Cherub of Love Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

With the Valentine holiday not too far away, I’ve created another tutorial themed toward that holiday; Cherub of Love.  My last blog, Valentine Hearts, created an ornate heart theme image with a large open (un-burned) heart frame in the center.  While I provided several suggestions in that blog on what to do in the heart frame, I also promised that I would share what I did with it.  So this tutorial explains how to create the Cherub of Love.   

You can watch a timelapse YouTube video of this artwork being created by clicking on the image to the left.   




Click on the thumbnail to the left to watch the YouTube tutorial version.





When I drew the Cherub pattern I had intended for it to be used in the Valentine Hearts project, but I got to thinking that it needed to be more versatile.  After all, not everyone might like the Valentine Hearts artwork.   So, even though I burned this in the Valentine Hearts frame, you do not have to do the same.   Click to read the Valentine Hearts Tutorial.

This is the pattern and as you can see there are some modifiers on the page.  I put the “YOU” banner outside of the heart and added some option tags/labels in the upper right corner.    You can replace the “YOU” with a loved one’s name.  Put their name above the entire Cherub image and leave the “you” banner at the bottom.   Below are some pictures where I played around with options to try and illustrate some of the many possibilities.












You can even add items to the pattern.  In this photo I’ve drawn a series of “u” shapes all around the heart.  If you like the Heart Frame from the Valentine Hearts, you could take that part of the pattern and use it here.  There are lots and lots of options with this project.   






I’ve included a pattern shaded in as a reference.  While the tutorial below will cover 97% of the pattern, I wanted to give you an idea of how it might look without being used in the Valentine Hearts setting.





Now, it’s time to get to work.

SKILL LEVEL = 3  (intermediate) 


  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • Wood (I used Russian Birch Plywood)
  • Attached Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Cherub of Love pattern


You always need to prep the wood surface for burning.   Do this by sanding the surface smooth using 220 grit sandpaper.   Then mist the wood with water and let it dry.  This raises the nap or grain on the wood.  After the board is dry, then sand it again.  This will produce an ultra smooth burning surface.






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 light weight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil  (I use one in the B ranges), place pattern on wood, tape in place, and trace over pattern with a sharp pencil.

Before you remove the pattern, slowly lift it up and spot check the trace lines.  Look for any missing or hard to see spots.  If there are missing spots, lower pattern and trace again, recheck, and if all is good remove the pattern. 


I want to point out how I placed the pattern onto the existing artwork.  I measured the size of my Heart Frame from the Valentines Heart project and enlarged/shrank the Cherub of Love till I got a heart that matched the same size.  Notice how I’ve cut out pieces of the paper so I can lineup the heart outline to the Heart Frame.   After I had it properly lined up, I traced it onto the wood.



In this photo I’m placing the “YOU” into the artwork after tracing the main part.  Don’t put the tape on existing trace lines as it will act like an eraser. 




With the writing pen tip on medium low (my heat goes from 0-10, so – 2.5), lightly burn in the trace lines.  After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. 





Below are some progress photos.  




In this step we are going to burn the letters of the message.  Since I wanted the message to pop out, I burned my letters black.  Before I discuss how I burned in the letters we need to talk about optimal pen tip placement.  Please ignore the other items that are burned in as I’ll explain them in a little bit.




NOTICE the placement of the pen tip in this photo; I call this Optimal Pen Tip Placement.

The end of the pen tip is on the inside edge of the Cherub’s bow.  Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am only burning on the bow and not on the background.

If you walk away with only one thing from this tutorial, I hope optimal pen tip position is it.    Optimal pen tip position ensures that you are burning where you INTEND to burn and that your borders are crisp/clean.

Turning the wood, when needed, is important to ensure optimal pen tip placement.   You can angle your hand in weird positions to accomplish this, but if you’re burning for any duration of time it’s much easier to just turn the wood. 

With the optimal pen tip position in mind, I first went along and burned the right edge of all of the letters.  Since I’m left handed this was the easiest side to start will so the pen tip stayed in optimal position.  If you’re right handed it might be easier to start on the left side of the letters.

Pen heat setting – – – Keep the setting as low as you can but that will still enable to you get a dark line.  When I’m burning letters I’m going very slowly, taking my time, so my letters have crisp sharp edges.  If the pen heat is too high it will cause the wood to smoke and the smoke will discolor the wood immediately around it.  That means your edges won’t be sharp and crisp.   If this happens to you, take a metal edge (like the flat of an X-acto knife) and very lightly scrape away the smoke damage.

