Pyrography Techniques – White Rabbit wood burning tutorial

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the white rabbit pyrography artwork.  The rabbit has long white fur with a few black markings, so there isn’t a lot of distinguishing features.  This artwork presented some firsts for me.  It was my first time replicating an animal with white fur, and my first time working on such long fur.  I will do my best to explain what I did and then tell you what I should have done differently to get better results.    

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

 

 

 

 

Click on the image to the left to watch a YouTube tutorial video of the bubble background being created.

Now, let’s get to work.

SKILL LEVEL: 3

 

 

MATERIALS NEEDED:  

  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 8 x 8 inch (20.3 x 20.3 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) White Rabbit pattern
  • White Charcoal pencil (optional)

STEP 1 – PREP THE WOOD

Wood burning is much easier if you take the time to prepare the wood surface.  Always smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet. 

The board should be damp to the touch, but not soaking wet.

Let the board dry and then sand again.

 

 

This piece of plywood board is broken up into three sections.  The far left section is how the board looks without any prep work.  The board has a rough texture.   The middle section of the board shows how it looks after it was sanded, and the surface is a lot smoother.   The right section of the board shows it after it was lightly misted with water and allowed to dry.  Notice how rough the board looks, but a quick sanding will remove that and leave an ultra-smooth board.

Doing the 4-step process (sand, mist, dry, sand) produces a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be. 

 

 

STEP 2 – TRANSFER PATTERN TO WOOD

I use the tracing method to transfer all my patterns to my projects.  It’s cheap, easy, and gives me control on what I want to include.  Print off your pattern on lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern.  Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.   

STEP 3 – BURN THE OUTLINE

Lightly burn in the trace lines.  I used a writer pen tip for the lines around the eyes, but for all of the fur I used a shader.

I cannot emphasize enough the need for burning the trace lines lightly or pale in color! 

 

 

 

 

We are going to be creating white fur and the trace lines need to disappear into the fur text.   The darker the burned traces lines are then the darker the overall fur color has to be. 

 

 

 

 

 

After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how my rabbit looked after I was done.  Some of the lines around the face are fairly dark, but those lines are where dark fur or markings reside.

STEP 4 – THE EYE

Let’s start with the eye and the fur adjacent to the eye.  This area is the most complex feature on the rabbit, so I’ll provide a lot of photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the reference photo.   I have to tell you that as I started writing this sentence I just noticed the clump of fur creating the rabbit’s eyebrow.  I failed to notice this when creating the artwork, so didn’t include it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Use a shader and burn around the edges of the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then burn in the iris, but avoid the reflection light.  It might be helpful to color over the reflected light with a white charcoal pencil.  This helps the reflection stand out and the charcoal will resist the heat of the pen tip.

 

 

 

 

Now start burning in the dark skin around the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next work on the fur around the eye.  Most of this fur features stray wisps of hair, so creating them is a matter of burning darkly around them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Work slow.  As you can see I’ve burned a number of tan lines along the eyebrow area.  I’m starting to create the numerous hairs found in this area.

 

 

 

 

 

Resume burning the skin around the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you work, check with the reference photo often.  The fur to the right of the eye shifts directions, and there are a number of wispy hairs pointed towards the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

Plus there is a fold in the skin where the eyelid is found.

 

 

 

 

 

The fur below the eye is another area filled with wispy hairs that shift directions.  I burn tan lines around the hairs as I slowly create the texture in this area.

It might be helpful to use a white charcoal pencil and draw in the wispy hairs.  This makes them easier to see and avoid.

 

 

Here’s a progress photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I personally find it helps to take frequent breaks from working on the wispy hairs.  During breaks I go back to work on the skin around the eye.  In this photo I’m darkening up the skin found just before the transition where the fur starts growing.

 

 

 

 

Working on the wispy hairs in the transition zone.

 

 

 

 

 

Burn over all of the skin under the eye. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then burn over the eye, but make sure to avoid the reflected light.  Also the eye should have gradient shading, and the edges should be darker than the center.

 

 

 

 

 

Burn over all of the skin above the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another progress photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that everything has a layer of color, it’s time to re-burn to darken and fine-tune features. 

