After working on a couple of birds I wanted to move on from feathers and try my hand at fur. I love chipmunks because they are so cute. When we use to go backpacking it always amazed me at how those little fellows would get very close to camp and help themselves to any baggies of nuts they found. One time I was sitting in camp sketching the scenery and heard a weird noise. The source of the weird noise ended up being a little chipmunk about 12 inches from me who was helping himself to my baggy of mixed nuts I was snacking on. The little bugger chewed a hole in the bottom of the bag. Good thing I think they are cute and I don’t mind sharing.
Material used: Basswood
Size: 5 1/2 x 11
Time: 6 3/4 hours
My husband had a basswood board that he cut to length for me, so I went searching for a picture that would fit the board. When I found this shot I liked because it really showcases the stripes on its back and the tail is nice and fluffed out. The tail was particularly appealing to me because not only was the fur fluffed, but you could also see the branch behind the tail. My reference photo had one problem with it and it was a significant problem; there was a branch that covering the chipmunks paws and mouth. Ironically I didn’t even notice this until after I transferred the image to the wood, but I decided I could easily fix that up. I got some reference materials showing chipmunks eating and used those to sketch in the spots obscured by the branch.
A pleasantly surprising thing I discovered with this project was how easy it is to render fur. I think a large part of that was because the wood grain was going in the direction of the fir, so I was able to use the flat of the shading tip allowing the wood grain to help create some of the fur texture. I will readily admit that I didn’t plan on this and that it was a lucky result of circumstances.
Rendering fur is really just a matter of toning the area and then drawing some individual hairs to give the
impression of fur. Burning each individual hair is not needed, but you can do it that way if you want. My philosophy is that it’s your artwork, so do what you want and what works for you.
The foundation of the fur was formed by toning the area, but not a uniform color. Put another way, the goal is to get some color (tone) down but not have it super smooth looking since this is fur versus glass. While you are toning, you are also giving dimension to the piece. By that I mean you color darker in areas that are also in the shadows. After the toning is done, then go over the area adding darker lines here and there to give it that fur look. Some areas are going to need more individual hairs than others to convey a proper sense of fur. A typical key spot for this would be the area where different colors/tones come together like stripes. The chipmunk had stripes on his back and face, so again I made sure to increase the number of individual hairs I burned in.
Another very important aspect of rendering fur is to keep your strokes in the same direction as the fur and to keep your stroke length appropriate to the length of the fur. With the chipmunk I used short strokes for the body, but lengthened my strokes on the tail to give it a fluffy look.
With the tail I also kept tone light to give the tail a wispy look along the edges, but the center was darker to represent where the actual tail is vs the fur covering the tail. After I got the tail done, I keep the heat low on my burner and did the tree branch behind the tail. All I did was to just lightly shade the tail where the branch would be passing behind it. This gave me the look I was after and I was quite pleased with how well it turned out.
Another area that had longer fluffy fur was the chipmunk’s arm. Again I kept the heat low on the burner and slowly used my shading tip to create irregular curved lines along the arm. I wasn’t drawing individual hairs as this would give a completely different look, but instead creating thicker curved semi-short strokes. While the strokes were shorter I had several going in the same curve so that thickened and lengthened the look of the stroke. Putting a few much darker strokes here and there finished the look I was after.
My problem area was the white belly fur and the white fur on the back of his neck. It’s there, but because I didn’t darken the background enough you don’t see it and so my chipmunk looks a lot thinner than it actually is. I obviously didn’t learn my lesson from the eagle or pheasant about subtle shading disappearing after it’s sealed with polyurethane. In this case it was hard to see even before it was sealed and I still didn’t fix, so my bad for not learning a lesson there.
In conclusion, I ended up liking this piece and I’m sure that part of that is because I didn’t have to deal with a background. I really enjoyed working on the fur and liked the extreme contrasts of his stripes. The stripes really draw attention to those spots and guide the eye up to the face of the chipmunk.
What I learned:
- Fur is pretty easy to render with a wood burner. Especially if the wood grain is doing in the same direction as the fur.
- It’s very important to keep your burn strokes in the direction of the fur.
- I didn’t learn my lesion from the pheasant and lost some subtle shading – the white belly fur is nonexistent.
- Pay attention to your reference photo. Mine had a branch that obscured his hands and mouth area. I was able to fix this, but not everyone is comfortable drawing in something they can’t see.
- Take a better picture of the final product. I never expected to do a blog, so I took a photo for my reference only and didn’t worry about making sure the photo was square.
Oct 23, 2015