Pyrography Techniques – Mt. Shuksan wood burning tutorial

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Mt. Shuksan pyrography artwork.  This tutorial will explain the wood burning basics of how to create the rugged rocky texture of the mountain.  Plus I will cover how to create the snow and my not so great sky.  This tutorial is a supplement to the corresponding YouTube video.  Because of this I will not go into as much detail as I have in other tutorials. 

Click on the image to the left to watch the corresponding YouTube tutorial video.  

SKILL LEVEL: 2

 

 

MATERIALS NEEDED:  

  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 6 x 8 (15.2 x 20.3 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  Mt. Shuksan pattern

STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD

Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet.  Let the board 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. 

STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD

I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects.  It’s cheap, easy, and gives me control on what I want to include.  Print off your pattern on lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern. 

 

 

 

 

I always attached the pattern with two pieces of tape.  This ensures it doesn’t move around or minimizes movement.

 

Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern. 

 

 

 

STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE

With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines. 

 

Do not burn over the traces lines for the snow!

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the board looked after I burned in the traces lines.  Notice how the pencil marks for the snow are still in place.

After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.  Be careful not to erase over the pencil lines for the snow.  Those graphite lines need to stay in place.

 

 

 

GUIDELINES

Before we create the mountain, let’s go over the guidelines for creating the mountain texture.  These are not in any particular order.

  • Determine the light source as it controls the shadows. For this artwork the light is located on the left.
  • Since the light is on the left, the right side of features is shadowed. Features include cliffs, ridges, peaks, etc.  I’m not that knowledgeable on the terms to describe mountains.
  • The top of the mountain will be darker than the bottom.
  • We are not trying to create an exact replica of the reference photo. Instead we are using it as a guideline to help us with the general shape of the mountain.
  • Set the heat on your burner to get a medium to dark tan burn result.
  • Then use hand speed, line closeness, and re-burning to control the darkness levels.
  • Most of the mountain texture is created via the zigzag burn stroke.
  • The flat of the shader is used to fill in and color the mountain.
  • The razor edge of the shader is used to create dark thin cracks.
  • The more thin cracks the mountain has the more rugged it will appear.
  • Keep the gap small between the zigzag lines.
  • In really dark areas eliminate the gap between the zigzag lines.
  • Burn the zigzags in the slope direction of the feature. If you’re working on a ridge, then burn the lines towards the top of that ridge.
  • If both sides of a feature, like a ridge, are visible, then the zigzag lines on both sides of the ridge need to angle up towards the feature top.
  • The angle you burn in the lines determines how steep the feature will appear.
  • Vary the angle the lines are burned on a feature. Just don’t get too extreme with this.  It probably wouldn’t look right to have some 90 degree lines right next to lines burned at 45 degrees.
  • Circular motion is used over the area to add a touch more tonal variety.
  • Include a LOT of tonal variety in your mountain
  • Use contrast to help features stand out.

BURN STROKES

First off let’s talk about the burn strokes needed for the mountain.

Zigzags are my main burn stroke for the mountain texture.  In this photo I’m using the front razor edge of the shader to create thin lines. 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice how much thicker or wider those lines are when I use the flat of the shader.  The more metal that comes in contact with the wood the wider or thicker the resulting burn stroke.

Obviously zigzags burned like this are not going to be helpful with the mountain.   

 

 

 

Instead I burn the zigzags more like a lightning bolt.  With this photo it is easy to see how I’m using the razor edge of the shader to create very thin lines.   The thin line zigzags are used to create cracks.  The cracks give the mountain a rugged and often jagged appearance, so the more cracks that are burned in the more rugged it will appear. 

Make sure to vary the length of the cracks!

 

 

 

 

Using the flat of the shader creates a much wide burn stroke that has a fair amount of tonal variation in it.  I use the flat of the shader to provide color, texture, and give shape to the mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

I also use circular motion to give the mountains tonal variety.  This photo is for demonstration purposes to show that circular motion is literally a chain of circles. 

 

 

 

 

 

When I burn the circular motion I use the flat of the shader and I let the chain of circles meander around.  I do not burn lines of circles as the previous photo showed.   Also I don’t tend to leave gaps in the circles.  Another way of putting that is the circles are solid.   

