VENISON – A DEER PYROGRAPHY TUTORIAL
In this tutorial blog I’m going to discuss how I created my award-winning Venison pyrography artwork. Like usual, I’m including a free pattern for you to use. This is my first tutorial covering fur and while it’s easy to render I’m hoping I’ll be able to adequately explain how I do it. There’s a big difference from being able to create art and being able to explain how to create said art. You might be wondering why I call this artwork Venison, so let me explain.
Reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog, so please check that out.
March 25, 2017. I revised this tutorial to add more information on how to create the fur look (step 5). I think that the added explanation will clarify and simplify things.
A few years ago I had a doe and her two babies hanging out in my back yard. Near as I could tell, they never left. Apparently my backyard was paradise because I don’t have a dog, it has a shady grassy spot, and I have a lovely butterfly garden filled with beautiful plants that momma found VERY tasty! At first I was thrilled to have a doe and two babies in my yard as I thought they were very cute. And despite the opportunity to take lots of pictures, which I did, the cute factor wore off quickly.
Before long, momma killed off my beloved magenta lupine that cost a fortune. Strike one against her. Nearly every flowering plant in my yard was denuded of blossoms with the exception being my lavender plants. Strike two. She, plus the two babies, turned my backyard into a deer litter box. Apparently the food they eat multiplies 10 fold in their stomach so they can poop constantly. Strike three! Oh, and did I mention she loved my fruit trees? Well, she did and she ate everything she could get her greedy mouth on. Strike four!
I quit thinking of her as being cute and starting thinking of her as being dinner! I don’t even like venison, but I was considering giving it another try. At this point I started calling her Venison. The artwork is based on a photo I took of her nibbling on one of the cherry trees. As much as I despised her, I did not turn her into dinner. I did try chasing her off when I caught her in my butterfly garden showing the babies which plants to eat, but she never went far. Towards the end of summer her and the babies wandered off on their own volition and that was a good day.
I know, enough babbling, on with the tutorial, but there is one more thing I need to mention before I do. When I created Venison, I did it as a personal project versus a tutorial project. That means there will be sections I’m discussing and some of the photos will show that more work has been done; please try to ignore the extra stuff. Let’s get to work.
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Ball tip (optional)
- Large shading tip (optional)
- 12 x 14 inches (30.5 x 35.6 cm) piece of wood
- Attached pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Venison pattern
- Small Fan – to direct smoke away from you (optional)
- White Charcoal pencil (optional)
STEP 1 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD
Like all my work, it starts out as a pencil outline on the board. Like I’ve mentioned before, I use the tracing method to transfer patterns. 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), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil (I use one in the B ranges), place pattern on wood, tape in place, trace over pattern with a sharp pencil, remove pattern, and you’re ready to burn.
STEP 2 – BURN THE OUTLINE
With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines. The goal is to burn a line that is dark enough for you to see, but not so dark that you end up with a coloring book style of artwork.
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. It is easy to get into the habit of burning your outline or trace lines darkly, but if you want to create realistic art don’t get into that habit. Quite frequently the trace lines are nothing more than guidelines to me on where to add shadows, draw fur, etc. and I don’t want a dark harsh line to interfere with that. The darker the line, the darker the art has to be to make the line blend in and this is especially true with animals and people. Keep your trace lines burned as lightly as possible.
STEP 3 – THE EYE
When the art subject is an animal or a person, one of the most important aspects of the work is the eye. With that in mind I rendered Venison’s eye first thing. Fortunately with her, the eye was pretty basic in that it was very dark with some light reflecting on it.
First what I did was burn a dark band along the inside edge of the eye. IMPORTANT – when I first rendered the basic shape of the eye I didn’t have the inner eyelid in place. I added it later when I decided that the eye didn’t look quite right to me. This was accomplished by scraping with an X-acto knife to lighten the area up. The pattern has the eyelid there, so make sure you to keep the eyelid lighter than the rest of the eye.
