In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Purple House Finch pyrography artwork. The finch is the third installment of my Backyard Birds tutorial series. This little fella was a bit of a mystery to me as I couldn’t positively identify him. My friend, Jan, came to the rescue and quickly identified the little bird as a male purple house finch. My first response was, “He’s red not purple, so why is he called a purple house finch?” She didn’t know and neither do I, but regardless he is a visually striking bird with his large beak, red coloring, and dark wings.
4/24 – Reader submitted art at end of blog.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Knife tip
- 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Purple Finch pattern
- Ruler & Pencil
- White Charcoal Pencil
Below are images of the pen tips I used.
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Always prep the wood surface for burning. Do this by sanding the surface smooth using 220 grit sandpaper. Then mist the board with water and let it dry. Once dry, sand again. The board is now ready for use
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.
Center the bird pattern on the board and secure with two pieces of scotch tape.
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.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
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. 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 tends 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.
Next using the knife tip, slowly and carefully burn in the straight lines near the edge of the board.
You will get better results by keeping your hand in a fix position and moving your arm instead. This keeps your hand steady. Start at the top of the board and slowly pull your arm downward.
STEP 4 – PURPLE HOUSE FINCH
Here’s the reference photo for the finch perched on my apple tree. I love his red coloring, and never would have guessed he was called a purple house finch!
To make this a little easier, I’m going to breakdown the tutorial into smaller segments: head, mantle, back, wings, tail, and lastly his belly.
Here’s the reference photo for the head.
Begin by using a white charcoal pencil to draw in the light reflection spot on the eye. I am using a Conte brand pencil, but I’ve also used the General brand. Both work equally well.
Use the shading pen tip and darkly edge around the eye. If it’s easier, use the writing pen tip for this step. Remember to keep the pen in optimal position, so rotate the board as needed. Optimal position means that the edge of the pen tip is right on the inside edge of the object. This ensures the lines are crisp and clean and you are only burning on the eye and not on the feathers around the eye.
Fill in the rest of the eye so it is uniform black in color, and then erase the charcoal.
Use short zigzag styled strokes to burn in the feathers on the bird’s crest. Zigzag strokes are short zigzag lines that end up looking like you’ve burned in individual hairs. If you need a more in-depth explanation, please read my blog ‘using the shading pen tip.’
Continue to work your way to the throat area. In this photo I’ve added a couple of the darker lines found on the throat.
Next start building up the feathers/hairs around the eyes.
Let’s take a break from the feathers and work on the beak. First burn along the upper beak to define its outer edge.
Next burn the line along the outer edge of the lower beak and along the seam. For lack of a better word, I’m using seam to indicate where the upper and lower beak meet.
Use very short pull-away strokes along the seam. Start the stroke on the seam and pull it up and away from the seam towards the upper edge of the beak.
Repeat this process along the lower beak, but these strokes needs to be darker and slightly longer.
Here’s a progress photo.
Finish shading the beak by burning the upper beak a light tan color.
Next finish working on the rest of the facial feathers using a combination of zigzag and short lines to fill in the area.
Something else I want to mention is that while you are working on the bird’s face, refer back to the reference photo often. The reference photo is a valuable guide as to where the darker feathers are.
I’ve pointed out some obvious features of the face in this reference photo. I frequently look at my reference photo and compare it to my artwork. As I compare I start asking myself questions like: Do my dark areas need to be darker? Is my contrast good? Am I capturing the major features? Note that it is not my goal to replicate every tiny detail in the photo. Instead my goal is to reproduce enough of the detail to give the art realism and ensure the viewer can easily identify the subject matter.
Lightly burn in the pale streak near the back of the head.
Build up the color in the feathers around the pale streak.
Add the slight darkish spot on the upper beak to finish it.
Add any final touches needed to the throat. I added a few more super short individual lines along the lower edge of the feathers to give them a more jagged appearance.
Lastly add just a slight touch of color to the little tidbit the bird has in his beak and we’re done with the head.
Here’s the reference photo for the bird’s mantle.
Looking at the photo you can see the mantle is composed of many tiny feathers that have a pale border around them. I’m going to explain how I easily created that look by first using examples from the wings as they are darker, so it’s easier to see what I’m doing.
