In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Cheetah pyrography artwork. This artwork is the first installment of my Big Cat series. I am extremely fond of big cats, so the series allows me to create artwork about a subject I really like. I started the series to complete my testing of cradleboards.
Cradle boards are artist grade plywood attached to a wooden frame for stability. This picture shows the back side of a cradle board, so you can see the wooden frame. I found my first cradle board at a craft store, and it was ok to burn on, but not great.
That got me to wondering if all cradle boards were the same, so I bought a number of boards from different manufacturers. I did a preliminary test of the board, and wrote a blog about my findings. After I finish the final round of testing I will update the blog to indicate how they performed. I chose cats for the final round of testing because I use zigzags to create the fur and that burn stroke can be a bit destructive to plywood; especially cheap plywood.
Here’s a link to the blog I wrote on cradle boards. With the cheetah I’m using the board that was marked number 7. I do not know which brand that corresponds to, but if you read the blog you’ll discover it. Please do not tell me as I’m trying to remain completely unbiased during this final round of testing.
Click on the image to the left to watch a time lapse version of the artwork being created. I do plan to create a tutorial version video when time allows. I’m currently working on the next portrait tutorial, but I plan to work on the Cheetah video after that. If all goes according to plan, it will be mid to late February and the video will be ready.
That said, a lot of the techniques I use on the Cheetah the same or extremely similar as the bobcat tutorial. If you need more help than what this written tutorial provides, I would recommend watching that bobcat video. Click on the image to the left to watch the Bobcat tutorial on YouTube.
One more thing before I start the tutorial. I will not be providing the pattern or reference photo for this artwork, but they can be purchased on my Etsy page: Cheetah Pattern.
Now, let’s start burning.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- 10 x 10 inch (25.4 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
- Pattern (for sale on Etsy): Cheetah Pattern
STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD
This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.
I will be using the zigzag method to create fur. This method uses the razor edge of the pen tip which has a tendency to snag on imperfections and to dig into the surface of the wood. An ultra-smooth board will help prevent this as will using a light hand pressure!
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.
STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE
Make sure you burn the lines in the direction they were drawn on the pattern. Again the lines indication the direction the fur is growing. I am using a combination of single lines and zigzags to burn in the pattern lines. If you are unfamiliar with what I mean by zigzags, I have a tutorial that explains my terminology: Using the shader.
Notice how I’m burning the lines all to the same color with the exception of the dark streaks along the nose. Again, don’t worry about getting the lines to their final darkness. Our goal right now is to get the lines burned in so the pencil marks can be erased.
This photo shows the how jagged I burned along the lower jaw. Most of the time I’m using zigzag strokes to burn in the lines, but in areas where I need the edge to be very jagged I burn individual lines. The reason for the jaggedness is that some of those longer white or burned lines will become wispy hairs.
The spots were all burned in using zigzags. Please keep in mind that while I didn’t burn them in very dark, you can burn them in much darker if you prefer. I explain how I did things, but that doesn’t mean it is the best or only way to do things.
Now is probably a good time to explain zigzags in greater detail.
What is a zigzag?
A zigzag is literally a line burned in a back and forth or zigzag motion.
I refer to each zigzag as a zigzag burst. This picture has 9 (or maybe 10) zigzag bursts in it.
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 where to start 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 just high enough to get a medium tan burn result. What the exact setting is to accomplish this depends on the wood, the pen tip being using, pen tip usage, and the brand of burner. Let me explain those a little bit.
Wood Type. Softwoods require less heat than hardwoods. Plywood, which is what I’m burning on, tends to be somewhere between the soft and hard woods.
Pen Tip Size. Generally speaking, the smaller the pen tip the less heat is required. I say generally as I have a micro writer pen tip that requires more heat than the standard writer pen tip does.
Pen Tip Usage. Another thing that factors into the heat setting is how much usage or burn hours the pen tip has received. Brand new or little used pen tips will require a higher heat setting than a similar tip that has many hours of burn time on it.
Burners. Different brands of burners will give different results even if they are set at the same heat dial setting. For example I might get a tan burn result at dial setting number 3 on my Colwood, but I might require a setting of 4 on a Razor tip to get the same burn result. Or it could be the opposite. If I should mention a number in one of my tutorials and you aren’t getting good results at that number that is ok. Adjust your setting until you get the result you desire.
STEP 4 – CHEETAH
Let’s take care of the right eye. It is mostly in shadows, but the edges of the shadows are not hard or crisp lines. Use gradient shading and burn some single dark lines over the eye to give the impression of cast shadows from the brow hairs.