Next fill-in the rest of the eye but avoid the reflection. Also leave a paler spot where the eye duct is located; the corner of the eye where tears flow out of.
Now we’re going to work on the light reflection spots, but first I used white charcoal to mark the two white spots. Those two spots will remain un-burned and the contrast with the dark eye will make them look white. MAKE SURE to use white charcoal! DO NOT USE COLORED PENCIL as it contains wax and will melt. White charcoal not only resists the heat of the pen, but it will also help you see the spots you want to avoid burning.
Darken the area around the white spots to a medium brown color.
This is how the eye looks after I was done with my first pass through on the reflection. Again a reminder about the inner eyelid that I added at a later date. The inner eyelid is on the pattern and should still be un-burned.
Using the razor edge of the shading tip, darken the eye crease line that is just above the eye. If it’s easier, feel free to use the writing tip for this step.
Burn the inner eyelid by burning fairly dark along the outer edge. Keep a fine lighter line along the edge of the lid where it touches the eyeball. Notice that the edge is much darker than the light reflection spots in the eye, but not so dark you can’t see it.
Last step is to darken up the eyeball a little bit more, but make sure to leave the two points of “white” un-burned.
STEP 4 – THE NOSE
To create the texture on the nose I used three different pen tips; the writing tip, the ball point tip, and the shading tip. If you do not have a ball point tip the writing tip can be used instead.
First create dark dots to represent the hair follicles on the lower jaw. The follicles are larger and darker the further away from they are from the lips. To create larger and darker dots, just hold the pen tip in place for a second or two.
Next darken up the spot along the side of the muzzle just below the nostril. Do not try and make the area uniform in color as a little variation will give the impression of fur.
Darken up the lip line where the jaws meet.
Create a slight shadow along the lower lip. This is accomplished by placing the shading tip on the lip line and then pulling the tip down (or towards yourself) a very short distance. Work your way along the lip line. There is one spot where Venison had a dark spot on her lower jaw, so I created that as I was working along the lip line.
Work on shading the nose. First shade along the lower edges.
Next, blacken the nostril
Using the ball tip (or writing tip) create a layer of dots over the entire nose surface. Use the dots to further shape the nose by placing fewer and paler dots along the tip of the nose where the sun is striking it.
Draw in the fine chin hairs using a writing tip (I used a needle tip). Start in the hair follicle dot and quickly pull the tip down and lift up at the end. This results in a hair that has a very fine tip to it.
We’re almost done. I decided that after I burned in the background that the nose needed to be darkened up, so that’s what I’m doing here. Depending on how darkly you burned the nose, you may or may not need and/or want to do this.
Lastly, I added a few more dots as some of them disappeared when I darkened up the nose.
STEP 5 – FUR
Time for to render the deer’s fur and I think you’re going to be surprised at how easy this is to do. I create the fur using short bursts of closely spaced zigzag lines.
This picture shows a zigzag line and that is what I’m drawing, but I keep the lines a lot closer to each other.
My zigzag burst is generally the same height and width (approx. 1/4 x 1/4 inch (0.64 x 0.64 cm). The key is to offset where each one starts. For example, burn a zigzag burst, the next burst starts slightly lower than the last one. This makes sure you don’t end up with long “bands” that will completely ruin the fur effect.
To help illustrate my zigzag concept I’ve drawn some examples with a black marker.
In this photo I’ve got 3 zigzag bursts drawn. All of them are slightly offset from each other.
I’ve added some more burst to finish the row. Notice how I vary where each one started, so it doesn’t form a straight row or line of zigzag bursts.
Here I’ve started a second row of zigzag bursts. Again I varied where I start each one.
The second row of zigzag bursts is done. Notice how some of the bursts from the first and second row slightly overlap. That’s perfectly ok.
After getting a couple of rows done, it’s just a matter of adding more bursts to fill in the area.
IMPORTANT – the most important thing to do while creating your zigzag burst is to orient them in the direction of the fur.
