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I am not a pro!! These basic tips come from what I have learned on my own and are only meant to help someone who is just beginning.
Please note that when I wrote this tutorial I was using an Optima burner. In a short amount of time, I had many problems with it!!!!! The cord and several pens went bad.......It failed to maintain a steady heat....etc.
I've now been using a Detail Master for a while now and find it much more realiable! Therefore, I have removed the link I once had on this page to the Optima Burners and have added a link at the bottom of this page for anyone interested in getting more info. on or purchasing the Detail Master® online!
For your first project, don't pick a gourd that has alot of scale spots or discolorations (these take a great deal of work). Be sure you have cleaned your gourd
thoroughly. I also give it a light sanding with a very fine grit sand paper. (Be sure it's very fine!!!! You don't want any minute scratches showing up if you decide to stain).
You don't have to have an expensive burner to
start off with. I started with a $24.00 special that had the screw in tips and it still comes in handy for some jobs. I would suggest this if you aren't sure whether or not pyrography is for you. If you enjoy it, you should check out some of the more advanced burners. There are several units on the market which have a smaller grip, adjustable heat, and replaceable pens. The adjustable heat is a great plus when you're burning on gourds!!!!
Planning the Design
If I am doing a design which will encompass the entire gourd I prefer to pencil in the outline to insure that it will fit properly.
Otherwise, I will usually burn freehand. I have tried transfering a design using carbon paper, however, the carbon ignited in spots and I spent alot of time trying to correct the lines. I have read that graphite paper works well. I have not tried this.
I find it easiest to just freehand the main subject and add more as it's needed. (It never works for me to try and plan the entire design before I start....... :o)
Always start your movement before you touch down and continue the movement as you lift away from your work. Does that make any sense? It's kind of like the motion of skating. It should be graceful.
If you are using a unit such as the Detail Master®, which has adjustable
heat, always start at a low setting until you are comfortable burning at higher ones. (I do most of my shading at 3 and my outlines at 6)
I always burn my outline first. Very lightly! I just find this
to be the best place for me to start.
Some areas on the skin of a gourd, such as scale spots, will seem to char instantly! Other places will be harder to burn than average. Take special care in these areas by adjusting to a lower or higher heat. If you are not working with an adjustable unit you will have to either increase or decrease the speed of your strokes, or use more or less pressure in those areas.(This is where the more advanced units come in handy!)
Use a light hand when burning ! Leave room for yourself to highlight and shade. You can always darken some areas later. This will keep your designs from looking dull and lifeless!
If (When) you do make a mistake, you can try to erase it by taping very fine sand paper around the end of a paint brush, pencil, etc. Just remember, be carefull doing this if you plan to stain the finished piece. The gourd will absorb more stain where you have sanded and you'll end up with a nasty dark spot! The best thing to do in the case of a bad error is to re-think your design and make the mistake fit in.......ie. one time I burned a deer that had too large of a neck. I simply added a fence post into the background and made it darker than the deer. This allowed me to make part of his neck move right into the background.
Coloring, Staining, & Finishing
This is always the hard part for me! Do I color my design?
How? Should I stain the entire gourd? Spray finish or hand rubbed?..............
You'll need to consider all of these things combined when finishing your work. Because, for instance, you cannot color with oil pencils and then apply a hand rubbed stain or finish.....Or you will be rubbing away all of that hard work.
I like oil pencils for coloring. I simply color the entire design (kind
of looks like crayons before blending) and then blend the colors using paintbrushes dipped in solvent. My Fish Bowl is a good example of this. I usually go for a very subdued effect, however, the oil pencils can be applied in layers to achieve very bright colors. If I want to use stain, I always stain first
and let it completely dry before applying oil colors. You can also use acrylic paints. Be carefull though, it can easily look like you are trying to hide mistakes!
For the brightest colors and deepest penetration, use leather dyes. The burnt areas form a barrier for the dye not to spread. I use a small paintbrush to apply these taking care not to puddle too much in one area. Practice with these before starting a major project! Leather dyes are very messy, however, they achieve a colored result that looks outstanding on a gourd.
Staining a gourd is simple. Any wood stain I have ever tried has worked. Just follow the manufacturers instructions. When I want to scratch out my highlights easily I use a waterbased stain (Not an oil based or one that contains a sealer). My Celtic Design Birdhouse is an example of this.
For finishing I use spray Minwax Polyurethane High Gloss or Semi-Gloss. I also like Tung Oil Varnish for a hand rubbed finish. Either one of these will give a scratch proof easy to clean finish.
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Purchase all three to make a complete system. The tips slip into the handpiece and can be interchanged as often as needed.
Purchasing your first professional burning unit can seem quite confusing. You will notice there are three different models of the base unit . The difference in them is their heat range and the number of pens you can plug in at once. I use the "Sabre" model and burn a considerable amount. It provides more than enough heat for me and it never surges like with other brands I have used. I should also add that the "Sabre" model only has one plug for a pen and I have yet to wish it had two ;-) I find it easy enough to just change out the tips!
I really think that the "Dagger" model (which is the least expensive) would have even been enough for me! I would highly suggest buying the least expensive unit if you aren't sure how much you will really use it.