Nuthatch Bird Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

NUTHATCH BIRD PYROGRAPHY TUTORIAL wood burning

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create this Nuthatch pyrography artwork.  The nuthatch is the second installment of my Backyard Birds tutorial series.  This particular nuthatch is a red breasted nuthatch; in case you were wondering.  What I like about the backyard bird series is that the subject matter isn’t overly complex but the series still provides valuable experience and techniques.  Not to mention the artwork looks great on the wall and it makes a great gift for a bird lover.   

 

You can watch a YouTube video version of this tutorial by clicking on the image to the right.   

There is reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog, so please check it out.

 

Now, let’s get to work.

SKILL LEVEL: 3

MATERIALS NEEDED:  

  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)   Nuthatch pattern
  • Ruler & Pencil
  • White Charcoal Pencil

STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD

I do not have any photo’s for this step, but you always need to prep the wood surface for burning.   Do this by sanding the surface smooth using 220 grit sandpaper.   For more details about prepping wood and the different types of wood I’ve burned on refer to this blogWood Prepping.  

   

STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD

First draw the 1 inch (2.54 cm) frame around the edge of the wood.   Use a ruler to measure 1 inch from the outer edges and then draw a line with a straight edge.

Pattern placement

I wanted the suet cage to be right on the edge of the frame.  To do this I cut out enough of the right side of the pattern so I could line up the edge with the frame edge.   I also cut off enough of the blank paper to make it easier to center the work horizontally.

 

 

 

Check trace lines for accuracy

 

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 lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern.  Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.   

Marking the bars

 

 

I do want to point out that I placed a little ‘x’ on each bar of the suet cage.  I find this makes it easier to see to distinguish the bars from the background.         

 

STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE

Burn in the trace lines & erase graphite

With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines.    After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. 

 

 

 

 

adding squiggles on the back bars

 

 

I burned in a few squiggly lines on the back bars to help them stand out from the bars in the front.  Again this was just to help me distinguish each bar.

It is easy to get into the habit of burning your outline or trace lines darkly, but if you want to create realistic art don’t get into that habit.   Darkly burned trace lines tend to look more like a color book style of artwork; not the look I’m after.   Quite frequently the trace lines are nothing more than guidelines to me on where to add shadows, draw fur, etc. and I don’t want a dark harsh line to interfere with that.    The darker the line, the darker the art has to be to make the line blend in and this is especially true with animals and people.  Keep your trace lines burned as lightly as possible.

 

STEP 4 – SUET CAGE

Suet cage burned in

Darkly burn the bars on the suet cage.  The sun is located on the upper left side of the subject, so the right side of each bar is darker than the left.  Also the bottom of each bar is darker than the top.

 

 

 

 

 

Cage reference photo

Here’s the reference photo for the cage.  I purposely chose to simplify my cage by ignoring all of the bits and pieces of suet found on it in random places.  The birds love to peck a piece of suet, eat it, and then wipe their bills on the cage.  Ground feeding birds, like doves, hang out below the suet nabbing up the little pieces that fall to the ground.  There can get to be quite the crowd of birds on the ground when the northern flickers are eating.  First of all they tend to stay a while and second they are very messy eaters.   Nuthatches, on the other hand, tend to flit in, grab a quick nibble, and quickly flit back out.

Before we get going, I need to remind you to keep your pen in optimal position to keep the bar edges crisp and clean. 

I think I have mentioned this in almost every tutorial, so I won’t harp on about it here, but if you are unsure what I mean please read my blog:  Using the Shader Pen Tip.   This blog not only explains the terminology I use, but also explains how to create the different types of pen strokes I use and make mention of in this tutorial. 

Burn darkly along the right edge of a bar

 

 

First darkly burn along the right edge of one bar.

 

 

Rotate the wood, edge left side of bar and fill in

 

 

Rotate the wood to keep the pen in optimal position, and burn along the left edge of the bar.  Then fill in the bar, but make sure to keep the left side of the bar slightly paler than the right.

