On one of our road trips along the Oregon Coast I spotted a wildlife game park / zoo, so of course we had to stop. I always take lots of pictures as they come in handy for my artwork. The Bengal Tiger is one such artwork that came about because of those pictures. I love big cats, so almost any artwork featuring them is very appealing to me. What I like about this project is the assortment of textures and colors like the black stripes, the white shaggy mane, and the white barb-like whiskers. In this tutorial blog I’m going to do my best to explain how to create the Bengal Tiger pyrography artwork.
Reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 4 – 5
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Large shading tip (optional)
- 9 x 12 inch (22.9 x 30.5 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Bengal Tiger Pattern
- White Charcoal Pencil
- X-acto knife
Before I get started I’m going to apologize now as the photos aren’t always the best. They were taken from the video before I had it mounted overhead, so most, if not all, are at an angle which makes it harder to see what’s going on. Sorry. Also I will be discussing something, like the nose, and you will be able to tell more work has happened. Try to ignore that and concentrate on what I’m currently explaining.
It is due to the poor photo quality that I’m rating this project a 4-5 difficulty level.
Since this project is a higher skill level project I will only mention what type of pen stroke I’m using, but I will not explain how to create that pen stroke as I’ve covered that in my ‘using the shader’ tutorial.
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, but you can use any method you prefer. Just remember to check for missing stuff before you remove the pattern. I’ve covered several different ways of transferring in this blog: Transferring Patterns.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines. With this project it is important to keep your trace lines burned in as light as possible. The goal is to get them burned just dark enough to see.
Also it’s important to burn the lines as little dashes in the direction of the fur growth instead of burning solid lines. Solid lines create a more coloring book style and with fur we don’t want that. The tiny dashes, on the other hand, easily blend in with the fur texture.
I cannot emphasize enough the need to keep the little dashes a light tan color. Really dark dashes will not blend in when transitioning between the white and orange areas.
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
STEP 4 – THE WHISKERS
Darkly burn in the muzzle whiskers with a writing pen tip on medium-high heat.
As a reference my unit goes up to 10, and I had the setting on 6. The goal is to create really dark deep curved whisker lines and a hot pen tip accomplishes this fairly easy.
I know this seems counterproductive as the whiskers are white, but the last thing we will do is scrape away the charring using an X-acto knife to reveal the white whiskers.
I did the whiskers first for two reasons: 1) It’s super easy to see the pencil lines at this point, and 2) there aren’t other burn lines to interfere with the whiskers. Let me explain item two a little more.
When I burn fur I use zigzag strokes and this process burns thin lines into the wood. Each one of those lines has the potential to become a rut that the writing pen tip gets stuck in and, if it does, it can ruin the nice smooth curved line of a whisker.
Do you have to do your whiskers this way? No. There are other options and I’ll describe four I can think of; engraving/embossing, white charcoal, white colored pencil, or painting them on.
How: Before burning any of the fur around the whiskers, use an engraving/embossing tool along the whiskers will compress or gouge the wood leaving an engraved channel. When burning over the engravings try to keep the pen tip as flat as possible so glides over the whiskers. I used this method when I worked on chin hairs in the Vension artwork I did.
Downside: The downside is – depending on the wood – it can be hard to keep a nice curved line as the embossing tool tends to follow grain lines.
How: Draw in the whiskers with a white charcoal pencil and then avoid burning the whiskers. After you’re done burning erase the white charcoal. Most likely you will need to use an X-acto knife tip to clean up the whiskers. Note that for this method you MUST use white charcoal. You cannot use a white colored pencil as colored pencils contain wax and will melt.
Downside: Charcoal smears easily. And it only RESISTS the heat, so if you burn over it the wood underneath can brown up.
WHITE COLORED PENCIL
How: Use a sharp white colored pencil and draw in the whisker after you are done burning. Colored pencils brown very easily under the heat of the pen, so it must be applied after you are done burning.
Downside: The whiskers are not very wide, so I’m not sure how white the colored pencil will look over the dark chin. It might end up looking more grey than white.
How: use a liner or a detailer paint brush to paint on the whiskers after you are done with all of the pyrography. I would think that almost any paint besides watercolors could be used.
Downside: I’m convinced that paint brushes have a will of their own and deliberately go in unwanted directions. Thus the reason I don’t paint. Also I haven’t tested how paints interact with sealants (shouldn’t be a problem) or how well they will adhere to a burned wood surface. I don’t plan on testing this out either, but if you have please share your experience with us.
Obviously here are different ways you can create your whiskers and there are advantages and disadvantages to each method. Testing out methods on a piece of scrap wood should let you know which method you’d prefer to use. Also if you are going to seal your artwork, which you should, test out the sealant on your test piece.