First burn a line below the feather following the contour of the feather.
Next burn a line on the feather just above the feather’s pale border.
Then fill in or color the feather, but avoid burning on the pale border.
Lastly, if needed adjust the contrast. Most of the feather borders on this bird are light tan in color, so the majority of the feathers will need the contrast reduced by lightly burning over the border. Let me explain in a different way.
Compare the borders between feathers 1 & 2. Due to high contrast the border on feather 1 looks white or whiter than the border on feather 2. For these particular feathers, they should be the same color, so very lightly burn over the border on feather 1 to fix.
You might ask why I didn’t use the white charcoal pencil to mark the pale border. For me personally, the above steps work well so I don’t need the charcoal. But, if it will make things easier for you, please do so. One of the most important things you have to do is discover what methods work best for you; so try the charcoal and see what you think.
Let’s start working on the mantle.
Start on the upper right side of the mantle and begin burning in individual feathers so they are tan to light brown in color. The pale border is harder to see on the first few feathers, so don’t get too obsessed with the border at this point.
Continue to burn in individual feathers as you work your way across the mantle. At this point be sure to leave a pale border around the feathers.
You might find it’s easier to burn the underside of several feathers before coloring them in individually.
Back to burning the centers of individual feathers. If you are careful with your burning, you can combine two steps in one. To do this, fill in a feather, but avoid burning on the pale edge. When I do this, I uniformly color the feather a pale tan (the border color) and then carefully reburn the center of the feather so it is darker in color.
My purpose with mentioning alternate ways of reaching the same goal is to help you find a method that works best for you.
Below are more photos of the feathers on the mantle being burned in.
Here’s a progress photo of the mantle. After comparing it to the reference photo, I decided there was an area needing a little fine tuning.
There are two strings or vertical rows of feathers that the pale border is almost gone in the center of the feather. I got the first string done, but the second vertical row or string is what I’m burning in.
Here’s how the artwork looks so far.
Here’s the reference photo for the bird’s back. Notice how there is an impression of feathers along the back except on the lower back just above the tail where there is a row of small brownish colored feathers.
Use a small circular motion to fill in the back. With the couple of feathers at the top of the back that have pale borders, I avoided burning on the area. I didn’t burn a line above and below the pale border as I wanted the feathers to be less distinct. Or put another way, I wanted the slight impression of feathers without as much detail or highly defined edges.
With the row of feathers on the lower burn those just like the mantle feathers, so they have a pale border, uniform colored center, and defined edges.
Continued work on the back. Notice how the farther down the back I work the harder it gets to pick out individual feathers. Instead there is an impression of feathers.
Don’t be afraid to re-work areas on the back. I didn’t get the final look I was after on the first pass through.
Add a dark shadow on the back about half way down the right wing. This represents a shadow the wing is casting onto the back.
Do the same with the left wing.
Here’s a progress photo. We are done with the back and ready to move on to the wings.
Here’s the reference photo for the wings.
Start by burning along the outer edge of the left wing.
Darkly burn in the very bottom feather on the left wing.
Work on the next feather by first burning a dark line below the feather above it (this spot is where the two feathers touch). Burn a dark line above the pale border.
Then color or fill in the feather while keeping a pale border along the edges.
Increase the dark cast shadow from the wing onto the back.
After the cast shadow is burned in, continue to burn in the wing feathers.
The below photos show the progress of the left wing being finished up.
Left wing is done and now it’s time to work on the right wing.
Start on the covert feathers at the top of the wing. The coverts are tiny feather that cover the top of the wing where it emerges from the body. Again, these are burned like the mantle feathers.
The leftmost feather is a little different in that the left half of the feather is black in color and the right side is tan.
The rest of the wing feathers get burned like the majority of the feathers on this bird in that they are solid in color with a pale border. This particular feather in the photo has a rachis, central shaft, down the center. To render the rachis, just burn a line on either side of it. This is the exact same process used along the feather edges to create the pale borders.
Continued work. Noticed how this photo shows that I burned in all of the lines defining the outer edges of the feathers.
