Pyrography Techniques – Whiskers Created 5 Ways wood burning tutorial

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.   

Click on the image to the left to watch a YouTube video version of the tutorial. 

Now, let’s get to work.

SKILL LEVEL: 1

 

 

MATERIALS NEEDED:  

*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

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.    Yes, I do this even with scrap wood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

METHOD 1 – AVOIDANCE 

The first method I’ll explain is the avoidance method.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Begin by drawing the whiskers with a pencil.  If you are tracing an image onto the board, you would simply trace over the whiskers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then use the shader of your choice and start burning in the artwork while avoiding the whiskers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My ‘artwork’ is the left cheek of a cat against a dark background.  I know it’s a bit tough to tell that from this image. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the important things to do with this method is to burn along the edges of the whiskers to make sure they are sharp and crisp.  Make sure to rotate the board as needed to accomplish this.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the first whisker looks after I burned around it.  I do think it can be tough to see the graphite pencil lines as the board gets burned in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Erasing the graphite from the first whisker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how it looks now. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I think that graphite can be tough to see once you start burning around it I prefer to use white charcoal.  The charcoal is bright, so very easy to see even when surrounded with burn strokes. 

Do not use a white colored pencil for this!  Colored pencils contain wax that will melt and char under the heat of the pen tip. 

 

 

 

 

Not only is white charcoal is much easier to see than pencil, but it will resist the heat of the pen tip.  It won’t completely block the heat, so try to avoid burning over the charcoal.

 

 

 

 

 

You still need to rotate the board to keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning next to the upper edge of the whisker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo I’ve drawn over all of the whiskers with a white charcoal pencil, and now I’m creating fur texture while avoiding the pencil marks as much as possible.

 

 

 

 

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether you use pencil or charcoal, you still burn the area around the whiskers and do your best to avoid the pencil marks. 

 

 

 

 

 

I used the avoidance method with the bobcat artwork. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This method is great to use when the area behind the whiskers is uniform in color or doesn’t have a lot of texture going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • 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

The next method I’ll explain is the embossing method.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The embossing method starts the same as the avoidance, so you begin by drawing or tracing the whiskers onto the board with a pencil.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next use a small tipped embossing tool and firmly press it into the wood following the pencil marks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards rub over the area to remove the graphite.  This step would be done after the trace lines have been burned in. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the whiskers look after I was done. 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Now burn in the artwork.  I’m using zigzag strokes to create a fur texture.  Also I’m burning directly over the whiskers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using the flat of the shader helps the pen tip glide over the embossed line, so it is less likely to char or discolor the bottom of the grooved line.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The yellow arrow is pointing to a spot on the whisker that I didn’t emboss deeply enough, so it charred or discolored when I burned over it.

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used the embossing method on the lioness artwork. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This method works great on fur and / or backgrounds that are not very dark.  The darker the fur is the more likely some charring of the whiskers will happen. 

If the background is dark I do my best to avoid burning over the whisker.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROS

  • 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 

CONS

  • 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  

Now let’s talk about the scraping method. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This method is done after the artwork has been done, so begin by burning in the artwork.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My artwork features a furry cheek next to a really dark background. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how my artwork looked after I was done with the pyrography portion. 

Yes, I know it’s pretty impressive looking.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

After the artwork is burned in use a white charcoal pencil and draw the whiskers.

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.

You can use a colored pencil for this.   In fact a colored pencil might be easier to use than the charcoal.

 

 

Here’s how my whiskers look after I drew them in with the white charcoal.  You can see that some of the whiskers get much lighter in color when I encountered the dark burn areas.   

This isn’t a problem!  If you can see the whiskers then they are perfectly fine for what we need to do.

 

 

 

Now use the tip of a shape knife and scrape along the pencils lines to create the whiskers.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

Take your time and try to remove thin layers at a time.  Don’t try to use a lot of pressure and create a whisker with one pass of the knife tip.

 

 

 

 

 

Afterwards rub a pencil eraser over the area to remove any residual pencil marks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the whiskers look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another potential problem area is where whiskers overlap.   Sometimes the knife tip will start to follow the groove from the first whisker, and the point of overlap can get large if you aren’t careful. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If needed you can also touch up around the whiskers, but it is unlikely that this will fix chips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used the scraping method with the raccoon. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had originally tried to use the avoidance method, but there was too much going on so I have up on that.

 

 

 

 

 

PROS

  • Is done after the pyrography is completed
  • Can create very thin whiskers with tapered points on them

CONS

  • 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

Now let’s talk about adding color.  This method is done after all of the pyrography is completed.   Never burn over added color!    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Begin by burning in the artwork. 

Once again I have created a visual masterpiece featuring a furry cheek next to a dark background.

 

 

 

 

Now use a colored pencil and draw in the whiskers.  I’m using a white colored pencil by Prismacolor. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue to draw in the whiskers.  For this whisker I’m using a white colored pencil by Polychromos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My last whisker done with a colored pencil whisker was created using the Soho brand of pencils.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m using a white gel pen by Signo. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this photo I’m trying to create a thicker whisker using the gel pen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of course there is always the option of using paints.  I’m using white acrylic paint and a detailing paint brush to do this with.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

I repainted over my first whisker to give it more color.  Then I tried painting a thinner one.

 

 

 

 

 

I added color to create some of the whiskers on the cougar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The eye whiskers were created with a white colored pencil.  This helped the whiskers stand out against the unburned background.   All of the other whiskers on the cougar were created via scraping. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Begin by embossing the whiskers into the surface of the wood.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then burn the artwork as normal, but don’t worry about burning over the embossed lines. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the pyrography portion is done, then scraped the whiskers back into existence anywhere the dark burning had charred them.

 

 

 

 

 

Since most of the whiskers overlapped onto the pale background, they were hard to see.  To fix this I went over the embossed lines with a white colored pencil.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of the whiskers.  I did lightly erase over the whiskers to reduce some of the brightness from the colored pencil. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m going to explain a less obvious method that I used on the bengal tiger.

 

 

 

 

Begin by drawing the whiskers with a pencil.  If you are tracing an image onto the board, you would simply trace over the whiskers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then darkly burn over the whiskers using a writer pen tip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the whiskers looked after I was done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the whiskers are burned in, then burn the rest of the artwork. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You do not need to avoid burning over the whiskers. 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how things looked once I was done. 

Yes, it’s another masterpiece that I obviously spent hours on.  🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Now use the tip of a sharp knife and scrape over the whisker marks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how the whiskers looked after I was done with most of the whiskers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a composite photo showing how the whiskers looked before and after I did a round of scraping in this direction.

 

 

 

 

I always scrape along the top and bottom of each whisker to remove as much of the charring along the sides of the groove lines as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s another composite photo showing the before and after of the scraping.  There isn’t as much of an improvement as there was with the previous round of scraping.

 

 

Here’s a close up of how it looked after I was done.  Since the whiskers were burned in before the scraping was done, there isn’t much, if any, chipping of the plywood.

 

 

 

 

Now touch up around the whiskers if needed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is how my demo whiskers looked once I was done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned before, I used this particular combination on the Bengal tiger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a close up of the whiskers.   

 

 

 

 

 

PROS

  • 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

CONS

  • 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

IN CONCLUSION

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,

Brenda

Jan 19, 2021

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2 thoughts on “Pyrography Techniques – Whiskers Created 5 Ways wood burning tutorial

  1. Great information on creating whiskers! I love it when you do the written tutorials in addition to the video. It’s wonderful to have it available for reference. It must be a huge amount of time and effort for you, so I just want you to know it is very much appreciated and a valuable resource for me in my pyrography journey. Thank you for all you do!

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