1. Sand with fine grit sandpaper
The smoother the surface you have to start with, the better. Try a fine grit, no courser than 400 to sand over your gourd and wipe clean. Feel it- you should notice a difference and your pen will too!
2. Build your values slowly
If you start on a lower temperature and burn over an area slowly, the more you burn over the same area the darker it will be. Advantages to working this way are more control over the value, and less chance of burning it too dark or scorching the gourd.
3. For natural looking burnings, do not outline your subjects
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that outlining is always bad. There is a time and place for outlining, graphic art styles, and coloring book art for example. I outline things like borders and my Celtic styled art. But if you want your pyrography to look more true to life, forego the outlining and proceed to tip #4!
4. Think carefully about contrast
Contrast is dark against light, which in pyrography is all we have to work with, dark burning and light burning and everything in between. In areas where you want the image to pop- use a contrasting shade e.g. a light object with a very dark background. Below is an example of a value scale, the color at the extreme ends of the scale would have the most contrast.
5. What you don’t burn is as important as what you do burn!
Not unlike a watercolorist utilizing the white of the paper. Keep in mind that you are working with a limited value scale. What is missing is white, and depending on the color of your gourd, you may be starting somewhere in the middle of the value scale. Resist the urge to burn everything, those lightest areas are needed to stay that way.
Notice in the photo below of tundra swans on the water. I had to contend with a tan gourd to start, and depict white snow geese! In order to do this, I had to make use of the area around the geese, the water. The geese themselves are burned only in the shadowed areas. Burning the water around the swans darker make the swans appear lighter, even though they are not.
6. And finally, your bonus tip- Keep your nibs clean!
As you work, carbon will build up on your pen nibs, which will create drag and affect the quality of your burning. Pyrographers will share various ways that they like to clean their nibs. When I first started burning I bought a pyrography pen cleaning kit that contained a strop (piece of leather mounted on a piece of wood), in which I partially coated with honing oil compound also included in the kit. I have been using this system all the time and have found not reason to change it. It is important to turn the heat off and let the pen cool. I’ll wipe the pen in one direction over the oiled part, then finish on the clean leather. This generally will clean my pens to a nice shine, and some pens need to be cleaned more than others. If you find your pen is not working at its optimum performance, try cleaning the nib it will make a big difference!
The PA Gourd Gathering is next week (yay!!!) and I have been busy getting ready to teach 4 classes. In addition, I decided to take the 2017 Warty Gourd Challenge! The rules state that the warty gourd must be at least 50% warts, so yeah for my pyrography needs I like'em nice and smooth, and this was really a challenge to figure out what to do.
The gourd I chose has warts in column-like shapes all around it, and it reminded me of a butterfly bush. Ding! Lightbulb turns on! So the warty is more of a base, that I painted the warts to be purple butterfly bush flowers.
The butterflies were burned and cut out of a different gourd, and I burned the top and under parts of the wings so you can see the patterns any way you look at it. The butterfly bodies were done with QuikWood. Their little antennae is copper wire.
One of the butterflies is not where I initially intended for it to be. That is because when I applied the spray varnish ( on a windy day- was not being patient ) I stepped away from it and it blew right off the table onto a concrete patio! The gourd suffered one hairline crack down the side, could have been worse. Fortunately, the butterflies had not been attached yet so I was able to adhere the one over the crack and no one's the wiser. Except you, of course!
Enjoy this video for a closer look!
This year I will be teaching four classes at the PA Gourd Society Gourd Gathering in June.
If you have never been and are able to visit the PA Gourd Gathering, it is well worth it! Tons of great gourd artist instructors all in one place, teaching over 3 days, along with displays of gourd art, vendors, and more. Please visit their website for dates, times directions, and all the up to date information!
The list for all the fabulous classes will be available on the PA Gourd Gathering website on March 15, 2017, with registrations beginning on April 1 (no joke!)
Until then, you can take a peek at what I am offering this year. All of my classes feature gourd pyrography with something a little extra. The Woodpecker and Frogs use a colored pencil technique, the Celtic Spirals have gold leaf added and the Celtic Dragon uses an embossing powder. Check out the classes on March 15, and I hope to see you there! If you decide to come, please drop by and say hello to me!
I do a lot of sketching in between projects. When I am working on a commission or special order, I think, "when I am done with this I will work on (fill in the blank)" and then the time comes and I, well blank. So the best thing to do during those dry seasons when those ideas just aren't there, I pull out my sketchbook and pencils, nothing fancy, and just draw...
My cat from life ...
Deer from photos....
Dart frogs from photos...
Sometimes, when those dry seasons happen I like to work on a totally different type of art or craft, like crochet or needle felting, or paper crafts. I'll leave those for a future post!
What do you do? I'd love to hear about it!
Ever have an art piece that you just weren't totally happy with?
For my first post, I thought I would share a gourd that was finished-even up for sale on Etsy- then after a time I decided I didn't like the end result and so I took off the shelf and redid it. Sometimes that is just what an artist needs to do,
This is my Elijah and the Ravens gourd completed early 2016. There was something bothering me about this piece and although it was "finished" I decided to rework it.
I thought it needed to lose that dark purple color. So, I took my sander to it...I mean... what's the worst that could happen?
The sanding process to remove the color took much longer than I expected, and it was not as clean as I had hoped. At that point (sorry I don't have a picture) it looked pretty bad. You can see a little glimpse on the bottom of the gourd in the picture below. That was when I thought to work some texture into the piece and give it some carving. Since my burning was all complete I was a little nervous to do this but since I went that far I figured it best to go all the way!
I decided to add Celtic interlace into the top and bottom borders. You can see the color of the sanded area, and the outlines of the knot work. Then I used a round diamond bit to carve some texture in the background.
Here it is with the carving complete, with no color added. This was still too contrasty so I used several coats of amber colored glaze to tone it down.
Here it is completed- finally! And I am pretty happy with it. Sometimes we need to revisit our art, even if it means big changes. The risk of completely messing it up is worth it, and better than having something that you are not proud to call your own.
Do you have any pieces of art that you decided to drastically change? I'd love to see it! You are invited to comment with a link to your before and after pictures!
I am Jenn Avery, of JRA Gourd Art. I have been an artist all my life, and my work has taken many twists and turns and many directions. For the past 17+ years I have been a gourd artist and teacher specializing in gourd pyrography. I love to try new art techniques and different crafts, and am excited to share with anyone who is interested!