I had been commissioned to burn an owl a while back, and I loved how the commission turned out. I liked it so much, that I had decided if the customer didn’t want it I’d be thrilled to keep it. I should state upfront that I love owls, so I tend to like almost anything featuring them. When it came time to deliver the art, the customer wanted and was thrilled with the art, so that meant I had to burn one for myself. Now there was a benefit to this in that I could take as much timed as I wanted on my personal project whereas the commissioned piece I had a time constraint. This blog is going to discuss the creation of the Eurasian Eagle Owl pyrography artwork.
Todd is a woodworker and I often get leftover pieces of wood he has from his projects. This particular piece was poplar that had dark bands running along the outer edges of the board. The board also has a lot of dark veins running through it.
Another distinguishing feature of this board was the fact that it had this dark rough barked edge on one side as the picture shows. Because of the barked edge, I immediately visualized a bird perched on a limb of the tree.
I have a box filled with assorted boards and store bought wood items craft boxes, panels, etc. When I’m ready to start a new project I dig through to the box to see if I have something that will work before I ask Todd to make me something. When I was ready to work on the owl, I thought that this board would be perfect. It did have a lot of dark grain lines, but I hoped they wouldn’t show since the owl had a lot of mottled plumage.
With the bird transferred onto the board I started working on the face. Faces and especially the eyes are one of the most important parts of artwork. I think the reason is that most people tend to seek out the face before noticing much else, so if the face looks off the viewer immediately forms a negative opinion about the art.
Whether or not this idea is really true, I believe it and as a result I almost always work on the eyes first and any other major facial features. In this case it the owl’s beak.
One thing I’ve discovered about myself is that I frequently block in an area and then move onto a different area. Then I go back and re-burn the first area fine-tuning it, as I refer to the process. Here I am doing the first fine-tuning of the eyes.
This is a side-by-side comparison between the initial blocking in burn and the first re-burn or fine-tuning. I know I did at least one more fine-tuning of the eyes after this.
With the eyes being essentially done I started working on the facial plumage. I think one of the reasons I like owls so much is because the plumage is filled with lots of markings and variegated coloring. Plus owls are usually varying shades of white and brown, so they translate wonderfully in the pyrography medium.
This owl has two basic plumage features; feathers and fluff. The head and neck were covered in the fluff, as I call it. The fluff looks more like fur to me, so I burned it in a very similar way. This means I used a lot of zigzag strokes and individual ‘hair’ lines to replicate the look.
The crown (forehead area) was accomplished by burning lots of tiny zigzag bursts.
The fluff around the eyes, on the other hand, was burned using the razor edge of the shader to draw individual hairs. In fact, I used the shader for the entire project with the exception of the initial burning of the trace lines around the eyes and beak.
The neck was burned using mostly zigzag strokes in long bands.
The bird had these streaks along its neck that had irregular edges, and the zigzag strokes worked perfectly for that. If you are not familiar with some of my stroke terms, then I suggest reading a blog I wrote about how I used the Shading Pen Tip.
In this photo I’m re-working the crown to make it darker.
The feathers were a lot more fun to burn than the fluff. I loved all of the markings on the feathers, and I enjoyed trying to replicate their look.
Another reason they were fun to burn is that I got to use an assortment of techniques to render them. Each feather was burned individually and I used zigzags, circular motion, and even dots to render them. The dots were more like blotches as I used the shader to create them. All of that texture is why I love owl plumage, it’s almost impossible to have too much texture; unless you’re working on a snow owl.
The owl’s chest had a lot of texture too, but it was a lot more subdued taking the form of vertical streaks and wavy horizontal lines.
In this photo I’m working on the feathers above the legs.
And in this photo I’m working on the wing feathers.
What was visually interesting to me while I was burning was how an individual feather would stand out until I burned in the feathers around it. Then the individual feather would mostly disappear into the mass of texture.
Continued work on the wing feathers.
