In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the White Crowned House Sparrow bird pyrography artwork. The sparrow is the sixth installment in my Backyard Birds tutorial series. Sparrows are a small bird and pretty common where I live. Todd took this picture of one perched on my grape arbor and I loved it. The sparrow has a lot of markings on its wings which make him very visually interesting to look at. Plus, all of those markings make for great art!
There is reader submitted art at the end of the blog, so please make sure to check it out.
Let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Wht Crowned Sparrow pattern
- White Charcoal Pencil
I will be using terms like zigzags and circular motion. If you are unfamiliar with my terminology there is a tutorial that explains them: Using the Shader
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
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 an ultra-smooth surface on the board and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.
STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD
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
After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.
I want to point out that I burned lines on the areas of the wing that were dark. This made it much easier for me to easily and quickly identify the dark parts of the wing when I started burning it in.
STEP 4 – SPARROW
Here’s the reference photo for the sparrow.
HEAD & THROAT
Here’s the reference photo zoomed in and the first thing that stands out are the black and white streaks on the head. The top or crown streak is very bright white and the rest of the white streaks have a lot of grey in them. Between the eye and the beak are a number of dark curved lines and there are several layers of feathers on the neck/throat area. Along the bottom of each layer, the color is a little darker due to slight shadows.
Begin by using a white charcoal pencil to draw in the light reflection spot on the eye. I’ve stated this in numerous tutorials, and I’ll state it again. You MUST use charcoal and NOT a colored pencil for this step. Colored pencils contain wax that will melt and char under the heat of the pen tip.
Use a writer pen tip to burn the eye to a dark brown – black color, but avoid the white reflection spot. After the eye is burned in, let the wood cool, and then erase the white charcoal.
Switch to a shader pen tip and use the razor edge to burn zigzags strokes along the far left streak.
Use zigzag strokes on the black streak just to the right of the white crown. You want the edges of the streaks to be jagged or irregular and zigzags will ensure that happens.
Some of you might be asking why use zigzags instead of uniform strokes. After all, uniform strokes are perfect for filling in area that need uniform solid color. Plus you could easily burn a few lines here and there to make the edges jagged. The answer is realism.
Zigzag strokes produce very realistic short hair/fur/feather texture. While it’s hard to see the fine detail in the photos, the actual artwork has a mixture of dark brown and black lines in the streaks. This subtle variation provides a level of texture and realism you will not achieve with other burn strokes.
Lastly, burn in the last black streak with zigzag strokes.
Next burn in the curved short dark lines between the eye and the beak.
Then burn in the shadowed area on the throat just under the beak.
Burn a the line between the upper and lower beak.
Shade the upper beak to a tan color that is a little darker along the bottom edge and the end.
Next shade in the lower beak to a tan color.
Rotate the wood when working along the bottom edge of the beak, so the pen tip stays in optimal position. Again, like the upper beak, the bottom edge of the lower beak should be darker than the top edge.
Now we’re going to work on the white streaks. Make sure you burner is not on a high setting as we want the color to stay in the tan range. Begin by burning zigzags on the white streak along the eye.
Then burn a few zigzags in the streak on the crown. Burn more strokes along the right edge than the left edge of the streak.
Next burn zigzags or lots of short lines along the edges of the first layer of feathers around the eye.
Do the same thing along the edges of the next layer of feathers.
Then lightly burn over both layers to give a little color to them. Also extend the color out to the beak.
Repeat the process of burning along the edges of feather layers on the throat.
The only difference is we’ll fill in each layer as we work. To fill in a layer, burn a few pull-away strokes. Start the stroke on the edge and pull it towards the eye. The color should fade to pale tan when you reach the adjacent layer of feathers.
Continue to burn in layers of feathers on the throat.
Also burn in the pale feathers along the back of the neck just above the wings.
Consult the reference photo as you work each layer. You should be checking to see how dark the edges are along each layer of feathers. This one I’m currently working on is the darkest one on the throat.
Now we will burn in the bird’s belly, but let’s look at the reference photo first.
Let’s start at the top which is actually the bird’s chest. The chest is much lighter than the belly. In fact, it is almost the same color as the throat. So start on the right edge and fill the area to a tan color using zigzag strokes.
Burn along the lower edge of each layer so it is darker than the top edge. Yes, this is the same thing we did on the throat.
