The Pheasant Pyrography Art wood burning

My father-in-law loves to hunt, so for his Christmas present I decided to wood burn a pheasant.  Yes, another practice piece slash gift.   Pheasant’s are a pretty bird with wonderful coloring and I thought it would be fun to try to interpret that into a black and white image.

Material used:  Bass Wood store-bought

Size:  11 x 14

Time: 19 hours

I sketched my bird on to the wood and then studied my reference photo deciding where my light and dark areas should be.  The complicating factor on this project were all of the markings on the feathers might make them to difficult convey in a monotone medium.

Along the pheasant’s back feathers had white streaks on them and I decided early on that I didn’t want to use the scratching method, so instead I colored in the bands in with pencil and shaded around it.  The pencil area provided a visual reminder of where not to burn, so after I was done burning I erased my pencil marks and I had nice white bands.  Just to explain, the scratching method is where you color the piece and then scratch away the color in spot to lighten or reveal the underlying color.


Using a pencil to mark areas I didn’t want to burn is how I approached most of the markings on this bird.   There were several areas that I could just burn and then burn in the markings because they were darker than the rest of the feather.  A good example of this was the stripes on the tail feathers.  Or you can burn in the markings nice and dark and then tone the feather.  Either way will work.




I actually thought the bird didn’t turn out too bad given my lack of experience with this.  As I look at the photos now (months after I created the project) I see many spots I wished I had done differently.  The head needs to be darker and the feathers along the sides of the breast by the neck look ruffled instead of banded.   That’s one of the problems when rendering in black & white, some of the unusual markings don’t always translate well and you have to alter things a bit.  Usually I reduce the contrast to remedy this problem, but in this case I didn’t and, like I said, I just now noticed it.

When I’m done working on a project, I put it aside for at least two days without looking at it at all.  Then I take the project back out and look again re-evaluating what I think.  Doing this makes the work seem fresh and I often found errors or spots I don’t like.  I also ask my husband his opinion as he looks at things differently than I do and can point out problem areas.  I have this rule with myself that as long as I haven’t signed the piece, then I can still edit it, but once it’s signed it’s a done deal.

Overall the bird is decent, but I did prove again that backgrounds are not my thing.  I also learned an important lesson on this one about polyurethane.   Polyurethane provides a very nice durable finish to the wood and protects it from damage, but it casts a yellow hue to the work and makes subtle shading disappear.  I didn’t notice how much it altered subtle shading/tone until this project.

I had drawn in a lot of grass around the feet and in the foreground of the bird, but it wasn’t very dark and once it was sealed with the polyurethane the grass all but disappeared.

If you angle the board right you can see the grove marks made by the burning tip as I drew each blade of grass, but looking straight on results in a bird with a foot that is either deformed or one that mysteriously disappeared.




In conclusion, I finished another piece, gained more experience, and have another Christmas present ready for the giving.   I really liked how the tail feathers turned out, but the rest of the bird just ranks in the okay category to me.  Plus I know I really need to devote some time to backgrounds as they are one of my greatest downfall.  This particular piece definitely needed a background since there was too much negative space (unused) around the bird, but the background I did wasn’t awesome.   Maybe next time I’ll get it right.

What I learned:  

  1. Subtle shading and really light marks get lost when the wood is sealed with polyurethane.   All of my grass I drew in around the feet and foreground all but disappeared.
  2. I still suck at backgrounds.  On this project the background is my least liked area.
  3. I discovered that filling in an area/spot you don’t want to burn with pencil helps to visual remind you not to burn there.  After you’re done burning, the pencil erases away quickly and leaves pale wood.


Oct 16, 2015

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