Pelican Pyrography Artwork wood burning

Todd and I were staying in a dive resort in Bonaire and during breakfast we often saw a pelican sitting on a nearby post overlooking the ocean.  Didn’t take us long to get into the habit of bringing a camera with us and it paid off as we managed to get some great photos.  This particular shot appealed to me because of all of the feathers on the pelican’s back.  So this blog is devoted to the pyrography creation of the Pelican. 

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

I keep a file folder filled with “next project” ideas.  I think I add more project ideas to the file than I take out, but it’s handy as anytime I need a project I dig through the folder and see what appeals to me.   One day I was looking through the file trying to pick a project to go onto a wonderfully pale piece of basswood and ran across the pelican.  Perfect!

Like all artwork, I first have to get the pattern transferred to the wood.  There is probably some absolutely amazing person out in the world who can freehand their pyrography, but that’s not me.  I need guidelines!   Because of all of the feathers and tonal changes, getting the pattern onto the wood took me two days of work.  Granted I only worked for 45 minutes at a time tracing on the pattern, but most projects I have this step done in less than 30 minutes.






Heck, even burning the outline took me almost double my normal time.  After all of the prep work the Pelican was finally ready for me to start shading in the bird.  I like to get the facial features done first; especially the eyes. 








The eye in this case wasn’t too onerous as it was a matter of concentric circles. What makes the Pelican a little unique is the furry neck.  At least it looks furry to me.








Burning in the trace lines.









I did the furry neck like I do all fur, I used short zig-zag bursts to fill in the area.  

















After I got the area filled in, I quickly decided it needed to be darker, so ended up going over the neck with the same zigzag stroke types.
















After the head and neck were mostly done, I started in on the body feathers. 









The shoulders weren’t too bad, but the tops of the wings were the most difficult part of the entire project.  In all of the years I did graphite/charcoal drawings I never used white charcoal that much, but since taking up pyrography I’ve found I’m using it a lot.    The charcoal helps me see where the highlights need to be, charcoal resists the heat of the pen tip, and it erases easily.





Here I’m drawing the highlights along the tops of the wings.  








When I burn around charcoal I do try to avoid burning on it as the charcoal only RESISTS the heat of the pen, it doesn’t block it completely. 






In this photo it’s really easy to see the white charcoal.








I was rather surprised by the amount of texture on the Pelican’s beak.  I always think of a bird’s beak as being very smooth, but this guy’s beak had texture that reminded me more of driftwood.  Lots of fine lines reminiscence of grain lines and little pits and nicks covered the beak’s surface.   I used a writing tip to add all of this fine texture.















Obviously I had to spend a lot of time burning in all of the feathers on the wings and back.  









Starting on the long back feathers.









This area was another spot where the white charcoal came in very handy.  







The actual bird was perched on a metal pipe that was part of the support for the covering on the outdoor dining area.  The pipe had been painted white and was rusted out at the end of it close to where the bird was perched.  Each tail feather had a thin pale edge around them, so I wanted his perch to be very dark as this would help the tail feathers stand out. 





Here the perch is burned in and the tail feathers are mostly done.











Below are some progress photos of the rest of the feathers being burned in. 










Once the bird was done (or mostly done) I started working on the background.  First I burned in the horizon line where the island was.  Then I filled in the sky.   I really wanted the background as pale as I could make it, but still give the impression of a sea and distant land mass.  






Plus I needed some contrast for the white portion on the Pelican’s head.  I tried to keep the sky a uniform color and from a distance it is, but up close there are some streaks of color variation.

Here I’m almost done with the sky. 

I knew almost immediately that I was going to have to darken up the sky some more, but decided to work on the sea first. 



For the sea I drew an assortment of lines to represent the slight eddies and water movement.  The lines varied in length and darkness, but most were angled in the same direction being semi-parallel with the distant land mass. 





Here’s the artwork after I burned in the sea the first time.  Yes, I ended up going over this area again. 











I decided that I didn’t like the bird’s perch as it didn’t look like metal, so I changed it to wood. 








The bark texture is almost done in this photo.

I didn’t keep track of how many times I reworked the sky and sea, but would guess around 3-4.   Despite all of that work I consider the background to be the worst part of this artwork.   It’s just too light, but I think I was tired of working on it. So far the Pelican has taken me the longest to do of my projects.  Others have come close, but the Pelican holds the record.   The reason the Pelican took so much time is because I kept re-working the background slowly adding layers to build up the darkness.



Below are some close-up photos











While I don’t consider this to be one of my better pieces of art, I do like the Pelican itself.  What I don’t like is the background because it’s just too faint.  I’m still very much learning how subdued (faint) I can burn and still keep the detail after it’s sealed.  The sealing process tends to darken the wood a bit and for some reason I lose the really faint shading.  I know this, but I’m still learning how faint is too faint.

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The artwork measures 9 3/4 by 17 inches (24.8 x 43.2 cm), was burned on basswood, and it took me 23 hours to complete it.

Until the next blog,



2 thoughts on “Pelican Pyrography Artwork wood burning

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.