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!
I am Jenn Avery, gourd artist of over 20 years. Art has always been a part of my life, and my work has taken many twists and turns and I have worked in almost every medium available.