In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the fall maple leaves. This is a beginner friendly project because it only uses pull-away strokes to create the leaves. Even though I filled a board with maple leaves, keep in mind that you can use this on craft boxes, picture frames, cutting boards, mirror frames, cheese boards, etc. It is up to you on whether or not you want to add color.
Speaking of color, most of the color was airbrushed on. With the top group of leaves I used colored pencils as I figured most people don’t own an airbrush.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 1
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
- Maple leaves – real, fake, paper, or stencils
- Coloring Medium – optional
All pencils are Faber Castell Polychromos
- Cadmium Yellow 9201-107
- Dark Chrome Yellow 9201-109
- Dark Cadmium Orange 9201-115
- Deep Scarlet Red 9201-219
- Pale Geranium Lake 9201-121
- Pompeian Red 9201-191
- Sanguine 9201-188
All airbrush colors are transparent ComArt unless otherwise noted
- Bright Yellow
- Burnt Orange
- Burnt Umber (opaque)
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Let the board dry and then sand again.
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 – CREATE STENCILS
Find some maple leaf images you like on the internet and print them out on standard copier paper. Then cut out the maple leaves. I used an X-acto knife to do this as I find cutting with scissors time consuming and uncomfortable.
In this photo you can see the backside of the a few leaves. I found several leaf shapes I liked and printed two sizes of each leaf; small and large. You can print what sizes you think you might like to use.
Or if you prefer you can actual leaves or use store bought items. An example would be the fabric maple leaves shown in this photo. I’m sure that there are rubber stamps and stencils of maple leaves available.
STEP 3 – ARRANGE and TRANSFER
STEP 4 – PYROGRAPHY BACKGROUND
Another thing I like to do is burn along all of the edges that allow me to burn pull-away strokes in a direction where I’m pulling the pen tip down towards myself. I find this produces better burn results, and I have more control over the burn. I will refer to this as the convenient edges for the rest of this tutorial.
By the way, if you want the background to be a uniform color, then re-burn over the lighter center area until it matches the edges.
STEP 5 – PYROGRAPHY LEAVES
Make the burn strokes proportionate to the area. By that I mean make the burn strokes longer or shorter depending on the size of the area you’re working in. For example, the area I’m currently working in is fairly large, so the burn strokes have been long. When I start working near the pointed end of the leaf I will be shortening the length of the burn strokes.
If needed, rotate the board so that you can burn the pull-away strokes in a direction that is most comfortable to you. Most of the time pulling the pen tip towards you is easier to do and produces more consistent burn results. Also, pulling the pen tip towards you generally provides better control over the burn stroke.
Keep in mind that I left an unburned border around most of the leaves; especially the leaves that are on top. The reason is that it helps provide contrast. In areas of overlap I lightly burn over all of the underlying leaf. This helps the top leaf stand out more.
Be sure and experiment with is burning along both sides of the side veins versus burning along just one side. It produces a different look and you’ll have to decide which way you prefer. I did a little of both.
Rotate the board as needed while you work. Also I recommend keeping contrast in mind as you work. In areas of overlap I will burn over the lower or bottom leaf so that it is slightly darker than the top leaf. A yellow arrow is pointing to a spot where I did this. It’s not a huge color difference, but it helps the end of the top leaf stand out a little more.
Again a reminder to adjust the burn stroke length to match the area. For example in this photo I stop the burn stroke before reaching the side vein. The smaller the area, the shorter the burn stroke should be.
Another thing I experimented around with was the direction of the burn strokes. I varied the direction a lot more with the side veins. Sometimes I burned the lines so they curved and almost paralleled the vein line. I mention this to point that you can really experiment with the leaves and find a look that is pleasing to you.
Let’s recap the ways to alter the leaves
- Adding side veins
- The length of the burn strokes
- How much curve or arc the burn stroke has
- How dark the burn strokes are
- Burning pull-away strokes on both sides of a side veins versus only one side
- How close to the edge of the leaf you burn
STEP 6 – ADD COLOR
A couple words about safety
I had someone tell me that it shouldn’t be a problem to burn over watercolors. Yes there is. All colors are created by using pigments that are mixed with some sort of binder so they will adhere to the paper, wood, etc.
First off you do not know what is contained in the binder, and some glues can be very toxic when vaporized. The heat from a pyrography pen tip is more than hot enough to vaporize glues.