 

 

 

Working on another bar

 

 

You can burn one bar at a time.

 

 

 

 

Edging several bars before filling in

 

 

Or do one of the steps on several bars.  In this photo I am darkly burning along the right edge of the 4th bar after I had done this to the previous bars.

 

 

Rotate and repeat

 

 

Then rotate the wood and finish up the bars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Below are progress photos of the suet cage being burned in. 

 

STEP 5 – NUTHATCH

Nuthatch is done

Now let’s burn in the main subject of this project; the nuthatch.  I’m going to breakdown this step into smaller segments: head, mantle & chest, wings, tail & belly, and lastly the foot.   

 

 

The Head

HEAD

 

 

 

 

 

 

Head reference photo

 

 

Here’s the reference photo for the head.

 

 

 

Marking the reflection spot

If you’ve read a few of my blogs and/or tutorials, it should come as no surprise that we’re going to work on the eye first.   Begin by using a white charcoal pencil to draw in the light reflection spot on the eye.

 

Darkly edge around the eye

 

Use the shading pen tip and darkly edge around the eye.  If it’s easier, use the writing pen tip for this step.  I used the razor edge and burned 1/4 of the eye at time, turning the wood frequently to get this step done.

 

Fill in the eye

 

 

Switch to the writing pen tip and fill in the rest of the eye avoiding the reflection spot.   Erase the charcoal after you are done.

 

 

 

Dark streaks burned in

 

 

Next let’s burn in the dark streaks on his face.

 

 

Burn the dark top of the head

 

 

First darkly burn along the top of the head using the shading pen tip.  Remember to keep the pen in optimal position so the edge stays crisp and clean.

 

 

 

Working on the lower streak

 

 

Then burn darkly along the upper edge of the streak along the eye.

 

 

 

 

Fill in the streak

 

 

Fill in the lower streak.

 

 

 

 

extend streak

 

 

Extend the streak down towards the throat using a tight zigzag stroke.

Again, as I already mentioned refer to this blog if my terminology is unfamiliar to you:  How To Use the Shader

Finish filling in

 

 

 

 

Finish filling in the lower streak

 

 

 

 

 

Edge the upper beak

 

 

Burn a dark line along the top of the beak.

 

 

 

Burn a dark band

 

 

Then burn a dark band along the top half of the upper beak.

 

 

 

Burn the front half dark

 

 

Burn the front half of the upper beak dark and the rest of the upper beak light tan color.

 

Burn the lower beak

 

 

Rotate the wood and burn the lower beak a light tan color.

 

 

Burn the joining line

 

Then burn a dark line that connects the lower edge of the eye streak with the seam where the upper and lower beaks touch.

 

 

Burn line at end of beak

 

Burn a dark thin line that defines the end of the beak (where the feathers start). 

 

 

 

burn around the eye

 

Next use very short pull-away strokes around the white border framing the eye.  Stop just before reaching the eye.

 

 

Continued work

 

Continued work.  The goal is to ring the eye with a gradient color that starts black and fades out leaving a pale ring right around the eye.

 

 

 

 

IMPORTANT.  Make sure to turn the heat down on your unit as we are going to burn the feathers on the throat.

 

Start on the throat

 

 

Start burning in the feathers on the throat using pale zigzag strokes. 

 

 

Continued work

 

Continue to burn in the throat feathers and while doing so define the features of the throat.  Refer to the reference photo as a guideline for this.

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work on the throat.

 

 

burn in the white streak

 

 

Also burn in the white feathers along the white streak. 

 

 

 

add some darker lines next to the mantle

 

 

Add a few dark lines along the edge where the throat ends and the mantle begins.

 

 

 

defining the white dot

 

 

Use a writing pen tip to draw a dark line around the tiny white circle below the eye.

 

 

 

finishing the eye area

 

 

Use the pen tip to add some mottling to the white blotches to the right of the eye.

 

 

 

add some darker hairs

 

 

Lastly use the pen tip to add a few darker thin and short lines here and there.  Add a few short lines next to the areas bordering the black streaks.

