In this blog I’m going to explain how to create the feather pyrography artwork in the above picture. I think this is a wonderful follow-up project to the stone tutorial as we will expand the use of the shading pen tip. I like how this project turned out, and, in my opinion, it’s really easy to do and I’m hopeful that you will agree.
There is reader submitted artwork at the bottom of the blog, so please check it out.
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- white charcoal pencil (not color pencil)
- Piece of wood approximately 4 x 11 inches. (you can reduce or enlarge the pattern size if needed/desired)
- Attached pattern Feather pattern
STEP 1 – Transfer Pattern
I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects. It’s cheap, easy, and gives me control on what I want to include. Print off your pattern on light weight paper (standard copier paper is perfect for this),coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil (I use one in the B ranges), place pattern on wood, tape in place, and trace over pattern with a sharp pencil. Slowly peel the pattern back and look for missing spots. If there are missing spots, replace pattern and track over spots, and then recheck. Once all of the trace lines are present remove the pattern, and you’re ready to start burn.
You might need to cut the pattern down in size so you can see where to place it on the wood.
STEP 2 – Burn the Outline
With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines. After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
Before we can continue with this tutorial, we need a common language to speak about the structure of a feather. Not only are you learning how to create pyrography art, but you’re also going to get a lesson in avian anatomy. Yes, you could have probably lived your life happily ever after without knowing this information, but think of it as me helping you ward off dementia. You’re welcome.
Barbs = solid structure the makes up most of a feather.
Calamus = the barb free hollow shaft or quill end of the feather.
Downy Barbs = the soft wispy hairs that are found just before the solid barbs start.
Rachis = is what the calamus turns into once barbs are present.
Tip = the very end of the feather.
Armed with our common language, we can now continue the tutorial.
STEP 3 – Burn a Dark Line Along the Rachis
Burn a dark line along both sides of the rachis. The purpose is to make the rachis stand out from the barbs.
OPTIMAL PEN TIP POSITION
Note the pen tip position in the picture. The edge of the pen tip is on the outside edge of the rachis. Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am only burning on the barbs and not on the rachis. I call this the optimal pen tip position.
If you walk away with only one thing from this tutorial, I hope it is optimal pen tip position. Optimal pen tip position ensures that you are burning where you INTEND to burn and that your borders are crisp/clean.
When you need to, turn the wood so that you can easily keep the pen tip in optimal position for burning.
STEP 4 – Burn Pull Away Strokes
Pull away is the name I’m calling the stroke I used to create the feather texture / look. I’m going to do my best to explain and I will provide lots of pictures.
First the verbal explanation: with the shading pen tip on medium heat, place the edge of the pen tip along the outer edges of the barbs, then pull the pen tip away from the edge towards the rachis, and then lift the pen tip up from the wood. This creates a stroke of color that is darkest at the starting point and then fades out. How quickly it fades depends on the heat of your pen and how fast you pull away. It will take many pull away strokes to create this feather.
First photo examples – the wide stroke pull away.
Notice how I start with the pen tip on the edge of the outer barb (I.E., edge of the feather). In the second photo I’m pulling the pen towards the rachis away from outer barb edge. Also notice how the color fades as the stroke is being made.
Second photo example – the thin stroke pull away.
In this set of photos I’m showing an almost complete stroke in the first photo and the stroke lifting of the pen in the second photo.
Another thing to noticed is the slightly different pen position in the photos. The shading tip is not flat on the wood, it’s angled so that only a small part of it touches and I get a much thinner line. Lastly notice that this line is pretty dark compared to most of the others and I accomplished this by slowing down my hand speed. I did not change my pen heat while doing the pull away strokes.
Another way to get darker color is to repeat the stroke in the same spot until it gets to the darkness you desire.
You might want to take a piece of scrap wood (or use the backside of your project wood) to do a couple of practice strokes. I have confidence that you will be able to master this pen stroke pretty easily.
With these photos you can see the progress of my pull away strokes around the feather. Note how I’m leaving the center of the barbs pale. I want to make the feather look like it’s curving downward, so the pale center with dark edges creates that illusion.
