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This blog features the current woodcraft, Art and Graphic work of David Stanley.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Getting Back on Track Soon

Various circumstances, mostly not bad ones, have prevented me from keeping up to date with this tutorial and I do apologise for that to all who are following along. The main content of this blog and the pattern for 'young Dragon hiding' is to be published as a step by step magazine article by Fox Publishing in their next 'Pyrography Special Issue', under the banner of 'Scroll Saw Magazine'.  

This pyrography magazine had its inaugural issue published earlier this year. Consequent to this project being published I need to have the project completed, the article written and the accompanying photos prepared and annotated by the end of this month. This has meant that I had to start the project again in order to have photos of the process that are suitable for magazine production.

As explained earlier, this project has been experimental from the beginning and I have been feeling my way with it.  In my first attempt at re-starting the project I changed some aspects of it. The changes did not work out and I have had to start yet again with a return to the paint materials I'd suggested at the beginning. 

I have also now set up a more purpose made mini photo studio for taking the step by step photos and this should help with things in the future.    

Along with the need to prepare the  pyrography project for the magazine, I had a welsh lovespoon carving due for completion and this had to take priority over other projects. I'm happy to say the spoon has been completed and is on its way to its new owner.

The spoon is carved from an extremely hard timber called saffron heart. Hard to carve but a beautiful amber colour and it takes a good finish. The spoon is nine inches long and features a celtic style dragon between the chain link and the bowl.

Before getting properly back on track with this blog I will need to complete the material for the magazine article.  In the meantime I will post some of the photos I have of current progress with this project.  I will have to do this with little or no instructional text at this point but just hope you can make some sense of the photos as they stand.  I will a bit later re-jig this whole tutorial into a more logical form.

I have also made some changes to the original pattern in that I have included scales on the dragon body.  If anyone wants to have the new pattern with scales right away, then you can email me and I will gladly send you an updated pattern. Otherwise I will be placing the new pattern on my web site sometime next month. 

My manner of working on this project has been more intuitive than methodical in nature.  That is, I have tended to work on one section through to near completion, then move on to another area of the picture altogether and then perhaps to re-visit another area that has been already almost finished. 

Just briefly for those following, After the water colour paint has been applied and it's thoroughly dry, I have then used the pyrography tip with the flat portion downwards to firstly burnish or polish the area I'm going to work on.  This is done with a very low heat, low enough so that little or no tone is imparted to the work, just a 'glazed' polish leaving a surface so smooth that the pyrography tool slips smoothly over the surface. 

Keep the tip of the tool polished and polish the area you'll be working on. With the heat turned up just a little, just enough to gently tone the timber, start shading your work in a combination of short gliding strokes and sometimes little circles.  You will have to acquire a feel for this as you go and as you practice.  Think of it as painting the tone on in a layering process achieving darker tones by repeated passes and by lingering slightly in some areas.  Practice the technique on your scrap piece often and you will gradually gain confidence.  I will explain the technique I have used more fully when I write this Blog up properly later. 

The other technique is the use of coloured pencils to add the main colour to your work.  Experiment with different colours some will work better than others and I don't just mean the hue involved but their handling characteristics on the pyrographed timber surface.  the trick is, like using a very low heat on the pyrography tool, use very little pressure and lay down the pencil pigment without impressing the timber at all. Then after applying the coloured pencil polish the area with a tissue until the colour appears blended with the timber.  You can lay colour over colour this way and finally polish the whole area with the very low heated tip of the pyrography tool.

This is a brief run down of the technique I have used.  I will deal with the finer points later and in the meantime will add progress photos of the project as I go.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Adding Colour to the Pyrography

The whole image is now outlined and the colouring process can begin. This whole process of using colour in a pyrography work is new and experimental to me, so those following along may want to use their own judgement as they follow, perhaps taking some of the steps further or perhaps not as far as I have. It might also be a useful idea for some to do as I have done and render two versions of the work simultaneously – a second chance – a bit of insurance against ending up with nothing but a learning experience.
In my case, I have been working on two examples to give you an idea of the different effects produced by the differing characteristics of the two timbers I have used. This won't of course, provide you with any exact information but will serve to show how much effect the timber type can have on the final result.

To colour the timber I have used a non acrylic designer's gouache. I could have used watercolour paint but the gouache is less expensive for you to buy unless you have something already and acrylic could be toxic or otherwise problematic if pyrography is attempted over it. The colours that I have chosen, are those that I thought would be most compatible to use on timber.

We want to preserve the natural grain and appearance of the timber and so we will be using the paint as a thin wash. These chosen colours have also been mostly selected from the more transparent versions of the colour pigments. It just happens that the selected colours are also from the 'series one' group of colours which are the least expensive. Information about the various characteristics of the paint,such as transparency etc, can be found in brochures in the art store where you buy the paint.

The actual colours that I have used are: Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Any fairly transparent Orange ( I didn't have orange in gouache and so I used watercolour mixed from red and yellow ), Ivory Black and Permanent white, any white will do and white is of course not in any sense transparent but we will be using very little.

The other colours that will be used (later) are good quality coloured pencils like 'Lakeland' mainly reds yellows and browns, include a good dark red perhaps.

