Back in March of 2019 Todd & I were visiting Tucson, Arizona. While there we visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and I got a photo of a cougar that I just loved. Immediately I knew that I wanted to turn it into a piece of pyrography artwork. This blog is going to talk about the artwork and some of the challenges I encountered creating it.
This is the photo that I took. I love the intense look on the cougar’s face. There was a group of little kids, and amongst them was a little girl with a bright red shirt on. She was running back and forth between the group and the window to the cougar enclosure. The cougar was VERY interested in her. The other thing I love about this photo is the detail the photo captured. What I don’t love about the photo is the light reflected on the glass that obscures the left side of the cougar.
I will be honest and say that if someone gave me this photo and asked me to create a replica, I would have told them no.
If you are interested in the initial round of testing here’s a link to that blog. The cougar is board #1. All of the boards I tested were 10×10 in size except one that was 8×8. The Cougar is on the 8×8 board, so I know that Ampersand manufactured it. Ampersand was my favorite during the initial testing and I cannot 100% say that didn’t impact my impressions of the board during this round of testing. Cradle Boards
When tracing from photos I trace along the lines or contours that define the edges of areas. So any markings in the fur, color changes, depressions and/or ridges from the bone structure, outline of ears, eyes, etc.
NEVER apply a uniform layer of zigzags over the face. Doing that will remove or hide the guidelines traced from the pattern. Creating realistic pyrography can be challenging, so don’t make it more difficult by obliterating the guidelines.
This method produces results that are extremely similar to burning individual lines or ‘hairs,’ but I think the zigzag method is faster. Keep in mind that is my personal opinion and you may or may not agree with it. That’s ok. My website explains how I do things, but that doesn’t mean they are the only or the best way of doing them.
How you hold or angle the shader pen tip can alter the type of burn results you get. The razor edge creates thin lines; which is great for fur. Whereas the flat of the shader creates wide bands of color; which is great for filling in areas with color. Using the razor edge of the shader requires angling the pen tip to access the edge.
Sometimes it can be difficult to look at a picture and determine how the pen is being held. With the photo it could easily look like I’m using the flat of the shader, but I’m not. Instead I’m using just the tip of the front edge of the shader. What you can’t see is the steep angle I’m holding the pen to accomplish this.
The fur around the mouth will end up looking white for two reasons. First, I don’t burn it near as dark as the adjacent fur. Second;y, I burn the adjacent fur much darker. This creates a lot of contrast and that makes the fur look white.
The left ear was partially obscured by the reflection on the glass, so I burn over it very lightly at first. Lighter burn marks are so much easier to fix! By burning it in lightly I can access how the ear looks and make any changes if needed.
Generally I apply between 3-7 layers of zigzags when creating fur. The number of layers depends on the area, so white fur would not receive near as many layers as the darker fur would. Keep in mind that each layer is not very dark, so I can add numerous layers without the fur looking getting close to a dark brown or black color.
Even dark markings get a number of zigzag layers as I build up the color. Notice how dark the muzzle markings look in this photo. I want you to remember this for a little bit because as I fill in more areas the area won’t look as dark.
I’ve mentioned a number of times that white fur should never be left unburned. I always apply a thin layer of zigzags and/or single lines over white fur. Otherwise the white fur will look like you forgot to burn it in, and that might not convey “fur” to the viewer.
Notice how the dark markings on the muzzle don’t look as dark now? That is the power of contrast. Increase the contrast and you get bright and dark areas. The extreme contrast is often interpreted as dark and/or white markings, or light and dark fur. Now if you decrease the contrast and you get areas that look shadowed or highlighted. The muzzle was looking a bit like dark fur, and now it looks like shadowed fur.
The fur along the shoulder and back of the neck was a touch out of focus on the reference photo. To replicate that feature I used the flat of the shader while burning in the zigzags on that area. We already discussed how the flat of the shader creates bands of color. Those bands are much thicker than razor thin lines that resemble hair. That subtle lack of detail is what give the fur a slight out of focus appearance.
Notice how this spot I’m working on is looking more like a shadow versus a dark marking even though it is noticeably darker than the fur to the right of it. The major reason for this is the black area around the eye. The black area is so dark that in comparison this spot just looks darker or shadowed.
I want you to look at this photo and notice how the areas of high contrast are being used to create white fur. The ear on the left is a perfect example. Also, look at the eyebrow on the right. It hasn’t been burned over yet, so looks like unburned wood at this point.
Back to working on the wispy ear hair. Like I said before I think it’s better to burn lightly the during the initial burning. Then if things look good, re-burn over the area to build up the color, contrast, and details.
Like I said before, I do like to take breaks from areas. Burning numerous layers of zigzags is not that exciting. I like how the end results look, but sometimes I don’t always enjoy what it takes to get there.