 

 

 

 

 

Create some gradient shading on the skin adjacent to the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Darken up the skin as needed. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also darken up the eye and make sure to keep the gradient shading so that the outer edges are darker than the center.  The upper portion of the eye should be darker than the bottom.   

 

 

 

 

 

Work on the wispy hairs some more. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again when working on wispy hairs, you are burning in the shadows around the hairs.  I burn a lot of short dark tan lines around the line that I want a wispy hair to be. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A reminder that it might be easier to draw in the wispy hairs with a white charcoal pencil.

 

 

 

 

 

With each round of re-burning, and there were many, I work a little more on the wispy hairs.  Mostly I work on creating more definition by darken up the area between the hairs, but I also create a few more hairs.

 

 

 

 

 

I felt that the pupil wasn’t dark enough, so I’m re-burning over it until it is a dark brown to black color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also increased the color on the upper portion of the eye.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it was back to work on wispy hairs and dark skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another progress photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fine-tuning the eye area is not a fast process.  At least it isn’t for me.  I lost track of how many rounds of re-burning I did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When working on the wispy hairs, remember that most of them are in shadows, so they shouldn’t be bright white in color.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I did burn most of the skin much darker than the reference photo.  I felt that this helped make the eye stand out more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also didn’t include as many wispy hairs as the reference photo, but I included enough to convey the look.  Looking at it now, I do wish I had taken the time to create more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last thing I did was use the point of a sharp knife and scrape in a couple of wild hairs.

 

 

 

 

 

Wild hairs are hairs that curl in different directions than the underlying hairs.  

If you are burning on plywood, be extra careful if you use the scraping method to create wispy hairs.  I’ve found that plywood tends to chip, so small pieces of wood flake off where you’re scraping.  To help prevent this use a very light hand pressure and work slowly!   

 

Here’s a composite photo showing the reference photo and my rendition of the eye.  Overall I don’t think I did too bad of a job, but there are some things I’d do differently.

1 – Create the eyebrow.  This would be done by burning a little darker on the top of the head behind the eyebrow.  Also the underside of the eyebrow needs to be darkened up; especially the area in front of the eye.

2 – More color in the white fur.  This is a common problem with most of the white fur artwork I’ve seen in pyrography and I’m just as guilty.  To fix my fur needed a lot more tan lines burned into it.  Since most of the fur right around the eye is short in length, the tan lines should be short too.

3 – More wispy hairs.  Creating wispy hairs in pyrography isn’t easy.  It isn’t like a pencil drawing where you can erase them into existence or a painting where you add them in at the end.  With pyrography you either plan for them or scrape them into existence at the end.  You could use color (paint, colored pencils) to add them, but I’m not a huge fan of that method.  There isn’t a good reason other than personal preference.   

Some of you might wonder why I don’t scrape all of the wispy hairs into existence.  There are several reasons.  First is damages the board; you can easily feel where the scrape marks are.   Second, if you need to fix something it’s not easy to burn over scrape marks.  Lastly I don’t they look very realistic when done in large quantities, so I keep them as an accent.

STEP 5 – NOSE and MOUTH

Now let’s work on the nose and mouth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of the nose and mouth area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Begin by blocking in the fur by burning the first layer much lighter in value than it really is.  This will allows you to evaluate how it looks and if things are good then it’s a simple process of re-burning to darken it up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As you burn in the first layer of fur make sure to burn it in the direction the fur grows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the longer burn I’m burn single lines that are thick in width.  The short fur I used zigzag burn strokes.

If you are not familiar with my terminology here’s a blog that explains them:  Using the Shader  

 

 

 

 

With the white fur we are burning in the subtle shadows versus burning the white hairs.  The shadows are burned in the direction the fur grows, but keep the color in the tan range.

