The Lab Puppies drum pyrography wood burning

The Lab Puppies Tongue Drum was a project my husband and I did together as a gift for our nephew’s daughter, Taylor Rae.  As usual my husband built the drum and I did the pyrography art on it.   Our nephew is one of those very musically inclined individuals and we wanted to help further develop his daughter’s interest by giving her a wooden tongue drum.    The reason for a drum is that they are easy for kids to play and they are sturdy.   The hard decision was deciding what I should burn on the drum.   

You can watch a timelapse YouTube video of this artwork being made.  Just click on the image to the left.



At two years old, most kids don’t have a strong affinity for anything, so we ended up with the idea of puppies since everyone on that side of the family has a dog.  Currently I’m on a mission to use reference material that I didn’t find on the internet, so I have to either take the photos myself or ask others for photos.   In this case I asked several dog owners at work if they would share any photos of their dogs with me with the knowledge of what I planned and I got several pictures.  I ended up liking the picture of the yellow Labrador puppies the best.   The picture was taken with a cell phone and I’m still amazed at the quality – at least if you don’t enlarge them too much.



Some of the facial features on the dogs were a touch fuzzy, but for this project I didn’t need anything real grand as I was working in a small space.  The overall measurements of the drum are 12 x 6 x 6 inches and I burned in a 4 x 6 oval.   The drum was made out of poplar that had some beautiful figuring to it.  I kept telling Todd that the wood on the drum was so pretty that it didn’t need my artwork, but he disagreed with me.

Poplar wood tongue drum by Todd

Look at the figuring on this wood!  It’s gorgeous.  I love the coloring, but unfortunately the picture doesn’t capture the range of color it had – yellows, greens, dark browns.

A quick side note – with this project I didn’t take any photos while I was working on it like I normally do.  Fortunately I videotaped myself burning it and the video editor we have allows me to export a single frame (picture), so I used those to show my progress with artwork.  That’s also the reason for the unusual angle on the photos.

One thing that proves to be very challenging for me with the tongue drums is finding a comfortable position to burn.  I prefer to burn with the art work angled up towards me versus lying flat and having to lean over it.  To get the angle I prefer to work on I had to hold the box at the desired angle with one hand and then burn with the other.    It’s doable, but not comfortable for long periods of time.

Lab Pup outline

Like always, I transfer my pattern to the wood and then lightly burn in the outline.  Then I evaluated the piece to determine my light and dark values, and again that was an easy decision in this piece.  The background had to be very dark to make the puppies really stand out.   I didn’t realize how much contrast can really make your artwork pop until I purchased a how-to drawing book by JD Hillberry a few years back.   I definitely got some contrast on this one!




starting to define the puppies

After getting the outline done I started adding a little contour shading to define the features of the puppies.  In this picture you can see that I’m not very far along, but have put in some shading on the faces.  I’m slowly working up the overall shape of the dogs.  Watching some of the videos of my wood burning has been interesting as I did not realize how much I bounce around as I work.   Reflecting on this, I think the reason is that it helps me build the work as one cohesive piece reducing the chances of areas that seem extra dark or off compared to the rest of the artwork.  Either that or I’m hyperactive, but I’m going to stick with the “cohesive” theory as it’s more flattering.


more defining of the puppies

This picture is showing more of the contouring I’m doing with the work.  I would have to admit that in this particular picture the dogs look demonic with the eyes being white.   Notice that I don’t have any areas that are really dark yet.  I’m just putting down the basic tone and shade that forms the foundation I build upon.  By doing it this way, I can start to tell how dark I need to make things to give the dogs some color and contour while keeping them pale “yellow” labs versus a darker colored lab.




more contouring

Again this picture showcases more of the contouring and the eyes are starting to get filled in and looking less demonic.  I was dragging my feet about working on the eyes and nose as my reference photo didn’t have the greatest detail.   I seem to have a habit of choosing photos that don’t have the detail level I prefer to work with, so I end up creating detail based on what I think should be there.




Since this artwork was done in a such a small space, I didn’t try to create “fur” like I did in the cat drum.   Instead I made sure that some of the edges soft and fuzzy.   Two examples of this are the chest area and the little fat rolls around the neck.  Look at the edge of the chest where it meets the dark shadows and notice how it’s not clean straight edge.  There are small pale lines that extend downward into the area below the chest at random intervals to give the illusion of hairs and hence makes a fuzzy looking chest.

puppy soft edge

As for the fat rolls, think of each fat roll as its own section and where the two sections meet is an edge or seam.  You don’t want a clear clean seam, instead you want a fuzzy edge.  To accomplish this I draw zig-zag lines along the seam so that the center is darker and the lines emerging break up the outer edges so that it is ragged or furry if you will.  A clean edge would look more like skin instead of fur

There are several techniques to create soft fuzzy areas; 1) bisecting lines, 2) scraping, and 3) reverse shading.  I can use either method alone or a combination of them to get the effect I’m after.