Circular motion is burned over an area just to give it more tonal variety.  The variety helps create little highlights and subtle shadows that suggest small ridges, etc. on each peak. 

 

STEP 4 – THE MOUNTAIN

Here’s the reference photo for the mountain.

 

 

 

 

 

For those you prefer to work with black and white photos, here’s the image without color.

 

 

 

 

 

Determine where the light source is by looking at the shadows on the snow.  The orange circle marks some shadows; notice how they are next to the right side of the rocks.  Then look at the patch of snow the yellow arrow is pointing too.  It is on the left side of another group of rocks and is sun lit.  This tells me the sun is to the left, and a yellow circle represents the sun.

 

 

I will often put a small stickem on the board as a physical reminder of where the sun is located.  For some reason I find this helpful when creating highlights and shadows.  

Highlights are always located on the  on the peak closest to the light source.   Shadows will be on the side furthest from the sun.  This means that the right side of each peak will be darker than the left. 

 

 

First off use a shader or writer pen tip to burn in the small rock outcroppings on the upper left.  They are so small just make them a uniform dark brown color. 

 

 

 

 

 

Burn the right side of the leftmost peaks darker in color than the left side. I fill the area with some zigzags and then burn over it using circular motion.  Be aware that I purposely left out the little snow patches as they didn’t look right in my artwork.

 

 

 

 

If my instructions do not seem clear or you feel there are not enough photos, please keep in mind that I intended that you watch the corresponding YouTube video.   

 

 

 

With the left side of the peaks I burned long bands of assorted color to give the initial color.  Then I added some zigzags for texture and a little circular motion for tonal variety. 

If you are not familiar with my terminology, I have a blog that explains them:  Using the Shader

 

 

 

As I started on the highest peaks, I again worked in sections from left to right.  I used the pattern lines as my indicator of where to create large crevasses, or cracks, or whatever they are called.  

 

 

 

 

 

I made the left edge of each line the lightest area.  This helps create individual cliffs on the peaks.  A yellow arrow is point to one such area.

 

 

 

 

 

Also because these peaks are a lot more rugged than the far left ones I burned a lot more of the zigzag on this section of mountain. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work your way from one side of the mountain peak to the other filled in area with zigzags and circular motion.

 

 

 

 

 

As you work be aware of where the light source and how that impacts the shadow placement.   For example, the right side of the topmost peak is darker than the left side.

 

 

 

 

Valleys are dark as I figure that sun isn’t reaching the area.  A yellow arrow is pointing to a valley. 

 

 

 

 

 

I like to work in small areas at a time.  With the center peaks, I started on a small ridge along the left.  The burn strokes should always angle towards the top of that feature. 

 

 

 

 

With this ridge, we can see both the left and right side of it.  This means that the burn strokes on both sides of the ridge should angle up towards that ridge.

 

 

 

 

 

The top of the ridge or feature, should be the lightest area. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The angle of the burn strokes do not need to be the same.  In fact, there should be some variety, but don’t get too extreme with the variety. 

The angle you burn at will determine how steep an area appears.  Almost vertical lines will create the impression of cliffs and extremely steep areas.  Lines burner in an almost horizontal direction will create plateaus and gently curving hills.

 

 

What’s great with this mountain, is that it is dark and there is so much texture that just about everything will look good.   So feel free to experiment.  I did.  I had no plan before I started, and that is why I started with the leftmost peaks.  They are not the main focus, so people won’t pay much attention to them.

 

 

 

 

As I burn zigzags I do burn them in the slope direction of the feature.  For example with these peaks I’m burning the zigzags so the tops slant a bit towards the right. 

 

 

 

 

 

I like vary the angle I hold the pen so it produces lines of varying thickness.

 

 

 

 

 

This composite photo shows lines of varying thickness that were created using the same pen tip just held at different angles.   The more metal in contact with the wood the thicker or wider the resulting burn mark will be.

 

Another thing I did was use a writer pen tip to burn thin dark lines.  These lines represent the numerous cracks on the mountain.  The more cracks there are the more rugged the mountain will appear. 

 

 

 

 

 

I burn the lines in varying lengths and directions.  The lines are very seldom straight and if they are straight they aren’t very long.  Sometimes I’m scribbling, so the line loops around on itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of the area that I just finished. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will admit that burning the cracks before the mountain was colored in was a waste of time.  You couldn’t see the lines I burned with the writer pen tip once I was done with the shader, so save the writer pen tip work for last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I made some deliberate deviations from the reference photo.  One example is the top peak in this group (yellow arrow) is lighter than the reference photo shows.   I make the peak lighter in color and the rocks on the background peak darker for contrast.  

