me recap the basic process. 1) Transfer the image using a combination of solid and dashed lines. The solid lines are used along the edges of clearly defined objects. Dashes are used to indicate the transition lines of shadows. 2) Burn around the lines and erase the pencil marks when they are no longer needed. 3) Burn in areas between the lines checking with the reference photo to determine how dark they should be. 4) Use gradient shading to transition between areas.
I do want to point out that the process I used to create the portrait is very similar to how I do most of my work. I say similar because if I’m working on animal fur that requires a completely different burn stroke method that what I used for the portrait.
I hope that this tutorial provided you with some valuable information for doing your own portrait work. More importantly I hope that I showed that portrait work is something that can be broken down into smaller steps making the creation process easier. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.
Until the next blog,
Feb 18, 2020
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