Mandarin Duck Collaboration Pyrography wood burning art

This blog is going to discuss the Mandarin Duck artwork that I did.  This last summer I was approached about doing collaboration artwork with another YouTube artist; Luke Hanlon.   We discussed several ideas about how this collaboration should work and we finally agreed upon one.  The concept was that I would create a piece of pyrography and Luke would apply color to it.  Color is not my strong suit, so I was very interested to see how someone who is good with color would handle this.  I got to pick the project, so I picked a Mandarin duck because of how colorful they are.   

To watch a time lapse video on YouTube of the artwork being created, then click on the image to the left.   




Luke has his side of the collaboration done and it is a VERY entertaining video.  Plus he transformed the artwork into a masterpiece, so I HIGHLY recommend viewing the video.

Also, there is reader submitted art at the bottom of this blog.


The image I used to create the artwork was from a photo I got off of Pixabay, and it was posted by user Didgeman.  Here’s a link to the photo:

I want to mention upfront, that I did not create what I’d consider as a finished product.  That wasn’t the goal or purpose of the collaboration.  Instead my goal was to provide a semi-detailed frame for Luke to color over.   Sending out a piece of artwork that wasn’t completely finished was tough for me as I’m very critical of my work.  I made myself do it, and afterwards it felt a bit liberating. 

Luke is the artist behind both YouTube channel Luke Hanlon Art and Artwalker.  Luke creates some fantastic artwork usually in colored pencils or graphite and those he features on his Luke Hanlon Art channel.  I’ve noticed he has removed a number of videos from this channel, so I’m not sure what he’s doing with it.  Clicking on the image to the left will take you to his art channel.

His Artwalker channel is one he recently started, and it’s where he lets his humorous side show.    This is the channel where his portion of the collaboration will appear.  Clicking on the image to the left will take you to his channel. I will update this blog with a link to the video once it is available.  

As always, I first transfer the image to the wood.  This is accomplished by coating the back of the image with a thick layer of graphite.  Then I tape the image down onto the board and trace over the duck.





Here’s how the board looked once I was done tracing.






After I was done tracing in the duck, I lightly burned over the pencil line with a writer pen tip.  I only burned in the lines on the duck as I wasn’t 100% sure at this point if I would burn in the water or leave that completely to Luke.





Once the trace lines were lightly burned in, I used a pencil eraser and rubbed over them to remove any residual graphite.  Then I started burning in the duck using a small shader pen tip.





There are pyrography artist like Lora Irish, who spend time planning out their project.  Before the pen tip hits the wood, she already knows how dark it to make the burn.  I don’t.  Instead I start blocking in color, and then adjust the color when I have more areas to compare it with.  Adjust the color means I’m reburning over areas.  





Planning out the burn like Lora does would probably cut down on how long it takes to a project as there wouldn’t be much reburning needed.  At least in theory it would work out they way.  Like I said, that isn’t how I tend to do things, but I like to share with you things I discover so you can experiment to find out what works best for you.


I added this photo just to show you that I rotate the board as needed to make sure my pen tip is in optimal position when burning along edges.






One thing I find very useful is marking lines I want to avoid burning over with white charcoal.  This makes the lines very visible and the charcoal helps resist the heat of the pen.  It won’t block it completely, but it will help protect it.





Now I’m fine tuning the darkness on the duck’s bill.  I try to get an area done or close to its final color level as I then use that area to determine how dark or light to burn the rest of the image.






Reburning over the pale feathers on the face to adjust their darkness level.







Again I’ve used a white charcoal pencil to draw over some lines (thin feathers) that I want to avoid burning.  Then I burn around the charcoal marks.






Here’s a progress photo.







In this photo I’ve erased the first group of charcoal lines and draw in a new ones further down the cheek.  The cheek area was challenging, so I like to take little breaks from working on it.  Thus the reason I’m working on the back of the head.





Here I’m working on a nearby feather on or near the wing. 






Before I started on the feather, I consulted the reference photo and determined that the lower half of the feather is very dark.  I then look at my artwork and ask questions.  Is the feather darker than the top of the head?  Yes.  Is the feather darker than the reddish-purple chest?  Yes.  I continue this comparison process until I get a color that I think matches or is pretty close.   With the lower half of this feather I decided it matched the color of the eye.  Now I don’t have to get it that dark right now, but my ultimate goal is to create a very dark brown to black colored feather.


