In this tutorial I’m going to explain 5 different methods to create whiskers. There may be other ways of creating whiskers, but these are the 5 that I’m aware of and have used. In addition to explaining different ways to create whiskers I will also provide an example of when I used the method. Plus I will cover the pros and cons of each method.
One more thing I want to mention is that I did this as a quick demo, so my whiskers aren’t perfect looking. My goal is to explain the method of creation so you can replicate it. Hopefully you will spend more time creating your whiskers than I did mine.
Now, let’s get to work.
SKILL LEVEL: 1
- Writing tip
- Shading tip
- Scrap wood or paper
- Graphite pencil
- White charcoal pencil (general’s white charcoal)*
- Eraser (Vanish Eraser)*
- Sharp tip knife (X-Acto Knife #11 blade)*
- Embossing tool or ball stylus tool (Embossing Tools)*
*The links will take you to Amazon. I do not make any money if you buy them or not. Also the link is to the first listing I found, but the first listings are seldom the cheapest ones.
FIRST – 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.
METHOD 1 – AVOIDANCE
Here’s how the whiskers looked after the charcoal and pencil marks were erased. At this point I could burn over the whiskers to give them a bit of color and a 3d appearance by burning along the lower edge.
Another thing if you think are too thick looking, then burn along their edges to make them thinner. Just take your time so you don’t accidently make them too thin.
The whiskers can be drawn using just charcoal, and you have control over the whiskers shape. The difference between graphite and charcoal, besides visibility, is that it is easier to create thinner whiskers with a graphite pencil.
- Very easy to draw the whiskers
- Easy to create arched or curved whiskers
- Of all the methods the avoidance method is the easier one to fix mistakes
- Doesn’t damage the board
- Can burn over the whiskers to give them a more realistic look
- Great method to use if the area around the whiskers is fairly uniform in color
- If the area behind the whiskers has a lot of texture it can be very difficult to avoid the whiskers
- It can also be difficult to avoid the whiskers if there is a lot of overlapping
- It’s very easy to accidentally burn over a whisker
METHOD 2 – EMBOSS
It might take a couple of passes to get the whisker lines deep enough that they can be burned over. Shallow lines can easily be charred with the pyrography pen tip, so I do recommend used enough pressure on the embossing tool so you get deeply grooved lines.
There is still some graphite down in the bottom of the embossed lines. To remove that you need an eraser with a small point or a kneadable eraser that you can shape into a point to reach the bottom of the grooves.
If the background is dark I do my best to avoid burning over the whisker.
- Unlike the first method, you can burn over the whiskers
- Easy to create deeply embossed lines on softer woods
- The whiskers have a 3d look to them due to the shadows created by the deep gouges or embossed lines in the wood
- This method is tough to do on most plywood and difficult on hard woods like maple
- It can be hard to create individual whiskers where they overlap each other
- Likely to char the whiskers when the fur or background is dark or the embossed line isn’t deep enough
- Can be tough to create tapered points on the whiskers
- If using a small tipped pen or the razor edge of a shader, the pen can fall into the groove and discolor the embossed line
- The size of the embossing tool controls the thickness or width of the whisker.
- It’s hard to uniformly thicken a whisker.
METHOD 3 – SCRAPING
Yes, I know it’s pretty impressive looking. 🙂
On really dark burns it can be tough to get the charcoal to adhere. I’m not sure why, but my guess is that the board is too smooth. On the flip side if the board is rough it’s difficult to get a smooth looking line.
This isn’t a problem! If you can see the whiskers then they are perfectly fine for what we need to do.
What I want to point out is the chip mark. I’m burning on plywood and this method tends to chip out little pieces of the plywood. To help avoid that you need to work slowly and gently; something I didn’t do in this demo.
I used the scraping method with the raccoon.
- Is done after the pyrography is completed
- Can create very thin whiskers with tapered points on them
- Can be hard to control the shape of the whiskers
- Points where whiskers overlap can get larger than intended
- Damages the board
- Can cause chipping in plywood
- In some (or maybe all) pyrography contests, the scrape marks are considered a flaw that you get marked down
METHOD 4 – ADD COLOR
Once again I have created a visual masterpiece featuring a furry cheek next to a dark background.
Here’s a progress photo. As you can see the colored pencil doesn’t create very opaque whiskers, and the color gets hard to see against a dark background. My lack of painting skills show as my whisker got fatter instead of thinner. Plus the color faded out from lack of paint.
- Can use any color or combination of colors to create realistic looking whiskers
- The whiskers are done after all of the burning done
- Can control the size and shape of the whiskers
- Some mediums don’t show well over pyrography
- Depending on the board surface it might be tough to control the shape of the whiskers. For example, zigzags dig into the board creating a rough texture, and I had a bit of trouble with the colored pencils on that portion of the burn
- Depending on the medium it can be tough if not impossible to fix mistakes
- If the medium isn’t lightfast it can fade
- The medium might react with the wood finish / sealant, so make sure to test it out on a piece of scrap wood
METHOD 5 – COMBINATION
Lastly let’s talk about combinations. There are lots of possible combinations. The most obvious combinations are created by using two or more of the previous methods I’ve already discussed together. Doing that is how I created the whiskers on this jaguar.
The burn marks need to be deep, so I burn over them the first time to set their shape. Then I re-burn over them to deepen the burn marks. I’m having problems with the micro writer pen tip catching on the wood grain, so the whisker is not very smooth looking.
I switched to a standard writer pen tip and burned over the rest of the whiskers. This pen tip was much easier to use on the plywood. The slightly larger surface glided over the grain a lot better than the micro writer did.
Yes, it’s another masterpiece that I obviously spent hours on. 🙂
I usually rotate the board and work on the whiskers from another angle. I find that this produces cleaner whiskers or whiskers with better definition. Plus some directions are easier to scrape along than others.
- Have a lot of control over how the whiskers look
- You can take the features of different methods to help eliminate problems. For example you can mostly eliminate the chipping problem with plywood by pre-burning in the whiskers
- There are more steps involved
- Need to plan out your whiskers as some steps are done before the burning and others are done after the burning is finished
- The inherent problems with one method are still present
I cannot tell you which method is the best to use. Instead I can only tell you to try them out and discover which one works best for you. I’m sure there are other methods of creating whiskers that I haven’t thought of. As you’ve seen I’ve used them all, and which one I use really depends on the project. I encourage you to experiment around with combinations and techniques to see what you can discover.
Until the next blog,
Jan 19, 2021
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