I love owls. They are one of my favorite birds and when I was commissioned to create a piece of pyrography art featuring an owl, I was thrilled. This particular owl was photographed at a zoo near Seattle, Washington. I later discovered that it was a Eurasian hawk owl; so, not native to the United States, but a very beautiful owl. It had these amazing orange color eyes and striking plumage, so it makes a fascinating subject to base art on. In this tutorial, I’m going to share with you how to create this beautiful hawk owl pyrography art.
*August 2017 update. I just recently discovered that I incorrectly identified this bird. It is not a Hawk Owl, but instead is an Eurasian Eagle Owl.
Reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog, so please check that out!
I used a store bought craft box to burn my owl on and, in some of the photos, you’ll see that. I created a 1” (2.54 cm) border around the artwork in an attempt to give it a framed look, but I’m not going to cover that in this tutorial. I wrote a tutorial about the box including how I lined it with velvet a while back, so if you are interested in replicating the owl on a box then I’d suggest reading that blog; Craft Box.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 6 x 6 inch (15.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Hawk Owl pattern
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet. Let the board dry and then sand again.
This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.
STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD
I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects. 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), and coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil (I use one in the B ranges).
Coating the back with graphite pencil. Don’t use charcoal as it tends to smear.
Place pattern on wood, tape in place, trace over pattern with a sharp pencil, remove pattern, and you’re ready to burn. Notice how I’ve trimmed the pattern down to make sure I get it positioned on the wood just where I want it to be.
Here’s how the owl looked after I transferred the pattern to the wood. Yes, I tend to keep my trace lines fairly pale.
For more information on pattern transfer please refer to my blog: TranferringPatterns.
STEP 3 – OWL EYES
I’m going to cover the eyes first. Note that in some of the photos you will see that more work has been done, but please ignore that. After watching some of my pyrography videos (yes, I’m getting ready to create a YouTube channel) I discovered that I tend to bounce around a lot when I create artwork. To make things easier for you to follow, I will try to keep everything grouped together.
With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the eye trace lines; including the white reflection spots on the eye. My burning unit goes to 10, so medium low on my machine is between 2 and 3. I only put this as a reference as each machine can be different, each pen tip can be different, and even the type of wood can all affect how dark the pen tip will burn on each setting.
Here’s how it looks after the eyes are outlined.
One more thing. Because most of the trace lines are not burned in, there are a lot of pencil marks on the wood; so be careful not to rest your hand on them as they might smear.
Since the next step uses a shading pen tip, I need to explain something important before I continue on. I need to explain optimal pen tip position.
OPTIMAL PEN TIP PLACEMENT – –
NOTICE the placement of the pen tip in this photo; I call this Optimal Pen Tip Placement.
The end of the pen tip is on the inside edge of the beak. Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am burning on the beak and not on the feathers around the beak.
If you walk away with only one thing from this tutorial, I hope that one thing is optimal pen tip position. Optimal pen tip position ensures that you are burning where you INTEND to burn and that your borders are crisp/clean.
Turning the wood, when needed, is important to ensure optimal pen tip placement. You can angle your hand in weird positions to accomplish this, but if you’re burning for any duration of time it’s much easier to just turn the wood.
Back to work.
Switch to a shading pen tip and darkly edge along the outside of the eye (eyelid area) and darken the pupil (center) of the eye. DO NOT BURN on the light reflection spots. Those stay unburned to make them look white.
Tips – 1) use a WHITE charcoal pencil to color the reflection spots. The charcoal will resist the pen heat and make it easier to them to avoid them. 2) Don’t turn the heat up too high when you are doing this step. I had the heat around 3.5 when I did this step because I’m going slowly. The slower you go the easier it is for the pen tip to stay hot, so the heat setting can stay lower. Plus if the heat is too high you will char the wood and discolor the area around the spot you are burning; both of which you don’t want.
Here the left eye is edged and the pupil is getting burned in.
IMPORTANT – since the left eye is looking out from under the feathery forehead, keep the edge jagged along there. Do this by drawing tiny dark lines (short dashes) along this area with the razor edge of the shading pen tip.
What does it mean when I say use the razor edge of the pen tip? It means you need to turn or angle the pen tip so that you are burning with the edge of the tip instead of the flat bottom.