To begin start with the Burnt Sienna, with a very small dob of paint in a small white dish, Like a finger bowl Make a thin wash just pigmented enough to make a pale coloration on a scrap of your timber after drying. You will notice that the wet paint will be considerably darker before it dries and depending on the timber and can appear alarmingly blotchy.

The blotchy effect should disappear though, when the timber dries. Some pigments on some timbers, however can come up badly. Most pines have this problem, including the timbers that are not really pine but are called some kind of pine, like the kauri pine I am using. You will also most likely be using a timber that has this problem as many of the light coloured timbers fall into this category. This is one reason to be using a very thin wash and moving up to darker passages of colour by repeated applications. The other reason is to creep up on the effect we want and not overwhelm the timber grain.

The colours we are using will all be very altered by the underlying timber colour and that's what we want to do, just subtly shift the original timber colour and then add tone afterwards with the continued use of the pyrography tool. Blues and even greens would be even more drastically altered by the timber's native colour than those we've chosen and it would be wisest to leave experiment with these, more 'dis-similar-to-wood-colours' to another time.

You will need a suitable brush to apply your paint and I would suggest a number 6 pointed round brush. A synthetic 'sable', rather than the real thing, would do and is much cheaper.

When you have a suitable Burnt Sienna wash prepared, lay in a wash within bounded regions of the dragon. Try to have enough of the watery paint on your brush to fill as much of the area you are painting as possible. As you come near the end of the brushes capacity in a passage of paint you are laying down, try to leave a wet-ish edge to add to, with a re-loaded brush. Stir and re-mix the water and paint every now and then as the pigments might settle and give you inconsistent densities of colour. You will notice this more with some pigments than others.

Think ahead, about how you will lay in the paint in the region you are working on and turn your work to get the best approach to it. This is a basic watercolour painting technique and you can get a better handle on the process, if you are not familiar with it, by googling 'watercolour wash technique'.

Putting down a watercolour wash on timber will differ somewhat from watercolour on paper however and that's another reason to use a very thin wash of paint to begin with. It's also another reason for you to use your own judgement in how dark you want to go with any of the colour applications to your work before continuing with the pyrography. You may decide, if you are having trouble with this part of the process to do less of the colour wash and rely more on the pyrography effects later.

As this is an experiment for me as well – who knows? – any decisions that you make that deviate from the path that I show, could just bring you to a better result. I only partially know what I am doing with this project and working with timber in general often precludes a predictable and methodical approach as the material imposes it's own variable nature on the task. I find design is almost always like this and it requires groping your way intuitively toward a solution, with only a few guiding principles.

Having mentioned 'principles' in the midst of a fairly relativistic account of 'what's a true way of working for me but might not be so for you', way of crafting, I will take the liberty, (I've often been accused of arrogance for this) of asserting briefly; That in real life, basic certainties (principles) can be known and be known certainly.

When I say basic, I mean really basic. We like to make things and we make those things, not according to time, chance and necessity, but we make them often for the love of someone else. We ourselves have been made and we've been made by a person who really knows things. How we've been made might be a matter of experiment- guided pondering but 'that we've been made', is an absolute certainty. When someone who REALLY knows (Our Creator that is) tells you a thing, then and only then, do you know that thing with an absolute certainty. Not believing that Person, robs you of knowing, but what he has spoken remains, the certain truth, nevertheless. The person who made us has told us things, in a word; Bible. In another word, The Word, Jesus Christ, cf. John Ch1. These certainties stand in contrast to the uncertainties of all that we do and say.

I did say that I would divulge my inmost thoughts as I went along with this project, the whys and the hows. So let's plunge again into the uncertainty of my leading and attend to the hows of this project partly based on past experience and on a lot of experiment, in order to finish the colouring on our outlined dragon. If you feel confident you can try adding some shading to the perceived shadow areas on the dragon, refer to the tonal pattern for this. Or you could just leave the painted areas as flat tones.

I painted in shading on most of the picture as I went along but only time will tell as the pyrography is completed, if the image becomes a bit heavy looking as a result. Again you use your own judgement and hang back if you think I've taken any part of the process too far.

When the dragon is completed then paint in the leaves and part of their stems with the yellow ochre in the same manner. Paint the branches with the burnt Umber and wash in orange over all the sky areas except the clouds. Nearing the end mix a very thin wash of Ivory Black and wash this over the whole sky area, after the orange is thoroughly dry of course ( a hair dryer can help here ).

Now this part is tricky if you want to attempt it. Keep adding more layers of black wash over the top portion of the sky and the left portion to try and get a graded effect across and down the sky. You will find that this is a matter of guesswork all the way, because the wet paint passages look so dark to begin with and you have to wait until it is dry before you can see the true result. The black paint brought out the grain in the european beech quite markedly in my piece and it remains to be seen if this will be a good or bad effect.

Last of all we can now add some touches of white to the clouds and the castle areas but keep it very dilute as the opaque white paint will have an overpowering chalky look if it is overdone. Now that all the underpainting areas are laid in we can commence the continued pyrography work to bring out the modelling in the elements of the picture.

I hope that along the way you have come across other possibilities for decorative effects that could be undertaken using pyrography lines with watercolour paint on wood. Try to keep an eye out for other directions you might take with the techniques you discover as you go and carry out your own experiments on your scrap pieces.