Several months back I was visiting my mother and she was thrilled to death because she’d seen a bald eagle in the tree across the street. She showed me a picture she took of it and all I could see was a large blob in a tree top. I was between projects at the time and my mom’s enthusiasm over seeing an eagle made me think I should do one for her. Sifting through my eagle pictures, I found one that I thought would be good and got to work on the eagle head pyrography.
At the bottom of the blog I’ve attached the pattern. This blog will not be a tutorial, but feel free to attempt the artwork yourself.
Like I’ve said in other blogs, when doing a portrait it’s really important to get the eyes and the shape of the face done correctly. For the eagle, this meant the key parts were his eye and beak. With that in mind I worked on those two spots first. As you can see in this picture I’m not very far along, but the eye is pretty well defined. I’m just starting to put some definition on the beak, but I needed the background darkened up so the beak would be noticeable.
In this second picture not a lot has changed with the bird, but the background has been darkened up. It was important to get this done right away as it dictated how dark I could make the contouring of the head.
Notice how the eye and beak stand out a lot more in this picture compared to the first picture. That’s what extreme contrast does for you; it really makes things pop.
After getting the background done, I started working on the body feathers. A sad reality is that this artwork took me a long time because of the body feathers. I kept re-doing them as I didn’t care for how they had turned out. Quite truthfully I still don’t care for them. They are the worst part of this pyrography project.
What was the problem? Eagle feathers are a bit odd in that the edges are a bit lighter than the rest of the feather. I had a very difficult time re-creating that in my artwork without the end result looking off. Let me tell you what I did.
My first attempt produced feathers that my husband said looked like leaves and I had to agree. What I had done was leave the edge and center of each feather pale. Then I darkened up the rest of the feather.
As you can see from the picture, the feathers don’t look like they are lying flat against each other. The feathers on his wing look like fish scales and the pale edge is just too light compared to the rest of the feather.
While the effect is interesting to look at, it doesn’t make me think of bird feathers. This meant I had to get back to work and try and fix the problem.
Failed attempt number two happened when I darkened up all of the body feathers. Once I was done the feathers were so dark that they looked like part of the background. The only difference were the faint feather edges that now looked like downward pointing arrows. Overall the result was a white head floating in the black abyss of space. It looked stupid and I didn’t bother to take a picture of such a colossal failure.
On attempt number three, I scrubbed the body feathers with my sanding pen to lighten them back up. I also darkened up the feather edges to reduce the contrast and roughed up the edges of the feathers. This was accomplished by putting lots of lines (like rips) along the edges. I got carried away and the feathers started looking like owl feathers. I considered this failed attempt number three.
The last and final attempt is what you see in this photo. I smoothed the edges back up but left some of the roughness here and there. The feathers still look like they are lifting up instead of lying flat on the chest. Honestly I have to admit by this time I was so sick of working on this and so frustrated that I just decided that it was good enough. Yes, I’ve been accused of having a bad attitude.
While I don’t like how the body feathers turned out, I did think that the head portion of the eagle was pretty good. I kept getting asked by Todd’s mom how I got the head so white. Did I paint it or use white charcoal? I kept telling her that I didn’t burn it very much, so the paleness is the result of extreme contrast.
While burning the head I kept the pen heat very, very low so the burn marks are a pale tan color. My burner goes to ten and I had the heat setting on 2.5.
Below are a series of photos showing the progress of the eagle head. Each photo shows the feathers getting a little more defined. Since the feathers are white I defined the feathers with their shadows. Really that’s all I’m burning – feather shadows.
In the last photo you can see that there is actually a lot of burning that was done, especially on the throat area under the beak. This area had a lot of shadows in it, but when viewed as a whole it doesn’t seem that dark. Looking now at the photos I realize I could have made the some of the shadows a little darker in spots, but too late now. I do realize that the photo isn’t the greatest, so I might feel differently if I was looking at the actual artwork. I have a hard time getting a good photo when I have extreme contrast like this because the white areas end up looking washed out.
Ironically when I cropped the photos to provide the head close ups, I ended up liking that look. If I were to ever do this project again, I’d zoom in on the head and leave out most if not all of the body since the body doesn’t add much and I hate how it turned out.
Really the most important part is that I did it and gained more experience. I have to remind myself that the only way to improve is to practice and not everything will turn out perfectly. Though it is funny to me that, on my previous eagle artwork, I had the same problem with the chest feathers. Maybe one day I will learn the needed skills to be able to render the feathers properly.
Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions. This project was burned on basswood, it measures 11 x 14 inches, and took me 21 hours to complete. As I said before, the reason it took so long was because I kept reworking the feathers. Each rework took several hours to do and I had 4 sessions before I gave up.
As promised, this link will open up the pdf for the pattern to this artwork. Bald Eagle pattern
Apr 6, 2016