This was done as part of my simplification process.  One of the guidelines was that the top of the peak should be lighter in color than the bottom.  The actual mountain doesn’t follow that guideline, but I wasn’t trying to create an exact replica of the photo.

 

 

As you can see in this photo some of the snow has been burned in.  I recommend not burning in the snow until the mountains are done.  I learned this the hard way.

 

 

 

 

 

Once the mountains where in place I discovered I had to re-burn over all of the shadows on the snow because they were dark enough. 

 

 

 

 

 

The sun is behind these lower peaks, so the side we see is in shadows.  I used pull-away strokes along the top edge of these peaks.  The stroke starts on the top edge and gets pulled down towards the bottom. 

 

 

 

Other than the addition of pull-away strokes, everything else remained the same when it came to creating the texture.

 

 

 

 

 

I switched over to the rightmost peaks and worked on them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The techniques I used where the same I’ve used all along.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you can see I learned my lesson and quit blocking in the snow before the mountains were done.

 

 

 

 

 

When you look at this photo there are a lot of ridge lines that travel in a number of different directions.  The top of each ridge is the lightest area and this is the first part of what makes them stand out. 

 

 

 

 

The valley or bottom of each ridge is the darkest area.  This is the second part that helps define each ridge and makes the seem to rise up from the surrounding area. 

The top of a feature should be the lightest area on that feature.  The bottom of the feature should be the darkest area.  Between the top and bottom should be filled with a large variety on tonal values.  Tonal variety the helps transition between the light peak tops with the dark valley bottoms.  Otherwise it might look like stripes of light and dark color.

This hill is a gently sloping hill, so I’m burning the lines at a much lower angle.

 

 

 

There are some distant trees along the lower edge of the hill.  Use the razor edge of the shader to burn some short thin vertical lines.

 

 

 

 

 

Then burn zigzags down that line.  I am using the corner edge of the shader to do this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The lines should get wider the closer to the ground you get.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Repeat this process on the next tree.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead of assembly line styled like I did the first couple, you can burn each tree individually from start to finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Either way they will look great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It might be easier to use a writer pen tip to burn in the trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the top of the plateau is a snow patch.  I didn’t replicate this, but instead just burned in the area a lot lighter. 

 

 

 

 

Now we are nearing the end of the mountains.

 

 

 

 

I mentioned before that I did not try to create an exact replica of the photo.  I used the photo for the general shape of the mountain, but allowed the random nature of the zigzags and circular motion to create the texture on the mountain.

 

 

 

The very last thing I did was use a writer pen tip to burn tiny trees along the left edge of the front peak line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They were created just like the ones I did with the shader.  Burn a vertical line and then burn zigzags down that line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adding the last of the trees.

STEP 5 – SNOW

It is very important that the heat on your burner is set to get a medium tan burn result or lighter!  The snow relies on contrast, so all of the burn marks should stay in the tan range.

 

First thing to do is lightly block in the shadows along the pattern lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The shadows do not need to be uniform in color, but should be dark enough to see once the pencil lines are gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the shadows are blocked in and the pencil lines are no longer needed, the rub over the area with a standard pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then re-burn over the shadows to slowly build up the color and texture.  Again I wait until the mountains are burned in before working on the snow. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dark mountains provide needed contrast.  Plus you can better judge how dark you can burn the shadows on the snow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let me further explain my last comment.  When you are burning on a pale piece of wood light tan colors will seem dark if there isn’t anything else to compare them to.   Once you start adding brown toned burn marks, the light tan colors will not seem as dark.  As we work on the snow we want the sunlit patches to remain unburned or a very pale tan color.  One such sunlit patch has a yellow arrow pointing to it.   To make this patch appear like sunlit snow we need contrast.  The shadows (marked with the brown arrows) need to be several shades darker than the sunlit patch.   Also we need to keep the shadows many shades lighter than the mountains.  It is much easier to determine how dark to burn the shadows when you have the mountains done and you can better judge the contrast levels between the different areas.