 

 

 

 

 

Mantle & Breast done

MANTLE & BREAST

 

 

 

reference photo

 

 

 

Here’s the reference photo for this section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Burn in the mantle

 

First burn in the mantle a dark tan color using short zigzag strokes.

 

Continued work

 

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

finishing up

 

 

 

Almost done. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting on the breast

 

 

Start filling in the breast area with zigzag strokes.

 

 

 

Continued work

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

spot check

 

 

Time for a spot check.  Every so often you stop and critically look at your work and see if any adjustments are needed.  That’s what I’m doing in this photo and I spotted a problem with my contrast.  The reference photo show a very distinct color difference between the mantle and the breast, but my artwork doesn’t reflect that.

Reburning the mantle

 

In this photo I’m beginning to fix the problem by re-burning the mantle.  When I darkened up this area I used the zigzag stroke again.

 

 

 

Check work

 

After fixing, I do a second spot check.  I like the increased contrast, so I’m ready to move on.

 

 

 

Define the coverts

 

Define the edge of each coverts feather using short dashes to keep the edges a touch jagged.

 

Darkly burn the lowest feather

 

 

 

Next darkly burn the lowest feather; this is the feather next to the breast.

 

 

burn in the alula feathers

 

 

Burn in the tiny alula feathers along the top of the coverts.

 

 

 

burn in the coverts

 

 

Then burn in the coverts a dark tan color but leave the outer edge (the lower edge) slightly paler.

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

 

Wings are done

WINGS

 

 

 

 

reference photo

 

 

Here’s the reference photo for the wings.       

 

 

 

 

Start on the lower wing

 

 

 

Start on the lower wing feathers and burn them just like we did with the coverts; burn a dark tan color that fades near the outer edge.

 

 

Continued work

 

 

Continued work burning the wing feathers.

 

 

continued work

 

 

 

When you get to the lower wing feathers, angle the pen tip so that you’re burning mostly with the razor edge as just a narrow band of the feathers are showing.

 

Continued work

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

burn the feather ends

 

The feathers at the end of the wing are dark with pale edges, so carefully burn them in.  It might be helpful to draw in the pale edges with a white charcoal pencil.

 

burn in the wispy hairs

 

 

Burn in the wispy hairs or jagged feather edges along the top of the wing just below the coverts.

 

 

Define tiny feathers

 

 

Start defining the tiny feathers next to the belly by burning darkly along the outer edges. 

 

 

 

Continued work

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

Fill in feathers

 

 

Start filling in the feathers, but make sure to leave a pale edge at the end of each feather.

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

Start on the upper wing

 

 

Rotate the wood and start working on the upper wing.

 

 

 

 

 

continued work

 

The feathers are burned in the same as the lower wing in that the outer edge is the palest spot on the feather.

 

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

Continued work

 

Continued work. 

 

 

 

 

feathers with pale edge

 

Remember the last 3-4 feathers are darker and have a pale edge on them.

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

Almost done

 

 

 

Almost done with the wing feathers.

 

 

 

 

 

Tail & belly done

TAIL & BELLY

 

 

 

 

Reference photo

 

 

 

Here’s the reference photo for the tail and belly.

 

 

 

 

burn in tail

 

 

Burn in the tail feathers a dark tan color.

 

 

 

Continued work

 

 

Continued work on the tail feathers.

 

 

 

Finish tail and start wispy hairs

 

 

 

As you finish up the tail feathers, start burning the wispy hairs under the wings near the tail.

 

 

work on the belly

 

 

Start burning in the feathers/hair along the belly.

 

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

Reverse burn

 

After you burn in the belly hair, carefully reverse burn along the cage leaving just a few wispy hairs.   To reverse burn, burn a dark short line that starts on the cage area and finishes a short ways into the belly area. 

 

before / after reverse burn

The above picture shows the before and after my reverse burn. 

 

Foot & Leg done

FOOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reference photo

 

 

 

The reference photo for the foot.

