Pyrography Art Northern Shoveler Duck realistic wood burning art

In this blog I will discuss different aspects of the Northern Shoveler Duck artwork that I created.   This artwork is based on a photo that Todd took while visiting the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Washington.  The artwork is one of the few pieces I’ve done where I planned from the beginning to add color to the work.  Ducks can be very colorful and often their feathers are iridescent, and I thought it would be fun to try and replicate that.  

Click on the image to the left to watch a time lapse version of the artwork. 





Click on the image to the left to watch a video that takes a closer look at some of the textures on the duck and the reflection in the water.





I had this very figured piece of basswood that was waiting for just the right project to use it on.  The figuring is very predominate, it’s near the middle of the board, and this limits what can be done with the board.   At least it does for me. 




Todd came home one day from visiting the Ridgefield refuge and I loved this photo of a male northern shoveler duck.  I finally had a subject that would work with the figured basswood.





It took a bit before I decided how or where to place the duck on the board.  After I traced the image onto the board I let it sit for a couple of days to make sure I liked the placement. 





After a few days passed by, I looked at the board and it was good placement and burned over the trace lines.





Then I started working on the darker areas on the duck’s head. 







The feathers on the back are black, and they are the darkest area on the duck.  Since they were next to the head, I decided to burn them in where they touched the neck.   This gave me my darkest value, so I could make sure to keep the feathers on the neck and head lighter than this.





I find that lightly blocking in areas works well for me.  The blocked in areas allow me to evaluate the placement of lights and darks with the reference photo.  If everything looks fairly accurate then I will re-burn over the areas to get them to their final darkness levels.  If there is a problem, the light burn strokes are fairly easy to fix compared to dark burn strokes.




I did the same with the face.  I do have to admit that I was testing out ideas on how to easily replicate the feathers in this area.  There are a few pyrography artist who can create exact replicas of photos, but that takes a LOT of work.  While I enjoy creating textures and details, I don’t enjoy trying to replicate each and every feature of a photograph.




As I experimented with burn strokes I found that tightly burned circular motion worked the best in this area.






Even then I still worked slowly and took breaks.  In this photo I’m working on the feathers along the side of the body.






When working on projects that I don’t intend to be a tutorial, I tend to bounce around the subject working on random areas like the back feathers.   These feathers were fairly straightforward as they were black in color.





Another benefit of burning them in was I could use them for constant comparison purposes.   I’ve discussed this concept in my last two portrait tutorials, so I won’t mention it again here.   If you want to read about constant comparison here are links to the portrait tutorials that I talk about it in:  Baby Face,   Little Girl    





Here’s a progress photo.







Since the dark feathers are burned in it is much easier for me to gauge how dark I can burn in the feathers on the head.  I want these feathers to be dark, but not so dark they seem black in color.




The duck’s head took the longest time for me to burn in.  I worked slow filling in new areas and re-burning over existing areas as I built up the color and texture in the area.   Even though I planned to add color the color would be translucent so the underlying wood burning would show through.





I also took many breaks from working on the head.  This would allow me to recharge, so to speak, and when I returned to the area I could view it with fresh eyes.





With most of the body, I blocked in areas to give them some color and later I re-burned over the areas to darken them up.





For some reason I found the feathers along the side of the body a bit challenging.  The color was a bit different and part of that was because of the light reflecting off of the water.






The tail and wing feathers were the easiest areas to work on.   






I’ve said in numerous blogs that you really shouldn’t leave areas unburned even if they are white in color.  In this photo I’m burning over the lower end of a white feather to help it look like it is bending downward.




Of course it is important to rotate the board as needed while you work.









At this point I’ve gotten everything blocked in, so now it’s a matter of re-burning to finalize texture and get areas to their final darkness levels.






It shouldn’t be surprising that the head was an area I spent a lot of time re-burning over.







The beak or bill, depending on what you prefer to call it, took me a bit of time too as there are a lot of color variation and reflection spots on the bill.






The transition from the bill to the head feathers was one of the most interesting transition I’ve ever done on a bird.  There didn’t seem to be a super clear line when the bill ended and the feathers began.





Adding a touch of texture to the side.







In this photo I’m working on the reflection of the tail on the water.







Touching up the wing feathers.






Finishing up the wing feathers.   





At this point I’m essentially done with the duck, and here’s how it looks.






With the duck done, I started on the reflection in the water.  I planned to incorporate the figuring of the wood in the water to help give it a sense of movement.




I also purposely chose to make the reflection less clear or broken up.  By doing this it adds to the illusion of water movement.





Continued work.






I actually enjoy working on reflections in the water.  I use pull-away strokes for a lot of the work.  I will start the stroke on the edge of the shape and let the stroke fade a short distance from the starting point.





I also use the flat of the shader and burned zigzags in some areas.






After I was done with the boy duck and his reflection, I put the artwork on a shelf for a number of weeks as I debated on whether or not I should add another duck.   





In the end I decided he needed a female friend.






I kept the girl duck very basic as I wanted the focus on him.






Her colors a very muted compared to his and that will also help keep the attention on him.






The most interesting feature of the girl is the pattern her feathers make on her body. 