RAZOR SIDE EDGE – –
This photo perfectly demonstrates using the razor edge on the side of the pen tip. The pen is angled/turned so that I’m only using the edge instead of the flat bottom.
RAZOR TIP EDGE – –
This photo shows me using the razor front edge. How steeply you angle the pen tip will determine how fine (thin) the line is, but with the camera position often it’s hard to see how steeply angled I have the pen tip.
Working on the eyelid area around the right eye.
Picture of the eyes so far.
Color the inner corner next to the right eye a dark brown-black. Start the stroke at the top of the corner (near the forehead) and pull it away from the corner and let the color fade out towards the end of the stroke.
Lightly color the eye a pale tan color, but DO NOT burn the light reflection spot(s).
Create the cast shadow caused by the forehead onto the eyes by darkening up the top part of the eye.
The left eye cast shadow slants from the upper left down towards the lower right.
The right eye cast shadow slants from the lower left toward the upper right.
Next finish burning the dark eyelid area around the eyes.
Here’s how the eyes should look so far. The reflection spots are unburned, eyelid area is very dark, the eyes have color and the cast shadows have been burned in.
Add a few fine lines around the iris using the razor edge of shading pen tip.
The lines are slightly darker than the iris. If it’s easier you can always switch to a writing pen tip when drawing in the fine lines.
Lastly, darken up the cast shadows and lightly, very lightly, color the reflected light spots that are on the iris.
Final results of the eyes.
STEP 4 – BEAK
Next we will render the owl’s beak.
First outline the beak with the shading tip a dark brown-black color. Also burn a dark line along the RIGHT side of the bright highlight that is on the beak.
Next burn in the right side of the beak along the bright highlight a dark brown-black color.
Shade the rest of the beak a medium brown color, but AVOID the bright highlight.
Here’s how the beak looks so far.
Next darkly burn the shadowed area on the right side of the beak.
Continue to darkly burn up along the right side to where the feathers start to shroud the beak. This dark jagged line extends from the beak to the forehead.
Burn the top of the feathered portion of the beak. Keep the right side darker than the left and vary the color a little. I burned in lots and lots of tiny lines or dashes, if you will, that angled from the upper right towards the lower left. Also, leave a small band unburned just above the beak.
Darken the beak and this time very lightly color the reflection spot along the edges of it.
Here’s how the beak looked at this point.
Lightly color the pale band above the beak.
How the beak ended up looking.
STEP 5 – FACE FEATHERS
With the eyes and beak done, it’s time to work on all of the beautiful plumage this owl possesses. Because the feathers on the face and body are so different, I’m going cover them separately. The feathers on the owl’s face are like individual strands of hair so it gives the owl a very fluffy look.
First, using the shading pen tip on medium low, burn in the trace lines and erase any residual graphite (pencil marks). Use short lines or dashes with the razor edge of the pen tip for this. The only exception is along the top of the head and on the ears; those areas have a few continuous long lines.
This is a close-up of the short lines I burned in around the eye.
Note that I burned in just enough lines on the forehead to give me the growth direction. I don’t expect you to do the same, so please burn in all of the trace lines or as many as makes it easy/comfortable for you to proceed.
LEFT EAR & DARK BAND
First we’ll take care of the left ear & the dark band that start above the eye and extends to the ear.
First burn in the dark band using the razor edge to burn in dark short lines or dashes. Make sure to keep the edges jagged.
continued work on the dark band
Outline around the light colored hairs that gently fall over the dark ear. The next couple of steps I’ll explain in detail how I did this.
First burn a dark line just above the hairs.
Next burn a dark line just below the hairs.
Continued work burning a dark line below the pale hairs
Fill in the rest of the ear a dark brown-black.
RIGHT EAR & DARK BAND
Now do the same for the Right ear & dark band.
Burn in the dark band
Burn in a dark line above and below the pale hairs and then fill in the rest of the ear with a dark brown-black color.
Next we’ll burn in the forehead feathers. With the forehead I used a combination of single lines and zigzag bursts.
Zigzag bursts are strokes made in a zigzag shape. The photo shows 3 bursts to help visualize what I’m describing.
Keep the zigzag bursts super small and tightly packed. The three in the example are very loose so I could show you each line of the burst. When the bursts are tightly packed there isn’t much, if any, space between the lines.
