In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Northern Flicker Woodpecker pyrography artwork. The flicker is the fourth installment of my Backyard Birds tutorial series. Flickers are one of my favorite woodpeckers that frequent my backyard as I love their markings and coloring. When they fly their wings and tails display brilliant orange, red, or yellow colors. I’ve only recently been seeing the yellow color variation. During the winter it’s pretty common to see 4 or 5 of the birds hanging around my suet feeder.
There is reader submitted art at the bottom of this blog, so please check it out.
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) Northern Flicker pattern
- Ruler & Pencil
- White Charcoal Pencil
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper.
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
First draw a 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.
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
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 fixed position and move your arm instead. This keeps your hand steady. Start at the top of the board and slowly pull your arm downward.
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.
STEP 4 – NORTHERN FLICKER
To make this a little easier, I’m going to break down the bird into smaller segments: head, mantle, wings, belly, tail and leg.
We’ll work on the flicker’s head first.
Here’s the reference photo for the head. Looking at the photo we can see the bright red cheek patch and a touch of red on the back of the head. The latter we won’t worry about. Also the bird has a tan crown and a grey neck. I also want to point out the tiny nostril hole in the beak and how his throat is shadowed. With those observations, let’s try and replicate what we’re seeing.
Use the shading pen tip and darkly edge around the eye. If it’s easier use the writing pen tip for this step. Remember 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, but avoid the reflection spot. Normally I mark the reflection spot with white charcoal, and if you find that helps then please do so.
Lastly, use the writer pen tip to define or darken the area around the reflection spot.
OPTIMAL PEN TIP POSITION:
Look at my pen tip and notice that the end of the pen tip is right on the edge of the lower beak. This is optimal pen tip position. Positioning it this way ensure the beak has a crisp clean edge and that I’m only burning on the beak and not on the background.
Continue the dark line along the lower edge of the beak onto the red cheek patch.
Next burn along the line where the upper and lower beak meet.
Fill in the rest of the beak, but leave a slightly paler ring around the nostril hole on the beak.
Next burn in the dark patch above the eye and along the arch on the side of the head.
When I burn along the back of the head, I start the stroke on the back edge of the head and pull it towards the beak area. Make sure to arch or curve the stroke to match the contour or shape of the head.
Next burn the little patch on the left forehead above the beak. This patch is slightly darker than the right side.
Next start burning in the neck area using pull-away strokes. Start the stroke at the bottom of the area and pull it towards the paler section below the eye. Stop before burning into the paler section.
Continue to burn in the slightly darker areas on the neck. Mostly found on the throat and next to the mantle.
Remember to rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position when working near the boundaries of the neck.
Next start burning in the pale patch under the eye.
This band extends almost to the beak area. Make sure to look at the reference photo when working on this section.
Finish the pale patch under the eye.
Also, use the writer to finish the fine dark lines near the beak.
Now we’ll work on the mantle and the chest.
Here’s the reference photo for the mantle and chest. This is pretty straight forward, so we’ll burn the chest patch dark, darkly burn the markings on the mantle, and the rest will be a nice dark tan or light brown color.
I do want to point out that I purposely burned my flicker darker than the reference photo. I did this for two reasons. 1) The photo was a touched washed out, so the colors were a little muted. 2) I didn’t want to burn the background, so the bird needed to be darker to stand out.
The chest patch is easy, just burn it till it is a uniform dark brown or black in color. Notice I’m keeping my pen tip in optimal position when working along the edge.
Then burn in the dark markings on the mantle.
If you look closely at the markings I’ve burned, you’ll notice that most of them don’t have crisp edges. I tapped the shader along the markings to get the look of lots of lines burned closely together.
What do I mean by “tapped the shader along”? I start on the far right edge of a marking and press the shader on the edge. Then I lift the pen tip up, move it very slightly towards the left, and press it down again on the wood. Lift up, move slightly, and press down. For the thinner or narrow markings I used the corner of the shader and for the larger or thicker markings I used the entire end of the pen tip. It is the same process as using a writer pen tip to make a dot, but since I’m using the edge of the shader it looks like a small line.
I worked one feather at a time and made the left side of each feather slightly darker where it touched the next feather.
The mantel feathers get a little paler the closer to the chest/belly area you get. Remember to make the left edges a little darker than the rest of the feather. I want to emphasize that this is a subtle color change.
Next we’ll burn in the wings.
Here’s the reference photo for the wing. Looking at it we see that the lower left portion of the wing is curved, so is slightly shadowed. The right wing looks a little darker than the left. Lastly there is a dark black band along the bottom edge of the left wing and both wings end with dark brown tipped feathers.
Start where the mantle ended and burn in the markings on the feathers.
Rotate the board to keep the pen tip in optimal position as your burn along the lower edge of the wing.
