Using Zigzags to Create Fur Pyrography Tutorial wood burning techniques

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.  

There is a YouTube video version of this tutorial; to watch just click on the image to the left.

 

 

ZIGZAG EXPLANATION

What is a Zigzag?

A zigzag is literally a line burned in a back and forth or zigzag motion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zigzag Burst

I refer to each zigzag as a zigzag burst.  This picture has 9 (or maybe 10) zigzag bursts in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each burst has between 3-7 lines in it.  It’s important to vary the number of lines and how long the lines are.  Also vary the distance between the lines.

Zigzag Patch

A zigzag patch is a grouping of zigzag bursts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important to vary where you start each burst in the patch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seriously, it is really important to vary where you start each zigzag burst.  This rule remains in place even when re-burning over a zigzag patch!

 

 

 

 

 

Zigzag Bands

DO NOT burn bands or rows of zigzags!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bands of zigzags do not even remotely resemble the look of fur. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No zigzag bands allowed.

Flat vs Edge

In this photo I’m using the flat of the shader to burn zigzag bursts.  Notice how thick or wide each line in the burst is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To me this does not look like fur texture either as the lines are just too thick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo I have angled the pen tip so that I’m using the razor edge tip of it.  Notice how much thinner the lines are.  This is what you’re after.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the comparison showing how different the patches look. 

Pressure

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.

 

 

 

 

 

I found the process of burning another layer of zigzags over the patch easy to do on the light pressure side.  For the record, the second layer was applied using the same light pressure.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Here’s a comparison of the two burns.  The patch on the left was created using heavy pressure and the one on the right was done with a light hand pressure.  The left side looks deeply rutted.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Here is a photo of a zigzag patch with one layer of zigzags.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m burning a second layer of zigzags onto the patch. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Growth Direction

The last thing I want to demo is the fur growth direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

As I start burning towards the eye, the fur direction changes, so in this photo I’m started to change the angle I’m burning the zigzags in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m burning directly above the eye and the angle of the burn has become almost horizontal.

 

 

 

 

 

As I fill in the area or expand the patch, I keep the zigzags in the same horizontal direction.

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo I’m starting to change the angle of the burn along the lower corner of the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this photo you can see the gradual angle change as I work my way from right to left below the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

The burn strokes along the left side of the eye are horizontal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

ZIGZAG MODIFICATION

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

This cat is mostly uniform in colored, but there some markings or maybe different fur lengths on the forehead that are a bit darker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you really need to be aware of is how cat has different fur lengths.  On the nose the fur is extremely short when compared to the forehead. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That brings us to the first zigzag modification. When burning in the really short fur found on the nose and below the eyes, you need to shorten the height of the zigzags.

 

 

 

 

 

The zigzag to the left of the green arrow represents a normal height zigzag, and to the right of the arrow is a zigzag that is much shorter.  This is what you need to do with the really short fur.

 

 

 

When I work on the really short fur, I barely move my hand so that the burn strokes will be greatly reduced in height.

 

 

 

 

On the forehead where the fur is normal length, I use my normal sized zigzag stroke making sure to burn the zigzags in the fur growth direction.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Generally I will apply between 4-8 layers of zigzags when creating fur.  For this demo I only did 2-4 as I wasn’t trying to create an exact replica. 

 

 

 

 

 

When re-burning over areas you need to match the zigzag height of the first layer.  So the fur on the nose should be re-burned using a very short zigzag stroke.

 

 

 

 

 

The forehead would get the normal sized zigzag.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a comparison photo.  Again, please keep in mind that my goal is to show you how I modify zigzags to get different looks, so I only burned in a little section of the fur. 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the black cat the same rule for altering the zigzag height applies, so the nose and under the eyes would be burned in with really short zigzag strokes.

 

 

 

 

The modification for the black cat is to reduce the gap between the lines in the zigzags.  Also reduces the gap or space between zigzag bursts.  This will produce a much darker burn result.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Some of you might not agree with my choice to do this.  That’s ok.  As artists each and every one of us gets to make the choice on how faithfully to replicate photos. 

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.

 

 

 

 

My method of creating fur takes a little longer to do, but I think the results are worth it. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

To fix that, all you have to do is re-burn over the area to darken it up.  Often many mistakes of this nature can be easily fixed by re-burning over the area.

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

When working on an animal with markings, I like to burn in the markings first.  Just like the first two cats, use short zigzags when burning in the really short fur on the nose and under the eyes. 

 

 

 

 

 

The modification for the pale cat is to increase the gap or space between the lines on each zigzag.  This will produce an overall lighter colored fur. 

 

 

 

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.

It is very important when burning fur to burn it in the direction the fur is growing.  In this photo I’m burning zigzags vertically, so the lines look horizontal in direction.   

 

 

 

 

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.   

 

 

 

 

This is a vertical zigzag.   My hand is moving from top to bottom or vertically as I burn in the zigzag.  This zigzag orientation produces lines that are more horizontal in direction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fur near the ears seams a touch longer than the fur above the eyes, so I’m increase the height of the zigzags a little to match this observation.