 

 

I like to keep the reference photo nearby when doing the final detailing of the snow.  With the mountains I let the burn strokes create the texture because it looked realistic.  I do not have experience burning snow, so I tried to imitate or replicate the reference photo more.  Mostly to see how dark some of the shadows are.  Plus I carefully examined the texture of the snow in the areas where it broke off and/or slides down the mountain.

The less familiar I am with something, the more I try to make close and detailed examinations of it.

Each section of snow I worked on started out the same way.  First the shadows are lightly blocking in.  Then the pencil marks erased, and the shadows are re-burned and fine-tuned to give them their final value and texture.

 

 

 

 

I used the same basic zigzags I used on the mountain texture for the snow.  The difference is that I kept the burn marks in the tan range.

 

 

 

 

 

Also I burned the strokes in the direction the snow was sliding.  The snow doesn’t have cliffs, peaks, and ridges.  Instead it is a thick white blanket that covers rocks and ridges.  The snow tends to look smooth and pristine except where parts of it have broken off and/or started to slide.

 

 

 

When working on the snow, you should check with the reference photo often.

 

 

 

 

 

the reference photo shows you which patches of snow are sunlit, which are in shadows, and where the areas where the chunks of snow have broken off.

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up the snow.

 

 

One important thing I should mention is that everything you pause burning, blot your pen tip on scrap wood or a dark part of the mountain before you resume burning on the snow.   This will remove any heat buildup on the pen tip, and that will help prevent blotches from happening when you first start burning.

STEP 6 – SKY

Let me state that I’m not happy with what I did with the sky; especially when I first started working on it.  I will explain what I did, why I wasn’t happy with it, and you can decide how you want to handle the sky in your artwork.

I know we covered this already, but I’ll mention it here.  Rotate the board so your pen tip is in optimal position and burn a dark tan band of color next to the snow line.

 

 

 

 

Next I used a pencil and drew in the rounded tops of clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I used a shader and burned circular motion above the pencil lines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards I filled area below the line with circular motion making sure to incorporate some variety. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I left a thin band along the top of the clouds much paler in color.  The purpose was to help differentiate between the layers of clouds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I repeated this process of adding clouds until the board was filled.  I would drawing a row or bank of cloud tops, burning along the top of the line, filling in below the line, and leave a band of paler color next to the line.  I should mention I erased the pencil lines once they were no longer needed.

 

 

 

In this photo you can see the clouds that I’ve made, and I’m not happy with them. 

A large part of my problem with the clouds is that they are too busy.   The mountains have a lot of texture.  The snow has a fair amount of texture.  The clouds ended up having a lot of texture, and to me they compete with instead of compliment the mountain and snow.   Or as Todd put it, it was difficult to tell if it the clouds were clouds or more snow.    That statement confirmed my opinion that the clouds were not working for this artwork.

To fix this I decided to try fill the sky with gradient color.  The color would be darkest near the bottom next to the mountain and snow, but get lighter at the top of the board.  I used circular motion and a lot of uniform strokes for this.

 

 

 

It is a lot easier to burn uniform strokes with the grain line.  Also you will get more consistent burn results if you pull the pen tip towards you.   The board I was burning on had horizontal grain, so I rotated the board and this allowed me to burn with the grain line while pulling the pen tip towards myself.

 

 

 

If I were to do this artwork over again I would not bother with clouds.  Instead I will fill the area with either gradient or uniform color.

 

 

Below is a comparison photo of my artwork with the reference photo.

My artwork is very similar to the reference photo, but it’s not an exact replica.  I wasn’t trying to create an exact replica.  I think the detail on my mountains are easier to see than the reference photo, but that’s because of my poor picture taking skills.  The lighting was not idea and I’m not versed enough with my camera to change the settings to get better results.  

IN CONCLUSION

We’re done.   Hopefully between this condensed written tutorial along with video helped explain the steps needed to create the mountain in an easy to understand format.  I hope that you will try the artwork for yourself.  Don’t be afraid to experiment and alter the composition.  This would probably look great as a distant mountain with some a wooded walking trail in the foreground, or a lake and a cabin.  Use your imagination and have fun!

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on Birch plywood that measures 6 x 8 inches (15.2 x 20.3 cm).  It took me 10 1/2 hours to complete the artwork.

Until the next blog,

Brenda

Aug 4, 2020

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