Monday, 1 October 2012

Using Colour in Pyrography

Hi all,
Some die hard pyrographers would sooner have their wisdom teeth put back in than use colour on their pyrography work. Personally, I like to keep an open mind; if I think my pyrography will be improved by some colour then I will use it.

Generally, you should plan up front about using colour because just slapping a bit of paint onto a piece of pyrography work is liable to make it worse not better. You also need to be careful when using colour because if not used properly it can take the essence out of your pyrography work and make it look like something from a child's colouring book.

Having said all that, here are the mediums I sometimes use on my pyrography:
Watercolour paint and pencils.
Wax based pencils
Acrylic paints
Coloured varnish

I generally use water colour paint and pencils where the subject matter is delicate or needs to have a subtle blending of tones. In the round plaque pictured below you can see how I used water colour paint on the damsel flies to bring the work to life. I also considered painting the reeds green, but thought this would detract from the image so I shaded them in with my pyrography iron.
Wax based pencils can be used to good effect with pyrography. They can be applied to the wood without the need for any liquid and blended on the wood. If you take a look at the fox below you will see how the colours on the fox have been blended. This effect would be difficult to achieve with paint.
You may also notice that because the pencils are semi transparent, they do not hide any of the pyrography work.

Here's a tip when it comes to varnishing any pyrography to which you have applied water colour paint, pencils or wax based pencils. Use a spray based varnish for the first coat because if you don't, that lovely bit of blending you've just done will be spread all over your wood. I find that once the spray varnish is dry I can apply further layers of varnish with a brush. Where possible I prefer to apply varnish with a brush because it gives me more control and it's a hell of a lot cheaper.

If the subject of my pyrography requires a bit of strong colour, I will use acrylic paint. I like to use a coat of white acrlic gesso as an undercoat first because this allows any colour that is applied over the top to really shine through. There is no need to worry about acrylics smudging when you vanish over them because they are very tough. Acrylic paint also ruins brushes very quickly. Keep a big container of water handy and rinse the brush you are using every couple of minutes. If you don't you will soon find that it will be more use as a potato dibber.

Here is a platter that my wife did. The clematis was crying out for some strong colour so she gave it a nice coat of purple acrylic.

Lastly, here's a few words about coloured varnish. One could be tempted to try out a range of the coloured varnishes that are now on the market, but I guess when one sees how much a single tin costs, the temptation soon dies. Anyway, if the varnish is too dark it will hide all of your delicate pyrography work, so if you;'ve got a pocket full of dosh and want to try lots of coloured vanishes, only go for the very lightest shades.

I haven't mentioned coloured wood dyes because I haven't tried them yet. I've seen them advertised in a magazine and will probably give them a go at some stage but for now I have all the colour I need. If you've tried wood dyes, I would be interested to know how you got on.

In my next post I will show you how I got on doing some pyrography on a big pencil box.


  1. Hi. This is very nice work!
    Quick question form a total beginner: is it possible to do pyrography on varnished wood? Or would I damage my tool if I do that? Thanks!

  2. It is advised not too. The existing varnish releases a lot more fumes, and can leave you feeling very sick. Your tools may not be damaged, but you will have to burn longer due to the extra coating. Burning longer, with more fumes I would say is a bad idea. It's much better looking and cleaner to start fresh and coat when you're finished.