The Meerkat Pyrography Artwork wood burning

I love going to zoos because I see so many animals I’d never get to see otherwise.  Plus, it provides me with lots of photo opportunities that I can use in my artwork, as the Meerkat artwork shows.  Meerkats are so much fun to watch as they are so active and very inquisitive.  This particular zoo habitat setting had these logs for the meerkat to climb up on and survey their surroundings.  I was fascinated with how they stand, their colors, markings, etc., so I decided to render one in the pyrography art format.   This blog is going to discuss the creation of the Meerkat pyrography art.   

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




When I start new projects that feature animals or people I almost always get the eyes done first.  Then I start working on the shading the areas that define the shadows or markings an animal has. 








This particular meerkat has a “bandit” mask around the eyes, a dark band that stretched from the ear to the neck, and some shoulder stripes. 







In this photo I’ve burned in some defining lines around the eye area and started on the ear band.  Looking at the photo, the eye almost looks like I’m doing ancient Egyptian styled artwork.







The pictures below show my continued work getting the facial features done and some of the markings.


























I continued to fine tune the facial features, but also started putting in the fur on the body. 









Working on the fur around the eyes.








Here I’m working short fur found on the meerkat’s back.  When I render fur, I use short zigzag bursts vs drawing each individual hair.    

The zigzag stroke provides wonderful fur-like texture because it produces lots of lines that have gaps between them.   This produces a varied  texture that is quick and easy to do.   Keep in mind the zigzag method works best for fur that is not very long.  

I draw a short zigzag burst that 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 slightly offset from each other.





Here I’ve added some more bursts 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.





Now I’ve started a second row of zigzag bursts.  Again I varied where I start each one. 





he 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.

Yes, this is what I really do when I’m creating the look of short length fur.




Since the meerkat had a white underside I needed a dark background for the white to show up.  A really dark background will make unburned areas look very pale and white. 








I want to point out the hairline in this picture.  Notice how the top of the head has some random hairs that extend into the dark area.  I created those while I was burning the background.  Think of each little hair as a pencil mark and the goal is to burn the area around the pencil mark. 




Here I’m filling in the rest of the background.  I had the pen heat lower while I was burning along the hairline because I needed to go slow and create the protruding hairs, but once that was done I could turn up the heat and increase my hand speed to get the background done fairly quickly.






With the background around the upper body burned in I could work on the white throat fur.  Why couldn’t I work on the white fur before?  I could, but it’s a delicate balance of how dark I can burn the shadows in the white area and still keep it looking white.   It’s a matter of keep a strong contrast.  The darker the area around the white fur, the darker the shadows can be on the white fur while still maintaining the white fur look.





Here’s a close-up of me working on the wispy chest hairs.  I will most readily admit that this was, in my opinion, the worst part of my artwork. 








Continued work on the chest hairs.  I reworked the hairs several times, but I don’t think I ever got the hairs looking right.  It didn’t help that there were a lot of grain lines right behind the hairs and grain lines tend to blacken up quickly resulting in dark black thin lines that run through the artwork.    






Here’s how the entire piece of artwork looks so far.  I tend to work in sections, so with this piece of art I was working my way from the top to the bottom.








I started working on the wooden log giving it some color and “growth” rings on the top.








Then I worked on the side of the log adding cracks to give it a slight weathered look.








Since I was working in the general area I also defined the feet and put in the cast shadows from the feet onto the log as is seen in this picture.








Here, I’m starting to work on the meerkat’s claws. 







Here the claws are done, but I want to point out the shift in hair length that happens as I transition from the fur on his back to the fur on his belly and arms.  The belly and arms give the impression of having longer hairs on them because I lengthened the pen strokes I used.  I also had to quit using the zigzag bursts  in this area.




When I’m working on a project it is very common for me to get the artwork done and decide it needs additional work or touch-ups.  This is where fine-tuning your artwork comes in.  This photo shows the meerkat being essentially done, but I wasn’t happy. 








First I had to darken up the markings and shadows along the neck and throat.








Then I darkened up the couple of streaks on the back.









Lastly I darkened up almost all of his fur.










Sometimes I’m amazed I actually finish as many projects as I do since I just can’t leave things alone.  Still unhappy with the fur, I decided to add some dark guard hairs to the fur.  Unlike my normal “fur” method of a short zigzag bursts, the guard hairs were drawn in individually.  It had a two prong effect; 1) darkened up the fur, and 2) added some nice texture.




Continued work on adding the dark guard hairs.







I also felt that the rump fur around his foot needed more defining, so that’s what I’m working on in this picture.







Here’s how the Meerkat looked after round 2 of fine tuning.










Yes, I still wasn’t happy.  Sometimes I honestly think I have some sort of disorder as my husband will tell me the artwork is fine, but I still feel the need to fuss, nitpick, and rework areas and, for me, The Meerkat project was really bad in the regard.

I decided that I hated how fuzzy the outer arm looked, so I toned it down.






Then I had to work on the log some more.








I also felt the need to darken up the shadows on the log under the belly fur. 






Lastly I had to darken up the sides of the log and add more cast shadows on the log from the Meerkat.





At this point I decided I was done otherwise I’d never finish it.   Below is a head/chest shot of my artwork and the reference photograph for you to compare.








Obviously my artistic interpretation isn’t identical to the reference photo, but they are very similar.  As always there are things I like about my artwork and things I don’t.   I like the Meerkat’s face and the little fur whirls along the chest.   Of course there are things I wished I’d done differently like the wispy chest hairs.  I hate them.  I also wish I’d made the guard hairs a little darker.    


I did this artwork back in June of 2016 and I wrote this blog in March of 2017.   I think that if I hadn’t forced myself to quit nitpicking on this artwork when I did, I would probably be on ‘fine tuning round 100’ or something ridiculous like that. 

The Meerkat turned out decent, but is not one of my favorites.    As an extremely self-critical artist, it is very difficult for me to look at my art the way most other people do (or hopefully do).   Where others can look and think that my art is beautiful, I tend to look at it and see the areas I wished I had done better.   So I often defer to Todd’s opinion about my artwork and he likes the Meerkat.    

Bottom line is that I gained some valuable experience and I enjoyed the process of creating the art.  Maybe one day I’ll learn to be more appreciative and less critical of my artwork.  At least I hope I will.

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The artwork measures 10 x 17 inches (25.4 x 43.2 cm), was burned on bass wood, and it took me 14 3/4 hours to complete.

Until the next blog,


Mar 25, 2017

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