As you fill in the bridge of the nose area with zigzags make sure to burn them in the fur growth direction. I am working my way around the nose burning in the areas that have different directions first.
Again be mindful of the direction you are burning in the zigzags. For the most part no one will notice this type of detail, but they will if you burn in an odd direction. The fur on the forehead is growing mostly in a vertical or up/down direction, so if you burned the fur in a horizontal or left/right direction, that would look off and people would notice.
Yes, I did bounce around a lot while creating this artwork. I always debate with myself if it is better to explain the art in the same order I created it, or would it be better to group everything together. Let me know what you think.
Next finishing burning in the dark streak along the jaw. I tried to avoid burning over the whiskers, but in retrospect that was a waste of time as I used an X-acto knife to scrape them into existence later.
Then burn in the left eye. This eye is also mostly in shadows, but make sure to keep the shadows on the eye a bit jagged. This will give the impression of individual hairs casting shadows onto the eye. Also I gave the eye a hint of a pupil in the center of the eye. The pupil just barely peaks or shows from the shadowed area.
Fill the top of the head with a layer of fur and darken up any black spots you encounter. Notice how my spots do not have smooth edges on them. This gives the impression of fur. I burn in the spots using the same zigzag motion on do on all of the fur.
Then start burning along the left side of the face. Since the face is angled, the left side of the face shows a lot of the white area on the jaw and throat. The fur on this side isn’t as dark as the top of the head or the body.
Now I like to bounce around as I do pyrography. This method of burning lets me build up several different areas so I can compare the color levels. The fur on the body is darker than the side of the face and the jaw, so getting the body burned in makes the white or paler areas seem that much paler.
I created a 1” (2.54 cm) border around the wood and I placed the cheetah so it’s body overlapped onto the border. In this photo I’m burning the border next to the white fur on the throat. Notice how I make sure the edges of the fur are jagged. This is accomplished by a two-step process. First I burn a row of zigzags along the fur / border edge. Then I burn back over the seam or line were the two meet burning single lines that start on the black border and finish or end on the fur.
Now resume working on the body. When working on the body, make sure to burn the zigzags in the fur growth direction. Since the cheetah is laying down and has his legs bent in front of him, the fur changed directions to match how the body is positioned. A reminder that the lines on the pattern indicate the fur direction.
Burn in the fur on the left ear. The right edge is filled with short darker fur followed by longer white wispy hairs that curl into the center of the ear. I try to burn around the edges of the pencil marks that represent the white hairs. You can also draw over the hairs with a white charcoal pencil and then burn around the charcoal.
Now it is a matter of burning additional layers of zigzags to give the fur more depth and color. How many layers should you burn in? That is up to you. Once you get to the point you are happy, then quit.
One last thing I want to point out is the partial background I put in. I didn’t want to burn in the entire thing, so I burned just enough to give contrast to the white fur on the throat. The pencil line is the upper limit of where I planned to burn and allow the color to fade out.
Since I was burning on a cradleboard, it as a 1 ½ inch thick wooden frame around the sides. The frame was made out of pine, which doesn’t burn well. To get the sides nice and dark I used black acrylic paint. The dark sides and border give the artwork a very polished look.
The last thing I want to talk about is the cradle board. I did not care for this particular board. It had a lot of slivering, so it was tough to get solid colors.
Another thing I disliked about the board was how difficult it was to burn zigzags on it. Burning with the grain direction was ok, but against it the board just fought me. Plus the more layers of zigzags I applied the rougher the board became and the more difficult it was to burn on. These are problems I’ve never experienced with solid wood.
As I said before I don’t know who manufactured this board. To keep the final round of testing as unbiased as possible I only refer to it by the number Todd wrote on the boards during my initial testing. This board is number 7, so you can look that up in my blog about the cradle boards.
We’re done. I hope you found the information useful. As for the board, I do not recommend it; especially if you are a beginner. I’ve got a few years of experience in pyrography, and I really struggled to get good results on this board. I have 7 other boards to test, so hopefully there will be one that is a good choice to burn on.
Despite the difficulties I had with the board, I will admit that I ended up liking the final artwork. I felt that turning the board diagonally really added to the visual interest of the artwork. Plus the dark border gave it a polished or finished look. Similar to how matting and framing artwork can do.
Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently. This artwork was burned onto a cradle board that measures 10 x 10 inches (25.4 x 25.4 cm). It took me 11 1/4 hours to complete the artwork. That said, this is not a race or contest. I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot. You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter. What’s important is you’re learning to create pyrography artwork, and hopefully having fun while doing so.
Until the next blog,
Jan 24, 2020
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