 

 

 

 

 

Of course re-burning is necessary to build up the color and tonal depth of the fur.  Dark orange markings receive additional layers of zigzags to ensure they looking darker than the rest of the fur. 

 

 

 

 

All layers of zigzags should be burned in the same way as the first layer was in the area.  So really short fur areas always receive layers of zigzags that are short in height.

 

 

 

 

It might be easier to burn a few single lines in the white markings instead of burning zigzags.  You will have to test out what works best for you.

 

 

 

 

 

I did apply a layer of really zigzags on the light fur at the end of the nose as I wanted the area to look like fur.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

So I’m applying another of layer of zigzags to the cat.  This layer will be applied to the entire face except the white markings.

 

 

 

 

Here’s the comparison photo.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Here’s the first layer of zigzags on the nose.  The modification for this cat must be done as the last thing, so I will apply another layer of zigzags to the area.

 

 

 

 

In this photo I’m finishing up the second layer of zigzags.

 

 

 

 

 

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.   

 

 

 

 

The lines need to be lines not dots.

 

Here’s how the area looked before and after I applied a layer of dark really short lines to it.

 

 

 

Now burn in the cat using the same rules as before.  Really short fur gets burned in using zigzags that are short in height. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-burn over areas to build up the color.  When re-burning make sure to burn the zigzags the same way that the first layer of zigzags was burned in.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Burning multiply layers of zigzags really does improve the overall texture and tonal depth of the fur giving it a much more realistic look.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Here is a comparison photo of before and after I burned dark lines randomly over the fur.

 

 

 

Here’s the comparison photo for the last cat.

 

 

 

 

PEN TIPS

The last thing I want to discuss is how the type of pen tip impacts the burn stroke.

 

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 is the Spade E shader and it produces a much longer or taller zigzag.  This makes it easier to create longer fur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the S shader and the results look similar to the J shader I normally use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is the SHS shader and the results look similar to the last one.

 

 

 

 

This long pen tip is the DM11a shader, and I haven’t used it enough to feel comfortable with it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

This is the medium ball pen tip, and it didn’t create a burn stroke that is suitable for fur.  At least I don’t think it is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

I also use the E spade shader to work on the straight longer fur on the wolf that I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the gently curving softer looking fur I was able to use the LSS shader with great results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.  

IN CONCLUSION

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,

Brenda

Mar 13, 2020

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8 thoughts on “Using Zigzags to Create Fur Pyrography Tutorial wood burning techniques

  1. Thanks for this cat tutorial, I love cats but I have a problem with the white hairs that appear in the ears.Do you have any advise on how to make them realistic.

    1. Hi Judy,

      Thanks for the comment! I did a YouTube video that takes all of the ear hair sections from the Bobcat artwork. That might be helpful for you. I also covered the ears in the Cheetah artwork, but I didn’t make a ear hair compilation video from that one.

      Bobcat ear hair: https://youtu.be/6AE2-nHayjU
      Cheetah: https://youtu.be/VAaKA5sOmLQ

      I also have written versions of both the Bobcat and the Cheetah.
      Bobcat: https://wp.me/p8j0lZ-49R
      Cheetah: https://wp.me/p8j0lZ-4OZ

      Hope one of those is helpful.
      Brenda

  2. Hi Brenda,
    I love your work and I’m using your tutorials to become more skilled since I am a beginner.
    I have a different burner than you, Brenn Peter Junior. It works with degrees. I was wondering if you know how many degrees the Colwood burner is on the different settings your using?
    Thanks in advance!
    Bianca

    1. Hi Bianca,
      I’m glad that my tutorials are helping.
      I do not have a clue what degree I’m burning at. I would recommend focusing instead on the color you get. I aim for a medium to dark tan burn result. From there I can adjust my hand speed to get lighter or darker results.

      I have a community post on my YT channel that discusses this and shows a picture. The post is the 9th one down, so you’ll have to scroll a bit as I couldn’t link directly to that particular post.
      https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbsWPDMdpBfrziJnthBFwhw/community

      Brenda

  3. Hi Brenda. First off, your work is incredible!! I’m very new to pyrography. I have been obsessed with learning more about it. I treated myself and bought a Burnmaster “Hawk”. Amazing how well it works vs a $25 wood burner! I’ve made a few pieces. I just watched your trout tutorial because I’ve done 2 trouts so far. Is there a way I could email you a pic of my next project? I’d love your opinion on how to tackle it? It’s a lion which I think will be very challenging because of the white dots. Do you give out your email? If not, I understand. Thank you!

    Joel

    1. Hi Joel,
      Always great to read about another person falling in love with pyrography. It really is a wonderful artform to work in.
      I will give you my email address as I love to look artwork others have done, but I don’t offer critiques, suggestions, etc. I was getting bombarded with requests to the point where it was taking hours every day to respond to them, so I had to stop.
      I will mention that Valarie of Drawing with Fire has a facebook page where she (and the group) offer help.
      Here’s a link to her facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/VCDrawingWithFire/

      I am not involved with the facebook page as I don’t do facebook. This website and youtube keep my plenty busy. 🙂
      My email is: PyrographyME@gmail.com
      Brenda

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