Work part way down the first streak on the belly just below the wings. Burn in each rounded feather to a tan color and then re-burn around the feather so the area around the feather is several shades darker than the feather.
Burn in the first couple of feathers on the next streak over.
Then finish burning in the chest area.
With the chest done, pick a streak and burn in the feathers.
Quite truthfully, you can work streak at a time, a row at a time, or a combination thereof. Regardless of which way, you still need to burn in each feather individually.
Just take your time and consult the reference photo often.
Keep in mind that no one is going to be comparing your artwork with the reference photo. The goal with the belly is to create a mottled look that has a few streaks of feathers running along it. This area does not need to look exactly like the photo.
Under the wing and along the rump the feathers are much darker than the belly, so burn them to a dark tan or light brown color.
Continued work on the belly.
After I burn in an area, I like to evaluate it by comparing it with the reference photo. I’m looking at the lights and darks and trying to determine if I should darken up anything. During the evaluation process, I decided that the area under the wing should be a touch darker.
WING & TAIL
Here’s the reference photo for the wing. Along the mantle, upper left side of the wing, the color is tan with lots of black blotches. There is probably more black than tan in the area, but you get the gist. The lower left side of the mantle has more solid colored feathers on it. The next layer of feathers are the covert feathers. They are black in the center with brown edges and white tips. The last row of feathers are similar to the coverts, but the white tips aren’t as pronounced.
We will begin by burning in the dark areas on the wings. This is where those lines I burned in come in handy.
At this point I’m really appreciating the fact that I burned in lines on the dark areas. The reason is that the wing has a lot going on and it’s easy to get confused.
I recommend you do the same sort of thing when you burn in the wing.
The lowest feather on the covert layer of feathers is very dark.
Remember to keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning along the lower edge.
Next start burning in the little bits of black that are showing on the covert feathers.
Finishing up the black areas on the covert feathers.
Then burn in the last couple of black areas along the top of the wing.
Now we’ll burn in the tan areas on the feathers.
Consult with the reference photo and determine what shade of tan the feather you’re working on should be.
Also, as you work, compare the color levels of your feathers with the throat. The throat is much lighter in color than the wings are.
It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t have to get the color perfect the first time. I’ve mentioned numerous times that I burn and then re-burn areas to build up the color.
This photo shows that I’m re-burning the brown/tan areas on the covert feathers that I had just burned in on the previous step.
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re working is to compare the color or tan hues of that area with the surrounding area. For example, the reference photo shows that the feather I’m currently working on is lighter than the one above it. So as I’m burning I have to make sure that I replicate that.
Use the same principles in your own work. It’s not important that your art match exactly in color as the reference photo, but it is important you maintain the basic color relationships so the artwork will look realistic. This means that overall the wing needs to be darker than the throat and belly. The belly needs to be darker than the throat, etc.
Continue to burn in feathers individually on the wing, and re-burn as needed to build up the color levels.
Finishing up the lower covert feathers.
Periodically step back from your artwork and critically look at it. How are the dark areas comparing with the reference photo? What about the browns and tans? I stepped back and noticed that some of my dark markings needed to be a touch darker, so I’m re-burning them.
Now let’s work on the flight feathers on the wing. Looking at the reference photo there is a small area along the lower left of the feathers that is pretty dark, so burn in that spot.
Then move to the top of the wing and burn in the tans and browns on feathers. Looking at the reference photo shows that the color fades to light tan at the end of each feather.
Work on one feather at a time, look at the reference photo to determine how dark the left side should be, and how pale the tip of the feather should be.
Burn in the dark brown – black areas first. Keep the pen tip in optimal position and have it angled pretty steep so you get a thin burn line.
While we’re in the mode of burning thin lines between the feathers, burn in the dark lines around the group of feathers that run a little ways down the tail.
Then burn in the dark shadows under the wing.
Now start working on the brown tones on the flight feathers.
Take your time and burn each feather individually.
Re-burn as needed to build up the color.
The lower feathers have pale edges on them, so rotate the board and burn darkly along the pale edge. This will put the pen tip in optimal position and give a crisp line next to the pale edge.
Noticed how I’m blocking in the color. I’m not trying to get the feathers to their final darkness level during this step.
Now re-burn along the feathers and darken them up.
In this photo you can see how defined the pale edges on the feathers are.
The pale edges are not bright white, so lightly burn over them so they are pale tan color. Leave the very tips of the feathers bright white; i.e. un-burned.