Secondly some pigments that are used to make paints, colored pencils, etc., are very, very toxic. An example of this is cadmium.
Cadmium has a melting point of 610 degrees Fahrenheit (321 celsius). Pyrography pens tend to range between 400 and 900 degrees Fahrenheit (204 – 482 celsius) depending on the setting. There is more than enough heat to potentially vaporize the metal.
Is there a high risk of this happening? I do not know, but is your health worth so little to you? I hope not.
Burning over color is not worth risking your health over! Especially since it can be easily avoided.
If you would like more information about cadmium toxicity, here is a link to an article issued by the NCIB (national center for biotechnology information) : Cadmium Toxicity
I will cover the leaves I used colored pencils on first. They were actually the last ones to have color applied, but that was because I had to use frisket film with the airbrush color. I didn’t want to risk the film removing any of the colored pencil when I pull the film off the board.
Here’s how the leaves looked once I was done. Notice how I didn’t apply yellow along the bottom of the leaves. I did this to help contrast with the adjacent leaves. My basic plan was for the top or upper portion of each leaf to be a bit lighter in color than the bottom or lower portion.
Dark chrome yellow was the next color I used. This was applied to the entire leaf except the outer edges along the upper portion of this large top leaf. All of the other leaves were covered completely with the color. Once you’re done, blend the color.
Then I used an X-acto knife and cut around each leaf. In this photo I’m lifting up the frisket from one leaf to check if I was applying enough pressure. The goal is to press hard enough to cut through the frisket, but not so hard as to score or cut into the wood.
Note that each time I change colors I clean the brush of the old color first. This is done by flushing the brush with water until the old color is gone. When I add the new color I first spray on a piece of scrap paper to make sure the old color is gone and that the new color is flowing properly.
In this photo I’m applying the vermillion to the other leaf. I want to point out the overspray. I’ve got some green arrows pointing to a few of the areas. Unless you are using a stencil it is really tough to airbrush without overspray. Especially with objects that don’t have straight edges and are small in size, like these leaves.
I work my way around the board removing the film from one or two leaves. The only time I remove the film from more than one leaf is when there are several leaves or one large leaf separating them. Otherwise it is too difficult for me to control the overspray. My airbrushing skills are basic as best.
It’s important to be careful when removing the film. It is easy to remove the film from adjacent areas. In this photo I’ve got tweezers holding a small piece of frisket in place as I remove the film from the leaf.
A common mistake most beginners make is to try and control how far down the trigger is pushed. All of the books I’ve read and videos I’ve watched advise to always push the trigger all the way down. That way you get consistent results.
Todd didn’t like how bright the leaves where, so I’m spraying burnt umber over the lower leaves to tone down the color. This is the only opaque color I used. The first couple airbrushed layers of opaque colors will be translucence unless you apply the color really thickly. Otherwise you have to spray several layers to achieve a truly opaque color.
The things I like about airbrushing:
- The color is very translucent
- The color is very smooth looking
- I don’t have to use a paintbrush
- The color is dry almost immediately
- I can cover the board with color quickly
- The colors layer up wonderfully
The things I dislike about airbrushing:
- There is a lot of prep work if frisket film is involved
- It’s more work when changing colors
- Replacing pieces of cut frisket can be tough; especially as my eyes get older
- Wearing a mask – airbrushing puts fine paint particulates into the air, so always wear a mask
- The airbrush must be completely disassembled to clean it very thoroughly after I’m done spraying
I hope you found this tutorial fun and easy to follow along with. Like I said before, you can put the leaves on many different surfaces. You can add color or leave them as straight wood burning. Regardless of what you do the main goal is to have fun while doing it.
Until the next blog,
Nov 3, 2020
Want to subscribe?
- Click on the “Leave a Comment” field at the end of any post (blog) and a subscribe option will appear.
- Put something in the comment field (if you put “test” or “just subscribing” I won’t make your comment public)
- Fill in the sections for your email address and name, and then click on the “notify me of new posts via email.”
- You will get a confirmation email from WordPress confirming you want to subscribe.
- Click on the confirm button in that email and you’re done.
Please note that I do not send out emails. If you have a WordPress account there is a way to subscribe within the WordPress system, but I cannot provide specifics on how it works as I don’t know.