 

 

 

 

Examine the white fur between the nose and the eye.  This area has a lot of tan shadows burned in it.  The pale lines between the shadows form the hairs sitting on the surface of the fur.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m darkening up the short fur on the nose.  While it’s hard to see in the photo there is a layer of fur just above the nose.  By darkening up the fur on the nose it will help me remember this characteristic of the fur in that area.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to block in the fur. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The fur on the chin or throat has a curve in it.  To replicate this feature, the burn strokes need to be darker along the top and bottom.  Plus the lines should have a soft or gentle curve in them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I often bounce around the artwork burning in spots here and there.  In this photo I’m finishing the dark fur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a progress photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the fur on the cheeks, burn long gently curving burn strokes over the area.  This is similar to how we handle the fur on the chin.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the color in the tan range, but make sure to vary the color of the burn strokes.  The variety will create the impression of locks of fur.  I often re-burn over a burn stroke a number of times to get the color as dark as I want. 

I always get asked if I adjust the heat setting my burner.   No, I don’t.  My burner is set to produce a dark tan burn result.   If I want a darker burn stroke then I either slow down my hand speed or I reburn over the stroke a number of times.  Usually I do both.   A benefit of this is more tonal variety and I can switch between working on the white and black fur.  

 

With the long cheek fur, I did not try to create wispy hairs.  Also I kept the locks or groups of hair all going in the general same direction. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like most artwork I create there is a fair amount of re-burning involved.  The re-burning process darkens and further defines the textures in an area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a progress photo.   If you look closely at the white fur you’ll see that there are quite a number of tan burn strokes in the fur.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most animal fur has wispy hairs that stick out along the edges.  With dark fur it is an easy matter of burning thin dark lines to create them.  With white or pale fur you need to either avoid burning the background around them or scrape them in after the background is done.

 

 

 

 

 

Generally I use both methods to create the wispy hairs along the contours or edges of the body.  In this photo you can see the numerous hairs I created via avoidance.  I burn zigzags along the edge to create soft, short hairs of uneven length.  The zigzags originate on the background side, so the majority of the burn stroke is done there. 

 

 

 

As you can see I’ve added a lot of burn strokes in the tan range to give the facial fur shape.   The fur still looks white because of the dark fur around the nose and eyes.  Plus the background provides contrast to help fur look white despite how many tan burn marks it has.

 

 

 

 

 

To create longer wispy hairs I use the tip of a sharp knife and scrape them in.   A lot of times I will lightly re-burn over the wispy hairs to tone down their brightness.

 

 

 

 

 

This composite photo shows the rabbit before and after I scraped in wispy hairs.  It’s not a huge change, but the lower edge of the fur is a little less uniform in length.

 

 

 

 

 

Now let’s compare the artwork with the reference photo.  My general feeling is similar to the eye in that I feel I did ok, but there is room for improvement.  

1 – The thing that stands out to me is that my burn need a lot more shadows.  Especially on the cheek which looks almost flat in my artwork.

2 – The bottom edge of the fur is too similar in length.  There should be more variety.

STEP 6 – EARS and TOP OF HEAD

Now let’s work on top of the head and the ears.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of the area we will work on.

 

 

 

 

We begin by blocking in the area.  I always like to work on the areas that have dark fur first. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I like to work on the area with the darkest shadows.  There is this area or line where the short fur on top of the head transitions to longer fur near the ears.  I’m burning a row of zigzags along that transition line.

 

 

 

 

Afterwards I start burned area of dark fur and added lots of single lines to create wispy hairs.

 

 

 

 

 

Even though the ears are black in color, I initially block them in to a dark tan color.  This allows me to make sure the shape and characteristics of the ears are properly placed.  If there is a problem that needs fixing I can do that much easier with lighter colored burn strokes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to work your way around the ear blocking in the different areas.  By that I mean the sections that are different in color.  As you are working pay attention to the general shape of the ear.  At this point I can see that the ear in my artwork is shaded close enough to the reference photo to be called a match.

 

 

 

 

 

When working along the edges of the ear make sure to rotate the board as necessary to keep your pen tip in optimal position.   In this photo I’m burning short pull-away strokes along the edge of the ear.

 

 

 

 

 

The ear has a fold or curve on it.  The edge of that curve is very dark, so I’m burning in that while the board is rotated.   Note that I’m only burning the edges dark because I know the shape of the ears are good.   

