In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Crow pyrography artwork. The crow is the fifth installment of my Backyard Birds tutorial series. There are a lot of tall fir trees in my neighborhood and one year a pair of crows nested in one of the trees. The crows became a common sight in my backyard as they feasted on the assorted bird food found there. Todd managed to get quite a few different photos of the birds, but it was this image of the crow cawing that caught my eye. What I like about this tutorial is that it shows how a dark subject, like a crow, still has a lot of tonal variation due to reflected light. I will explain how to create crow and the weathered log he is perched on.
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) Crow pattern
- Ruler & Pencil
- White Charcoal Pencil
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with 220 grit sand paper. The smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be. For more details about prepping wood and the different types of wood I’ve burned on refer to this blog: Wood Prepping.
STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN
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. 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
To get as straight a line as possible, lock your hand, fingers, and wrist in a fixed position, and then move your entire arm while burning the line. My hand, fingers, and wrist are locked in place in this composite photo. The only thing moving is my arm, so let me explain that further.
First, bend your arm to 90 degrees (or there abouts), and keep it fixed at this angle. Position your arm so you can start burning at the top of the board. Due to the angle of your arm, your elbow is pointing towards the ground or close to it. As you burn the line, pull your arm back. The only joint that is moving is your shoulder. Your elbow slowly returns to resting position at your side.
Below are photos showing the arm movement. Please ignore the fact that I’m working on a different project. Instead concentrate on the arm movement and notice how my hand and wrist do not move.
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
STEP 4 – CROW
Here’s the reference photo for the crow. To make this a little easier, I’m going to break down the bird into smaller segments to explain.
HEAD & NECK
We’ll start with the Crow’s head and neck.
Here’s the reference photo for the head and neck. Looking at the photo we can see the beak has a reflection along the end of it, and the reflection is also along the edges of the beak. There are really dark feathers around the eye, below the beak, and on the front of the forehead. I also noticed that there are three layers of feathers below the eye and beak area. Each layer of feathers has ragged lower edges on them. The neck area is made up of lots of layered “hair” that gets longer the closer to the wings it gets.
Draw in the reflection on the eye using a white charcoal pencil. This is an optional step, but I find the visual marker helps me from accidently burning over the reflection.
Using a writer pen tip to burn the area around the reflection on the eye.
Switch to a shader pen tip and burn in the dark areas to the front left and below the eye.
Rotate the wood and burn above the eye.
Burn above the light reflection spot on the upper beak, and then fill in the area with a dark brown/black color.
Burn below the light reflection on the lower beak, and use pull-away strokes to burn in the first layer of feathers just below the eye. Use pull-away strokes to start burning in the next layer of feathers.
Use pull-away strokes to burn the third layer of feathers. These feathers are in shadows, so they should be very dark in color. Make sure to use the razor edge of the shader to burn thin lines here and there along the lower edge to create the ragged edge. Also burn a few dark lines that start in the third layer and extend up into the 2nd layer to give that layer a ragged edge.
Darkly burn above the reflection line on the lower beak and re-burn below the line to darken and thicken the burn.
Burn along the upper edge of the upper beak and burn in the dark area along the base of the beak.
Burn in the lower beak.
Lightly burn over the reflection line on the lower beak.
Finish burning in the upper beak.
Begin burning in the feathers on the crown by burning short thick lines or bands that vary in color from tan to medium brown.
As you are burning in the crown, make sure to burn the feathers following their growth direction.
Here’s a progress photo
Along the top and back of the head the feathers are smoother, so use long strokes to give the area a base color.
Burn over the bird’s eyelids until they are medium tan in color.
Continue to build up the color along the top and back of the head. Start the strokes at the back and pull them towards the front following the feather growth direction.
Burn in a few of the dark neck feathers right below the back of the head.
Finish building up the color on the head.
Add a little texture to the top and back of the head by burning a few short darker lines here and there.
Use a writer pen tip to darkly burn along the edge of the beak.
Here’s how the crow looks so far.
Begin working on the neck area by darkly burning along the pattern lines along the top of the neck. Don’t use the razor edge of the shader during this step as you want thicker lines.
Next color in the back of the neck by burning in thick lines that vary in color and length. I will tell you now, that I didn’t try to replicate the photo. Instead I’m trying to create the general texture the photo has, so I didn’t consult the reference photo often during this step.
The feathers get darker in color the closer to the throat you get, so first burn in the dark pattern lines.
Rotate the wood to keep the pen in optimal position as you burn on along the edge of the throat.
Burn in a few more dark lines on the throat area.
Use the flat of the shader to burn long thick lines of varying tan hues filling the throat.
Do the same with the remaining unburned area on the neck.
Now angle your shader a bit and burn thinner lines to create some strands of “hair” that are in the dark tan to medium brown color range.
Continue to add lines and re-burn over existing lines to darken them. I worked and re-worked this area several times building up the look.
The below photo shows the crow once I was done with initial color and after I was done re-burning over lines to darken them up.
