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.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 3
- 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
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
STEP 4 – THE EYE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
If you are not familiar with my terminology here’s a blog that explains them: Using the Shader
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Jan 8, 2021
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