After I burned the right edges of the letters, I rotated the board so I could start on the left side.   With each letter, I burned the left side and filled in the center before moving onto the next letter.  





Below are progress photos.



In this step we’re going to burn the assorted hearts floating on the left side.  I’m going to explain one heart in detail and that method applies to all of the other hearts.  






First darkly outline the hearts.  Like the letters, I found it was easier to outline all of one side on all of the hearts.  This kept the pen tip in optimal position and reduced the amount of times I had the rotate the board. 





Then rotate the board and burn along the remaining edges on the hearts.








Next I burned in a black band around the inside of the heart.  This was done by making small circular motions with the pen tip as I followed the outline of the heart.





Then I burned another wide band, but this time made it slightly paler than the first band.






For the really large hearts I burned a 3rd band and filled in the heart.






Lastly I burned over the entire heart surface to smooth the transition between the bands.  I made sure to keep the center as the palest part of the heart.





Final results of the large heart.  Notice how the heart looks a little puffed up.  That is a result of the dark edges that gradually lighten towards the center.

Now you just need to do burn all of the rest of the hearts the same way.





Now we’re going to work on the ribbon, or banner if you will, that the message is written on.  There are two basic pen strokes I use for this area, 1) parallel lines, and 2) pull-away strokes.     



Parallel Lines.  First you can use short straight lines that run perpendicular to the length of the ribbon to slowly fill in the area.  To do this start at the top edge of the ribbon, slowly pull the pen down to the bottom edge of the ribbon, move the pen over slightly and repeat until the ribbon is filled.  Parallel line strokes are generally uniform in color, so the strokes need to be repeated in areas that you want darker.  Building up color is much preferable to turning up the heat on the pen because you will get smoother results. 



Pull-away strokes.  Place the pen tip on the end edge of the ribbon and pull the pen tip along the length of the ribbon stopping near the center where it starts to bow.  At this point you lift the pen tip up and away from the wood.  Move the pen back to the end edge of the ribbon and start another stroke next to the first one.  Once one end of the ribbon is done, you do the same process on the other end of the ribbon.    Pull-away strokes fade as you reach the end of the stroke.  They are great for areas you want to look arched.  I often still repeat the strokes to slowly build up the color, but on the repeated strokes I usually don’t make them as long as the first ones I did.

You will have to experiment to find which technique works best for you.  For the ribbon I found that I use a combination of them both.  Generally I use a parallel stroke to fill in along the edges to keep them crisp and sharp and then switch to a pull-away for the rest of the ribbon.

Below are some progress photos. 






The underside of the ribbon received the same treatment as the top, but I just burned it darker to give the impression it was in shadows. 






Below are more progress photos.



















NOTE – – if you are burning the Cherub of Love w/o using the Valentine Hearts frame, then you also need to burn the ribbon that goes past the heart.  The shaded reference should help you see what to do.  The step would be the same as I’ve already covered.






I’m going to do my best to group this into sections.  With that in mind, there will be times when you can tell more has happened, but be patient as I will get to that section.  This is especially true for the hair section as it took me three different passes before I had the hair the way I wanted.








We’ll begin with the bow.





First darkly outline one side of the bow.









Rotate the wood and outline the opposite side.






Fill in the area between the dark lines.







Burn in the bow string.  I used the razor edge of the shading tip, but you might prefer another tip like a knife edge or a writing tip.









As I mentioned before, it took me couple of passes through on the hair before I got it to the darkness level I wanted.  With each pass I did the same basic steps:  a) burn dark curl lines, b) burn some lighter curls, c) leave a few curls pale.   My curls follow the pattern lines.





At first I just burned a few lines to give the hair basic structure.  Notice that I’m not trying to burn individual strands of hair!  For one thing this area is way too small and for another it’s not necessary.






After I was done, the hair looked like hair, but, to me, the cherub looked like he has a frost job.  I first went over all of the lines I did in the first pass and then added lots of lighter curls.  I still had a few really pale curls. 







Below are progress photos. 






















This is the results of after my last pass through the hair; it’s a lot darker.  If at any point you decide you like how the hair on your cherub looks, then stop and leave it alone otherwise continue on.  While doing this pass through, I repeated the same basic steps as before.  






Below are progress photos.























Warning now, I’m not real happy with how the face on my cherub turned out.  At first he looked angry (I eventually fixed that mostly) and he looks like he has the mumps.  That I can’t fix.   I’m not really good with faces and, unfortunately, in this artwork my lack of experience shows.  Regardless, I will do my best to explain what to do.  I wanted the cherub’s skin to be paler, so I kept the heat setting on my burner very low. 