Should you convert color photos to a black and white to use for reference?  If it makes it easier for you, then absolutely!  Sometimes I do use black and white versions of the reference photo if I’m having a hard time deciding what hue of brown or tan to use for a particular color.  Sometimes I have both color and non-colored versions of the reference photo to work with.  Experiment and find what works best for you.

Back to the duck and as you can see I’m working on the cheek again, but I’ve moved onto a different section.






Finishing up blocking in the cheek feathers.







All of the charcoal is gone and now I’m burning over the area to give it shape and fine tune some of the feathers.  What that means is that I’m darkening some of them up and burning around them again to make them smaller or thinner.





The board I was burning on had a few grain lines that were very noticeable, and a couple them are on the belly.  Fortunately I thought they added to the texture on the belly.





In this photo I’m building up the feathers along the bottom of the belly and starting on the reflection in the water.






I’ve defined more feathers on the belly and now I’m extending the reflection on the water.






Here I’m starting the reflection near the ducks chest.







The water in the reference photo is very calm, and next to the duck it is almost like glass or a mirror.   When working with a water reflection I think the artwork looks better or more realistic to break up the reflection.



As you can see in this photo, I deviated from the reference photo and broke up the reflection.   I personally think this conveys the sense of water better than the actual photo does. 





One thing I like to do when I start burning new areas of a project, like I am in this photo, is to burn in the darkest areas first.  This section of the tail is in shadows, so the feathers are a very dark brown or black color.




Here’s another progress photo of the Mandarin Duck.






As I said before, the duck’s cheek feathers were challenging for me.  I wanted to make sure they stood out, but they also needed some shading to give the area shape.  The ends of the cheek feathers drape down over the belly and they are darker in color.




Continued work on the cheek feathers.  I probably spent more time working and reworking this area than I did on any other part of the duck.






Reburning some of the belly feathers to further define them.






This feather I’m just starting on is such an odd one to me.  According to Wikipedia, the feather is called a sail feather because it sits up like a boat sail.  I love learning little snippets of information like that, and I also love to share those snippets.  





As you can see, I switched shaders when I started working on the sail feather.  This is a medium sized shader, so using it reduces the amount of time it takes to burn in the feather.  Colwood refers to this shader as the “S” shader.  




Notice how the shader is almost as big as the segment of sail feather that is showing behind the main one?  I don’t have near as much room to work, and using a shader this large is such a small area is making it difficult to stay inside the boundaries of the feather.




To make burning in this feather easier on myself, I switched to a much smaller shader; Colwood J shader.   After switching to the smaller shader you can see that I have a lot more room to work with less chance of accidently over burning.   Over burning is just another way of saying burning past the lines or boundaries of the feather edges.




When you see that I’ve switched shaders 9 times out of 10 it is because I want a shader that fits in the area better.  For the most part, the shaders I use are all pretty much identical other than the size of the burn stroke they create. 




In this photo I’m starting to work on the wing feathers.  I’m burning in the shadows on each feather that are cast onto it from the feather above it.






Now I’m working on the top side of each feather. If you’ve read any of my tutorials on birds, you already know that I burn in each feather individually as this produces more realistic results in the artwork.





Once the wing feathers were done, I started in on the tail feathers. 






The tail is rather drab looking compared to how colorful most of the duck is. 





Other than some fine tuning the duck is done.  Now I’m concentrating on the water.  Once again I’ve switched to a medium sized shader to speed up the process of burning in the reflection on the water.   




I did use my smaller shader to work on the little water ripped behind the duck.






Mostly I used the medium sizes shader.  When working on the reflection I don’t even attempt to replicate the reference photo.  Instead I use the photo as a guideline to make sure I’m angling the reflection in the correct direction. 



Also, I look at how the different feathers reflect on the water and use that to guide me with my burning.  Remember I purposely deviated from the reference photo as I wanted the reflection to be broke up.




White charcoal came in handy to draw in where I wanted a couple of the cheek feathers to appear.  The charcoal is easy to see and erases cleanly from the wood.  Like regular charcoal, it does smear easily, so try not to touch it or rest your hand in it.




As you can see, I burn around the white charcoal as I work on this area of the reflection. 






