Carolina Wren Tutorial

My friend Kate Dubiel shared a picture of a Carolina Wren that she was carving on a project. I really liked the detail in the pattern she used, and she was kind enough to share it with me. It looked like a perfect pattern to be embossed and colored.

Once the putty on the back side is dry (usually several hours to overnight) the leather is rubber cemented to a piece of cardboard. The leather is dampened, then a background tool is used to flatten the background. This brings out the shape of the bird.

The next step is to start bringing out the details in the feathers. I used a figure beveler for the wing feathers, and a modeling tool for the smaller feathers. Beveling on a project once it's been embossed and filled with putty is different than on a flat project. You dont have a hard surface under your leather, so it may take several passes to get some depth. Your beveling can also get pretty choppy and you may need to use a modeling tool to clean it up and get it smooth.

Rough bevel in the tail feathers.

Now I've moved on to the head. The eye and beak are beveled in with a small figure carving beveler. The eye isn't taking shape very well yet. Most of this work is done with the leather dry, but to get some detail into the eye, it's going to have to be wet a little. The different areas of feathers are put in with a modeling tool. I use the pointed end of the modeling tool and kind of jabbed the end into the leather to get a ragged edge to the different feather areas. I wasn't real happy with the look, so I went over these areas again with the end of a pointed beveler making the impressions as close together as possible.

Here's where we are so far

Now we're ready to start the feathering. A lot of the feathers on this bird look almost hair like. So I decided to put them in with the multi blade hair knife. You could do something similar with a regular hair blade, they just wont stand up like they do with the multi blade knife. I started at the beak, pushing the tips of the knife into the leather and pulling them up. This makes really tiny hairlike texture. I made this same texture on the forehead.

Then use the multi blade knife by dragging the blades in a forward stroke to make the tiny hair like feathers over the eye.

In this picture, the eye has been wet and shaped with the modeling tool. It is rounded and smoothed out. The multi blade knife was used to make hair like feathers on most of the head and onto the neck and chest. A scalpel is used to slice into the leather, creating small feathers. The scalpel is held at a very shallow angle and the slice just goes slightly under the leather.

On the larger wing feathers, a center vien was drawn in. This can be done with the back side of the scalpel blade, or with a modeling tool. Then the multi blade knife was used to cut in the serrations on the feathers.

Then a scalpel is used to slice slightly under the feather to seperate them.

Texture is added to the feet and the tree branch with a modeling tool. On the branch, I first put in texture by rubbing some horizontal lines in with the modeling tool. Then I took the tip of the modeling tool and pushed in some small holes, and roughed up the modeled in lines.

Here the carving of the wren is finished. We'll move on to the coloring steps next.

I start out with a coat of Drake's X-1, an acrylic sealer. I use this for 2 reasons. First, I put it on a small area of the carving at a time, and then lift and shape the feathers with the tip of the scalpel. When the sealer dries, the feathers will remain in that shape. Second, the sealer keeps the acrylic paint on top of the leather instead of soaking into the leather. If you make a mistake with the paint, you can somewhat wash it back off if you are quick. Filling a brush with water and going over the mistake will dilute the paint and the tip of a paper towel will remove most of the paint. You can repeat the process a couple times if you need to. In the same way, you can sometimes blend the acrylic paint colors. Once the paint is fully dry, it is pretty permanent so you have to do this fairly quickly. Here the X-1 has been applied and the feathers slightly lifted.

Starting with the paint. I put some Liquitex Turner's Yellow and some Ceramcoat Light Ivory in my mixing tray. I added a little of the light ivory to the yellow and painted the chest of the bird. Then I used the light ivory on the forehead and the lower portion of the head. Whenever I use acrylic paint, I always mix it about half with water to make it very runny. It may take a few coats to get the color I want, but it's easier to build up color than to take it off. It also doesn't gunk up and fill in all the carving that you have done.

The body of the wren was colored with a watered down coat of Ceramcoat Raw Sienna. This color is almost the same color of the leather.

Ceramcoat Charcoal was used to add the stripes on the feathers, the eye, the base coat for the beak, and as an outline for the small feathers above the eye.

Light ivory was used to color the thin line of feathers over the eye and added over the bottom portion of the head. A light coat was put over the beak, then wiped with a finger to blend it into the charcoal base coat. It was also used on the thin ridge of feathers under the eye.

Light ivory was dry brushed over the yellow on the chest of the wren. To do this, paint is applied to the brush, then it is wiped onto a paper towel until almost all the paint is gone from the brush. Sometimes you actually have to really scrub the brush on the leather to get any paint off the brush, but it blends very well that way.

Light ivory is used to add the stripes to the tail feathers and the spots on the bottom wing feather. It is dry brushed on the rest of the wing feathers for a high light.

To color the branch, I first used a very wet coat of charcoal for a base coat.

Then I dry brushed over that with a very light coat of light ivory. I used my finger to wipe over the white and blend it in a little.

The legs and feet were colored with a very tiny drop of red mixed into the light ivory to make a very pale pink. A light coat of very watered down charcoal was used over this for shadows and to bring out the texture in the feet.

At this point, the coloring is finished. I then sprayed on a couple light coats of Plaid clear matte acrylic sealer. This seals the paint. Then I painted over the eye with Ceramcoat Gloss varnish. I also put a light coat of this on the beak and the claws. On the beak and the claw, I don't want them to shine as much as the eye so when it's still wet, I touch my finger to the varnish. It still has a wet look when dry, but not shiny like the eye. I don't put a white highlight in the eye like some people do. The varnish picks up a reflection from any light in a room and gives a realistic highlight to the eye. It will almost follow you around the room from whatever direction you look at it.

And here it is, finished.



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