Month: March 2015

Shadow and Light in Pyrography – Derringer Pyrography Pattern

Free Lora Irish Pyrography PatternDerringer and Map Pyrography

Still Life Photo
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 1
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 2
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 3
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 4

Practice Pattern

The still life for this tutorial features a Philadelphia derringer, three vintage books, and a pipe stand with two long stem briar pipes.

The shadows and highlights are strong in this sepia toned photo as the still life was taken with one light source set to the upper right hand side of the arrangement.

A full range of tonal values are used within the image from pure white highlights through solid black tones.

The still life was created using objects that all had a neutral color hue – walnut brown in the gun stock, brown metal in the gun barrel, dark brown in the book covers, beige in the book pages, rose brown in the pipes.

Free Lora Irish Pyrography PatternMapping your Photo

Before you begin your pyro project print an extra copy of the image. Take time to carefully review the image, circling each area of tonal value interests.

1 Areas of bright white highlight
2 Cast shadows
3 Graduated tonal values that show contour
4 Repeated tonal values
5 Equal tonal values in adjacent elements
6 White and black contrast
The gray scale shown on the right of the photo was created by copying and pasting small areas directly from the photograph.



Creating your own Still Life Arrangements

1. Select a neutral mid-toned background. A tablecloth, bed sheet, or roll of craft paper works excellently.

2. Set up one lamp with a fluorescent bulb as your light source. Turn off any other lights in the room and close the window curtains.

3. For your first still life arrangements chose elements that share the same color – all red elements or all blue elements. Working with just one color can guide you in recognizing the color tones as tonal values.

4. Place the arrangement away from the background cloth or paper to create air space for the cast shadows.

5. Take several photos of each arrangement from different angles. You may discover that one angle shows stronger shadows than another.

Free Lora Irish Pyrography PatternThanks for stopping by and taking time with me at my teaching table!  See you for the next free, online, Lora Irish Pyrography Project.

Click on the pattern to the right for a full-sized printable pyrography pattern.

Lora S. Irish books


Shadow and Light in Pyrography 4

Over the last few days we have discussed light and shadow, and how the eye and brain interrupts visual information as related to photographs that we use in pyrography projects.  Today we will be exploring how to layout and plan your still life photos to create the strongest image possible for your wood burnings.

Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 1
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 2
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 3
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 4

Lora S. Irish books

pyrography project still life photoColor Impact vs Tonal Value Strength

For this photo sample I have laid my arrangement on the table with my focus on tonal value instead of hue. I chose silk flowers that had strong amount of  black or white to add to the arrangement.

The addition of a few pure white flowers in both the foreground arrangement and in the basket adds highlight tonal value to the final photo.  Compare the visual arrangement line created by the white flowers in this photo with the original photo, below, that used the red flowers for the arrangement layout.  White is the purest of tonal values and therefore has the strongest visual impact.

Foreground, mid-ground, and background boundary linesA few dark red flowers were also added to the basket. Since dark red is created using pure red hue and black I know that these flowers will have a dark tonal value.  By adding black tonal values through these deep red flowers I can carry the visual impact from the white flowers into the deep shadow areas of the basket.

The glass globe still places some transparent glass in the final image but as the base of the lamp is color toned so that this area in the arrangement will take on a mid-tone value.

Note in the two layouts the difference in the tonal value of the background blue-gray paper.  In our new photo layout I have changed the direction of the light source to create a graduated tonal value scale from one overall mid-tone value.  Now the mid-tone red and orange flowers in the foreground will stand out from the pale toned background.

gray scale photographs for wood burning projectsThe gray-scale image has a nice balance of white, mid-grays, and black tonal values. The brightest areas of the gray-scale photo are now in the white foreground petals instead of in the background glass elements. The black tones under the flowers and between the floor arrangement and basket are stronger because there are more strong areas of white with which to contrast.

In the original arrangement the strongest asset was the diagonal line of bright orange flowers. In the new arrangement color photo that line is not as strong with the addition of new flower colors – the dark burgundy and pure white flowers break the orange line.