STEP 5 – THE EYE
With the whiskers burned in, now it’s time to burn the Tiger’s eye.
Start by marking the light reflection spot with white charcoal.
Burn a thick dark line around the eye except the top portion of the eye where the white furry eyebrow is. Note – you are not burning on the eye in this step.
Burn a medium tan zigzag line where the black color ends and the “orange” color starts. This like is the transition line between the two colors.
Darkly burn the edges of the eye corner and lower lid. Then burn the black stripe that connects to the eye.
Burn the eye a pale tan color and burn the edges of the eye slightly darker, but avoid burning on the charcoal spot.
Next fill in the area around the eye.
Next burn in the black stripes and markings located around the eye. Note that I used a combination of zigzag and individual lines to do this. The individual lines I did mostly around the border of the stripe and then filled in with zigzags.
Continued work on the black stripes and markings.
Then burn in the ‘orange’ fur located below the eye.
Add some light tan lines to the white fur around the eye.
Lastly burn the iris a dark black color and add a little more color to the eye. Then erase the charcoal mark.
STEP 6 – THE MOUTH AND NOSE
The mouth and nose area dovetails nicely with the eye as we already started working on some of the stripes.
We’ll start with the nose.
First darkly burn the nostril opening black. Make sure to keep the pen tip in optimal position so the edge is sharp.
Burn the nostril a medium tan color, but burn a dark line along the top (marked with a red arrow) and a pale band next to the opening (marked with a green arrow).
Switch to the writing pen tip and apply a layer of dots over the entire surface of the nose.
Lightly burn along the left edge (edge next to the black nostril opening), so that it leaves a ‘reflection’ that follows the shape of the nose.
This close-up photo of the nose has the reflection indicated with a red arrow.
Next we’ll work on the orange fur area on the front of the face. This area extends from the top of the nose (bridge), under the eye, and the top of the mouth where the whiskers first start to appear. The area we are working on is indicated by the red circle and, yes, there is a bit of an overlap with the eye.
First fill in the bridge area with tan zigzags to represent the ‘orange’ fur color. You can also burn the hairs individually if you prefer that method of rendering fur.
Notice that the direction of the hairs run parallel with the edge of the bridge on the nose as indicated by the red arrowed line.
Continued work on the bridge. Note that any areas that are darker means I repeatedly burned over them with more zigzag lines until they got to the darkness level I wanted. An example of this is the area marked with the red arrow.
It’s important to note that the direction of the zigzag lines follows the direction of fur growth as you continue to burn the orange fur on the face.
Again the red arrowed line marks the direction of the hairs in this region. Almost all animals have the same fur growth direction, so if you have a dog or a house cat, look at the fur and notice the direction it grows; the Bengal tiger will have the same basic growth pattern.
The orange fur fades to white when you reach the first row of whiskers.
Now finish the black stripes along the front of the face, but not on the mane. I’m not sure the thick white shaggy fur along the side of the face is called a mane, but for lack of a better term I’m using it.
The first of the markings and stripes are just above the whisker.
Continued work on the black stripes.
More work on the black stripes.
Add a few tan lines on the white fur just above the nose to blend it in better with the rest of the nose.
Lastly add any needed addition layers of fur to give the nose shape and the desired final color.
Last section to work on is the mouth region. Please note that the whiskers are going to be the very last item to be worked on in this project, so they will remain black during this step.
First use the shader pen tip to darken up the dots and stripes along the muzzle. I drew a bunch of dark lines and made ‘dots’ where each whisker emerged. The dots, if you will, were created by holding the tip in place for a second. The result is a cross between a fat line and a blob of a dot.
Continued work on the stripes.
Add some pale tan lines in the white fur. I did not use the zigzag stroke for this step. Instead I burned each lines individually.
Burn in the shadowed area on the lower jar.
Continued work on the shadowed area.
STEP 7 – THE BACKGROUND
To help the white fur on the face stand out, a dark background is needed.
This photo shows my first burn through. I wasn’t sure how dark to make the background.
It didn’t take long and I knew a really dark background was needed, so in this photo I’m burning back over the background to make it a very dark brown-black color.
Remember the edges where the background and fur touch need to be jagged or irregular as this will give the look of wispy hairs that stick out just a little. This little touch will make the art seem a lot more realistic.
To create the jagged edge or wispy hairs, burn dark lines that originate in the background and extend slightly into the fur.
STEP 8 – THE BODY
Using the zigzag stroke we will burn the fur on the rest of the body except the mane and inside of the ear.
