Recently I’ve been working around the clock to complete my latest large artwork, a pointillism lion head. Although I have posted progress shots on my instagram, I thought it would be appropriate to show how my work has developed throughout the making of this piece.
As you may know by now all my drawings (ink and pyrography) use the technique of pointillism-which means the image is made entirely by dots. This is a very time consuming process but one that I enjoy the challenges of immensely. Having recently completed two ink on paper illustrations using a new technique I designed for drawing different types of soft fur, the next step was try and replicate the technique with pyrography. Front on portraits of big cats has always been my personal downfall. I have wanted to draw a lion for a year now and could never get the composition or scale right. In short, big cats felt like my everist, and I had no idea where to even start the climb. That being said I wanted to take on a challenging composition and subject matter, to match the challenge of using dots to create fur textures on wood.
In this blog post I have included pictures that I have taken on my phone throughout the making process. The first of which is my crude (and sadly not even the first) attempt at the pencil outline. It took me a staggering two days of drawing to work out that the nose was in the entirely wrong place, and another day after that to rework the shape of the head. Never more had I longed for that art tutor I’d never had. So after a lot of alterations, and somehow covering my hands and face in pencil smudges, I began to burn the design…here is how it went:
Day Two*. Drawing the pencil outline.
Here I consider where to place the head and mane to best use the oak grain figuring. I selected this section of waney edged oak because of the distinct crotch figuring and silver grain. I intended to use the crotch figuring to add depth to the face, and the silver grain for highlights in the mane. *Day One I spent sanding the timber (see my past blog post on timber preparations).
Day Four. Starting to burn the base layer.
After shortening the nose I burned in the base layer of the face. One of the techniques I have developed with pointillism to create dense short fur is to periodically dot in clusters, with dots placed sparingly in between. The dots are then layered over this up to depths of 8 layers to create varying textures and shapes.
Day Six. Layering to create depth and expression.
I built up areas of the face using different heat intensities and layers of dots to form textured wrinkles of the forehead and contouring of the face. Overall this enabled me to produce an image with definition and expression.
Day 9. Base layering the mane.
In contrast to the dense fur of the face I wanted to mane to be lighter, fluffier, and less controlled. I used a larger ball point tip and applied a consistent base layer of randomised dots. I used a very light heat so the base layer was only visible to the eye when stood within two foot of the artwork. This was important to do because to begin too dark would produce a base layer that wouldn’t blur in the viewer’s eye easily, and would not enable me to add movement through darker layering later on. The base layer of the mane was all about subtlety.
Day 11. Adding texture and movement to the mane.
This was a very frustrating process because it was so time consuming. I soon learned that it would require very gradual buildup of heat intensity and dotwork layering. It was a very large area to cover and as such, progress was slow.
Day 16. Inserting lowlights in the mane.
Lowlights are my favourite part of my artistic process because they create really beautiful yet subtle contrasts between the burned timber and the natural colour of the oak grain. It also helps to draw the viewer into the piece which gives more depth and 3d form.
Day 19. Applying the finishing touches to the burning process.
The finishing touches were the hardest part for me to pinpoint and took four days of looking at it in different lights to figure out. Firstly I darkened the eyes and applied a shadow across the top of the pupils (as suggested by a friend, which was brilliant because I needed to soften the startled expression and although I knew what I wanted to achieve I had no idea how to go about the shading).
I then used the finest ball point tip (that I used on the face fur) to soften up the edges to the mane, adding further shadowing around the face before darkening the brow and adding further lowlights to the face and mane.
Now that the burning is complete and I am satisfied with the result (it was a love hate relationship at points!), I will finish the last remaining areas. Firstly the timber will be trimmed so he hangs straight (I do this post-burning because my drawings are freehand and I don’t have a grid reference to ensure the animals are positioned level). I will then wire brush the waney edges to highlight the natural oak colours, and then wax it, hand buff it, and mount it on heavy duty picture wire.
Overall, this piece has been my biggest challenge yet, in technical ability, composition, subject matter, and patience. I have learned a lot throughout the making of the lion, the most important lesson has been to keep on going.
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