 

 

 

 

 

Also burn darkly along the lower edge of the other ear.  The edge appears as the upper edge in this photo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ears are covered in very short fur, so burn a lot of single dark lines over the ears.  I burned a few zigzags strokes, but not many because the area is so small.

 

 

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do the same steps on the other ear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ears are blocked in, so now I start the re-burning process.  I begin with the white fur on the top of the head.  I’m adding a number of short tan lines burned in the direction that the fur grows.

 

 

 

Here’s a progress photo

 

 

 

 

 

Once the background is in place I suggest you re-burn over the fur again.  With a darker background the light to medium tan lines won’t be as  noticeable.  I think it’s always a good idea to add a little more color to make sure the fur has texture and doesn’t look like unburned wood.

 

 

 

 

 

If you are comfortable with how the ears look, then re-burn over them to darken them up.  Be aware that I didn’t do this in one step or one round of re-burning. 

 

 

 

 

 

Instead the ears where darkened up through several rounds of re-burning.  The photos look fairly similar other than the overall color getting darker, so I didn’t bother with multiple photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now create the pale wispy longer hairs along the top of the head using the tip of a sharp knife.

 

 

 

 

 

Also scrape in some pale wispy hairs that overlap onto the ears.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another progress photo.   There is one really long hairs that is a bit thicker than the others on top of the head.  The hair is actually a whisker.

 

 

 

 

Add more tan lines if needed.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the comparison photo.  I purposely keep my fur much smoother looking because it is easier to do.  I currently do not have the skill level needed to easily replicate all of the wildness the fur on the top of the head has.  There are some things I could have done to improve the work.

1 – More wispy hairs along the outer edges.

2 – A lot more tan colored lines.

3 – A lot more really dark lines along the transition zone to replicate more the stray dark hairs.

4 – Create an eyebrow.  I know I mentioned this in the eye step, but I really notice the lack of the eyebrow in the comparison photo.

STEP 7 – BODY

Let’s burn in the fur on the body to finish up the rabbit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of the body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Start by burning in the darker shadows found on the body.  This would be another way of saying block in the fur on the body.

 

 

 

 

 

Look at the reference photo, find an area that has shadows on it.  Afterwards start burning thick lines or bands of color in the tan range on the corresponding area on the artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try not to create uniform color on the fur.  You want tonal variety in your burn strokes because the variety is creating the impression of fur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pay attention to the shadows.  The side of the body is darker than the top, so the artwork should be burned the same way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create long burn strokes to represent the long fur on the body.     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another important thing is to burn the strokes in the same direction that the fur grows.

 

 

 

 

 

Keep the lower edge of the fur rather jagged to represent the numerous wispy hairs that can be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to work your away along the side of the body burning long strokes of color in the general direction the fur is growing.

 

 

 

 

This is not a fast process; at least it isn’t for me.

 

 

 

 

 

Take your time and do your best.   Will it be perfect?  Unlikely, but few things in life are perfect.  This will be a learning experience and that is always a good thing.

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo you can see the clumps and locks of fur I’ve created.  They do not all fall in the same direction just like real fur or hair doesn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t be afraid to burn some darker lines, but keep really dark lines to a minimum.  The majority of the lines should be in the tan range.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now start re-burning to fine-tune the hair. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent a fair amount of time creating wispy hairs along the bottom edge.  This is done by burning around a pale line that you want to be a wispy hair.  Drawing the hairs with a white charcoal pencil can help with this process.

 

 

 

 

I also scraped a number of wispy hairs into existence.  The scraped hairs tend to be finer or thinner than those created by the previous method I just described.

 

 

 

 

 

During the fine-tuning stage is a time to add a lot more color to the fur.  When you look at this photo some of the shadows in the fur seem rather dark, but once the background and border are done they will lose some of that.

 

 

 

Make sure to burn lines along the top of the body too.  I didn’t do as good of job at that as I should have.

 

 

 

 

Continued work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the comparison photo.  Let’s examine the areas that need improvement.

1 – My artwork makes the rabbit look like a white mop with fur that is mostly the same in length.  To fix this there should me more shadows along the sides breaking up the long burn strokes into shorter ones. 