In this photo I’m finishing up the reflection on the water.  I think the reflection turned out well as it gives the impression of water and you can pick out some of the major features of the duck.





Now I’m starting the fine-tuning process on the duck, so I’m reburning over this feature to get it to the final darkness level it needs.






The side of the duck had these fine semi-squiggly lines running along it, and I debated about how much of that detail to include.  In the end I burned in a few of the darker lines along the upper left side of the belly.





Since I had the writer pen tip equipped, I finished up fine tuning around the feathers on the cheek.






I also finished up the nostril on the bill.   For some reason, the term bill got me wondering why ducks are often referred to has having bills and birds have beaks.    I will share what I learned in my Interesting Tidbits section of this blog.




In this photo I’m using the edge of an X-acto knife to scrape away some of the color on a couple of the feathers to lighten them up.





Lastly I’m adding a few dark lines here and there in the water using a standard writing pen tip.






Since I find mandarin ducks so color and fascinating looking, I did a little internet search and discovered that they are native to East Asia and are closely related to Wood Ducks of North America.   Like the wood duck, the mandarin duck nests in tree holes, and the nest can be as high as 30 feet (9.1m) up from the ground.   

Now for the part you were waiting for.  Why is one called a bill or beak? According to,  “There is no difference between the terms beak and bill, although beak is more often used when referring to hooked bills.”  The article goes on to say that, “The bill has two parts: the bony skeleton of the jaws and the fleshy covering which is similar in composition to our fingernails. Birds are constantly wearing it down, so, like our fingernails, it grows. Sometimes captive birds have to have their bills trimmed as they don’t wear them down as they do in the wild.”   The article is pretty short, and has some more tidbits of information about bills, so if you’d like to read it just click here:  Beaks and Bills.


I had a lot of fun creating this artwork and there were definitely some challenging areas on it.  I really like to push myself ever so often as I usually learn a lot during those times.  Now I won’t lie and say that I don’t get frustrated when I’m trying to figure out some of the challenging areas.  The good thing is that after the art is done I tend to quickly forget how frustrated I got and instead focus on what I learned.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on basswood plywood that measures 8 3/8 x 14 inches (21.3 x 35.6 cm).  It took me 5 3/4 hours to do the artwork.   I could have easily spent a lot more time, but the goal wasn’t to create a finished product. 

Until the next blog,


Nov 12, 2019

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This duck was done by Roy Clark who once again tackles a complex project with apparent ease.   Roy continues to amaze me with how well he is burning given that he only started this last spring.  Great job, Roy, and thanks for sharing it with us!

8 thoughts on “Mandarin Duck Collaboration Pyrography wood burning art

    1. Hi Rick,
      Thank you for you great question.

      First off, always hang your artwork out of direct sunlight. Second, all pyrography will fade. It isn’t so much UV as it is the wood oxidizing or aging. I do not now of a way to keep the wood from doing this that doesn’t turn the wood really dark in the process.
      To slow down the oxidization, seal the wood with a finish like lacquer or polycrylic. Those two have been the best for remaining clear over time.
      Also, I would recommend burning in your artwork a shade or two darker to help counter the woods aging process.

      I know this isn’t the answer you were seeking, but I don’t know of any way to completely stop the fading process.

      1. I am so thankful I found your web site. I sometimes cover my pyrography with a light “wash” of acrylic since my art is mostly peoples homes or other structures. I never thought about the wood getting darker.

        1. Hi Rick,
          I’m glad you find the website of value. I haven’t tried adding an acrylic wash. Are you using the acrylic to add color or to help protect the artwork?

          Truth be told I didn’t think about the wood getting darker until I was testing out different brands of cradleboards. I always sand the wood before burning on it and I noticed how much lighter some of the boards became after I sanded them. I asked my woodworking hubby about it and found out about oxidization. Made sense.

          Thanks for the comment.

    1. Hi Wink,
      they are often sold as part of a drawing kit. Amazon sells just the white charcoal pencil, and I put a link below. Amazon had a lot of different brands most of which I haven’t heard of let alone tried. I’ve only tried General and Conte. Conte I like better, but it’s more expensive. I included a link for that one too. Craft stores, like Michaels, usually have the General brand, but probably as part of a set. Quite truthfully the set is probably cheaper than the Amazon price that only has 2 white pencils.

      General brand:
      Conte Brand:

      Hope that helps.

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