 

 

 

 

burn leg & foot tan color

 

 

Burn the foot and leg a tan color leaving the nodules unburned.   The nodules, as I’m calling them, are the round lumpy things along the bottom of his foot.

 

 

 

Burn in the talons

 

 

 

Burn in the talons.

 

 

 

 

 

burn in shadows

 

 

 

Burn the slight shadows along the bottom of the foot and back side of the leg.  Also lightly burn over the nodules.

 

 

Burn top part of leg

 

 

Burn the top part of the leg a bit darker so it appears to be in shadows. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foot & Leg done

 

 

Lastly burn some dark blotches along the foot between the back and front toes/claws.

 

 

 

 

 

The hardest part is done, so let’s finish up this artwork.

 

STEP 6 – BACKGROUND

Background done

In this step we are going to burn the background behind the nuthatch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

burning background

 

 

Start filling in the background a light tan color using long uniform strokes.  Make sure to avoid burning the suet cake.

 

 

 

 

touch darker next to belly

 

 

Make the background a little darker next to the pale underside of the bird for contrast.

 

Continued work

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

Continued work

 

 

Note that you can make the background as dark or as pale as you want.  This is your artwork, so own it.   The reference photo shows an extremely dark background and if you like that look, then by all means, replicate it.

Finishing the background

 

 

 

Finishing up the background.

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 7 – SUET

Suet cake done

 

 

Now it’s time to burn in the suet cake.

 

Reference photo

 

 

 

 

Here’s the reference photo.

 

 

 

 

working on the suet

 

This is another example of how I’ve simplified the subject matter.  All I’m doing is burning some random small patches of color using the circular motion.  I did not try to recreate the corn pieces or any real detail of the actual cake.

Continued work

 

 

 

My goal was to give a little visual interest to the white mass by adding a little color and texture.

 

 

 

Continued work

 

 

 

 

Continued work.  The random patches were burned using a small circular motion.   It’s very similar to how I burned the rocks on the Vista House project, but nowhere near as dark.

Continued work

 

 

While I’m adding little patches of color, I keep it random and varied in tone.  I also leave some white or unburned patches.   

Sometimes I just dotted the wood with the shader to leave a tan blobbish spot.

 

Finishing up

 

 

 

Finishing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STEP 8 – FRAME

Frame is done

The very last thing to do is burn the frame around the artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you haven’t drawn your frame already, now is the time to do so.   Use a ruler to mark 1 inch (2.54 cm) in from the edge of the wood.  Draw lines using a straightedge to connect the marks.   You can make your frame larger, smaller, or non-existent.  

Draw a line connecting corners

 

 

Use a straightedge to draw a line connecting the inner and outer frame corner.

 

 

Fill in one side of frame

Then burn darkly along the edges of the frame, but only work one section at a time.  There are four sections; top, bottom, and two sides.

burn long lines

 

 

 

Burn dark uniform lines that run the along the length of the frame section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up the bottom side of the frame

 

 

 

Finishing up the bottom frame side.

 

 

 

 

Rotate and work next side

 

 

 

 

Rotate the wood and work on another frame side.

 

 

Finishing this side

  

 

Finishing up this section.

 

 

 

Almost done

 

Almost done with the frame.   Note that I keep a piece of scrap wood next to my artwork to rest my hand on while I’m working along the edges of the wood. 

 

 

I also keep a piece of metal polishing cloth to periodically scrape the pen tip on to remove the carbon build up.  I got mine through Colwood directly, but it’s a Gator brand of metal polishing cloth and I’m sure it can be bought in a lot of places.

 

FINAL ARTWORK & REFERENCE

Nuthatch (9 2017)
Reference photo

IN CONCLUSION

This tutorial is done.    I hope you liked it and that I was able to explain it in an easy to follow manner.  The nuthatch turned out well, I think, and I like the contrast between the suet cage and the bird.  About the only thing I see that I should have done differently is to darken up his belly a touch more as it isn’t much darker than the throat.  In the grand scheme of things that isn’t a major thing.