If you should accidently burn over the tips, use an X-acto knife to gently scrape away the color.
At this point I was evaluating my art with the reference photo and decided I didn’t make the shadows under the wing dark enough, so I’m re-burning to fix that.
Why point this out?
Because I want you to be aware that the level of realism I achieve happens because I frequently analyze the art and fine-tune areas by re-burning over them.
Let’s finish the tail. Start on the lower left edge and burn in the feathers along it.
The feathers are pretty dark, but they do have a slightly paler edge along them.
Then work on the next group of feathers.
This clump of feathers is dark tan in color with paler edges, so do your best to replicate this.
The feathers along the top of the tail are pretty nondescript, so burn them to a tan color that is a touch paler next to the wing.
Burn in the brown feather close to top at the end the tail.
Burn in the top feathers to a tan color and then burn in the dark tan lines between the feathers.
Now burn the feathers to a tan color.
Remember to keep the pen tip in optimal position when working along the lower edge of the feathers.
Slowly build up the color on the tail feathers.
STEP 5 – FEET & PERCH
Here’s the reference photo for the area. The leg doesn’t have a lot going on and the feet look mottled and dirty to me. The claws are pretty dark. The wood is a piece of aged treated lumber, so it had moss and the deep lines where the chemicals are injected into the board. I’m going to simplify this area.
Begin by burning in the left foot to a tan color with dark brown claws.
Keep the top of the foot lighter in color than the bottom.
Notice how I’m not adding a lot of detail to the foot? I did say we were going to simplify things.
Burn the right leg and foot to a tan color.
Again, the claws should be dark brown and the lower portion of the foot should be darker than the top.
Switch to a writer pen tip and burn in the dark injection lines along the wood. Also burn a line around the edges of the wood.
Then burn dark shadows under the feet.
The center of the left foot has a little gap between it and the wood, so make sure to let the shadow fall away from the foot to maintain the gap.
Next use the writer pen tip to add a layer of texture onto the wood by burning short zigzag strokes with it.
I’m moving my hand pretty fast, so the burn stroke isn’t consistent in color. I did that on purpose as it is creating texture.
Then switch to a shader of your choice and burn over the wood. The zigzags will add a subtle texture to the wood so it doesn’t look flat.
Also, burn darker under the bird as this will make it appear the bird is casting a shadow onto the board.
If needed, rotate the board as you work. It is easier to pull the strokes towards you, so by rotating the board it may allow you to burn in a direction that allows you to easily pull the strokes towards you.
The last thing to do is burn a few dark chemical injection lines along the side of the board.
STEP 6 – BACKGROUND
Use a shader to burn the background next to the bird’s belly. You want the color dark enough to provide good contrast. It doesn’t need to be a really dark color. I’m using pull-away strokes for this step, so the color fades a short distance from the bird.
Look at how much brighter the chest appears with the background darkened up.
STEP 7 – FRAME
Working one side at a time darkly burn in the frame. Using a larger shading pen tip will make this step go faster.
I’m not burning all the way to the outer edge on the frame because I was planning on using a torch to do that.
Here I am using a torch to burn along the edges of the frame. That was a bit of a mistake. For one thing I hadn’t done it before. For another thing, the flame was too high for the area I was working in.
As a result I accidently burned past the boundaries of the frame. In this photo I’m getting ready to scrape away the char spot.
I got most the charring removed, but had to resort to sand paper to do it.
The torch leaves a lot of carbon residue on the wood, so I wiped over the frame numerous times with a paper towel to remove the carbon.
Obviously I need practice with the torch if I’m going to use it again. Plus I need to get a smaller torch to use for this.
I hope you enjoyed this latest installment of My Backyard Birds. I really think the sparrow looks very striking with all of his wing markings. Using a torch isn’t near as easy as some of the artists on YouTube make it appear, but it did substantially shorten the time it took to burn in the frame.
If there is a bird you’d like to see as part of the series, let me know as I love to hear from you.
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 6 hours to complete the artwork. It’s important to remember that this is not a race or contest. You won’t win a prize if you complete the artwork in less time than I did. I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.
Until the next blog,
Jan 4 2018
Jim Knapp submitted this fantastic rendition of the White Crowned Sparrow. It looks great and the subtle shadows around the front of the bird really help the white areas pop. Amazing work Jim! Thanks for sharing it with us.
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