Coloring Your Burn-art

Most burn-artists (or “pyros,” as we enjoy calling ourselves) are attracted to all gradations of brown hidden within the wood, awaiting to be revealed by our burning pens — everything from soft beige to near midnight black. But for the sake of variety we’re often drawn to color.

Fantasy woodburned image of trees with faces and bears playing peekaboo.

We shouldn’t consider this “acquiescing” to peer pressure from our polychromatic cronies (after all, they’re often drawn to the drama of monochrome). However, certain images call out to us, suggesting (demanding?) the adornment of color, and one convenient way to do that is pencil. So, here are some pointers for burn-artists.

If you want to use colored pencil on your woodburned art, leave some open spaces. Once your burning pen touches the wood, it sears the surface, smoothing down the grain, making it difficult to lay down color.

Sketch artists look for paper with adequate “tooth” – the coarse surface that captures bits of pigment from pencils and pastels. Even light shading on your wood will smooth down the surface, making it difficult to color with a pencil, so leave some open spaces where you want to add your color.

Umatilla Indian girl, done with pyrography and colored pencil.

Most artist-quality colored pencils (usually wax-based) are adequate for the needs of the woodburner. Pastel and watercolor pencils, however, may run when you lay down clear finish on your artwork. Whatever kind of pencil you have, use at least one light coat of spray finish on your image. This will seal the colors. When that is dry, you can freely brush on several coats of finish without fear of smearing the colors.

And while there are many brands of pencils, oil-based are best suited for wood. They are specially formulated to lay down rich color, adhering to the surface. Walnut Hollow no longer sells their oil pencils (one of their staff told me they were discontinued “due to supplier problems”). As an alternative, they recommended the wax-based Tombow brand. However, if you wish to find oil-based pencils for your wood art, there are other brands available. Here are a few (in alphabetical order):

Faber-Castell Polychromos
Koh-i-noor Polycolor
Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor (the company site is in German)
Marco Renoir (their company site is in Chinese)

* For a comparisons of various brands, click here.
* Walnut Hollow article on coloring your pyro-art.
* Lora Irish has an excellent tutorial using watercolor pencils.
* Artnitso has thorough article comparing various colored pencils.
* The Virtual Instructor compares wax and oil-based pencils.
* Tina Koyama’s list of colored pencil reviews.

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