In this blog I will be explaining the pyrography techniques to create this portrait of this little girl. I just love her large eyes and long eyelashes. This is the third installment in my portrait tutorial series. Just like I did with the previous tutorials I will explain every from start to finish. This means I will show you how to transfer the photo to the board, create the pyrography artwork, sign off on the artwork, and discuss fixing mistakes. Plus this is another project that I tested out a different brand of watercolor paper.
Now, let’s get started.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
I rate this as a level 3 because you need the 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.
Also, I will be using terminology like circular motion in this tutorial. If you are not familiar with my terminology I have a blog that explains them: Using Shader
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood or paper
- Pencil – HB or higher
- Printed Image – make 2 (1 to trace from and 1 to use for reference)
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 do not look to see who is selling the item at the lowest price. Instead I use the link for the first item I find.
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 I am very comfortable with a process called Constant Comparison. I explain that concept in Step 3. Value Finder
This is the reference photo I’m using for this tutorial. I got the photo from Pixabay and it was uploaded by user Nyokssoftware. Here’s a link to the photo: https://pixabay.com/photos/baby-smiling-child-girl-kid-happy-2704056/
STEP 1 – PREP THE SURFACE (wood or paper)
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.
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.
Clayboard(ald). 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
For this portrait I’m testing out Fluid 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper by Speedball. 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, May 2020, I had already completed 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 Newton
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 up 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.
Do not use a heavy hand or exert a lot of pressure when tracing as you can emboss the paper and possibly the wood depending on its hardness. Embossed lines are lines that are embedded into the surface and they will show up as white lines when you shade over them.
I recommend using a combination of solid and dashed lines for this. Use solid lines in areas with clearly defined edges; the iris, crease in the eyelids above the eye, etc. Use dashes or dots to mark transitions or shadows. The majority of the lines should be of the dashed variety.
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. A right-handed person should place it to the left.
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 re-burned 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 re-burn 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.
- Try not to view the portrait as identifiable objects like a nose or eye. Instead focus on the highlights and shadows. To help accomplish this, breakdown areas into smaller pieces. For example, when working on the nose concentrate on one nostril. Really examine the highlights and shadows on this nostril. You can’t replicate what you don’t see. It can take time to train your eye to notice small details.
- 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.
First off identify the lightest and darkest areas on the face. The lightest area is the white of the eye, and the darkest is the iris. What about the skin? The lightest area is just above the tip of the nose and the darkest the nostril opening on the nose. Let’s assign these areas tonal values.
White of the eyes = very pale tan
Iris = dark brown or black
Nose highlight = light tan
Nostril opening = medium brown
To me Shape A is much darker than the nose highlight, and much lighter than the nostril opening. I would say it is in the middle of those two values, so let’s give it a tonal value dark tan to extremely light brown.
Find the shape on the reference photo and compare its color to shape A. What do you think? To me shape B is a touch darker than shape A. When shape B gets burned in burn it 1-2 shades darker than shape A.
That is how constant comparison works. Examine one shape and compare its color with shapes that have already been given a tonal value. Don’t worry if you discover that you have to adjust tonal values as more shapes get burned in. I do this all the time. You look at the artwork as a whole and sometimes discover the color isn’t right, so you re-burn to fix it.
USING A VALUE FINDER
Use a black and white version of the reference photo and hold the grey value side of the finder to an area you want to work on. Compare the tonal values between the reference photo spot and the grey side of the value finder.
Here’s a link to the blog I wrote about making a tonal value finder tool. I scanned the one I made, so you can print 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. Value Finder
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 and starting burning in the solid pencil lines around the eye.
Here’s how the eye looks so far. Notice that I’m not burning that darkly. I’m just lightly blocking in areas and after the pencil marks are gone I will re-burn over the shapes to darken areas and smooth out the transitions between the shapes.
Afterwards burn in a gentle curving arch just below the halfway mark on the iris. This portion of the eye is slightly lighter in the reference photo, though it is a bit tough to see. I plan to leave this area much lighter as I think that will add some visual interest to the eyes.
Let’s do the same basic steps with the right eye. Start by the burning in the trace lines. Make sure to rotate the board as needed to keep your pen tip in optimal position when burning along clearly defined edges.
I liked how the right eye turned out, so I tried to get the left eye to match. I added a pupil, increased the contrast between the top and bottom of the arch, and darkened up the vertical lines. I will admit that it didn’t work well. I also admit that I deviated from the reference photo when I created the eyes.
As you might have noticed, sometimes I burn over a number of dashed lines, erase the pencil marks, and then fill in the shapes. Or I burn around one shape, erase the pencil marks, and fill in that one shape. I’m trying to show you that there are different ways of accomplishing the same goal.
The dark blobs or dots at the start of the lines happened because I had the heat too high on my burner. I have to tell you that I’m not very good with eyebrows. I’ve yet to burn in one that I thought looked decently.
With the nostrils make sure to let the color fade a bit along the lower edge of it. The arrow is pointing to the shadow along the right nostril. Notice how difficult it is to tell the nostril from the shadow next to it.
Also if you see areas that need fine-tuning, then fix them up. Once in a while you should take a few moments and look at the artwork as a whole. Compare your artwork with the reference photo looking for areas that aren’t dark enough.
I do recommend working on your art at different orientations in an attempt to fool your brain. When the art is rotated your brain may not recognize shapes as easily and this allows you to focus more on the highlights and shadow.
Re-burn over the nose area to darken it up as needed. When I create tutorials it is always interesting to me that mistakes I discover I’ve made. With this artwork I did not darken up the bridge of the nose and upper cheek enough. I do remember that I was getting very frustrated with this paper, so maybe I thought this is good enough. Not sure.
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.
Below is a comparison photo of my artwork and the reference photo. It’s okay. I don’t think I did this little cutie justice, and the more I look at the artwork the less I like what I did.
The paper I burned on for this portrait was the Fluid series 140 pound, hot pressed, 100% cotton, acid-free watercolor paper by Speedball. I already mentioned that I did not like this paper. The paper tended to get blotchy. Plus no matter how lightly I tried to erase mistakes the paper became abraded. If I burned over the abraded area I ended up with little dark spots.
That’s it for this portrait tutorial series. 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.
Even though I’m not super happy with how my rendition turned out, I hope I was able to explain the methods that I used well enough so that you can create portrait art. Lastly, the artwork measure 6 x 6 inches (15.2 x 15.2 cm), and it took me 5 hours to create it.
Until the next blog,
May 26, 2020
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