Pheasant on Oak Barrel Pyrography Art wood burning

Some of my coworkers are into making their own beers, wines, and more recently whiskeys.  The whiskey craze was interesting to me as they found mini oak barrels to put their creations into.    One of the guys asked if I would burn an image of a pheasant onto one of his whiskey barrels.  So this blog is going to talk about the creation of that artwork.

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



March 2018 – I was asked where the oak barrel could be purchased and I’ve found out that it was purchased from:

I agreed to burn on the barrel – sight unseen; that was probably a mistake.  Anyway, I get the barrel and it’s protected with shrink wrap, but I thought it was cute.  I didn’t measure how tall the barrel was, but estimate it was around 8 – 10 inches tall (20.3 – 25.4 cm).  When I got home I removed the protective wrapping and discovered this was going to be a challenge.






Here’s a picture of the barrel end.   The end is made out of three pieces of wood and each has its own color and grain pattern.  The bottom piece is almost white, but extremely pitted/gouged and it has a huge hole in it!   The middle piece looks like it has stretch marks and it too has a hole, just much smaller in size.   The top piece was the only section that was decent, but it was very small.  If I had seen this wood beforehand I’m not sure I would have agreed to take on the project.





Challenge 1 was positioning the pheasant on the wood to make it look good and avoid the holes if at all possible.  Challenge 2 was avoiding the entire spigot area as I didn’t know how big the spigot would be.   Challenge 3 was figuring out which of the supplied photos would work best in the small area.  The barrel end was 5 ½ inches in diameter (13.97 cm), so I didn’t have much room to work with.  As the photo shows, I’ve got a pheasant sketched onto the wood to check its placement on the wood.




After sketching the pheasant onto the barrel I let it sit for a couple of days as I debated on whether or not there was a better layout I could do.  Obviously, I never could come up with a better layout as the burned in lines of the sketch show.  Another thing the photograph shows is how I had to reverse my easel to get the barrel positioned for easier burning. 




Here I am burning in the sketch lines with a writing pen tip.  Colwood actually calls it a micro-writer and it’s one of my favorite tips to use for burning sketch lines and small detail items.








Since I still had the writing tip heated up, I started working on the wings.  I had burned in the feather outlines, but had left the markings in pencil form.  I’m sure that there was a reason, but as I’m writing this blog over a year after creating the art I don’t remember why.






In this photo I’ve switched to the shader and started working on the pheasant’s body.  There must have been something I was concerned about with the wings since I only burned two feathers and moved on.






Pheasants tend to be very colorful and have lots of markings on their plumage.  This particular bird had these white spots on its wing joints and some bright reflections along the top of the body.  I love using white charcoal to mark those spots as I’m doing in this photo.  White charcoal makes it super easy to see where the spots are and avoid the area.





With the spots marked, I’m carefully burning around the charcoal to darken up the area.   Yes, I avoid burning over the charcoal because it only resists the pen heat, so a high heat or repeated burning over the spot will cause it to darken up regardless of the charcoal.







Continued work darkening up the body.









Here I’ve started working on the tail region.  I’ve found that I tend to bounce around a lot when I’m working.   Mostly this is to determine tone values for the different areas.  This bird had a lot of color changes and markings that all had to be translated into a monochromatic format.  The reference photo is not mine to share nor do I own any pheasant photos, but a quick google search will provide a plethora of images to see what I’m referring to.






The tail feathers had these dark stripes on them with a slightly paler stripe just above each dark one.   Again I used the white charcoal to mark them.








With the stripes marked I proceeded to work on the tail feathers.









In this photo I’ve erased all of the charcoal marks and I’m softening up the contrast between the pale and dark stripes.   








In this progress photo I have a red arrow pointing to the hole located in the center of the barrel.  Already it’s getting harder to notice the hole, so I was happy about that.








I’m back to working on the wing tips. 









Here’s a close-up of one of the wings.  I basically burned a line around the white streak and then filled in the section working my way from the tip to the base of each feather.








Using my shader I’m working on the top part of the wings; also known as coverts.  Coverts are feathers that cover the base of the flight feathers.  

The barrel was frustrating for me to work on because it was so small that I couldn’t add a lot of fine detail.  Not to mention the wood was horrible to burn on.






Here’s a close-up of the barrel top.  See those dark streaks in the middle of the wood that kind of look like stretch marks?  Those lovely streaks refused to burn.  I had to re-burn over them many times before they would get to the hue I wanted.  It reminded me of trying to use a water based marking pen to color on plastic; the ink just beads.  As if that wasn’t frustrating enough, adjacent to almost every ‘stretch mark’ was a thin band of super soft wood that would char to an ultra-black color even on low heat. 



Back to the burning on the wing.  In this photo I’ve got some white charcoal marks for the spots on the other wing and I’m burning darkly around the charcoal.







I included this photo to help give you an idea of the artwork size in relationship to the barrel.  The area I had to work on was not very big.





I’m almost done with the pheasant and in this photo I’m fine tuning the tail feathers by darkening up the ends of them a bit more.








I also reduced the contrast a touch more and darkened up the lines between each feather.








And I decided that the wings needed a touch more texture.









Since I added some texture to the left wing I have to add some to the right.









With that, I’m done.  Below is a close-up of the final artwork.


Here’s the barrel standing upright to show its shape.









This photo shows the entire barrel end and at this angle it’s easier to see the center hole.






I wasn’t overly thrilled with how the pheasant turned out.  I was frustrated by the wood and how the small area prevented me from adding a lot of fine detail.  My coworker, on the other hand, loved it and that’s the only important part.  He told me that he gave it away as a gift and the recipient was very pleased too.  Though I’m not 100% sure if he was referring to the artwork or the whiskey concoction is was filled with. 

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The artwork was burned onto the end of a barrel that measured 5 ½ inches diameter (13.97 cm), and it took me 2 hours to complete it.

Until the next blog,


July 14, 2017

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