In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Horse pyrography artwork. The horse was created by breaking down sections into small workable areas. Each area is evaluated, assigned a tonal value, and burned in. Most of the time gradient shading is needed to smooth the transition between areas. This approach is the same method I use with human portraits, and most of my artwork. I refer to this approach as constant comparison. My goal is to try and help you understand and use constant comparison to create the horse artwork.
Now, let’s get to work.
I have a YouTube tutorial version of this artwork available. The tutorial is broken up into chapters to allow you to quickly navigate to the area of interest. Click on the image to the left to watch the video.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 14 x 14 inch (35.6 x 35.6 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Horse pattern*
- White Charcoal Pencil (optional)
*Please try to ignore the white ink lines on the pattern. Normally I make my patterns on regular copier paper, but I needed larger paper for the horse and it had a slight tan hue to it. Unfortunately the white ink that I use to “erase” black ink marks showed on this paper.
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
This piece of plywood board is broken up into three sections. The far left section is how the board looks without any prep work. The board has a rough texture. The middle section of the board shows how it looks after it was sanded, and the surface is a lot smoother. The right section of the board shows it after it was lightly misted with water and allowed to dry. Notice how rough the board looks, but a quick sanding will remove that and leave an ultra-smooth board.
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. Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
The pattern for the horse is made up of solid and dashed lines. The solid lines represent areas that have hard or clearly defined edges like the eyes. The dashed lines represent places where the tonal value changes.
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
Before you begin burning you should always critically evaluate the reference photo. There are two things I determine immediately; the lightest and the darkest areas on the subject. I will be using two places are found on the horse’s face.
The yellow arrow (top) is pointing to the lightest area which is the white marking on the forehead. The purple arrows are pointing to the darkest areas which are the eyes and nostril openings. The white marking is white and white is represented by unburned wood. The eyes and nostrils will get assigned to black.
On a side note the lightest area on the horse might actually be the backlit fur on the back of the front legs. We will keep things easy and use the white marking on the face.
It’s much darker than the white marking, and it is considerably lighter than the eyes and nostrils.
So what value would you assign it? To me this area is halfway in value between the lightest and darkest areas, so I would make this a mid-tone value of brown.
First off we know the ears are much darker than the white marking. While the ear openings are really dark, they don’t seem as dark as the eyes/nostril openings. Now compare the ear openings against any other tonal values that have been determined, and right now that is just the muzzle. What do you think?
To me the ear openings are much darker than the muzzle. So the tonal value has to be somewhere between black and brown. To me the ear openings are much closer in value to the eyes than the muzzle, so I’d burn the ear openings a several shades lighter than the eyes and/or nostril openings.
What color would you assign the lower lip on the horse? Again you need to compare the lip against all of the areas that have been assigned a tonal value. Go through the exact process we did with the ear openings, but now you can include the ear openings as a known value.
After doing the comparisons, I think the lip is darker than the ear openings, but not as dark as the eyes/nostrils. Again I think the low lip is closer to the nostril openings than the ears. With that in mind I’d burn it 1-2 shades lighter than the eyes/nostril openings.
Assign a color to this patch. Just like before compare the color of this patch against the patches that have known values. Obviously this patch is darker than the white marking and much lighter than the eyes. How does it compare to the muzzle that we said was a middle tone of brown?
It’s lighter, but how much lighter? To me it’s considerably lighter than the muzzle too, so I’d put this area a few shades darker than the white marking.
It’s darker than the last patch, but lighter than the muzzle. I’d burn it a couple of shades lighter than the muzzle.
When you start blocking in the shapes created by the dashed lines you need to match the shape up with the reference photo and determine its tonal value before you start burning. We just went through a number of example to show how to do this, so hopefully you understand what needs to be done.
What do I mean by tonally correct?
The color you burn the top of the muzzle is your middle value. The eyes are your darkest and the white marking the lightest. Any new patch burned in should be burned in relationship to existing values on your artwork.
Pick a patch, I’m going to use the one circled in yellow. First compare the patch with the reference photo to determine its tonal value. We already did that and determined this patch should be a couple of shades lighter than the muzzle.
Now examine the color you burned the muzzle. When you start burning in the patch on the side of the muzzle, make sure it is lighter in color than what you’ve burned the muzzle. As you burn, constantly compare the patch with the muzzle to make sure you are keeping the color accurate for your artwork. Hopefully this paragraph explains the concept of tonally correct well enough for you to understand what I mean by it.
You can make the subject of your art lighter or darker than it really is just by altering the tonal values. This horse is brown in color, to make it a tan colored horse, just reduce the all of the tonal values by half. White obviously can’t be reduced, but everything else can be. The opposite is also true. If you want a black horse increase the tonal values by double. The brown muzzle would become a medium brown muzzle, and so on.
STEP 4 – FACE
If you are not familiar with my terminology, I have a blog that discusses them: Using a shader pen tip
To make the clumps of hair stand out, burn on either side of a clump. If needed rotate the board to make sure the edges of the ears stay crisp and clean. This photo shows a stray clump against the dark ear opening.
For example, the upper lip is several shade darker than the white patch, but a number of shade lighter than the muzzle. When I burn the upper lip I have to make sure that the color is lighter than what I burned the muzzle and darker than the white patch on my artwork.
