In this pyrography tutorial blog, I’m going to explain how to create the Bobcat artwork. I will show you my zigzag burn stroke technique to creating realistic looking fur. The reference photo for this artwork was taken by my husband, Todd, while we were visiting the Oregon Zoo. The bobcat was sitting in a patch of morning sunlight and the sun’s angle created some deep shadows on and around the cat. I instantly loved how dramatic the photo looked and knew I had to create a pyrography version of the image. My goal with artwork is to show you how easy it is to create very realistic looking fur using zigzag strokes.
Let’s get to work, and please leave a comment and let me know if I accomplished my goal.
SKILL LEVEL: 2
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 10 x 10 inch (25.4 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
- Attached pattern (shrink or enlarge as needed) Bobcat pattern
- White Charcoal Pencil (optional) – – DO NOT USE A COLORED PENCIL!
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 a super smooth surface 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 – EMBOSS THE WHISKERS
First look at your whisker lines and determine if they need to be lightened up. My whiskers are pretty dark and all of the graphite will get shoved to the bottom of the embossed line, so I need to lighten up my pencil marks.
Here’s how the whiskers looked after I erased them. The yellow arrow is pointing to some whiskers I burned in before erasing the pencil lines, and, as you can see, the whiskers are pretty dark looking.
I use a heat setting of 1 on my burner which goes to 10. If you are coloring the wood at all when you’re doing this, your heat is too high. You want just enough heat to make it easier for the tip to push into the wood.
STEP 4 – EYE
Burn over the trace lines immediately around the eye. Make sure to burn the lines in the same direction as drawn on the pattern. I drew the lines in the fur’s growth direction, so it’s important to burn them the way they were drawn.
If you’re unfamiliar with my terminology, I have a blog that explains them: Using the Shader
STEP 5 – FACE OUTLINE & LEFT EAR
DO NOT USE A COLORED PENCIL! Color pencils will melt and char under the heat of the pen tip. Charcoal resists the heat. I use white charcoal because it doesn’t discolor the wood and it’s very easy to see against the burn marks.
Use a shader pen tip of your choice and start burning the background behind the white charcoal lines. Be careful and avoid burning on the lines. The charcoal will resist the heat, but won’t completely prevent it from darkening up the wood.
Now burn short dark lines on the background just above the top of the head. Make sure to burn the lines ON THE BACKGROUND. You can extend the lines slightly onto the cat’s head, but the majority of the line should be on the background.
Burn tan pull-away strokes along the base of the ear. Start the stroke on the base of the ear (where it touches the top of the head) and pull the stroke up and curve it gently towards the wispy ear hairs. Stop the stroke once it is around 1/4 inch (0.64 cm) long.
Now burn new pull-away strokes, but start these strokes where the old ones ended. Pull the stroke towards the ear hairs and let a few of the strokes extend to the end of the hairs. Make sure to vary the color just a little with the strokes. This will give the impression of different colors and layers of hair.
Now we’re going to create a buffer zone around the cat’s face. This is done by burning short dark lines on the background right next to the edge of the fur. Allow some of the lines to cross over into the fur area. Then burn a 1/4 inch or so (0.64 cm) wide band of dark brown or black next to the lines.
Why create a buffer zone? The buffer zone allows us to work more quickly on the background because we don’t have to get close to the cat where precision is needed.
Finish burning the short dark lines along the patch of neck fur. Notice how long I burned the lines below the fur patch. If you look closely, you’ll see the pencil lines that mark the end of the visible fur.
I created a Transition Zone by burning the long dark lines BELOW the pencil marks. The transition zone is where the fur ends and the shadows begin. We don’t want this to be a straight line, so that’s why I varied where the lines start and end. This created a very jagged area in the transition zone. Below the transition zone create a buffer zone.
There is another patch of fur a little distance down from the neck patch. Create a transition zone above this patch. The area between the two transition zones can be burned to a dark brown/black color. It’s such a small area that it’s easier to just burn in the area instead of creating a buffer zone.
Burn dark pull-away strokes along the cast shadow line. Start the stroke on the line and pull it towards the cat’s face. The strokes at the top of the ear should be just light enough to show against the dark background.
Rotate the wood, if needed, and burn pull-away strokes along the edge of the ear. Start the stroke on the edge of the ear and pull it towards the shadow line. Again when working at the top of the ear keep the color a shade or two lighter than the background.
Now we’re going to burn in the fur patches using zigzag strokes. To create depth and realism requires burning several layers of zigzags. Initially the layers are pretty light in color, so it might be hard to see what is going on. To help you understand my process I’m going to provide a zigzag demo that I burned a lot darker, so it should be much easier to see what I’m doing.
Flat vs Edge
In this photo I’m just finishing up a patch of zigzags using a heavy hand pressure as I burned. The patch to the right was created using light pressure. They don’t look a lot difference except the left one is darker.
With the heavy pressure side, I found it very difficult to burn another layer. The pen tip wanted to get down in the deep lines from the first burn. I think all I really accomplished was to deepen the lines even more.
I angled the board a little to try and show just how deep the lines went on the left patch. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some of the wood started flaking off if I tried to add another layer of zigzags.
Layer It Up
The second layer darkens up the patch a little and fills in some of the unburned gaps. It also adds texture and tonal depth to the patch. Each layer continues to add to the texture and depth of the burn and this really helps provide realism to the fur.
