Woodgrain can make or break your burnings. I initially established my reputation in pyrography by incorporating grain into my compositions. I used prominent grain to create a secondary pattern that supported my realistic images. It was a fun and exciting harmony that crossed the line between realism and abstraction.
And in this article I’m going to share with you how to work with woodgrain in your woodburnings. The reason that it is important to know how to work with woodgrain in your burnings is twofold. First of all, working “against the grain” will create more problems for you than necessary. Second of all, ignoring the grain patterns or choosing wood that has little grain is like leaving money on the table. Wood patterns can enhance your work and are an asset to working in wood NOT a liability.
The key to knowing how to work with woodgrain in your woodburnings is understanding how to use it to strengthen your work without sabotaging it. So in this article I will give you some simple guidelines to steer you in the right direction.
Dominant Grain Patterns
Dominant grain can enhance your burnings when it is woven into the artwork. This does not necessarily mean you make a design out of the grain itself but rather that you use the movement of the grain to support the composition. The easiest way to use this is to create horizons, skies and water from horizontal patterns in your grain.
One of my favorite ways to use grain is for birds in flight. I imagine the grain to be currents of air and integrate where they fall in my composition with how I imagine the wings move the air.
Markings or patterns like stripes can also be enhanced and echoed by grain making a burning that much more powerful.
In fact, I usually come up with new designs based on the wood patterns. I often say that it is the wood itself that chooses the design – and I mean it!
So when looking at wood with dominant grain let your imagination play and suggest possible subjects.
Hidden Grain Patterns
Even wood that does not have dominant patterns can affect your artwork. Changes in the hardness or softness of sections can create a discrepancy in the density of your burns. When positioning your pattern be sure to watch for these occurrences around any critical areas. I always check the eye area in particular to be sure it will have consistent grain so I’m not fighting with the wood to create a smooth finish.
Converging lines are grain patterns that can affect the final appearance of your artwork by virtue of an optical illusion. Having a nose butt up to a vertical grain line can make it appear to be pressed against something.
This is called a converging line. In perspective these converging lines are used to communicate the starting or ending points of objects, but an unintentional convergence can create a secondary illusion that disturbs the visual effect you want to create.
Luckily this is easy to deal with. As you position your pattern on the wood, if you notice anything butting up to a strong grainline simply offset it slightly. Overlapping or creating a gap will resolve the problem without much difficulty.
Knot holes pose similar issues. Be sure to watch for these to make certain they are not located in strange spots that might cause a secondary pattern to overtake your composition.
The challenge with these situations occurs when the finish is applied and these seemingly minor patterns become more noticeable (at which time it is really too late to do anything).
Directional Grain Patterns
In some compositions having grain or patterns that runs a certain way will directly contradict your image. Burning an ocean sunset on vertical grain is an example of this. Instead of supporting the strong horizontal emphasis of water and horizon, a vertical pattern opposes the tranquility of the horizontal composition. It may not ruin your artwork, but it will distract from it.
I had this happen with reflective water recently which is what compelled me to write this article. Some very strong markings crossed the waterline at an angle creating a secondary “reflection” that was incongruent with the image.
Unfortunately this was a commissioned piece on the client’s wood so I could not change the orientation. The client was informed and told me to go ahead anyway. I had mixed feelings on the result, but the client was happy. Which only goes to show that sometimes even if you break the rules you can have a satisfying burning.
So now you have a bit of knowledge about how to work with woodgrain in your woodburnings. The purpose of this article has not been to discourage you in working with grain but to understand its strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately it is your creative use of grain that will make the difference. Allowing your imagination to offer suggestions can open you up to an adventure in each burning.