The red circled area requires a slightly different approach than the body, so I will explain those areas in the next step
First burn in the dark stripes.
Again make sure to keep the direction of the lines the same as the direction that the fur grows.
Use the writing pen tip to burn a dark line around the edge of the ear.
Continued work on the dark stripes.
Next burn in the orange fur.
Continued work on the orange fur.
When working on the skull, note that there is a dark ‘seam’ running down the middle.
To convey that I burned one side slightly darker than the other.
Continued work on the orange fur. You can probably see from the photos that I first lightly burned in the areas and then re-burned them.
I’ve mentioned before in other blogs that I think this is the key to why my artwork can look so realistic. The re-burning process builds layers that that brings a lot of tonal depth to the artwork.
Continued work on the orange fur.
STEP 9 – THE EAR & MANE
Now for the ear and mane. This is probably the hardest area to do and I know it’s the hardest for me to explain. Basically we are burning the ‘shadows’ into the mane to give it the impression of white fur. If we left it completely white it would look like a flat white object that didn’t get finished.
The first thing to do is define the left edge of the mane. This is done by reverse burning the mane. Reverse burning is the same process used when burning the background. So start burning a line in the orange fur and extend it into the white fur of the mane. Again vary the length of the lines.
Continued work defining the left edge of the mane and noticed that I’m not burning very dark as I do this. That’s on purpose because I build up the area slowly.
Next work on the bottom portion of the last black stripe that lies next to the mane. Keep the lines varied in length to give the impression that white hairs are overlapping a little onto the stripe.
Now it’s a process of adding curved tan lines to the white mane. Along the edges there are more lines than the center.
Another area that has quite a few tan lines is the spot between the top of the mane and the ear. This is where I’m I’m currently working in this photo.
Continued work on burning in curving lines.
I often go back to an area already burned and add a few darker lines.
This group of photos I think shows this process pretty well.
I start out with a few lines.
A few more lines added as I work my way up the mane.
Then I go back and add a few darker ones to get than tonal depth I like. Or put another way, I get a variety of color.
More work on the mane.
Adding a few more dark curved lines.
Adding quite a few dark lines along the bottoms of the white streaks to help them look like they are in shadows.
The same process used on the mane was used on the ear. I burn some dark lines and add a few more.
Continued work on the ear.
Continued work defining the area around the ear.
It might be helpful to used white charcoal to draw in the top hairs that remain the palest and burn around the charcoal.
STEP 10 – SCRAPE WHISKERS
All that is left to do is scrape the charring on the whiskers to reveal the pale wood.
I used both a sharp X-acto knife and a metal ceramic pick for this. The metal ceramic pick is just a piece of strong metal that comes to a fine point. Because of its strength I can scrape a lot harder with it than I can with an X-acto knife. An X-acto knife tips can snap if you apply too much pressure on them.
Using the tip of an X-acto scrape away the charring in one whisker.
Continue to scrape with an X-acto knife or other sharp object until the pale wood is revealed. In this photo I’m going over the whisker with a metal ceramic pick to further scrape charring and smooth the edges.
Lastly carefully burn along the edges of the whiskers to make sure they are sharp. You are burning on the ‘fur’ and NOT on the whisker.
Continue with those steps until all of the whiskers are ‘white’
There are a couple of brow hairs that you need to draw in with a white charcoal pencil.
Then scrape along the charcoal lines with an X-acto knife to get the hairs.
We’re all done!
You know, even after all of the years I’ve been creating art I still enjoy seeing how artwork emerges as a whole because it still almost magical to me. I thought you might enjoy it too, so below are some progress photos of the tiger as I worked on it in ‘real’ time.
Another tutorial is concluded and I hoped you enjoyed it and found it to be informative. Please do try to create your own tiger artwork even if you haven’t been burning for very long. For one thing just the process of creating will give you more experience with your burner and that’s always a good thing. Another thing is that you will learn a lot when you attempt more difficult things. The artwork might not turn out as great as you hope, but each and every project you do will make you a better artist!
A few months and several projects later I created this cross. It’s still not super fancy, but it does have some shading and a slight 3D look to it. I was getting better with the burner and learning what heat settings and pen tips work for me.
A couple of years and many projects later I created this old truck.
When I first started pyrography this truck would have been beyond my skill level as I lacked the necessary experience.
My point is that we all have to go through learning curves when learning new hobbies, so don’t be discouraged if your present artwork isn’t as great as you want it to be. Patience and practice will get you there.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned on bass wood that measures 9 x 12 inches (22.9 x 30.5 cm) and it took me 16 1/4 hours to complete. Remember this is not a race or contest; I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.
Until the next blog,
July 21, 2017