With the wings, I burned the markings on a few feathers, and then colored the rest of the feather so it was dark tan color. You can do this or burn all of the markings first like we did with the mantle.
The below photos show work progression on the wings.
Remember, keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning along the left edge of the wing.
After I burn darkly along one edge of the black wing end, I rotate the wood and burn darkly along the opposite edge. Then I fill in the area between the two dark lines. This process gives me a nice clean dark edge that doesn’t accidently overlap onto other areas of the wing or belly.
Burn along the outer edge of the right wing and then fill in the end of the feather so it is a medium brown color.
Then define the right edge of the wing. This line is burned just below or right next to the right wing feathers, but not on them.
Next burn in the rest of the markings on the wings.
Burn around the last of the tan spots on the wing ends. After these spots, the wings transition to their dark tips.
Burn in the brown to dark brown tips of the wings.
Use a white charcoal pencil to mark the couple of white spots on the lower wing edge. Don’t use colored pencil for this as color pencil contains wax. The wax will melt and char from the heat of the pen.
Finish up the dark feathers along the bottom of the wing. Erase the charcoal after you are done with this step.
Now we’ll work on the belly and the pale feathers on the tail.
Here’s the reference photo for the belly. Depending on where you look, you can see that the belly is comprised of lots of feathers with rounded ends that have a dark semi-circular patch near the end of them. The underside of the belly is in shadows, so it is darker. We’re also going to burn the white feathers on the tail in this section.
Burn the dark markings on the white feathers of the tail too.
Next begin burning the feathers on the belly so they are tan in color. Make sure to keep the color a few shades paler than the wings.
Rotate the board and burn along the bottom edge of the belly. This area is in shadows, so it needs to be the darkest section of the belly.
Extend the tan color to the end of the white section on the tail.
Again rotate the board and burn the edge along the lower portion of the white wing dark darker. This will convey it is in shadows and make it so the area is easily seen since the background will not be burned in. Let me state that even though I do not plan to burn in the background, if you want to then please do so.
There’s not much left to do on the tail, so let’s finish that up.
Here’s the reference photo for the tail. Mostly it’s a lot of dark feathers with a reflection streak on the top one and a couple small white patches on some of the others.
Start by burning in the far right feathers.
Rotate the board and define the left edges of the remaining feathers.
Burn in the top feather and leave the reflection streak along its length paler than the rest of the feather.
On the left edge of the top feather there is a super thin white band, so leave that unburned. Burn darkly right below the left side of top feather to give the illusion of top feather casting a slight shadow onto this one.
Add the cast shadows onto the other feathers.
Rotate the board and burn along the left edges of the feathers. Make sure to avoid the small white markings.
Darken up any feathers, if needed.
The foot is the last thing we need to finish on the bird.
Here’s the reference photo for the foot. It is pretty much grey in color with black claws. The toes have a scalloped shape along the bottom edge.
Start burning in the darker spots on the leg.
Darkly burn along one side of the claws.
Rotate the board and burn along the opposite edge of the claws. Then fill in between the edges.
We are done with the bird, so now let’s work on the perch.
STEP 5 – PERCH
Here’s the reference photo for the perch. The back portion of the hook is dark and the top side of the front has some light reflecting on it.
Use a writing pen tip to darkly burn along the edges of the bar next to the foot.
Burn the dark areas of the front portion of the hook and let the color fade towards the end of the hook.
Here’s how the artwork looks so far. The only thing left to do is the frame.
STEP 6 – FRAME
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. If 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 of metal polishing cloth to periodically scrape the pen tip on to remove the carbon build up.
Time to critically look at your artwork and see if it needs any fine-tuning.
STEP 7 – FINE TUNE
I decided my artwork needed some fine-tuning.
First I wasn’t thrilled with the metal rod perch, so I darkened up the front portion of it.
Then I decided the ‘red’ patch on the face wasn’t near dark enough, so I darkened that up.
Lastly I darkened up around the top portion of the nostril opening on the beak.
Below is a comparison photo after I was done fine-tuning my artwork. I think the fine-tuning really helped the artwork look a lot better.
And, as I usually do, below is a picture of my final artwork in comparison to the reference photo.
This is a first for me, but I like my artwork better than the reference photo. It was a bright sunny day the picture was taken and the coloring on the bird is a touch washed out. I like the richer brown color in the artwork.
That’s it for this tutorial and I hope it was enjoyable and informative. Birds make great art subjects as they are visually interesting and not overly complicated. Plus they are easy to attract, so you can photograph them for reference material. What I like with the Northern Flicker is all of his stunning markings as it reminds me of owls, which are my favorite birds.
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 5 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,
Mar 16, 2018
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This artwork was submitted by Jim Knapp. Jim hasn’t been burning for a long time, but you wouldn’t know that given the quality of artwork he is creating. Another fantastic piece of artwork! Jim, thank you for sharing your work with us.