The numerous photos examples are of the muzzle being burned in. So when I start the first zigzag burst, the lines were parallel with the edge of the muzzle or pointing towards the eye. As I worked my way down the jaw/face the burst slowly rotated or changed angles to reflect the changing hair growth direction. This meant that the bursts gradually angled a bit towards the jaw line.
Let me show some more drawings to help visualize this.
In this photo I’ve added some bursts to the right of the original group. Notice how the bursts change direction.
Here I’m adding more burst to fill in the new area I’m working on.
This photo shows the continued work adding zigzag bursts to fill in the area.
Below are photos from the actual artwork showing what I explained above.
Basically I’m working my way from the top of the muzzle toward the lips filling in this area with short bursts of zigzags. Each burst is slightly offset from the last burst. Below are most pictures, but this time I’ve made them smaller so that you can view several at a time (assuming a computer monitor). This might make it easier to see how the area is getting filled in.
To darken fur up, I just go over the area using the same zigzag burst process. I do NOT try to burn over the exact same burst. Some areas might get this treatment 3-4 times before they are dark enough. I prefer to slowly build up the layers of shading as I find that it gives me a more realistic results. This method may or may not work for you, but only experience will tell you that.
That said, you will have to use the pictures to see where you need to darken the fur up to give the face shape. I’ve included some more photos below with brief descriptions to help.
darken the edges of the ear
STEP 6 – BACKGROUND
The background covers both the dark behind the deer and the deer’s outline where the darkness meets the fur.
First I want to talk about the outline. The deer’s fur is not perfectly smooth and even, so there are little hairs that stick out all along the outline edges. I went along the edges and ‘roughed’ them up using a couple of methods – gouging, scraping, and reverse burning.
Along the deer’s muzzle there are several hairs that protrude into the darkness.
I created these hairs by gouging (or scratching) the wood with a metal stick. Almost anything will work like a X-acto knife point, scrapbooking embossing tool, the tip of a tiny crochet hook, etc.
In this photo you can see the resulting gouge marks.
Also notice that I have the shading tip laying flat along the wood. This ensures it glides over the gouge marks.
Another way to rough up the edges is to scrape or scratch out fine lines with an X-acto knife. Keep in mind the darker you burn, the more you will have to scrape to remove the color.
Most of the areas along the deer’s outline I used reverse burning to rough up the edges. You simply draw a thin line that starts in background and finishes a short distance into the deer’s fur. Along the throat I burned much longer lines than I did for the muzzle, ears, etc.
If you are not happy with the reverse burned hairs, you can use the X-acto knife to define them up a little more.
There isn’t much to discuss in this step as its sole purpose was to provide contrast so that Venison stands out. While burning darkly it helps to have a little portable fan draw the smoke away from you. Do this by turning the fan away from you so the air it blows is blowing in the opposite direction of where you are sitting. Also, turn the heat on your pen up enough to create a dark burn, but not so high that the metal turns red quickly when you lift the tip from the wood. When the heat is really high it’s very easy to create charred gouge marks.
This shows what happens when the pen heat is too high. The wood surface becomes gouged, pitted and not smooth looking.
STEP 7 – THE EAR
The ear is the last item to burn on the deer and in this step you will get a more detailed explanation of reverse burning.
First I darkened the dark spot on the top of the ear.
Next I started on the start of the wispy hairs. I think that the easiest way to start the hairs is to draw them with a white charcoal pencil. Again a reminder to use CHARCOAL as it won’t melt like color pencil will. Keep the heat on your pen fairly low and slowly fill in the area around the white pencil marks. I worked on the wispy hairs several times building up the texture, form, and darkness. I recommend you do the same.
After giving a few of the wispy hairs some form I worked my way along the bottom of the ear defining the dark skin spot Venison had. I also darkened up the inside line along the upper ear’s edge.
I’m starting on the wispy hairs along the upper wispy hairs. I’m also toning or coloring the ear a pale tan color, but leaving the wispy hairs white.