Yet the gray-scale photo has a strong diagonal line in the same position. This new line has extra strength because the flowers now create a gray-scale – working from pale tones to the lower left, mid-tones at the center oil lamp, and dark tones in the basket.

creating a sepia value tone scale from a photograph for wood burningFinally I have sepia toned my photograph to give a clear, easy to follow map for my burning project.  On to the photo I have laid a cross-hatch sepia tonal value scale.  As I work this photo into a pyrography burn I can compare my cross-hatch scale to the tonal values of the photo to create a realistic styled wood burning.


Tomorrow we will finish up this look at using photographs for your pyrography, how color effects visual impact, and how the eye sees with a free Lora Irish pyrography pattern for the Derringer.



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shadow and light in pyrography photographs

Color, Shadow and Light in Pyrography 3, by Lora S Irish

Over the last two days we have been exploring how light, shadows, color, and tonal value are created in a photograph and how they affect the sepia pyrography wood burning.   Today we will look at repeated tonal values, black and white contrast, and adjacent mid-tone in our gray-scale photos.  Next we will take a look at how your eye and brain sees and interrupts images.

Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 1
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 2
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 3
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 4

Lora S. Irish books

repeated tonal values in a pyrography wood burningRepeated Tonal Values

A shade of tonal value will be repeated several times throughout any image or photograph. In the tomato drawing three areas that been marked that all share the same tonal value. Each of these areas would receive the same pyrography burning to keep the tones equal.

You will find similar or equal tonal values throughout your gray or sepia toned image even though those same areas show different hues in the color photo.  A medium green, medium red, and medium blue may share the same medium sepia tonal value.

black and white contrast in a pyrography wood burningBlack and White Contrast

Placing one or two areas of the extreme tonal values next to each other gives the eye a place to compare the darkest and palest tones.  The brightest highlight on this tomato lies in the upper left and is adjacent to the blackest tone of the drawing, found in the background area. These two tonal value areas set the whitest and darkest tones of your tonal value scale.

Working an area of high contrast – white against black – creates a visual boundary for your tonal value scale.  All mid-tones must fall between these two extremes.  The boundary tones do not need to be pure white or pure black; a gray-scale can be created starting with a pale gray and ending with a dark gray.

adjacent mid-tone values in a pyrography wood burningAdjacent Mid-Tone Values

In any gray scaled photo you will discover adjacent areas in two different elements that have the same tonal value. In these areas the defining line between the two elements seems to disappear. In our sample there are three areas where the body of the tomato and either the table surface or background share the same tonal value.

When two areas share one tonal value you can adjust one or both of the mid-tone values in a burning to create some contrast. Even a very small change in one area, either going a bit lighter or darker, is enough to redefine your boundary lines.

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How the Brain Interrupts an Image

landscape scene for pyrography wood burningNotice that I did not say how the eye sees an image. The eye receives information about an image or photo in two distinct manners, it is only when those two pieces of information are combined by the brain do we see an image. So where the eye gathers information it is the brain that interrupts that information into one image.

Inside of the eye are two receptors – the cones and rods. The cones of the eye gather information about color, it determines if an objects is red, yellow, or blue. The rods, the second eye receptor, evaluates the amount of light each area is receiving; the rods create the gray-scale tonal values that we use in pyrography. Our sample photo for this section is a wooden hill just after sunrise.



landscape pyrography wood burning Color Receptors – Cones

The sample photo has been altered to remove as much shading as possible while emphasizing the color hue of each area. The gray-green leaves of the forest are now broken into areas of yellow, yellow-green, deep green, and blue. The tree trunks show greens, reds, and yellows.

You can see the colors contained in light when you view a rainbow created through a prism, called a spectrum. Each color in the spectrum has its own specific wave length. When light strikes an object most of those color waves are absorbed by the object. Those that are not absorbed bounce off the object to be received by our eye.