Here’s a picture of me just starting on a feather.
And this photo shows me finishing up that row of feathers.
One of the reasons I liked this particular angle on the owl was that some of the underside of the tail showed. I’m just starting on this area, but it was a fun because of the depth of this area with the tail curvature and the shadows. For whatever reason I really enjoy trying to replicate that level of three-dimensionality. (Yes, I’ve been told I’m weird) It was at this point I encountered the first problematic grain line. One ran right through the tail. Grain lines have a tendency to darken up a lot more than the surrounding wood, so I had to burn very carefully around it.
Another area I had some difficulty on was the owl’s perch. As you can see the actually bird had jesses and was perched on the zoo handler’s arm. Not the look I wanted in my artwork.
Instead I found an image of a broken tree branch and substituted that in. Why did I use a broken branch? I didn’t want to obscure the tail feathers and I like the texture and contrast the broken spot provided. The other thing I had debated about was to leave his legs the way they were in the photo or to alter them. Obviously I left them and hoped it looked like the owl was still adjusting his position or that the branch had an elevated spot to it.
With the perch dilemma resolved I went back to working on the feathers.
Continued work on the feathers. This area of feathers probably had the most distinct markings with its dark banding.
Here I’m burning in the thick bark around the branch. I needed to determine how dark I was going to make the bark as that in turn determines how dark I can burn the underside of the tail and still have it look pale.
As I’ve mentioned in numerous blogs, artwork needs contrast as it makes the art more visually appealing. Not only does the dark bark on the branch provide contrast, but it also makes nearby tan hues look paler. This means I can burn the underside of the tail a little darker and it will still look very pale.
The exposed wood of the broken branch was a new challenge for me. I had never tried to replicate this type of texture before, so it was a little frustrating as I was trying to figure out what to do.
I always tell myself that I should test out things on practice wood or draw it. Drawing is very similar to wood burning, so if I know how to draw it I can burn it. Regardless, I thought it turned out pretty well.
In this photo I’m working on the branch bark again. I used the circular motion for the bark as it provided an irregular mottled texture that I wanted.
Almost done with the branch
At this point the artwork is mostly done, so I’m fine-tuning areas. Here I’m working on the branch end. This area is not very big, but I’d guess that I spent several hours working on it.
Adding a touch more definition between the toes.
Last thing I did was add more color to the chest feathers along the outer edge. The reason I did this was to make sure the chest didn’t disappear after the art was sealed.
Sometimes I do learn from past mistakes.
I like to watch how artwork evolves along, so below are progress photos that I took after each pyro session.
If you’ve been reading my blogs for a bit, you know that sometimes I enjoy sharing little tidbits about the subject matter. The full name of this owl is Eurasian Eagle-Owl and is found throughout most of Europe and Asia. Eagle-owls are one of the largest owls with wingspans up to 6 feet (1.83 meters). They can weigh up to 9 pounds (4 kg) and will soar on updrafts like hawks do.
Owl offspring reach adult size in 7 weeks and begin flying at that time. They stay with their parents for several months and won’t be ready to mate until they are 2-3 years of age.
When I did the commissioned work I had identified the owl as being a hawk owl. I didn’t discover my mistake until I started on this blog and wanted to add the ‘interesting tidbits’ section. I made the commissioned piece a tutorial and since I published that a while back I’m leaving the incorrect name on it. If you’d like to try the tutorial then this link will take you to that blog. Owl tutorial.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and the artwork it featured. To date this owl is my personal favorite piece of pyrography artwork. I not only love the subject matter, but it was a lot of fun to burn. Plus the broken branch gave me the added bonus of trying to learn how to render a new texture. While it’s not perfect I thought I did well enough that it’s easily identifiable; I’m good with that.
Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions. The artwork measures 11 x 17 inches (27.9 x 43.2 cm), was burned on poplar wood, and took me 17 hours to complete.
Until the next blog,
Aug 25, 2017
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