Keep the heat setting just high enough to produce a tan color. Darker areas happen by either slowing down hand speed or burning over the spot a couple of times to darken it up. There isn’t a need to adjust the heat setting.
One last thing, owls have very mottled plumage so they can blend in well with tree bark, so keep a lot of tonal variety in the forehead.
Start on the right edge adding short lines and small zigzag bursts as you work your way along the right band.
Remember to keep the lines and bursts in the direction of hair/feather growth. I’ve indicated in red the direction needed. The center is pretty much straight up and down, but the left side angles more towards the left the further from the center you get. And the same is true for the right side.
Continue to fill in the forehead area with variegated colored short lines and zigzag bursts.
Below are progress photos of me working on the forehead feathers.
FEATHER BANDS AROUND THE EYES
I marked on the pattern the different feather bands or groups around the eyes. The left eye has 4 and the right has 3. The reason I’m making a big point about them is because the feather bands are layered, so each new band has a ‘shadowed’ area where it touches the above band.
Looking at the right side of the face I’ve marked the feather bands on the final artwork. Notice how band 2 is darker where it touches band 1 because band 1 slightly overlaps onto band 2. Band 1 also slightly overlaps onto band 3, so band 3 is slightly darker where they overlap.
Let’s work the left side first.
Fill in the band 4, the outer band, with lots and lots of hairs using the razor edge of the shading tip.
Vary the length and color of the hairs. Also darken the hairs near the top by the ear to make them look like they are in the shadow of the ear. To darken, just draw more hairs over the area until it gets to the desired darkness or draw the hairs slowly and this will produce a darker hair.
Next fill in section 1 located next to the eye.
Start on the right side of the band and fill with tan colored lines and a few dark lines.
The right side has the most color. Let the color fade as the band reaches the left side of the eye. Lastly, with band 1, burn in some dark super short hair between it and the band below it.
Fill in band 2 that is located next to the nose.
This band gets a few light to medium tan hairs on it. Add a few more hairs where it touches the beak and at the top by the forehead.
Fill in the band 3 which is the bottom band on the left side of the face.
This band gets a few light to medium tan hairs, but mostly near the top where it touches the band above it.
Now for the right side.
Fill in the band 3 with lots and lots of ‘hairs’ using the razor edge of the shading tip.
The band should have a variety of tan color lines with some being pale, some being dark, and the majority being medium tan in color. The hairs near the top by the ear are the darkest area.
Then fill in Band 2 located next to the beak.
Fill in the band with a variety of tan strokes that fade towards the end of them.
Lastly fill in Band 1, the band next to the eye.
Band 1 is darker on the left side near the forehead and gets paler along the bottom of it.
Last section for the facial feathers is the fluffy feathered area along the neck. The beak divides this section in two with the fluffy feathers arching up and away from the beak. Again variation and extremely short dash strokes are the key to replicating the look of this this area.
First burn in the medium to dark tan line that separates the eye bands and the neck.
Start on the left and fill it with medium tan colored short dashes angling them towards the left. Leave some white space between some of the dashes
Continue to add short dashes of varying tan colors to shape the left side.
Turn up the heat on the pen just a little and add the darker dashes. Again, make sure to keep the dashes short.
Start working on the right side. The right side has a bit more of the dark dashes, but the method of creations is the same as the left side.
continued work on the right side
more work on the right side
STEP 7 – BODY FEATHERS
Now it’s time to work on the body feathers and finish up the owl. I’m going to explain the chest area first and then finish up with the owl’s back and wing feathers.
First burn in the trace lines for the body. Erase the residual graphite after the trace lines are burned in.
Next start burning in some of the darker areas marked on the pattern. The key to this is to keep color extremely varied even in the “dark” areas. There are very, very few spots where the color is uniform. Or put another way, there is a lot of mottling on the feathers.
Continue to work on the darker streaks and markings along the chest region.
The goal is to have the chest a mottled (varied) medium tan colored with some small areas of pale and dark tan.
Almost done with the chest.
Last thing are the band of short whitish feathers below the neck and just above the chest. Transitional feathers as I think of them. They don’t get a lot of color – just a few medium tan lines here and there and a few more tan lines along the edges to give a slight impression of separate feathers. Don’t get carried away with adding tan lines otherwise they won’t look white anymore.
Working on the small white feathers
Now for the last section, the back and wing feathers. These are mostly darker, but like the chest they are extremely mottled in color.