As you can see I burned over the white marking on the horse. I decided to simplify the face. This artwork isn’t a commissioned piece or something that the owner of the horse will get, so no one will know that I left the white marking out; except you. I assume I can trust you not to tell anyone. 🙂
I had mentioned that during the blocking in stage that I spend equal amounts of time checking with the reference photo and burning. During the re-burning that is no longer true. Now I double check with the reference photo before starting to remind myself of the tonal value it needs. After that I concentrate on re-burning, but I frequently compare my progress against adjacent areas until the tonal value is correct for the artwork.
During the re-burning I used a large print out of just the face and discovered I had made some mistakes. I fixed the mistakes I could during the re-burning process, but if I had started with a large print out I could have avoided making most, if not all, of the mistakes I made.
STEP 5 – NECK, CHEST, and MANE
For example, on the upper right side of the neck is a small spot where the color is a touch lighter. Will your artwork be ruined if you didn’t include this small detail? Heck no! Will this small detail improve your artwork? It won’t hurt it, but it’s doubtful that most people will even notice it. Instead this is just an example of the small details that I observe, and one that you may or may not have noticed.
The board I was burning on was terrible quality and I was constantly fighting it. In some areas it darkened up very quickly and other areas stubbornly resisted my efforts to darken it up. Here I’m using the edge of a knife to gently scrape away some burn marks that got too dark.
I couldn’t remove all of the excess color, but I managed to get it mostly evened out. I really did hate burning on this piece of plywood. I’ve had the board for a bit, so I can’t begin to tell you what type or grade of plywood it is.
STEP 6 – BODY and FRONT LEGS
Rotate the board and burn along the edge of the legs. Since I’m left-handed I can’t keep the pen in optimal position when burning along the left edge, but a right-handed person will have the opposite problem.
Then use the razor edge of the shader to burn some thin lines to represent grass. Yes, I know there is a step devoted to burning the grass. At first I wasn’t planning on putting a background into the artwork, and this small amount of grass was all I planned to do.
During the re-burning on my artwork I ended up darkening up the horse a lot. Mostly to help cover up the blotchy areas that darkened quickly and resisted my attempts to lighten the color. I really did hate this board.
When you re-burn over areas make sure to match textures. For example, curving lines were burned on the ankles to represent long fur or hair, so when re-burning the ankles use the same type of burn stroke.
STEP 7 – RUMP and BACK LEGS
Keep in mind that the process I use is something that has evolved as I’ve gotten more experience with pyrography. As you gain experience you will develop a process that works best for you. Hopefully you share any time saving tips you discover.
STEP 8 – TAIL
Now use a shader to burn around the charcoal lines. I’m using the razor edge of the shader to burn thin semi-dark lines on either side of the charcoal lines. I use the flat of the shader to fill in the area between the lines. The tail needs to be dark enough in color so that the lines created by charcoal are will still be visible once the charcoal is erased.
Once the color is built up around the pale hairs, then burn over the pale hairs as they aren’t white in color. At the most the pale hairs are 3-4 shades lighter than the rest of the tail, but that depends on where you’re looking.
This isn’t a separate step per se, but is something you should do with all of your artwork. Step back from the artwork as see if any areas stand out. I generally place the artwork across the room and view it from 10-15 feet away (3 – 4.6 m). I had several areas that were too light in color and stood out in a bad way. To fix the problem I just I re-burned over the pale areas.
I highly recommend placing the artwork on a shelf for a couple of days. Don’t look at it while it’s on the shelf as the point is to lose familiarity with the artwork. After a few days have gone by look at the art and pay attention to your first impressions. I often notice problem areas this way.
STEP 9 – GRASS
Here’s how my artwork looks at this point. I had original planned to leave it this way, but Todd thought it needed something in the background. I did a post on YouTube and got several suggestions: meadow, lots of grass, trees, and a fence. Thank you to everyone who provided a suggestion!
I printed out the artwork and started sketching out ideas. At one point I had hay bales in the background, but ended up with a distant fence and part of a tree. Plus I planned to burn grass around the horse.
First off I erased the grass area to lighten it a bit and then started expanding the grass. Erased means I used the flat of a knife to scrape over the burn marks, and sometimes I use an ink pen eraser. I’m using the razor edge of the shader to burn single lines.
STEP 10 – FENCE
Compare the fence in this composite photo. Notice how much smaller and further in the background the fence on the right appears. I liked the distance that conveyed, so now I’m ready to burn in my fence.
STEP 11 – TREE
Here’s a link to that article if you need more information on creating distant maple trees. Maple Trees
Here’s how my tree ended up looking. I added a few really dark areas to represent openings in the branches where the shadowed interior shows. I also removed the branch as I figured at the distant the tree was at a detail like that wouldn’t be visible.
Below is a composite photo comparing my artwork with the reference photo.
My artwork is not perfect by any means, and as I look I see areas I should have fine-tuned a bit more. Bottom line it looks like a horse, so I can’t complain. Especially given the amount of troubles I had with this particular piece of plywood. Another thing, when you hang artwork in your house you don’t place the reference photo adjacent to it, so the viewer will not be comparing the two.
ART PROGRESS PHOTOS
Below are the photos I take at the end of each burn session. They show how the overall artwork progressed as I worked on it. I’m never too sure if these pictures are of any value, so let me know what you think.