2 – The bottom edge of the fur needs more length variety.

3 – My artwork needs larger locks or clumps of fur.

4 – My artwork needs more color or shadows in the white areas.  Yes, that was a constant problem with the entire artwork, so at least I was consistent. 

STEP 8 – BACKGROUND

Lastly, let’s work on the background. 

 

 

 

 

 

I did start out making the background uniform in color.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I burned zigzags along the edges of the fur to create a jagged edge.  The jagged edge creates hairs that stick out here and there.  This adds a lot of realism to the artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up the uniform background.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the background looked.  It wasn’t completely uniform, but I didn’t like it.  Other than the rabbit’s face, the rabbit didn’t have a lot of variety on it.   The image was visually boring to me.

 

 

 

 

To fix I decided to put a bubble or bokeh background behind the rabbit.  To begin the process I drew in circles of assorted sizes on the background with a pencil.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I started burning in the circles.  Some were burned darker than others to create tonal variety.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used the flat of the shader as I burned in the circle to make sure they wouldn’t have crisp edges.  Even with that I thought most of the circles had fairly defined edges, and I wanted blurry edges.   Plus the contrast within the background was too much because I noticed the background before I noticed the rabbit.

 

 

To fix things I re-burned over all of the background using uniform strokes to reduce the contrast.  I also burn circular motion along the edges of circles to softened or blur the edges.

UNIFYING THE IMAGE

I created the rabbit artwork for my niece, Chloe.  She has 2 rabbits; one is white and the other black.  I hated them being in the same image as the contrast was too extreme.   The white rabbit didn’t look too bad, but the black one looked like a dark blob.   I decided to separate the rabbits so I could adjust tonal values as needed for each rabbit without it impacting how the other rabbit looked.  Another reason for separating the two is that I could have different colored backgrounds to help each rabbit stand out.

 

With the above in mind, I went through the rabbit images and picked my favorites.   After that I played around with placement, image size, etc. until I had a layout that I liked.  

 

 

 

When you have two separate images on the same board, I find it helps to put a frame around each subject.  This gives each subject their defined boundaries and provides a polished look to the artwork. This approach reminds me of how you can cut out multiple openings in mat board to showcase an assortment of pictures together in one picture frame.

 

 

Here’s the layout on the board after I burned in the trace lines.

 

 

 

 

As you know from the tutorial I had originally created a mostly solid background behind the white rabbit.  I hated it.  The rabbit was rather bland and so was the background.  At the time I had created this the bubble background trend was going on with several art channels I occasionally watch on YouTube.

 

 

 

What I liked about the bubble background was that it provided a little visual interest.  Plus the overall color could be adjusted as needed to provide the necessary contrast for the rabbits.   The white rabbit needs a dark background to help it stand out and retain its white appearance.   The black rabbit, on the other hand, needed a pale background.

 

 

The bubble background helped unify the two images by giving them a common or shared feature.  Another unifying feature was the dark border I put around the oval of each rabbit.  Yellow arrows are pointing to the oval border that is not completely done.

 

 

 

The final unifying aspects are the names and the rabbit tracks.  The names are burned in the using the same font and texture.   The rabbit tracks were drawn on with a pencil, and once I had a design or rabbit track over the board I found acceptable I burned them in.

 

Below is a composite photo comparing the reference photo with my final artwork.  I won’t point out the flaws or areas I wish I had done different as I’ve already discussed that. 

IN CONCLUSION

That’s it for this tutorial.  For my first attempt at long white fur it didn’t turn out too badly.  Like all things it was a learning experience and there are many things I’d do differently if I were to try again.  I think the most important lesson from this tutorial are that white fur needs a lot of burn strokes in the tan range to give it shape and texture.  

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on basswood that measures 9 3/4 x 17 inches (24.8 x 43.2 cm).  It took me 7 hours to burn in the white rabbit and 9 ¼ hours to burn in the black rabbit.  Then I spent a couple more hours burning in the rabbit tracks, borders, and lettering.  I would estimate I spent 19-20 hours total on the entire board.

Until the next blog,

Brenda

Jan 8, 2021

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