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!
4/10/2018 01:34:16 pm
Great guide. I can't quite tell what type of woodburner you are using though.
@Matt- thank you! That is because I do not endorse any particular kind of woodburner. There are many on the market that are comparable and I use a few different brands of pens. Whatever you have, you can make it work for you. If you are new to it and are shopping for a first woodburner, my only suggestion is to choose a pen that uses a fixed tip. My experience is that they better distribute the heat and hot handles are less of a problem. Choose 2 pens, one that does shading and one that can do lines and play around with them a while before you choose to buy any more. You may find that two are all you will ever need!
1/3/2019 08:50:55 pm
Jenn, I am so excited that you are going to be an instructor at the Gourd Gathering in Tennessee. Thank you.
1/4/2019 09:31:05 am
Thank you Nanette! I am really excited to be participating at Cherokee this year! The last time I was there was about 15 years ago, so I am very much looking forward to it.
12/15/2020 12:44:00 am
Thanks for thhis
2/24/2022 09:31:33 am
I share your love of animals and nature and absolutely love your work!!
7/4/2022 05:29:03 am
Great blogg post
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Art has always been a part of my life, and I have worked in many different mediums.