Raccoons are a pretty common site around my house as there are a number of large evergreen trees that they like to hang out in. Every year there is a female raccoon that raises young in a few of the trees. I think raccoons are cute and their babies are just adorable. As the babies get older, the female raccoon gets a lot bolder in her search for food. One year I caught her in the raspberry patch raiding the berries she could reach. The photo became the subject of my Raspberry Bandit artwork I created.
Every so often I like to pick a challenging subject to work on because it forces me out of my comfort zone. Plus I almost always learn a lot when working on something I find challenging. This project presented the challenge of longer fur length. All of the animal fur I had created before this project had short fur which is easy to replicate with my zigzag burn stroke method. Not only did the raccoon have areas with long fur, but she also had some areas that were hairy looking. By that I mean it looked like lots of individual strands of hair going in all sorts of different directions.
This photo shows my fenced in berry patch. It has contains three varieties of raspberries, and several blueberry plants. We have a LOT of deer that love to eat the leaves off of both the raspberries and blueberries, so we needed a fenced in area to keep the deer out. Since I feed the birds, we had to run the fencing along top of the pen to keep them out. An added benefit to the roof is that it keeps the raccoons out too as they can easily climb the fence. The raccoon in the previous photo had climbed to the top of the pen and was eating the raspberries from the canes that stuck out above the top of the pen. It was cute, but annoying at the same time.
My backyard is pretty much a playground for the raccoons. When the babies get older the mama raccoon takes them around with her and one of their favorite things to do is take a swim in my small pond. Numerous plants have been knocked of their ledges, and I have to retrieve them from the bottom of the pond. Like I said, they are both cute and annoying.
It took me a number of hours to trace all of the leaves and the raccoon onto the board I was using. As you can see, I drew a border around the edge of the board and this allowed me to have leaves overlap onto the border.
Then I started burning in the fur on the face using zigzag strokes. If you look close you might be able to see the white charcoal pencil lines that I drew for the whiskers. My goal is to burn around those charcoal lines, and once I’m done burning I’ll erase the charcoal and have white whiskers.
I like to block in areas and then I’ll re-burn over them to darken, further define, and increase the overall tonal variety. In this photo you can see that I am managing to avoid the white charcoal whiskers.
Now I’m applying another layer of zigzags along the sides of the nose bridge to darken the area up. To make a nose look raises or elevated from the surface, the sides have to be darker than the top or center. Since I haven’t created a transition from the center to the dark side yet, the nose looks like a skunk stripe. For the record, the word transition is just another way of say gradient shading.
With the eyes and nose looking pretty good, I’ve started blocking in the fur along the top of the head. You can see that I haven’t applied a uniform layer of zigzags over the area. Instead I use a combination of tight and loose zigzags. Tight zigzags are burned with the lines very close together and this produces a darker look. Loose zigzags have larger gaps between the lines, so they look much lighter in color.
Another factor in the darkness level is how closely I burn the zigzag bursts to each other. Most of the time the bursts touch and often overlap to produce dark fur, but leaving little gaps between them gives the impression of pale or white fur.
I did write a blog about how I use and modify zigzags when creating short fur. If you’re interested in reading it here is a link to that article. Also that article has a link to the corresponding youtube video: Zigzag Demo
I didn’t have any experience with this type of fur yet, so I started out burning in the dark shadowed area between the legs. I used pull-away strokes that started in the shadows and pulled the stroke up into the fur. My goal was to create the wispy hairs that showed against the dark shadows. This at least seemed a bit similar to burning in hairy animal ears.
So I decided the wispy hair creation method was working decently along the edges of the shadows, so I burned in the area on the left above the leaves. Like before the strokes started in the dark area next to the leaves and were pulled up into the fur.
I have mentioned before that my zigzag fur creation method relies on applying several layers of zigzags to give the fur a realistic look. In this photo I’m applying another layer of zigzags to the face. This would be the third or fourth layer to the area.
Another challenging area on the raccoon was the fur on the side of the body and the tail. The fur is much longer than the face, but smoother or less ‘hairy’ looking than the legs. Further complicating the area where the white charcoal whiskers that I was trying to avoid burning over. I started out using a small shader to burn long gently curving lines of slightly different colors to represent the fur.
Then I worked on the fur along the top of the body. This fur looked pretty short in the picture, so I used my standard zigzag stroke for this area too. I like to work on areas that don’t require as much brain thought, so I can ponder ideas to help me with the problematic areas. The board is rotated because I found it made working in this area more comfortable.
