There is a common misconception in woodburning circles, that there is ONE BEST way to burn fur. This misconception unfortunately creates mediocre results in virtually all attempts at rendering a realistic burning.
Because you are NOT burning fur!
You are burning the illusion of fur. And what is the illusion of fur?
The illusion of fur is value (lights and darks), texture (quality of line), and contour (line direction).
These three principles will go a long way to helping you understand how to burn realistically and how to adjust your technique to create beautiful fur each and every time.
In this article I will explain these three principles and how to apply them to your burnings.
Value is the difference between lights and darks. This difference can be gauged in two ways, the lightness and darkness of the overall image, and the lightness and darkness relative to what is directly adjacent to the section you are burning.
It is important to understand the overall value palette you are working with so you end up with a clear and crisp burning. It can be easy to misjudge your values if you are comparing your lights and darks simply by what is directly next to them.
Any value will look dark if it is next to unburned wood. And any value will look light if it is next to a completely black section. Keep this in mind when you evaluate your burning.
This is why some pyrographers will burn a dark background at the beginning of their work in order to accurately give themselves a clear boundary of what is Whitest White and Blackest Black. This makes it easier to understand your middle tones and manage them.
However, not all burnings will look good with a heavy black background. And although this technique can look dramatic, overusing it can lead to the old “painting on velvet” look that became cliche in the 1970’s. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a powerful technique. Just be mindful and don’t use it as a crutch.
To render realistic fur you need to have a handle on the lightness or darkness of the fur you are burning both in relation to the entire piece and the area immediately surrounding it.
This is what most of us think of when we consider fur. The quality of line you use to create this illusion can either make or break the look. What type of fur are you burning? What does it feel like? Is it soft and fine or coarse and heavy?
Not all lines are created equal. A short straight dark stroke will have more of a spiky look than a short light slightly curved stroke. The difference in the two is dramatic. I tell students to use their pens to “feel” their way into the proper stroke. Many people tend to press too hard and bear down on the pen, creating a heavy stiff line (fine if you are burning stubble – not so good for soft bunnies).
The quickest way to achieve the correct quality of line is to pretend you are stroking the animal you are burning. If it is a soft and delicate bunny your strokes should be soft and delicate. This means your touch and rhythm will be different than if you are digging into the course neck fur of a bison. By “feeling” your way through the fur you send your brain a signal to adjust your touch accordingly.
The last principle here is contour. Contour will give your image a three dimensional look which is called form. By adjusting the direction and length that you burn the fur you can master the illusion of realism.
Study your reference to be sure your strokes are going in the right direction and are the appropriate length. Resist the temptation to “cheat” and make longer strokes so you can finish quicker. This will sabotage the overall look of your artwork and you will have to go in and correct the strokes anyway when you realize they don’t look good, making it take longer to finish.
So there you have my three principles for realistic looking fur! As you evaluate your subject take this into consideration and adjust your burning to reflect the illusion you are looking to create.