So the color of any object and therefore the color that our eye cones receive are the light wave lengths that the object rejects. We don’t see green leaves, we see the green light waves that have bounced off of the leaves.

gray scale landscape for pyrography wood burningSepia or Gray Scale Receptors – Rods

What the tonal value receptors, the rods, see is equivalent to a sepia or black and white photo. Rods record the amount of light an area is receiving – whether it is in pure highlight or the darkest shadows.






landscape pyrography wood burningCombining the Cones and Rods Images

The brain combines the information sent by the cones and rods to create one image that has color hues and tonal values.

In the photo sample, left, the color image has been superimposed over the sepia tonal value image, exactly as the brain compiles the information it receives. The resulting photo is an excellent copy of the original camera photograph.





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Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photographs

Color, Shadow and Light in Pyrography 2

Yesterday we took the day off from this free online pyrography project to take a look at Toxicity in the Pyrography and Wood Carving.  If you have not read this article, please take a moment to browse through the simple, common sense ideas about how to avoid health hazards in your art studio.

Today we will be exploring several photographs that were created as pyrography still lifes to learn about direct highlights, reflected highlights, cast shadows, and reflected shadows.  Tomorrow we will discuss contour tonal values, black and white contrast, and adjacent tonal values.

Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 1
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 2
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 3
Shadow and Light in Pyrography Photos – Day 4


Using photographs in pyrographyVariation of an Image

In pyrography we often work with colored photographs or images. Yet we burn in shades of brown to black. By gray scaling your photo you can remove all of the color information, creating a working image that matches your pyro palette. In this sample I have converted the original color drawing into a gray-scale and sepia image.

Most computer graphics or photo editing programs will allow you to gray-scale an image. Many also feature a sepia or vintage command that will create a brown toned photo.

In pyrography the amount of white or black in a color is created through tonal value burns. After the burn is complete pure color can be applied over the pyro tonal value work to create pale toned pastels to dark jewel tone colors.

The number of tonal values that you will use in creating a tonal value scale is usually limited to 6 to 12. This range allows for white, black, and middle gray will a few values on either side of the mid-tone.

Highlights in pyrogrpahy wood burningsHighlights – White Tonal Values

Highlights are created when the light source directly strikes the element, creating a pure white area or spot. This tomato has three strong highlights – one on the left side of the tomato body, one on the upper middle of the tomato, and one along the left side of the stem.

In all three of these areas the light overpowers the color of the element. In pyrography highlights are created by leaving that area of the design un-burned, allowing the color of the burning media to show.

Highlights tell your eye where the light source is in relationship to the elements in your pattern. Some photos can have multiple light sources which reduce the impact of any highlight within the finished design. If an element in your photo has several bright highlights or more than one cast shadow, the still life has more than one light source. When possible work with one light source only to increase the dramatic effects of both. highlights and shadow.

Reflected highlights in pyrography photographsReflected Highlights

Where the highlights fall in your photo establishes where your light source lies. In our sample note that all three highlights are on the upper left side of the tomato. This places the light source coming from the upper left corner of the image.

A reflected highlight is created when the light bounces off a surface to fall upon your element. There are two examples of reflected highlights in the tomato drawing.

The highlight on the middle left of the tomato body is created when the light hits the table surface and bounces onto the tomato body.
A second reflected highlight lies on the shadow side of the tomato where the light again bounces off the table onto the tomato. Note that this second highlight rings the dark area on lower right of the tomato. The light has struck the table beyond the cast shadow of the tomato then bounced back onto the tomato, creating a highlight halo. Reflected highlights are not as strong or pure white as direct highlights.

Reflected light tells us more about the surface upon which the element rests than it does the element itself. Glossy surface reflect both highlights and shadows, matt or dull surfaced do not. So in this drawing the reflected highlights show that the tomato is resting on a high gloss surface.

Cast shadows in pyrography wood burningsCast Shadows

Shadows are created when one element or one area of an element blocks the light source from reaching another area or element in the design. In this drawing the stem of the tomato blocks the light from reaching the lobe of the tomato directly to the right of the stem. The body of the tomato blocks the light from reaching the table surface on the right side of the tomato.

