Wolf on Leather Pyrography Artwork wood burning a wolf

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve gotten very interested in creating pyrography on leather.  I became almost obsessed with the idea and began burning on small pieces of leather as I tested out its properties.  My first few test pieces weren’t anything I’d write home about, but I learned a lot creating them and with continued practice, I’ve gotten a lot better at burning on leather.   Today’s subject, the Wolf, is probably my best artwork on leather so far.  This blog is going to discuss the creation of the Wolf.   

Watch a time lapse YouTube video of the art work being created by clicking on the image to the left.




I like the fact that I use the same tracing method on leather that I use on wood.  The big difference is that I have to be careful not to use a lot of pressure when transferring a pattern on leather.  The leather is so soft that it is super easy to emboss or carve down into the leather surface.







The piece of leather I’m burning on is really small as it is designed to hold business cards, so my micro writer pen tip was essential while working on the face.








Most of the fur was created using my preferred pen tip; Colwood Tight Round J shader. 








I like to burn in basic features and then fine-tune them later.  I’ve found that this method of re-working gives me a richer or deeper tonal depth than I would achieve with a single burn.  This is especially true with fur.  If you look at the fur I’ve burned so far, it looks like lots of loosely grouped lines.  Or, put another way, there are gaps between the lines.

When I fine-tune areas, I re-burn them.  I’m never going to burn exactly over all of the previous lines.  This means that some of the first lines will show between the gaps on the new layer of loosely grouped lines.  That is one of the ways I achieve a rich tonal depth with fur in my work.




In this photo I’m continuing to define some of the features around the face.






Again, just beginning to define different areas on the face. 







Here’s an example where I’ve started to rework an area.  Re-working, or re-burning, is how I darken up fur and get the tonal depth I mentioned before.







 Working around the eye.









Darkening up the nose.   One thing about leather that is so different from wood is how the texture changes when the surface gets hot.  The texture of leather becomes like soft butter when it gets hot.  When this happens I quit working in that area and let it cool back down.   





Here’s a progress photo.









Adding more fur along the brow.








Continued work.








Because of the texture change when leather gets too warm, I jump around a lot when I’m burning.







I’ve gotten most of the fur  done along the brow and I’m working on the sides.







Adding soft or pale lines near the inner left eye to start giving it shape.    








Doing the same thing on the right eye.







Working on the ruff.  The ruff, which I used to call this the mane, is the thick fur around the neck.  








Continued work.








Some areas on the wolf I had to re-work once, but not the ears.  I re-worked those numerous times before I got them looking right.







Darkening the right ear opening.








Doing the same with the left ear.







Here’s a progress photo.









Re-working the ruff.








Re-working the fur along the top of the head.  The wolf had a little dark patch along the top of his head that extended to the ears.






In this photo I’m darkening up a small area on the ears.







Adding more color or darkness to the corner of the eyes.








Re-working the nose.  I hate the smell of the leather if I burn really dark by using a higher heat, so I was trying to build up dark color without the high heat.  Keep in mind, that high heat is a relative statement. 

Leather browns so easily that I have to keep the heat setting on my unit very, very low.  For reference, my unit goes to 10 and most of the time I had the heat set to 0.75 or lower.  High heat meant I had the setting around 1.25.  Much higher and the leather just charred the second the pen tip touched the leather.


I almost always add tiny dots to animal noses as I think it replicates the slightly rough bumpy texture dog noses have.  While this texture is very subtle, it’s very easy and fast to create.  Plus, I think that some subtle features are what add to the realism of art.







Darkening up the area around the left eye.








Doing the same with the right eye.








Working on the pupil.








Just finished the right pupil.  Notice how intense or piercing the wolf’s stare became when the area around the eye was darkened up.   I’ll touch on this subject again a little later in the blog.






Back to working on the ear.







Continued work.






Continued work.








Here’s another progress photo.  His face is starting to take shape, but his muzzle still looks pretty flat.








I’m starting to lightly burn in the fur right along the face.









Even this light of a color difference helps the muzzle stand out from the surrounding fur.  Or, put another way, dark areas look recessed or pushed into the background and light areas look elevated or closer to the foreground.







Continued work.









Continued work.









Notice how the “white” on the muzzle is really standing out against the slightly darker background.  The contrast impact is really noticeable along the wolf’s chin.







As it is really difficult to fix mistakes in leather, I worked very slowly around the eyes.  Not that this prevented me from making mistakes, but it did help cut down on the number of them.






I also worked slowly while burning in most of the facial features.









Sometimes I re-work an area just to increase the darkness levels or regain contrast I might have lost.  Let me explain this further. 

As the artwork progresses, it becomes easier to see the work as a whole and compare the color values.  For example, I burn in the fur on the forehead and it looks great.  Then I get the rest of the fur burned in and discover the forehead looks really pale compared to the rest of the fur.  Since the forehead should be the same color I have to fix it by means of re-burning the fur on the forehead.

Another example would be that I burned a light layer of fur on the muzzle, but when I was done the color was the same as the grey of the ruff.  I lost the contrast between the muzzle and the ruff.  To fix this problem I have to darken the ruff by re-burning it to restore the contrast.

The dark openings on the wolf’s ears are two spots that I re-burned several times to keep up the contrast levels.  Those openings where very dark compared to the rest of the fur, so as I worked on the area around the ears I found the openings no longer seemed as dark as they should.  The simple fix is to re-burn them which is what I’m doing.






I decided the nose wasn’t dark enough either, so re-burned that.








Which meant I had to re-burn the tiny dots to give it texture.









Fine-tuning the eyes.








Burning the wispy fur around the edges of the ear.








Adding a few hair marks to the eye brows.  I want to mention that even areas that appear white are not completely white.  They have subtle shadows and color variations in them, so leaving a white area completely blank doesn’t look realistic.  Instead it will look flat and make the viewer think you forgot to burn it.






Adding some hairs along the top of the muzzle.








Doing the same thing along the sides of the face.








Fine-tuning the fur around the ears.








Back to work on the face.








Continued work.    








Fine-tuning the ruff. 









Essentially at this point I could consider the artwork as being done, but I don’t.  There are still a few areas I’m not completely happy with, so here goes some fine-tuning.








Such as the ear.









Along the sides of the face by the eyes.






  The dark areas of the ruff.









The fur above the eyes.








The fur around the muzzle.









And finally just a little more work on the fur below the eyes.   









Speaking of the eyes, here is a composite photo showing the progression of the eyes.   I think these photos show how the continued darkening of the area around the eyes really made them stand out and give the wolf such a piercing stare.






















Here’s the leather business card holder with the stitching in place and a few business cards inside.








Here’s a closeup of the artwork before I stitched and sealed it. 

I have been asked to provide the reference material I use when creating my artwork.  This is not always possible for a variety of reasons, and this artwork is one of those cases.  


Another blog comes to an end.  While I’m getting much better at burning on leather, it is still very challenging for me.  I don’t have that much experience with it, especially compared with my experience burning on wood.  The good thing is that I’m feeling more confident about burning on leather and my frustration levels are dropping.   This means I’m enjoying the process more and fighting the leather less.  Have you burned on leather?  If so, leave a comment and tell me about it.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on vegetable tanned leather that measures 3 x 3 7/8 inches (7.6 x 9.8 cm).  It took me 3 hours to complete the artwork.  Of course that time does not include prepping the leather to burn on it or the assembly time afterwards.  

Until the next blog,


April 6, 2018

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