Bisecting lines I just described – it’s where short lines extend into two different sections where they meet together (the seam).  You can draw individual lines or use little bursts of zig-zags.  The main point is to keep it random in length and frequency.

Scraping is nothing more than using a sharp instrument (like an X-acto knife tip) to scrape away the color.  I use this technique to create pale hairs along the outer edges of animals.  I can also use this technique to put in highlights like a light reflection in an eye.

Reverse shading isn’t as straightforward.   Normally when you are shading, you are darkening up an area to build up the color.   In reverse shading I’m coloring in around the area to make it lighter or increase the contrast.  So with the dog’s chest area I took the shader tip and drew little lines going from the dark shadows towards the chest area.  The most common area where I use reverse shading is the wispy ear hair that animals have.

using a writing tip to do fine details

Because the eyes were so small in this piece, I switching to my writing tip to get the detail burned in.  Nothing wrong with that and it’s why burners have an assortment of tips.  As you gain experience burning, you will get familiar with the tips and know which one is needed to accomplish your goals.   







My two favorite pyrography pen tips

I’m still in the process of getting familiar with some of the other tips, but I would have to admit that I haven’t had much of a need, so far, to use anything beyond my work horses:  tight rough J shader & writing tips.

In this project I only used those two pen tips.






With the dogs having some basic contouring, I needed to get the background done.  As I’ve said before, the darkness of the background dictates how dark the subject can get.   I like to keep a high contrast between the subject and the background as I think this makes the subject stand out more (emphases the subject).

This photo shows that I’m starting to burn the background but what’s important to know is how I have positioned the pen tip.  The edge of the tip is on the inside of the line that defines the area (oval in this case) that I’m working on.


To get crisp very defined lines you must ALWAYS keep the pen tip angled inward from the line edge.  So in this shot “putting a thick border line” you see that the edge of the tip is on the inside of the oval, but on the outside of the dog.  This ensures that I only color the oval area and provides the hard crisp edge I’m after.   Also note how I’m working “upside-down” while going along the dog’s outer edge.  Turn your artwork in whatever direction you need to provide an optimal burning position.




Filling in the background

The reason I create a dark thick line along the edge is that it provides a ‘buffer’ zone making it easier to fill in or color the rest of the object.  Also, when I’m creating the buffer zone (or thick line) I’m going pretty slowly, so I don’t have the heat really high.  Once the buffer zone is in place, I turn up the heat to get the background done.    A buffer zone makes it easier to burn a dark section for two reasons, 1) I’m less likely to color outside the lines, and 2) I can fill in (color) the rest of the area much more quickly.




Background is done

In this picture I’ve finished the background including the floor the dogs are laying on.  Notice how the dark background really places emphasis on the puppies.   Another benefit on the high contrast background is that I can add more color to the dogs and they will still seem like they are yellow labs.






almost done with the puppies

I’m almost done and just finishing the last of the detail work on the noses by darkening them up with my writing tip.  Another thing I did was to darken up the cast shadows on the floor as shadows provide a lot of realism to artwork.






In conclusion, I thought the puppies turned out pretty well.  I spent around 5 ½ hours producing the pyrography image and the family loved it.    The picture above is of the final piece and this angle shows the grain lines very well.  While I have gotten better at hiding them, I’m not perfect at it.  As I keep telling myself; it’s a piece of wood, not paper, so it’s going to have grain lines.  Just learn to like it.

Below are pictures of the drum before and after it was sealed with lacquer.   We have found with pyrography that lacquer changes the color the least, compared to polyurethane and shellac.   Yes, writing up a blog about the different sealers we’ve tried and the results we’ve gotten is on the to-do list.   I told Todd he had to write that one as that’s his area of expertise.

puppy pyrgraphy
After lacquer






The below pictures are all before (left) / after (right) the lacquer sealer was applied.


















It really is a very beautiful wooden drum and I’m still not sure if I agree with Todd that it needed my artwork.

I’m providing the pattern I used for this project free of charge, so give it a try.  Click on the link below to open the pdf file.

Lab Puppies pattern


Feb 6, 2016

2 thoughts on “The Lab Puppies drum pyrography wood burning

  1. Dear God,woman, you’re KILLIN’me! These puppies are astonishing! Once again, I take my hat off to both of you for your artistic talents. Now, I shall go and try to draw a stick figure…

    1. Until you try, you don’t know what you’re capable of. I think everyone has artistic talent in some form or another (draw, sing, cook, dance, etc.), but it’s just a matter of finding it.

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