Cougar Stalking Deer Pyrography Art on a gun stock wood burning

This last summer I received a commission to burn “something outdoorsy” onto a gun stock.  Not only was the request very vague, but adding to challenge of the project is the fact the gun stock has a very unusual shape.    Todd actually came up with the concept for this artwork.  I’m not sure if it was completely what he envisioned, but it’s what worked out for the shape.  So in this blog I will discuss the artwork and show the progress the artwork’s creation.

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



While the customer wasn’t sure of the type of wood, Todd and his dad are fairly confident that it’s cherry because of the darker color dark and slight reddish tinge.    Plus when they compared it to some cherry boards Todd had in his shop, the stock looked fairly similar to them.   I wasn’t real thrilled with the wood because it was so dark when compared to the types I normally burn on (basswood, maple, poplar).   Another thing I didn’t care for was the pale band that went along the top of the wood. 

What bothered me the most about this project was the fact that the gun was going to become a family heirloom.  The current owner had just received the gun from his father who owned it for about 30-40 years.  The current owner planned to hand it down to one of his sons.  I’ve never worked on a family heirloom before.   All of my previous projects were burned on store bought wood (like craft boxes) or plaques that Todd made.  If I messed things up I could always go buy another box or have Todd make a item, but that was not going to be possible with this gun stock.

When I received the gun stock, it was a little worn looking.  Plus it had a finish of some sort on it, so it needed to be prepped before I could work on it.   My father-in-law, who was staying with us when I got this commission, offered to sand the stock down and get it ready so I could burn on it as he had done that sort of thing before.    I want to take a moment to point out that you should NEVER EVER burn on finished wood!  EVER!!   Pyrography burns the wood and this causes fumes which you will breathe in.   Some finishes can be extremely toxic and there are some woods, like cedar, that are hazardous.   The possible health risks are not worth the financial gain. 

After the gun stock was sanded down I took a piece of large newsprint type of paper and traced an outline of the gun onto the paper.   This allowed me to sketch out assorted ideas and see what would work.

I did 4-5 sketches trying out different layouts before I settled on this one.   What I liked about this layout was the buck was the focal point, but the layout was such that it drew the eye across the stock.    Once I had a sketched I liked, I sent it to the customer for approval before putting it on the gun.  Obviously I received approval. 

In this photo I’m outlining the sketch.  I almost always outline my work so I can erase the pencil marks.  I worry that if I don’t, I will smear or smudge the pencil marks and that could make it difficult to shade it later.   

One of the challenges I encountered while working on this was how I had to  prop the bottom of the stock up to work on the lower parts of it.   I ended up using my hand because that also prevented the stock from sliding off my easel.

Here I’ve got the buck shaped in fairly well.  The face isn’t done, but that area was so small I was saving it for last as I was dreading working on it.  Below are some progress photos of my work on the buck.   I used my small shader tip for this project; Colwood calls it a mini J. 


Below are some photos of my burning the buck.

















As you can see from this photo I’ve gotten the trees done and I’ve started on the rocks.   I tried to remember to take a picture every time I stopped working, but with an item this small you can get a lot done in short amounts of time.  



The rocks ended up being a lot easier to render than I expected.   I mostly just make little blotchy shapes (irregular shaped patches) and varied the darkness of them to form the impression of rocks.  I further defined them by adding some dark cracks and shadows.





The trees were super, super easy as I shaded one side of the tree (same side on all of them) and then drew a couple of vertical lines.  I added some grass at the bottom of the tree and called it good.  Took 5-10 minutes to create the trees.






When I stopped and took this picture I had gotten the rocks mostly finished and I was just starting in on the doe.  Another thing I had done was draw/burn in the grass around the buck’s feet.  




To create the look of grass, all I did was turn the shading tip on edge and draw in some short lines.  I varied the height of the lines and most of them are slightly curved lines versus being perfectly vertical.





This progress photo shows the work I did on the doe.  She’s actually pretty well defined and even has the grass is around her feet.  I also got a couple of the rocks in the pond she’s drinking from roughed in.  



Below are some progress photos  of me getting to this stopping point.















This photo shows that the buck is done, but the cougar and doe still need work.  I’ve gotten the ‘water’ in the pond done with some ripples and a slight reflection.  Most of the facial features on the buck were done with a writing tip, as the area was just too small to use even my micro shader tip. 


Below are more progress photos.  
























This photo was taken just before I put the artwork on a shelf for a day or two.   I really find that by doing this it enables me to look at the art with fresh eyes and find problems that need fixing.   I don’t think I’ve created anything to date that I haven’t felt the need to fine tune a bit after I look at it with fresh eyes.

For this final session of fine tuning I didn’t do a lot except darken both deer a little bit so they stood out from the background better.   With the cougar I didn’t want it to stand out, so I purposely left it close to the same colors at the rocks.   My ultimate goal was for the cougar to be a ‘surprise’ when the viewer found it, but I don’t think I accomplished that.  To me, the cougar is the worst part of this gun stock.  The spot that the cougar ended up being on was very contoured and rather difficult to burn on.      

Buck close up



Doe close up










Cougar close-up









I shipped the gun stock to the customer and he liked how it turned out and commented, “I can’t believe how much detail you got into the art.”   I did not put a finish back onto the stock as he was going to take care of that, so I have no idea what the gun looked like once it was sealed or even what type of finish was used.  I do hope that the artwork still looked good after being finished. 

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The gun stock was 8” long (20.3 cm) and varied in height, but the area I worked in started at 3 1/2” (8.9 cm) and increased to 4 1/2” (11.4 cm).  I’m pretty sure the gun stock was made out of cherry and it took me 4 3/4 hours to create the artwork.

As always, thanks for reading.



11/10/16 – Customer sent me a photo of the gun stock after it was sealed/finished and it’s below.  I also put the unsealed photo under it for comparison.   I’m fairly sure that Tru-Oil was used and while it might be an easy and durable finish, it darkened the wood considerably and yellowed it up a fair amount too.  

Gun stock sealed
Gun stock unsealed

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