The stem’s shape defines the shape of the cast shadow.  The contour of the tomato where the cast shadow falls defines the curved edges of the cast shadow. The location of the light source in relationship to the element determines the length of the cast shadow. A low-positioned light source casts a long shadow where a high-positioned light will create a short shadow.

Reflected shadows in pyrography wood burningReflected Shadows

Shadows can bounce off the surrounding surfaces onto another area or element just as highlights can. For our tomato the dark cast shadow that the tomato creates on the table has bounced back from the table’s glossy surface onto the lower right section of the tomato body.

Just as with reflected highlights, a bounced or reflected shadow states that the surface from which it bounced is glossy in finish.
Dull or matt surfaces and textured surfaces do not reflect shadows.

Still life photograph for pyrographyHighlights and Shadow Still Life

The still life, shown right, is a simple light box photograph that allows me to control the direction of the light source through a cut hole in one side of the box.  Because there is only one light source this still life has simple highlights and shadows.

By selecting all white objects and a gray background for this still life I have removed the color information we can concentrated on the light source, highlights, and shadows.


Still life photograph for pyrographyLight Source Direction – Direct Highlights and Direct Cast Shadows

This derringer and book still life also uses one light source.  The first blue arrow shows the direction of light rays, the second shows a direct highlight on the tankard lid, the third arrow notes the cast shadow from the tankard lid.  Notice that all three arrow align perfectly from the original light source.

Also of note in this photo is that a direct highlight can be so powerful that you lose the contour detail in the area of the object that the light strikes.  The white light reflected to your eye is so strong that you can not see the actual object in that area.  Cast shadows are also powerful enough to delete or minimize any contour detailing in their darkest area.

Colors in highlights and shadows in pyrography photographsColors in Highlights and Shadows

This photo sample and the one above are the same photograph.  As noted above all of the objects are white – a white glazed pitcher, a white milk glass vase, a white milk glass plate, white candles, clear glass candle cups, and a white crocheted doily.  They are arranged on a neutral gray photo paper backdrop.

The only color source in this set-up is the deep pink inside the silk flower petals.  That little bit of pink coloring affects the highlights and shadows throughout the entire photo.  The color scale above the set-up are color picks taken directly from the photo.  Please notice how the shadows in this still life are not brown or gray – they are all shades of pink!

A Simple Still Life

This fruit bowl still life is full of bright reds, yellows, and cream color hues.    The first visual impact area is the bright red of the silk flowers, and the second is the yellow-green-red hues in the apples.  When the color information is removed both of those areas are overpowered by the bright white highlights on the bowl and background cloth bag, and by the black shadows of the wicker basket.

Still life photograph for pyrography Gray scaling a photo for pyrography








Reflected shadows in a still life photoColor Found in reflected Shadows

When we take a small close-up out of the larger photo above you can see that the reflected shadows on the side of the white bowl that are cast by the red silk flower contain a small amount of red hue.  Also notice the medium beige shadow on the inside of the cloth bag top that is reflected from the brown-beige coloring of the nut hulls.

Except for the most direct highlights – pure white – and deepest shadows – pure black, highlights and shadows carry color information from the object from which they are created.  If the light bounces off a red flower petal, it will create a reflected pale red highlight.  If the light is blocked by a medium green leaf, the shadow of that area will be in the green tones.

Defining the highlights and shadows in a pyrography photoDetails of the Close-Up Still Life

The photo, right, shows which highlights are direct or reflected, and which shadows are direct cast and which are reflected.






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Toxicity in Pyrography

Toxicity of Wood Burning and Wood Carving Media

Sara emailed me yesterday with a great question about wood and finish toxicity in pyrography.  So I am postponing the next posting for Shadows and Light until tomorrow as I think her question needs to be answered for all of us.

Before we begin please know that I am not a chemist, nor an expert in toxicity of any particular product.  What I can offer is general, common sense ideas that will help you avoid some of the possible health hazards that are possible in our crafts.