When I did the first round of testing I burned along the edges of the board. I decided that I burn a dark border around the artwork during the final round of testing. The pencil line marks seen in the photo are where the dark border will start.
As you can see I switched to a smaller shader. The hairs in this area need to stay short, so a smaller shader makes it easy to do that. Could I have used the previous shader? Yes. What’s the point of having a number of different sized shaders if I don’t use them?
Here’s another progress photo. Most areas on the cougar now have a several layers of fur, but there are a couple that have just one like the white fur on the cheek. Also the muzzle has been darkened up enough so that it is looking like dark fur; especially next to the much lighter fur on the neck.
Another consideration is how the artwork tends to fade over time. Darker burns last longer.
Now I should mention that the artwork isn’t fading. Instead the wood is aging or oxidizing, and as this happens it gets darker in color. The darker the wood gets the more contrast you loose, so light colored areas seem to disappear.
The nice thing with the stage of the artwork, is that the hard work has been done. The cougar has shape, the markings are in place, so it’s really just a matter of re-burning to get the fur dark enough.
But I have found that this shader is great for burning over fur to darken it up a bit. Let me explain something. When you create the fur texture with the razor edge of the shader, that edge tends dig down into the wood. You can run your finger over the area and feel the cut marks. You can use the flat of a shader to burn over the area and it will darken up the area, but not the bottom of the cut marks. So you retain your fur texture. Plus I’m not burning dark, so I don’t lose hair lines.
Back to the square shader. With how this shader is shaped it is just like using the flat of shader I have been using, but this one is easier for burning in a vertical direction. At least for me with how I hold pens.
In areas I need more precision due to the smaller space, I switch to a smaller shader. Plus with the square shader I have to hold it at a really steep angle to be able to use the razor edge. Quite truthfully the angle is not comfortable for prolonged burning.
There are small subtle highlights on the eyelids. In the past I would try to avoid burning over those type of highlights. Now I burn right over them, and then use the sharp edge of a knife to scrape them in after the wood burning is done in that area. I must say that creating small subtle highlights like this is much easier using the knife.
One area that really bothers me now is the right eyebrow. For some reason it looked fine while I was creating the artwork, but now I think it looks too bright. I wish had darkened it up a bit more.
The below photo shows the impact the extra layers of zigzags makes. The image on the left has 1-4 layers depending on the area. The image on the right has 2-8 layers depending on the area. The white cheek and muzzle have 2-3 layers, but the bridge of the nose as 8. To me the tonal depth of the right image is far superior to the left one.
Below is a comparison photo of my final artwork with the reference photo.
My artwork is not horrible, but it’s not perfect either. I see things that I really dislike that I didn’t seem to notice before. Some of you might wonder why I don’t fix the things I don’t like. I can’t for two reasons. 1) I signed off on the artwork. I have this personal rule that once I sign off on the artwork it’s done. No more working on it. The reason is to prevent myself from constantly tinkering with it for the rest of eternity. 2) It’s been sealed. Once a finish is applied to the artwork you NEVER EVER burn over it. Wood finishes can be extremely toxic if vaporized. The heat of a pen tip is hot enough to do that.
The last thing I want to talk about this the cradle board. Like I said I already knew that this was the one Ampersand manufactured. This board was much easier to burn layers of zigzags than the other two I had completed the final testing on.
If you read blog about the cradle board, then you know I had Todd assign each board to number. Plus I waited a month before I started the final round of testing. By then I had forgotten everything I wrote about the board during first round of testing. With the exception of the odd sized board.
As I created the actual artwork I wrote down notes on a piece of paper. I’ve done that for every single cradleboard that I’ve completed the final testing on.
I’m telling you my thoughts on the board in case you are considering burning on one. Of these 4 boards I would not recommend the boards from whomever manufactured numbers 7 and 2.
While I tell you what board I’ve burned on, be aware I still have 4 more boards to do the final round of testing on. If you decide to read the blog on the original testing and discover who the different manufactures are, please don’t tell me. I’m trying to remain unbiased during the final round of testing. Here’s another link to that blog: Cradle board blog.
That is it for this blog. This artwork was challenging because I made it much harder on myself by using a reference photo that wasn’t that great. Something I don’t recommend doing. I’m not sure why I liked the reference photo so much. In retrospect I should have used something else. While I like challenges I would prefer they were because I had to learn a new pyrography skill, figure out how to create some new texture, etc., but not because of a poor reference photo.
As I said before this artwork was burned onto a cradle board that measured 8 x 8 inches (20.3 x 20.3 cm). It took me 9 ¼ hours to complete it.
Until the next blog.
July 21, 2020
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