WING & BELLY
Here’s the reference photo for the wing and belly. We’re only going to work on the upper wing section in this step. What really stands out to me is how raised up some of the feathers are on the shoulder area. The feathers on the shoulder are still curving downward, but they have some deep shadows under them.
Start by burning in the couple of feathers on the back just below the neck.
Work your way along the feathers just below the neck burning just one at a time.
Keep the shader pen tip in optimal position as you burn under the feathers with deep shadows.
Burn in the feathers along the back of the wing.
Switch to a writer pen tip to burn along the edges of each feather on the wing.
Switch back to the shader pen tip to burn in the feathers. Each feather is darker at the base and lighter at the outer end of it.
Below are photos of the wing feathers being burned in:
Use the shader pen tip to darkly burn along the lower edge of the wing.
Next burn darkly along the edge of each feather on the upper portion of the wing.
Then burn in each feather along this portion of the wing.
Finishing up the feathers on the upper wing.
Rotate the wood and burn along the edge of the belly.
Next darkly burn along the underside of the feathers.
Then burn in the feathers along the belly.
TAIL, RUMP, & LEGS
Here’s the reference photo for the tail, rump, and legs. We will also finish up the wing in this step. The rump is mostly in shadows and the bottom edge is ragged or hairy looking. The tail feathers have lots of cast shadows on them from each other and the wing feathers above. With the legs they both have a little reflected light along the front and we only see the back toe.
Start by burning in the dark shadow on the last feather on the wing.
Burn in the shadow the wing is casting onto the tail feathers.
Then burn in the couple of small feathers along the side of the wing.
Burn a dark line under each feather on the wing.
Then burn in the feathers one at a time.
Burn the feathers on the end of the wing.
This is probably going to seem familiar, but burn a dark line under the feathers on the tail.
Rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning on the last feather.
Burn in the feathers on the tail.
Burn some thin bands on the tail feathers for a touch of texture. Make the bands a few shades darker than the base color of the tail feathers, but not so dark that the bands really stand out. This is a subtle accent of texture.
Burn in the feathers under the tail by the crow’s rump.
Use pull-away strokes to burn in the hairy feathers above the legs. Start the stroke in the feathers and pull the stroke towards the legs.
Make sure to use the edge of the shader at the end of the stroke to produce the wispy ragged hair above the legs.
Start on the right leg and burn the back side of the leg. Make sure to keep the pen tip in optimal position so the edges of the legs are crisp and clean.
Rotate the wood and burn along the front of the leg.
Burn in the toes, but make the underside of the toes darker than the top.
Lastly, burn in the claw on the right leg.
Burn in the back side of the left leg.
Burn in the front toe.
Burn in the back toe.
Burn in the claw on the back toe and you’re done with the crow.
STEP 5 – LOG PERCH
Here’s the reference photo for the log. The log doesn’t have bark on it, or at least I don’t think it does. Instead it looks very weathered with lots of thin lines running through it. Also the crow is casting a slight shadow below himself onto the log.
Use a shader to start filling in the color on the log. I am using a zigzag type of stroke for this step. I burn the zigzags horizontally and keep them all angled in the same basic direction. Also, I use more of the flat of the shader to get thicker or broader lines.
I only burn 3 or 4 lines in each zigzag burst before starting a new one. Each line in the burst is touching each other, so there are few if any gaps between the lines.
For me I find that using my large shader makes the process go a lot faster.
Also I vary the darkness of the bursts to get a variety of tonal hues on the log.
Clustering several dark zigzag bursts together will make the area seem in shadows giving the impression of a gouge in the wood.
As you fill in the log with horizontal zigzag bursts, make sure to keep the top of the log lighter than the bottom. This will give the log a curved appearance.
I tend to fill in a section with zigzag texture and then re-burn over it to darken and emphasize a few ‘gouge’ marks here and there.
Don’t be afraid to rotate the wood and try burning at a different angle. You may discover that it’s easier to burn in one direction than the other.
Below are a few more pictures of my burning in the log.
I switched to a different shader and used the flat of it to create the cast shadow from the crow onto the log.
STEP 6 – FRAME
The very last thing to do is burn the frame around the artwork.
Use a shader of your choice to darkly burn the frame in. I find it goes much faster to use a larger shader and to burn with the grain lines. The grain line on the piece of wood I’m burning on is horizontal, so I have the wood rotated to make it easy to burn with the grain.
If you want, burn the ends or the side of the wood to complete the frame. Todd does this step for me and he used a torch for this step. I don’t have pictures, but I’ll try to get some pictures on a future backyard bird.
Below is a comparison photo showing my final artwork by the reference photo.
Obviously it’s not an exact match, but overall I think it turned out very well.
Another tutorial comes to a close. One of my main goals is to provide tutorials with easy to follow instructions. How did I do? Leave me a message and let me know. You’re the reason I do this, so your input is important.
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 8 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,
August 17, 2018