For reference, I had the heat setting around 2 and my unit goes to 10.  Also I used my micro-shader when I worked on the cherub since it was so small.


First I darkened up the eyebrows.  In retrospect I used have used the writing tip as I probably wouldn’t have ended up with an “angry” looking cherub.






Next lightly shade both eye socket areas and darken along the left side of the nose.






Then shade the forehead along the hairline.  Don’t worry about trying to avoid the hair.   I started on the left side of the forehead and worked my way towards the right.





Continue shading along the right side of the face edge.  Follow the face edge until you get just past the chin.







Lightly shade the right cheek.








Darken the bottom of the nose by the nostrils.







Here’s how the face looks so far.








Darken the eyes.   I used a micro shader for this and like the eyebrows I should have used a writing tip.







Darken the lips.  The upper lip I just drew a small line to represent it.  For the lower lip I rotated the board and allowed the curve of the pen tip to shape the lip.  






Here’s how it looked after darkened the eyes and lips. 








Next shade the bridge of the nose by the forehead.







Darken the right temple







I darkened up the forehead along the hairline a little more.








Lightly shade along the left edge of the face.







Shade along the laugh lines (from the edge of the nostril to the edge of the lips.







Lastly I burned the dots for the nostril opening a little darker and lightly drew in a line to indicate the side of the nostril. 

Face is done.








In my effort to show the good and the bad, this is how I tried to fix my angry right eyebrow.  

First I gently scraped away with a sharp blade.  







Then I used the writing tip to draw the eyebrow back in. 




For the body, I basically went around the body outline and burned it a medium to light brown color and colored the rest of the body a pale tan color.   I left a few areas really pale (like his belly) to convey a raised up area. 

Also, any marking (line) on the pattern I burned a medium-light brown color. Marking lines would be stuff like the kneecap, lines near the wrist, etc.






Burn a dark line under the face along the shoulder.







Burning along the right side. Make the edges the darkest spot




Burn along the right side of the belly below the sash.









Rotate the board, if needed, and burn along the lower and left edge of the belly



Burn along the bottom edge of the leg









Continue your way the leg burning along the right side of it.

Burn along the right edge of the ankle









Rotate the board, if needed, and burn along the left edge of the leg


Burn in the back leg so it is a touch darker than the front.  That will make it look further in the background.








Burn along on the front shin

Burn on the foot just above the toes to make the foot look chubby.









Burn on the RIGHT side of each toe


Burning the front thigh and just under the belly









Burn the arm in a similar fashion as the legs.  Burn along the edges and along any creases.


In this last photo I’m burning the bottom side of each finger.  







Also, on the top two fingers, I burned a thin line where they touched the arrow shaft.



The Sash is burned in.







First burn dark lines along all of the fold lines and edges.





Shade in the folds.


Below are progress photos.









There isn’t much to do here, so this step will go fast.





First burn a thin cast shadow on the cherub’s arm just under the arrow shaft.









Burn the arrow tip darkly.  I first burned the line for the top edge, rotated the board and burned the bottom edge. 






I also burned a dark line down the center of the tip and filled in the rest a dark brown.  







Burn the arrow shaft.  All I did was draw some slanted lines on it.






The Wings are rendered








Burn a tan colored center vein in each feather. 







Burning in the center veins.






Lightly shade along the vein of each feather a pale tan.







Shading along the vein.









Draw barb lines on each feather.







Continued work.








Shade along the outer edges of the wings.  This is just to help them stand out from the background.  







Continued work.





STEP 8 – Burn Edge of Heart

Last step and we’re done.  I burned a light tan 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) wide band along the edges of the large heart.   It took me a couple times before I had the color built up to my liking. 






Below are a couple of progress photos.

Burning along the edge of the heart
Continued work along the edge








That’s it for this one.  Below I put a photo of the Cherub with the Valentine Hearts, so you could see how the two projects look together. 



I hope you enjoyed this tutorial.  Having said that please note that I welcome feedback as that is the only way I will discover how I’m doing and what improvements I can/should make.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on Russian Birch plywood and measures approximately 5 1/2 x 5 inches (14.0 x 12.7 cm).  It took me 3 hours to complete the artwork.   That said this is not a race or contest.  I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.  You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter.  What’s important is the process of creation.

Until the next blog,



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