If you’ve been thinking of trying this “pyrography thing” it’s time to jump in.
You have to start somewhere. And the best place to begin is where there is little chance of failure. This charming little project is a great way to test out your new burning hobby.
Gnomes make their homes wherever you find a natural setting. If you look close enough you will see hints of windows, doors, and even chimneys in wild places. I recently sat next to a bark carver who explained his technique of letting the wood show him the structure of the bark house (thanks Steve). Part of the charm of these homes is their unstructured appearance. Virtually everything is crooked, off kilter, and rustic. What a perfect subject for a beginner who will probably burn crooked, smudgy (rustic) lines!
First off, dig up a burning tool. A variable temperature unit with changeable pens or tips is preferred. For those of you who only have the old soldering iron units, see if you can find one with a rounded tip and let’s get started.
Select your wood and sand it smooth. Although you can technically burn on any wood, it is not always advisable to do so. Some woods are excessively grainy, sappy, too hard, or too soft. My suggestion for beginners is Basswood, Italian Poplar, Aspen, or Birch. These woods are even grained, smooth and give consistent burning. Start with these and save yourself much aggravation. You can always attack the Pine, Ash, and Yew at a later date when you are feeling either very adventurous or suicidal. (Always research your wood before burning and take necessary precautions, some woods such as Yew are toxic).
Either sketch or find a pattern. I suggest something relatively fool proof such a the Gnome Home pictured (this project comes from my Whimsical Homes pattern book https://www.burningwithsharon.com/product/whimsicalworkbook/) Transfer your pattern to the wood and get ready to burn.
Set up your burner and attach a writer or ball pen. I use a Collwood B2 Ball Pen. Use a piece of scrap wood to practice on. There are three basic types of markings you will use to burn this design. They are lines, curves and scribbles for shading.
You will have to experiment with temperature, pressure, and speed until you find the combination that works for you. Below are some general tips that may help…
- Glide the Pen on the wood using very light pressure. This will help your lines to have a clean appearance.
- Too much pressure or hesitation will burn holes into your wood (spotting).
- Slow down, a smooth even flow will give your burns consistent coloring.
- “Land” your pen like an airplane and” take off like an airplane”. This keeps your pen moving and lessens the possibility of spotting which results from hesitation marks.
- Adjust your heat so that the speed is comfortable for you.
- You may need to adjust your heat during the project for lighter and darker areas.
- Practice no more than 15 minutes… any longer than that and you are wasting your time… get to work!
I generally start students out with the ball pen (you can use a writer also). This pen is very forgiving and provides a short learning curve for burning. After getting accustomed to this pen you will have acquired the basic “feel” for burning and are ready to move on to other pens.
This is also a very versatile pen and can be used for a multitude of projects. For these techniques you will need to stay clear of any sharp pointed, or blade style pens. You can still do this project but will need to adjust the technique.
This burning was a portrait commission.
The entire portrait was burned with a ball pen. The shading on the baby’s face is done with the same technique we will use to shade this project. So don’t make the mistake of thinking this is a “beginner’s” pen. Although it is great to start with, it has a full range of capabilities for the artist who takes the time to master it.
Start by laying in the outlines. Don’t attack the detail lines yet. Because of the nature of this subject, you can get away with blobby crooked lines. That is why it is such a perfect beginner’s pattern.
Gnomes like to live in or around trees so when you burn in the bark, use masses of directional lines, do this by laying multiple length lines parallel to each other until you get the shape you desire.
Make sure you follow the direction of the branches as you make your lines.
When you have added in the bark lines, shade over the entire branch with a tight swirl stroke.
Lower your heat so you don’t lose all the detail you just burned in. This is important since we want the viewer to concentrate on the house. If the detail on the trees is too sharp, it will compete with your center of interest. Subtle shading will subdue the detail.
Turn up your heat and using the same tight swirl stroke you used for the branches, to burn the darkest shadows under the house.
Fill in the eaves and shade the windows using directional strokes.
I used a vertical stroke for the windows and door, and an angled stroke for the eaves.
Now lower your heat and fill in the details of the wood siding with light lines.
Add detail to the shingles by pulling lines down from where the shingles overlap.
Don’t burn them all the way to the end, but let them gently fade, they should be erratic in length to give a natural look.
Now add the lighter shadows using the swirling technique and low heat.
Now you can add some final details, part of the charm of these little homes is their rather careless appearance. Not all the boards will fit flush to one another so add in some random gaps and shade them.
In addition, the shingles may be cracked at the edges, have fun adding some of the cracks.
Shade in the stones on the chimney with the same swirl stroke. Apply shading to the left and bottom of each stone to give it a three dimensional feel.
Step back and evaluate your work. Feel free to fine tune any areas as you desire. You are off to a great start. Sign your work, frame it, and go show it off!
If you have enjoyed this article and would like more resources to learn Pyrography, sign up for my FREE Burning Basics Video Series.