Note that I went over the barb area several times doing pull-away strokes.
STEP 5 – Draw Highlight On Rachis
In this step I’m using a white charcoal pencil and drawing a line where I want the white highlight on the rachis to be. The thin line runs approximately 1/3 the length of the rachis. Note that I’ve placed this line along the upper edge of the rachis.
Use a white charcoal pencil in this step. DO NOT use a white colored pencil in this step. Colored pencils are made with wax, so when the heat of the pen touches the line made with a colored pencil it cause it to melt and bond with the wood.
Why do this step at all? I think it can be easier to create a bright highlight with a visual reminder of where the highlight should be. Also since charcoal is heat-resistant, if the pen tip should touch the highlight area it will resist turning brown.
Please note that I said it’s heat-resistant, so with enough heat or repeated passes of the pen the wood will darken. The good thing is that it won’t darken as much as it would if it didn’t have the charcoal coating.
STEP 6 – Shade Rachis & Calamus
The goal of this step is to darken the rachis & calamus, so it looks more three-dimensional. Also shading the calamus will enable it to stand out from the pale background.
I used two methods to darken up this area. First I went along the lower edge of the rachis & calamus burning a thin band of color, or, if it’s easier to visualize, a thick line of color. Secondly I used small circular strokes along the band/line I just burned to further darken up the band/line and to extend the color a little further into the rachis/calamus.
Remember, the goal is to provide some color and give shape to the rachis and calamus. The other goal is to provide contrast with the barbs, so make sure to they are lighter than the barbs.
After you’re done shading the rachis/calamus make sure to erase the charcoal line if you drew one.
STEP 7 – Darken the Downy Barb Hairs
With the writing tip, I darkened up the downy barb hairs. I also added a lot more hairs than the pattern shows. To do this I just created another hair slightly above or below one of the downy barb lines we burned in during step 2 – burn the outline.
You don’t have to add more downy barb hairs, but I’m just showing how you can modify patterns slightly.
After drawing them in, I went over them with the shading tip to quickly darken them up as the writing tip isn’t the easiest to do that with. While darkening the downy barbs I also did a few pull away strokes along the rachis.
STEP 8 – Darken and Fine Tune
The last step is to darken and fine tune the feather. I ended up thinking the feather needed to be darker, so did pull away strokes over most of it. Plus I applied a little color or tone to the center part of the barbs. I used quick strokes that started at the outer edge and went to the rachis or vice versa. I darkened up the tip of the feather a lot more than the rest of the feather.
Below are a few progress photos.
I also found a couple of spots along the rachis that needed to be darkened up a little more, so I did that in this step.
Basically this is the time to give the feather its final look. Make it as dark as you want, add more dark lines, darken up the rachis, etc.
If need be, put the feather aside for a day or two and look at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes you might spot an area that you want to touch up when you look at it fresh.
That’s it – we’re done. I hope that this ended up being as easy as I was thinking it would be. If you think the feather should be a lot darker, by all means, make it darker. It’s your project, so own it.
TIPS FOR A PALE FEATHER –
If you wanted a white or pale colored feather, you would do the exact same steps we did creating this feather, but don’t burn the feather as darkly. Instead keep it a light tan color and then darken up the background to make the feather stand out.
Final words – –
This project was burned on birch plywood, it measures 4 x 11 inches, and took me 2 ½ hours to complete it. That said, this is not a race or contest. I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot. You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is you’re doing the tutorial and learning to control the shading pen tip.
Feb 21, 2016
This artwork was submitted by William Spier and is William’s first pyrography project! William, welcome to the art of pyrography and I hope you will enjoy the artform! Let me be the first to tell you that the feather turned out great. It has wonderful color and I love the downy hairs. Thank you for sharing it with us!
Roy Clark submitted this artwork and this is Roy’s first foray into pyrography. Roy, I’m so impressed with your first piece of pyrography artwork and I still can’t believe that you haven’t done some sort of art before. Fantastic job! Keep up the great work and thank you for sharing!