Below are photos showing the right wing being finished up.
It’s time to critically look at your wings and see if they need any fine tuning. Mine did.
The first thing I did was add the rachis to one of the feathers on the left wing I had omitted before. The feather wasn’t very dark, so I burned a dark line on either side of the rachis and blackened in the rest of the feather.
Next I darkened a couple of the feathers on the left wing.
Lastly I darkened up the area just below the coverts to help them stand out better.
Below is the before and after of fine tuning of the wings.
Here’s a progress photo of the bird so far.
Here’s the reference photo for the tail.
The tail feathers are just like the wing and mantle feathers, so burn them uniform in color with a pale border. The top feather has a rachis showing, so burn a line on either side of the rachis and fill in the rest of the feather avoiding the rachis and the pale border.
The top feather on the left also has a small segment of the rachis showing, so do the same steps as we did with the first tail feather.
From there out it’s just a matter of burning the feathers dark with a pale border.
Finishing up the left side of the tail.
Here’s how the purple house finch looks thus far.
The reference photo for the belly. Take a moment to notice how the belly has light brown streaks running down the length of it.
Burn in the streaks. Keep them light brown in color and don’t burn them with crisp edges. Or put another way, keep the edges a little jagged or irregular as that will give the impression of wispy hairs.
Continue to burn in jagged edged streaks down the belly.
Notice how I’m leaving some super thin white lines in my streaks. The lines are unburned or burned to a pale tan color and I intentionally added them to further the impression of wispy hairs and irregular coloring.
As you get closer to the tail, make some of the lines a lot darker and the paler wispy hairs need to be tan vs pale tan in color. The reason for this is to make it seem as though this area is in shadows.
Here’s a how the artwork looks so far.
STEP 5 – BRANCH
Here’s the reference photo for the branch.
Using a white charcoal pencil, color the tiny white dots located on the apple branch.
Next burn a dark line along the bottom of the branch and along the left side of the tail.
Fill in the lower part of the branch with dark horizontal lines. Avoid burning on the white charcoal dots.
Fill in the upper part of the branch with brown horizontal lines. Again avoid burning on the charcoal dots. Notice how I rotated the board to keep my pen tip in optimal position.
Burn the branch very dark where the bird’s shadow is cast. Add a few lines that extend a very short distance into the belly. This will give the impression of wispy hairs.
Make sure to avoid the white dots.
Let the dark color fade to brown as you near the top of the branch.
Lastly, erase the charcoal and add some random short dark horizontal dashes along the branch for texture.
Look at your bird and see what you think.
I decided that my belly hairs next to the tail needed more work. Other than that I was happy with the bird.
STEP 6 – FRAME
The very last thing to do is burn the frame around the artwork.
Working one side at a time darkly burn in the frame. Using a larger shading pen tip will make this step go faster.
Continue to rotate the board and work on another side. I find I get better results if I keep the board positioned so my pen can easily stay in optimal position when I’m burning along the inner edge of the frame.
Also, I keep a piece metal polishing cloth (seriously that’s what they call it) to periodically scrape the pen tip on to remove the carbon build up. If the build up is really bad I use the backside of the cloth as it’s a bit more abrasive.
Below is a comparison photo of my final artwork next to the reference material.
Another tutorial draws to a close. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. I like birds and enjoy creating art depicting them, so the backyard bird series is fun for me. Given the multitude of birds that frequent my backyard I will have new birds for quite a few future installments of the series.
While the purple house finch isn’t as visually striking in a monochromatic vs full color, I think he still looks good.
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 7 1/4 hours to complete the artwork. 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. What is important is to enjoy the process of creation instead of fixating on how long it takes.
Until the next blog,
Jan 19, 2018
This artwork is by Keith Kirkham who won several prizes with his artwork! Congratulations Keith, that is very exciting news. Keith burn the finch onto a piece of aromatic cedar and he did a wonderful job.
This version of the Purple House finch was submitted by Jim Knapp. The bird looks great! I just love the perch Jim created as it has so much texture and realism to it. Plus the frame around the artwork gives it a wonderful polish look. Jim, thanks for sharing your artwork with us. You’re a great pyrography artist!
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