Back to the hairy neck and legs on the raccoon. To make the front of the face look elevated from the neck and legs, the face needs to be lighter in color. Light areas appear closer to the viewer, and dark areas seem further away. Applying that theory to the artwork means I need to darken up the fur under the jaw. This will push the neck into the background a bit, and the white muzzle or jaw of the raccoon will seem closer.
As I work, I’m leaving strands or large clumps of hair lighter in color than others. I won’t lie, this is slow work, and that is partly because I’m experimenting my way through this. If I were to start another raccoon, it would go faster because I’ve figured out how to handle things while creating this artwork.
I decided that the strands or clumps of hair concept didn’t look too bad, so I applied the same technique to the other leg. Does it match the photo? No, but I do like to think that it is giving the impression as the same type of fur as the photo.
For some reason I very seldom use black and white photos as reference when burning. I prefer the color version because I think some details are easier to see. As I was writing this blog I was curious as to how the reference photo would look without color. It’s a very drab photo. I have to admit that it doesn’t inspire me want to use it. The face of the raccoon really stands out because of the white markings, but the body isn’t that noticeable to me. The white rings on the tail look to be similar in color as the fur along the top of the body. Obviously, I didn’t replicate that in my artwork.
Back to the artwork. As I pondered how dark to burn in the leaves, I started working on the side of the body. Again I’m using a small shader to burn long thick lines or bands of color that varied a bit in tonal value.
Time for another layer of zigzags on the face. This time I’m applying some loose zigzags over the white areas. White fur should not be left as unburned areas on the wood. That just looks like you forgot to burn over the area. At the very least white patches of fur should have a few individual lines burned in the direction the fur grows to give the impression of fur.
I do have to admit that the leaves were a bit boring to work on. After you burn in a few of them you quickly discover they are all pretty much alike. This artwork has a LOT of leaves on it, so I was in for some monotonous burning sessions.
Another thing I did to break up the monotony was work on the fur. As you can see, I’ve been re-burning over the side as the area has gotten much darker. With the current way I’m burning in the side, this too was a very tedious process.
While I was working on the fur I had an epiphany; use a larger shader. Why I didn’t think of this before I’m not sure, but at least the idea finally popped into my head. In this photo I’m now using the largest shader I own which is Colwood’s E spade shader.
I think I’ve mentioned before that I most of the time I pick my shader based on the size of the area I’m working in. The larger area is, the larger the shader I use. As this picture shows you can use large shaders in small areas, but you have to be very careful. With the background I wasn’t too worried about any mistakes or over burns because there is so much foliage that I doubt anyone would notice.
This photo shows my set up. I keep the reference photo nearby. Since I’m left-handed, the reference photo is placed to the right of my work area. I have a piece of scrap wood that I keep nearby. Right now that scrap wood is being used to elevate the artwork so it is easier to work along the bottom edge. To the left I have a piece of polishing cloth in case I need to clean the pen tip. The back side of the cloth is visible. I will use the back side of the cloth when the pen tip is warm. The pen tip needs to be cold when using the front.
The large shader felt awkward and difficult to use on the legs, so I switched back to a smaller shader. At this point I’m mostly working on darkening up the fur on the leg so it will appear to be in shadows.
There are two things that you can do to help push things into the background. 1) Make the item darker than the foreground. 2) Don’t include a lot of detail on the time. With the leaves, I did make the veins as defined or as noticeable. Some of the leaves are mere blobs or vague leaf like shapes.
The last thing I had to do was restore the whiskers. When I was using the large shader I found it too difficult to try and avoid the white charcoal whiskers, so I erased the charcoal and concentrated on the fur. Once the fur was done I use scrapers, like the sharp point of a knife, to scratch in the whiskers.
Below is a composite photo showing my final artwork next to the reference photo. My artwork is not a perfect replication of the photo, but that’s the beauty of art; it doesn’t have to be. I actually prefer the contrast levels in my artwork and I like how some of the leaves extend onto the black border around the artwork.
This project was fun, but also presented a number of challenges for me. I think everyone should occasionally push themselves to try harder or more complicated artwork as I think it really helps you grow as an artist. Generally speaking, I learn a lot when I work on challenging projects like the Raspberry Bandit.
Now to answer some commonly asked questions. The artwork was burned on basswood, which is also called linden, common linden, or common lime. The board measures 10 1/2 inches tall by 13 1/4 inched wide (26.7 x 33.7 cm), and it took me 28 3/4 hours to complete the artwork.
Until the next blog,
May 19, 2020
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