Until I started burning in the feathers I wasn’t truly aware of how many feathers there were.







Even though my plan was to keep the girl super simple, I did some fine-tuning.   That perfectionist side of me keep nagging until I gave her a bit more detail.  






The girls bill is orange in color with a touch of brown on the top of it; a lot different than the boy’s bill.





Finishing the details on the girl.






I’m pretty sure I got the image for the girl off of the internet.  I liked the bit of water in front of her as it really gave the impression that she was moving. 





Here’s another progress photo.   Looking at the artwork I wish I had done created the same type of water movement in front of the boy like the girl has.  I really do like that sense over movement it conveys.





More fine-tuning on the girl.






Working on the reflection.







Finishing up.








In this photo I’m lightly misting the board with water.   I’m check to see how dark the wood will turn once it is sealed and if I will lose any subtle detail.   There were a few areas I had to darken up a touch more, but only after the board dried.

I must mention that you should NEVER do a finish test if you did not wet out the board before you started burning.    The reason is that the water absorbs into the grain of the wood.  When dry the grain sticks up from the board surface and gives it a very rough or fuzzy feel.

This board is divided into 3 sections.  The left section is how the board looks before it was sanded.     The middle section is how the board looked after it was sanded.  And the right section shows the board after it was lightly misted with water and allowed to dry.    Sanding over it will remove the roughness.  If you should wet out the board again, the grain won’t raise.  It only does that on the first wetting out.





Now it’s time to add color.  I started out applying a sheet of airbrush frisket film over the entire board.   As I pull the backing off of the film, I’m smoothing out the frisket with my left hand to remove air pockets as I work my way towards the right of the board.




Next I cut out the areas I wanted to spray with color.   The first color I would use was green, so I’m cutting out this little feather and the face.







In this photo I’m removing the cut frisket.  I had to place the end of the knife on the eye to keep the frisket in place there.






Now I can spray the area with green and not worry about over spray.  Over spray means you are spray beyond of the boundaries of the object you want to add color too.  It’s similar to coloring past the lines in a coloring book.







I did not keep track of what colors I used, so please don’t ask.  All I can tell you is that I used at least two different green color and possible three.





In this photo I’m applying a layer of a different shade of green.  Also, as you can see the colors are very translucent, so the wood burning is still very visible.   Translucent airbrush colors are similar to watercolors, but I don’t have to use a paintbrush.   I hate paintbrushes, so I tend to avoid using them.




Now I’m removing the frisket from the eye.







Then I applied liquid frisket or masking fluid around the eye.






While that was drying I started cutting out the feathers on the side of the body.







Now I’m removing the film and cutting a small spot I initially missed.







In this photo I’m replacing the frisket over the small green feather.  I didn’t use liquid masking fluid for this because that would remove a lot of the color.   Frisket film is low tack, so won’t lift up color.






I think I’m using some shade of ocher for the sides, but I can’t be 100% sure on that.






Since I put liquid frisket around the eye and I’m holding the airbrush very close to the eye, I can keep the spray very focused.  This means I don’t have to worry too much about over spray.






I used a couple different colors on the body feathers.







Also I added a touch of color to the reflection on the water.







With the girl I planned to give her eye and bill color, so I’m applying liquid masking fluid around the areas as it needed to be more precise.  On the body I wasn’t concerned with overspray as I wanted the water to have a touch of color.






Now I’m adding the color.   The black arrow is pointing to the edge of the frisket film.  I had cut a large square off of the board to expose the girl.  I’m not the best frisket cutter in the world, so using the masking fluid was easier than cutting the film.




Adding a touch of green to the water.






Then I used a white colored pencil and added a couple highlights here and there.





I misted more water onto the board and discovered a few more areas that needed a touch of white, so I’m applying the color while the board is still damp from the water. 

By the way, the application of water was EXTREMELY light, so I didn’t have to worry about the airbrush color bleeding.  



While I was adding highlights, I colored in a few on the water in the highly figured area.





The very last thing I did was add a touch of iridescent paint to the head feathers on the male duck.






In this photo the board is angled so show the iridescent dots I applied.






Here’s how the artwork looked after it was sealed with spray on lacquer.   Anytime I add color to pyrography, Todd always uses a spray on finish.  





Below is a comparison photo of my artwork and the reference photo for the male shoveler duck.


That is it for this blog.  I enjoyed working on this project and I’m pleased with how it turned out.  I thought that the figuring in the wood worked out quite well with the image to convey the impression of water. 

Now to answer some commonly asked questions.   The artwork was burned on basswood.  Basswood is also called linden, European linden, and common lime.  The board measured 9 3/4” tall x 14 3/4” wide (24.8 x 37.5 cm) and it took me 9 hours to do the pyrography portion of the artwork.   I didn’t keep track of how long it took me to add color, but I would guess an hour or two at the very most.

Until the next blog,


June 23, 2020

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2 thoughts on “Pyrography Art Northern Shoveler Duck realistic wood burning art

    1. Thank you for the comment. I do have to clarify that the blog is NOT a tutorial. Or at least what I would consider a tutorial. Instead it’s just a blog that discusses some of the aspects of the artwork.

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