First burn in the darker bands along the back neck. Keep the edges of the bands irregular. I used a zigzag stroke for the bands as it produced very irregular edges and helped to provide color variation.
Fill the area between the dark bands with variegated tan color. Again I used a zigzag stroke for this.
The pictures below show my progress on the banded area on the neck.
Next burn in the pale tan feathers above the wing and to the left of the neck band. Make sure to keep edges serrated or broken.
Below are some pictures showing me working on it.
Next we’ll work on a small group of feathers next to the wing.
First edge around the dark side of the feathers.
Then fill in the area with a dark brown mottled color; i.e. it is not uniformly colored in. I used a circular motion when I filled in this area.
CIRCULAR PEN STROKES
Using the flat of the shading pen tip to draw tiny overlapping circles. Don’t lift the pen tip to start a new circle. Instead keep the pen tip in touch with the wood, move it over slightly and draw a new circle. The new circle overlaps the current circle. I continue in this fashion until the area is filled in. To help show this I’ve drawn circular strokes with a marker. The strokes are big and barely overlapping to better show what a circular stroke is.
This example is a lot closer to what I’m really doing with the shading pen tip. The circles are small; no bigger than a 1/8 inch tall (0.32 cm) and a 1/8 inch wide (0.32 cm). Plus they overlap a lot as the drawing shows.
Next darkly edge along the left side of the feathers. Also edge a little between each feather, but do that in a tan color.
Color the left side of the feather a very mottled tan color. Don’t be afraid to leave white spots in there. Again, I used a circular motion through this area.
Lastly cover the feathers with random blotches made with the shading pen tip. To do this, just hold the pen tip in place for a fraction of a second, lift, move to a new spot and repeat.
Below are some photos showing me working on this area.
Almost done. The only thing left is the wing. We will use the same technique that was used on the feathers above.
Using the same circular motion that was used on the previous feathers, fill in a small section. I kept each small section semi-shaped like a feather.
Then cover the section with random blotches.
Move to a new spot and repeat the last two steps.
Continue adding small sections until the side or wing is filled in.
In this photo I’m finishing up the wing.
Here’s how the craft box looked after I was done with the owl.
As I’ve mentioned before in other blogs, I love to learn little tidbits about the animals in my artwork. Owls are designed to fly very silently because their feathers have fuzzy edges that alter the wind turbulence as they fly. If you’d like a little more information Audubon has short article providing a more scientific explanation for an owl’s silent flight. There is wonderful video comparing an owl’s silent flight with that of a pigeon and a falcon. http://www.audubon.org/news/how-do-barn-owls-fly-so-silently. Hopefully Audubon doesn’t mind me providing a link to their article.
Just for the record, if fuzzy is not a scientific term it should be.
And, because you just can’t have enough pictures, below are the progress photos from each time I stop burning. I thought you might find them interesting.
We’re done. I hope that you enjoy creating the Hawk Owl as much as I did. This was one commissioned project that I was sad to see go out the door as I really liked how it turned out. I had taken this project to work to show a couple of people and one person commented about how amazing it looked and couldn’t believe I could create something that realistic. I told her with practice she could do the same thing. I had the reference photo with me, so started pointed out tips on doing the beak and the eyes. She looked at me and said, “Wow, it doesn’t seem as fantastic now.” I didn’t mean to ruin the magic for her, but it’s the truth. Anyone who is willing to practice can become a pyrography artist and I truly hope that my tutorials help you become one.
Speaking of helping you, you can help me. I love getting your feedback – good or bad. Your comments and suggestions are the only way I will discover how I’m doing and what improvements I can/should make, so please leave me a comment.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on a store bought birch plywood craft box that measured 8 x 8 inches (20.3 x 20.3 cm), but the owl image only covered a 6 x 6 inches (15.2 x 15.2 cm) of that area. It took me 4 hours to complete the owl. That said this is not a race or contest. I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot. You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the process of creating, and hopefully having fun while doing so, that is important!
Until the next blog,
April 23, 2017
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This artwork was submitted by Michela Caroti and I’m just in awe at the awesome job she did. Michela captured the texture and multiple layers of feathers wonderfully. Plus the frame she burned around the edges really compliments the art and gives it very finished or polished look. Thank you so much for sharing your artwork with us, Michela!