It is extremely important to burn the zigzag bursts in the same direction that the fur grows. In this photo I’m working on the area that would be above the nose. This area tends to have vertically aligned fur.
To contour or give shape to the fur, you re-burn as needed. In this photo I’m re-burning along the right side of the eye. This darkens the area and makes it look recessed or sunken down from the fur on the nose area.
Final Tips for Better Burn Results
- Thoroughly sand the board before burning. The smoother the wood surface is, the better results you will get. (see step 1 of this tutorial).
- Use a light hand pressure.
- Keep the heat between low and medium. The higher the heat the easier it is for the pen tip to sink down into the wood. My unit goes to 10 and I have it set around 3.
STEP 6 – FUR PATCH 1
I want to point out that my goal with the fur on the neck is just to create the general impression of realistic fur. No one is going to examine the fur that closely on the neck, so I didn’t try to replicate every detail on the reference photo. Instead the reference photo was used to help determine darkness level and shadow placement.
Equip the shader pen tip of your choice on your burner and set the heat so you get a medium tan burn result. Then start filling the patch with zigzag bursts. Remember to vary where you start each burst, and how many lines are in each burst. Also vary the gap between the lines in the burst.
As you can see, there are quite a few small un-burned gaps on the fur patch. That is perfect. We want that because we will be adding several layers of zigzags as this creates wonderful tonal depth and texture.
With the first layer of zigzags done, add a second layer. I’m starting at the bottom and working my way back up to the top. You can do the same or start at the top and work your way down. It really doesn’t matter.
We’re going to add another layer of zigzags using the same rules that we did during the first to layers. To refresh you; vary where you start each burst, vary the number of lines in each burst, and vary the gap or space between the lines in each burst.
During this layer of adding zigzags, make sure to also burn over the transition zone. I used a combination of zigzags and thick single strokes on the transition zone. The thick single strokes were all started in the dark buffer zone and pulled up into the transition zone.
I want to pause a moment and just look at the fur patch to get an impression of it. When I look at the fur patch I think it looks flat. It reminds of fur, but it doesn’t have any shape to it, so that needs to get fixed.
During the contouring process the goal is to add the shadows to give the area shape. The yellow arrow is pointing to the top portion of the fur that was darkened up considerably making it look like it is in shadows. This was accomplished by making sure to burn in the little gaps between the lines to a brown color.
Compare this composite photo and notice how the patch has a little more shape to it. Looking at the photo I do wish I had made the transition zone a lot more jagged. Even to the point where there were small gaps of missing fur (highly shadowed fur).
STEP 7 – FUR PATCH 2
Use the flat of the shader to fill the patch with long tan lines of varying color. Notice how the lines all have different curves on them. The lines start in the transition zone and get pulled into the fur patch.
Burn a jagged or irregular transition line to create an upper and lower portion of the patch. I did this by burning a few dark tan lines in one spot. Then I moved to another spot and repeated. This will start to push the lower portion of the patch into the shadows.
To do this, I look at the patch and if there is the start of a pale line already in existence, then I burn around it to emphasize the line. The yellow lines indicate the places I would turn into the pale hairs.
STEP 8 – FUR PATCH 3
Here’s the reference photo. There is a shadow line running through the area and the lower half of the patch is in shadows. Use the same process to burn in this fur patch that was used on the first fur patch.
STEP 9 – FUR PATCH 4
Here’s the reference photo. What I notice is that the fur is short and the lower right corner is in shadows. Handle the patch using the same methods that were used on fur patch 1. There are a few “long” hairs to the left of the shadowed corner. You can create them like we did on the 2nd fur patch or you can make all of the fur the same length.
STEP 10 – BACKGROUND
STEP 11 – FACE
To finish the artwork we need to do is burn in the Bobcat’s face. The face as a lot more tonal variations and markings on it, but I’m confident you will handle this just fine as the basic process of burning zigzags remains the same.
I want to mention now that I tend to bounce around a bit on the face. The reason is that the face has a lot going on, and bouncing around allows me to do two things: 1) build up proper color and contrast, and 2) have fresh eyes.
- As I work I’m constantly comparing the area I’m working in with the surrounding area to make sure the color is similar. I also frequently compare my work with the reference photo to determine if I need to increase the darkness level, add facial markings, etc.
- If you stare at one area for too long your eyes get numb to what you’re seeing. By moving around as I work, my eye don’t get numb; they stay fresh. I’m more likely to notice details and errors when my eyes are fresh.
Do not burn uniform layers of zigzags on the face like we did with the neck fur. The reason is that you will lose the guidelines for the markings and shadows on the face. Instead, as you burn make sure to re-burn as needed to create markings and shadows.
Continue to burn in the brow area. I want to point out that I do not burn a uniform layer of zigzags like I did on the neck fur. The reason is that the face has markings on it, so as I burn the face I re-burn over the marking areas to make sure they remain.
Now, re-burn over the shadowed area on the chin to darken it up. Make sure to leave the chin several shades LIGHTER than the background. Also keep the front or left edge of the chin jagged so it looks like hair.
Switch to a writer pen tip and add a layer of fine or small dots over the entire surface. The dots are only 1-2 shades darker than the nose, so they don’t stand out a lot, but they do add a subtle texture. Use the dots to contour the nose, so add more dots along the side and lower edges.