If you are having problems breathing, have developed a rash, or have a burning sensation on your skin or around your nose, mouth, or eyes – call your doctor immediately!

Our two favorite crafts – wood carving and wood burning – bring with them some safety and toxicity concerns.  Every aspect of our crafts also can have hazards that can affect our hands, eyes, and lungs.  Below is a listing of links that will get you specific information about wood species, finishes, and chemicals, plus the link to two Poison Control centers.  Please take time to browse through these links and bookmark them in your browser for future reference.

Which surfaces are safer than other surfaces to burn is just the first consideration of many when it comes to health hazards with any hobby.  Let’s look a few safety precautions that you can take to reduce or avoid the problems of toxicity and irritants that can come with wood burning.  Safety falls into four general categories – media, ventilation, handling, and chemical finishes.

Birch, Basswood, and Poplar Pyrography Surfaces

The three most common woods for pyrography are basswood, birch, and poplar.  All three have low toxicity levels but can cause some hand or eye irritation when handled.  Birch and poplar plywood are also common burning surfaces. These three woods are tight grained and carry minimal sap content, and so create a minor amounts of fumes during the pyrography.  Pine is a common pyrography wood, but is a high sap content wood.  As you work pine you will notice that it does create a large amount of fumes.

Extremely hot, intense burnings can burn through the veneer layer of the plywood into the glue layer below, releasing the fumes from glue.  All three of our favorite woods do require some sanding before you begin your project, and therefore release dust into your work area and can cause some lung irritation.

1.  Chose clean, dry known species woods for your wood burning projects.

2.  Check the wood species toxicity lists shown in the links below before you begin your project.

3.  Even low toxicity woods can cause health issues for some people.  Watch for runny or stuffy noses, a burning sensation around the nose or mouth, extra dry or scratchy hands, and any problems breathing. If you develop any of these symptoms while working with any wood burning surface stop immediately and contact your doctor.

Unknown, Reclaimed, or Found Wood Pyrography Surfaces

As you browse through the links below you will discover that many woods, fresh and clean from the sawmill, have medium to high toxicity levels.  If you do not know the exact species of the wood you want to burn you have no way to check in advance whether you will be working a low-level or high level wood.  Unknown woods carry with them unknown hazards.

Reclaimed wood carries other hazards beyond the known toxicity levels of the wood, often carrying fungus, molds, and accumulated dust that develops from long-term or outdoor storage.  Further, wood taken from unknown sources as old barn siding or from older furniture can have chemical coatings or paint left from it original form.  Insect infestations is also common with reclaimed wood.

Pallet wood has become popular as a reclaimed wood for woodworking projects – unknown species, mold and fungus, and the possibility of chemical content.  Pallets are created from subprime quality wood scraps or from ‘trash’ wood that is not high enough quality to become building or furniture lumber.  In the US pallets are marked or stamped to note any chemical treatment or processes – please see the link below before you begin any pallet wood project.

1.  Avoid burning any wood that you can not positively identify.

2. Avoid burning any wood that may have had chemical, oil, or paint finishes.  When you burn something that once had a layer of varnish on the surface you will be releasing fumes from the accumulated dust and dirt, the varnish, and the wood.

3.  Avoid burning any wood that has been water damaged, or has developed mold, fungus, or dust accumulation.

3.  Save those wonderful free reclaimed pallets for your woodworking projects, and even then be sure to follow basic safety precautions.

Gourds as a Pyrography Surface

Gourds are just stunning surfaces for our wood burning and create minimal fumes during the pyrography process.  But preparing the gourds for work does carry health hazards.  If you purchase uncleaned, dried gourds they will have an outer layer of dried skin that is often covered with mold and fungus that must be removed.  Cleaned, dried gourds have this outer layer removed, revealing the wood-like surface of the gourd.

The inside of the gourd also has mold, mildew, fungus, and heavy concentrations of dust for the dried fibers that can cause lung, eye, and hand irritation.