Here most of the ear has been colored a pale tan and I’m continuing the work on the lower wispy hairs.
Continued work on the wispy hairs. This is slow work as my pen tip is on fairly low heat, but this ensures I don’t get unwanted dark spots. At this stage, I’m just continuing to define the hairs by darkening up the skin behind them.
I also want to point out that where the hairs start is darker than where they end. So looking along the upper ear you can see there is some slight color where the hair starts. This makes the hairs look like they are curling.
Below are more progress photos.
With the wispy hairs pretty well-defined I’m darkening up the skin patches on Venison’s ear.
Almost done. The last thing I did was darken up the area behind the hairs a little more.
Just a quick reminder to erase any white charcoal lines on the wispy hairs if you made them.
STEP 8 – LEAVES
We’re almost done! The last thing left is to take care of the leaves that attracted Venison to the tree.
I rendered the leaves with 4 basic steps. 1) Draw the dark center vein down the length of the leaf, 2) Shade the leaf to give it shape, 3) draw the side veins, and 4) add any cast shadows.
- Drawing the dark center vein is very straight forward. I used the razor edge of the shading tip, but you can also use a writing pen tip. The goal is to draw a dark line, but not a black line.
- Shade the leaf to give it shape. First color the leaf a fairly uniform pale tan color. On the leaves that have curled up edges, keep the underside of the leaf paler than the top side. All of the leaves curl up a little from the center of the leaf, so the center along the vein is the darkest spot. Slightly darken up along the center of the leaf. If there are any leaves that curl downward at the edges, then slightly darken the edges to make the leaf look bowed or curled.
- Using the writing tip (or the razor edge of the shading tip) draw in the side veins of the leaf. Don’t make them super dark as they are a subtle accent.
- Lastly shade in any cast shadows. There are 4; 1 in the cluster of leaves by Venison’s nose and 3 in the cluster of leaves behind her. The cast shadows are uniform in color and several shades darker than the veins.
Below are progress photos of the Right cluster of leaves
The first cast shadow is from the leaf above the large leaf that Venison is about to chomp. Notice how the cast shadow on the lowest leaf is in the shape of the top leaf casting the shadow. The cast shadow continues slightly onto the leaf Venison is about to eat.
Below are progress photos of the left cluster of leaves.
The other cast shadows are found on the leaves behind Venison. The far left leaf has two cast shadows on it. The first one is a slight shadow from its curled up right edge and the second one is from the leaf above it. The cast shadow from the above leaf continues onto the leaf below the curled up leaf. Again notice how the shape of the shadow matches the outline of the leaf. The last cast shadow is on the same leaf and is being cast from the leaf just to the right of it.
Just a few more words before I sign off. I mentioned in the beginning of the tutorial that this artwork was award-winning and that is true. I entered Venison into the Northwest Carvers Association “36th annual Artistry in Wood” show and sale back in October of 2016. Venison won first place for pyrography animal in novice skill level. Yes, I was informed that I entered in the wrong skill level, but it was my first show and I wasn’t sure if I had to work up the ranks, so to speak. The first two skill levels had very defined entry qualifications that made it clear I couldn’t enter at either one of those two levels. After that though the rules were more vague so I wasn’t 100% sure. One of the judges informed me that I should have entered in the intermediate skill level. Next time I’ll know better.
I hope that my pyrography inspires you and that my tutorials explain things in such a way so you can follow along. As always, I love to hear from you, so leave me a comment.
Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions. The artwork measures 12 x 14 inches (30.9 x 35.6 cm), was burned on basswood, and it took me almost 23 hours to complete it.
Until the next blog,
This artwork was submitted by Trish. Trish has done a number of projects and her artwork continues to impress me everytime I see it. I love the touch of color on the leaves that Trish added to her art. As an fyi, Trish burned the deer onto a piece of birch plywood and she used a torch to burn in the background. Fantastic job! Trish, thank you so much for sharing with us!