Having said that please note that I welcome feedback as that is the only way I will discover how I’m doing and what improvements I can/should make.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on basswood that measures 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm).  It took me 12 hours to complete the artwork.   I said this before and I’m going to say it again because it’s important to remember that 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 isn’t the important thing.  What’s important is that you’re creating artwork and gaining valuable experience in the pyrography medium!

 

Until the next blog,

Brenda

Oct 20, 2017

This artwork was submitted by Kim Allender.   This is a wonderful piece of artwork!  Kim did a fantastic job with the bird and the suet cake is easily seen.  I love the dark border framing the artwork.   Plus the bars on the suet cage look more rounded than mine do.  Awesome!    Very nice, Kim, and thank you very much for sharing with us!  

7 thoughts on “Nuthatch Bird Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

  1. Hi Brenda. I have another question. Have you ever used solid Aspen. I am finding it even in color , however it’s really soft. Any suggestions ? We also picked up poplar all at Menards. Is there a better place to get get wood? I know am full of questions. Lol.

    1. Hi Kim,
      I have not had the opportunity to burn on Aspen, but I don’t see a problem using it (heck I’d love to try it). Basswood is technically a soft wood, but it’s great for wall art. I wouldn’t use a soft wood for functional art like cutting boards.

      Purchase wood where it is available. In the small town I live in I don’t have a lot of choices (Lowe’s & Home Depot). Home improvement store are great places to purchase poplar & maple, but they don’t carry basswood. Not surprising since basswood is not used in construction.

      Try searching for “exotic” wood stores for basswood, but be forewarned that the wood will be rough cut. So this means you have to do a LOT more prep work to get it ready for burning. I’ve also found large sheets of very nice birch plywood at an exotic wood store.

      Another option is to look for woodworking stores like Rockler or Wood Craft, but they tend to be very expensive.
      Craft stores like Michaels or Hobby Lobby will most likely have cradle boards (birch plywood that has a frame) and basswood boards.
      Online is another way to purchase wood, but you don’t get to see it and depending on where you’re buying it from, the freight can get very expensive.

      Hope that helps.
      Brenda

      1. Thanks Brenda that helps. I started the using the solid Aspen today. Works great after I got use to it. I have read you shouldn’t use plywood because it’s glue and can be very unhealthy. I also bought basswoid and love it. Then I read it on it and it said California say it causes cancer. I am so confused on what is healthy to use.what do you think.

        1. Hi Kim,
          Good to know about Aspen. It looks like it would be a great wood. My warning with plywood was a caution not to burn really deep as you can get into the glue layer. Same is true when sanding plywood. The top layer of plywood is a very thin veneer (layer) of good wood. Below the veneer is a layer of glue bonding it to support wood under it. Some people burn really dark and with a heavy hand, so they almost carve the wood when they burn. That style of burning I wouldn’t recommend doing on plywood because the veneer layer is so thin.

          As for California’s warning; I’m not sure if that was on the aspen, basswood, or plywood. Not that it really matters as you can always check the toxicity rating on a number of websites like this one: https://www.woodworkerssource.com/wood-toxicity.html The woods you are using don’t show up on the list. Also the woods that do show up on the list mostly provide warnings about inhaling the dust. Dust is ALWAYS a concern, so when you sand the board to prepare it for burning, you should wear a dust mask.

          To minimize any potential health risk while burning make sure to burn in a well ventilated area. Use an easel (or a gallon of paint) to prop up your board when burning. This way your face is not directly over it and you’re less likely to inhale any fumes if they should get generated. If you are still concerned, then you can always wear a dust mask when burning.

          Hope that clarifies things.
          Brenda

          1. Again thanks for all your great information. Does make since on the plywood. I am using an easel per you suggestion , and it’s working great great for me. Very little shoulder pain since I started using it.
            Happy burning.

    1. Hi Kim,
      I only speak the truth. I’m so glad that you are having fun with pyrography. I’m having so much fun with the medium and it’s exciting to me to discover and meet others who feel the same. I hope you will continue to create pyrography artwork as you have a natural talent with it!

      Brenda

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment.