When I create fur texture I use a burn stroke I call zigzags. In the tutorial I am going to explain what zigzags are, and provide guidelines for using them. Another thing I will explain is how I modify the zigzags to create different looks in the fur.
I will start at the beginning by explaining what zigzags are and the guidelines for using them. Let me mention up front that the information in the Zigzag Explanation section has been presented before, so it might seem familiar. If so, just skip on down to Zigzag Modifications section to read new content.
What is a Zigzag?
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 pieces of 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. In fact, I sand the board, mist it with water, let the water dry, and then sand it again. Wetting the board raises the nap or wood grain, and once it is gone you have an ultra-smooth board.
- 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 (like basswood) require less heat than hardwoods (like maple). 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, so just be aware that each pen tip is different.
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 one 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.
I’ve heard from several people who were amazed at how much difference it can make to burn on an ultra-smooth board. Getting the board to the ultra-smooth state takes a little more time and work, but it is worth it.
Now that we have a basic understand of what zigzags are and the general guidelines for using them, let me show you how I modify the zigzags to get different looks in the fur. I have 4 different cats to show the modifications.
For the first example I’m using this photo of a Grey cat I got from Pixabay user AndixBilderwerkstatt. I cropped the photo to only show the face, but here’s a link to the photo. Grey Cat
Creating light and dark areas is controlled by re-burning. The dark markings or shadows on the forehead were created by burning several layers of zigzags in the area. The lighter areas received fewer layers of zigzags.
The next cat has black fur with some areas of reflected light. Here’s a link to this photo on Pixabay from user Angeleses. Black Cat
As before, the zigzag to the left of the green arrow represents a normal sized zigzag. The zigzag to the right of the green arrow was drawn with the lines much closer together. The height stays the same.
In addition to reducing the gap or space between the zigzag lines, you can also slow down your hand speed to get even darker burn results.
When working on the forehead use zigzags with a normal height, but keep the lines close together on each zigzag. The exception is the reflected light area on the fur; those areas you should also use normal gapping.
I purposely did not burn the cat to a jet black color next to the eyes despite the reference photo showing this. To me part of our job as artists is to make changes as needed. I didn’t like the lack of detail in the really dark areas, so I’m giving them better detail than the reference photo shows.
Others might say that they can’t deviate from the photo because they don’t know what the detail would look like. I disagree; at least with the cat. The fur on this cat is of similar length as the grey cat. Plus the fur grows in the same direction on almost every single cat on this planet. I use the fur growth direction from the grey cat when burning the fur on the black cat. Really the big difference between the two cats is the darkness of the fur and presence, or not, of markings.
Even with the black cat I still apply several layers of zigzags to build up the color and realism of the fur. Just like the grey cat, you replicate the same burn strokes when re-burning. So really short fur gets re-burned using short zigzags, and the longer fur gets normal height zigzags. Also the dark areas are re-burned with zigzags that have reduced gaps between the lines.
I want to point out the really pale patch of fur on the forehead. Notice how much paler it is compared to everything else. It looks out of place because it is lighter in color than any of the other fur on the cat. Right now it looks like an odd pale marking on the forehead
Here’s a comparison photo of the black cat. It needs a few more layers of zigzags to produce a really darker color, but for this example it is fine. After all, my goal is just to show the modifications I use to create short dark fur.
Our next cat has much lighter fur and distinctive facial markings. Here’s a link to this photo on Pixabay from user Alexas_Fotos. Orange Cat
The zigzag to the left of the green arrow represents a normal zigzag. The zigzag to the right shows a zigzag with much larger gaps between the lines on the zigzag. The height of the zigzag does not change.
You can also increase your hand speed get even lighter burn results. I increase my hand speed when burning the white fur markings. This way it ensures the white markings remain extremely pale in color.
This is a horizontal zigzag. As I’m burning my hand is moving from left to right in a horizontal direction. This produces lines that are up and down, so this gives you fur that is vertical in direction.
Here’s a progress photo and I want to point out how the white markings don’t look the white. To fix this the fur around the white markings needs to be darkened up. The increased contrast will make the white markings look white again instead of tan.
Our last cat is similar to the orange one, but the overall color is darker. Plus there is a lot of tonal variation in most of the fur. It looks like there are alternating white and black colored hairs. With this cat we can use all of the modifications discussed so far. Here’s a link to the Pixabay photo by user Doanme. Tabby Cat
I burned in the darker markings first and now I’m working on the really short fur on the upper part of the nose. The dark markings are burned with zigzags that have reduced gaps between the lines; just like what we did with the black cat. The really short fur on the nose was burned with zigzags that are reduced in height. This modification we have used on all of the cats.
The modification for this cat is to add dark really short lines or dashes randomly over the fur. I am using the razor edge of the shader. Plus I’m only letting a very small portion of the metal to come in contact with the wood to ensure the lines are super short.
Remember that there is almost always more than one way to accomplish the same goal. When burning in dark areas you can burn extra layers of zigzags and/or burn the zigzags with the lines really close together like we did with the black cat. Art really is about finding what works best for you.
The forehead fur gets burned in the fur growth direction using normally sized zigzags. With the lighter markings increase the gap between the lines in the zigzags and/or increase your hand speed. As mentioned before, with white fur you can also burn single lines instead of zigzags.
The last thing to do with the fur is to add a layer of dark thin lines randomly over the it, but avoid the pale markings. The lines should match the length of the fur in the area.
I highly recommend testing out different pen tips on a piece of scrap wood or paper to see how the burn strokes look. This is Colwood’s 1/4 inch calligraphy pen tip. It actually produces wonderful zigzags and might be much easier to use since the pen can’t cut into the wood as easily as the razor edge of the shader does.
This photo shows the LSS shader. This shader is one I didn’t like when I first bought it, but it now one I use on a regular basis. It is easier to burn larger or taller zigzags, but due to the shape of the shader it is tough to use the razor edge. Instead if find I use it when I want a softer or slightly out-of-focus look.
Also, I do recommend testing out burning the strokes at different angles. With the ball tip I liked the first direction, but I couldn’t replicate that look when burning at a different angle. Keep in mind that I personally wouldn’t use this pen tip for fur, but the texture is something I might be able to use in another application. Old driftwood found along the coastline is what is coming to mind.
This photo shows me burning the longer mostly straight body fur on the raccoon on my Raspberry Bandit artwork. I’m using the E spade shader for this as I can easily burn longer or taller zigzags with it.
Tip. So I highly recommend experimenting with your pen tips to see what you can create. Some of the best textures I’ve discovered occurred when I was playing around. Plus we all hold things slightly differently, our hands might be different in size, etc., so a pen tip that works well for me might not be the best choice for you.
That is it for this blog. I hope you found the information useful. I find the zigzag method of creating fur to be quick and easy to do. I only use the zigzag method to create straight fur or fur with a slight curve to it. Really curly fur needs to be treated like curly human hair and zigzags aren’t a good burn stroke choice for that.
I have had a few people tell me that at first zigzags are a bit tough to burn, but they get much easier with a little practice. I hope that you will find this to be true.
Until the next blog,
Mar 13, 2020
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