In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the skull mask artwork. I was attracted to this image because of the raised designs on the mask. Those designs might make this artwork seem a bit intimidating, but don’t fear. Like all things, if the image is broken down into smaller components, it becomes a lot easier to do. Hopefully by the end of the tutorial you’ll agree with me.
Now, let’s get burning.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Skull Mask pattern
I found this image on Pixabay, and really liked all of the textures and details on the skeleton outfit. The image was uploaded by LunarSeaart and here’s a link to the original photo: https://pixabay.com/photos/venice-carnevale-costume-carnival-2092594/
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.
Doing the 4-step process (sand, mist, dry, sand) produces 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. Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.
You are correct that this image is not of the skull mask. I didn’t take one, but the process remains the same regardless of the subject.
STEP 3 – OPENINGS and EYES
Eye style 1:
Eye style 2:
I wasn’t sure I liked having the suggestion of real eyes behind the mask. So I’m erasing the gradient shading to alter the eyes. I’m using an electric eraser equipped with an ink pen eraser. I wrote about this in the following blog: https://wp.me/p8j0lZ-4MO
Then I used a pencil to drawing pupils. As an fyi, I’m using a mechanical pencil, but any graphite pencil will work. I took be a couple of tries before I found a configuration I liked, but that’s the reason for using graphite; it can be erased until you’re happy with the results.
STEP 4 – THE FACE
Here’s close up of the face. The skull is not smooth looking and the subtle bumpy texture it has adds to the weathered or old look it conveys. Also the area around the raised details tends to be darker to help the designs stand out.
Anytime you start a project you should always have a focal point. The focal point is the main feature or predominate area on the artwork. For us the focal point will be the central face, so the eyes, nose and mouth area. This means that this should be the overall lightest area on the artwork.
Use a writer pen tip and start burning around the designs on the forehead. Work with care as there are scrolling designs and a spider web that intersects the scrolling designs. The spider web sits on top of the scrolling design, so you don’t want to burn over the lines for the spider web.
Rotate the board back and use a shader to burn the mask under the hat to a medium brown color. The color should be lighter than the mask openings and the underside of the hat. The hat will be covered later.
To create the illusion of 3d you need contrast between a highlight and shadows. The center or top of the nose is the highlight or palest areas on the nose. The shadows are located along the sides of the nose. To prevent the area from looking like bands of color, you need to use gradient shading to transition between the highlight and the shadows.
Look at the nose in this photo. The right side looks 3D, but the left side looks fairly flat. The reason is that the left side is uniform in color. We’ll discuss this concept again and I’ll provide another example to help illustrate it.
The areas that need to be darken on my artwork are the edges of the face, under the cheek bones, and the teeth. Given how I work that means that most if not all of the face will get another layer of color applied.
Switch to a writer pen tip and start burning a dark line on the face adjacent to the scrolling designs. I’ve rotated the board because for me this is position makes it easier to see and burn around the designs.
Make sure all areas of the face have a little color. We do not want any unburned wood; especially along the sides of the face. The sides of the face should be shadowed to help keep the focus on the eye, nose, and mouth area.
For some reason I decided that I didn’t like how dark the shadows were on the upper jaw, so I erased them. Also I darkened up the shadow under the nose. In retrospect I think I should have left things as they were and just darkened up the shadow under the nose.
Making it look 3D
The green arrow is pointing to the right cheek bone. Notice how flat it appears even though the shadows have been burned in above and below it. The stark contrast make the area look like it has bands or stripes of color.
Let’s compare the cheekbones in this photo. The red arrow is pointing to the left cheekbone that is look 3d, but the right cheekbone (green arrow) is still looking flat. Gradient shading was applied to transition between the shadows and the highlight on the left cheekbone (red arrow).
Here’s how the cheekbones looked after the shadows were darkened up and gradient shading applied. The gradient shading is used to transition between the shadows and the highlight in the center of the cheek.
STEP 5 – THE HAIR
STEP 6 – THE HAT
Here’s a close up of the hat. With the hat we have the scrolling designs and spider webbing like the face has. What is unique about the hat are the areas filled with white glitter like the looping band that circles the hat. Also there are bugs placed on the hat, and I will explain those in the next step. Keep in mind that you can leave the bugs out of your artwork.
Then burn along the upper edge of the brim thickness line. A green arrow is pointing to the area I’m talking about. Do not burn over or into the brim thickness area as this will be left unburned. Since the area above and below will be burned in, and the thickness line is thin, our brains will turn it into a tan color.
Note that I rotated the board and switched to a shader pen tip to burn along the upper edge of the brim. I did this because I feel like I have more control. If you want to continue to use a writer pen tip and / or keep the board in its prior position then please do so.
Then use a shader pen tip and filling the portion of the hat below the looping band. I used circular motion as my burn stroke for this because I wanted the subtle texture that circular motion can make.
In some areas it might be easier to avoid the spider webbing if the board is rotated. Also the hat needs to get gradually darker as you approach the right edge. In this photo that would be the left edge.
4a10. In the small areas it might be easier to use a writer pen tip. Even when using the writer pen tip I still used circular motion as my burn method. You can see the mottled texture that is on the hat.
Use the writer pen tip to burn darkly adjacent to the assorted designs on the hat. You can use a shader pen tip for this. Since I had the writer stipp equipped from the last step I’m using for this step. I will admit the writer is easier to use for this.
Again a remember that the color should be gradually lighter as you transition from the right to the left side of the hat. This will give the hat a rounded shape. Also the reason the left side is the lightest in color is because the light is coming from the left.
In addition to lightly burning over the designs, I also have been burning a much darker and thicker line next to the designs. Most of the time I have a general idea of what I want to do, but that plan is an evolving thing as the artwork progresses.
Lastly, use a writer pen tip and burn tiny circles and squiggles over the white design areas on the hat. If you prefer you can apply a layer of tiny tan dots to the area. We just need some sort of texture to give the area a touch of color and tone down the contrast.
STEP 7 – THE BUGS
STEP 8 – THE SUIT
Here’s a close up of the suit. As you can see the suit is pale in color with a white lace covering. I’m going to simplify the suit, so it will be a brown color without a lace covering. The shirt and flower will be dark brown to black in color.
Burn each flower petal individually. The base of each petal should be darker than the end of it. There are two locks of hair that drape over the flower. Color over them with white charcoal so they will stand out. This will help you see and avoid them. Plus the charcoal will resist the heat of the pen tip, and that will help the locks of hair stay pale.
Once you’re done with the flower make sure to erase the white charcoal from the locks of hair.
We’re done. Well what do you think? Did I break the subject matter down so that it was much easier than you thought it would be? I truly hope so. I think it is easy to feel intimidated or unsure how to begin. When that happens try to focus on small areas to get started on the artwork. Often once you get started the process gets easier as areas get burned in.
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 9 1/4 hours to complete the artwork.
Until the next blog,
Oct 13, 2020
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