1.  Wear a dust mask during the preparation steps when working with gourds – cleaning, cutting, and sanding steps.

2. Wash the outside of your gourd in hot water and dish washing soap before you begin any project steps to remove all dust or potential mold and fungus spores.

3. Do any cutting and sanding outside if possible or in a well ventilated area.  Wear your dust mask, and you make wish to wear latex gloves.

4.  Once the gourd is cut you can fill the inside of the gourd with a solution of water and Clorox before you begin cleaning out the seeds and fibers.  The clorox will kill any spores from the mold or fungus as well as wet the fibers to reduce the dust potential.  Let the Clorox solution sit inside the gourd for about ten minutes, drain, rinse, then begin your cleaning steps.  You can re-wet the inside of the gourd as needed.

5. Wash your hands often while preparing your gourd to remove any dust from your fingers.

Leather, Watercolor Paper, and Paper Mache Surfaces for Pyrography

All three of the above medias are chemically treated.  Leather can be chemically tanned, dyed, or waterproofed.  Use vegetable-tanned, undyed leather only for wood burning.  Purchase your vegetable-tanned leather from a craft or leather working source.  Avoid using reclaimed leather products as old purses, coats, or overnight bags.  There are many new materials used in hand bag and coat manufacturing that look exactly like leather but are synthetic plastics that should not be burned.

Watercolor paper and paper mache have chemical binders that hold the wood pulp in a sheet or in a shape.  These seldom cause health problems or skin irritation, but know that they are there in case you have a reaction.

Common Sense Safety in the Pyrography Art Studio and the Wood Carving Shop

1. Work in a well ventilated area.  Crack a window at least a few inches to allow air movement.

2.  Place a small work area fan behind you on a stool or small table.  Set the fan on low and point the fan to move from behind you into your work area to move the fumes away from your face.

3.  Work in an upright posture.  Avoid leaning over the pyrography project where you will directly inhale fumes.

4.  Wash your hands often to avoid dust or dirt build-up from your pyro project.

5.  Wear a dust mask when sanding any surface.  You can also wear latex gloves while sanding.

6.  Place an old terry-cloth towel on your work surface while sanding.  The dust will collect in the fibers of the towel.  When you are finished sanding, roll the towel up and throw it in the washing machine to remove that dust from your work area.

7.  Don’t dust with a brush.  Wipe with a lightly damp cloth.  Dusting with a brush only move the dust from your burning surface into the air where you will breathe it into your lungs.

8.  Don’t burn anything – no matter how wonderful a shape or surface it is – that may have been chemically treated, painted, varnished, or paint remover striped.  Those chemicals are still there in the wood grain and will become toxic fumes as you burn.

9.  Don’t burn any unknown, reclaimed, or long stored woods that may have chemicals, paints, or dust accumulation.

10.  Avoid extreme hot temperature burnings on any surface that may contain binders, glue, or chemicals as paper mache or plywood.

11. If you think you might be having a toxic reaction at any point in your work – Stop! Call your doctor!

12.  Read the directions and safety precautions that are listed on your finishes, sealers, polyurethane, paints, and any other chemicals that your may be using.

Follow these simple, common sense precautions in your shop and you will enjoy years and years of safe, fun pyrography!

American Association of Poison Control Centers
U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources

Wood Species Toxicity Links:

The Wood Database
Toxic Woods – HSC Information Sheet
American Wood Turner posting by Bruce Taylor

Chemically Treated Wood Toxicity:

Wood Preservatives and Treated Wood – Hazards and Alternatives
How to determine if a wood pallet is safe for use
How to Know If A Pallet Is Safe to Use

Common Toxic Chemicals and Finishes:

Environmentally Sound Finishes
Wood Toxicity and How to Protect Yourself
Paint, lacquer, and varnish remover poisoning
Choose Environmentally Safe Varnish: Consider an Oil-Based Varnish

Toxicity in Craft Gourds:

Gourd Safety

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