Collared Lizard Pyrography Art wood burning

One fall, Todd & I took a trip with dad to the four corners area; where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet.  Dad wanted to visit this area one more time and explore the Mesa Verde Indian ruins again.  Since I had never been to this area and because the boys left me in charge of the itinerary, we did a lot of site seeing during our week there.  We not only took every tour offered at Mesa Verde, but we also did the San Juan skyway drive, visited Santa Fe, Chaco Canyon, and even explored a couple of Moab’s national parks.  It was a wonderful vacation and we got so many photos that I can use in my artwork.  One such photo was that of a collared lizard that I based this artwork on.  In this blog I’m going to discuss the creation of the Collared Lizard artwork and share some things I learned from its creation.   

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


7/2018 – Reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog.


When I first transferred the image to the wood I copied a lot of stuff like the scales.  All of that super fine detail ended up looking like a dark blobby mass on the board, so I had to erase it and start over.  The second time around I didn’t transfer as much information, so the resulting trace lines were easier to follow when it started to burn them in. 


Here I’m burning in some of the trace lines, but as I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle the scales I concentrated on the lizard’s outline.





In this photo I switched to a micro shader pen tip and started working on the shadows beneath the lizard.  I do want to point out how I’ve rotated the wood to keep my pen tip in optimal position.  Optimal position is something I mention in almost all of my tutorials, so I won’t harp on and on about it here.  (you’re welcome)






Below are a couple of progress photos of some prominent features being worked on.  I often burn eyes, shadows, and markings first when I work on animals.















Notice how the extreme contrast of the shadow compared to the lizard is already giving the illusion that the lizard is rising up from the wood’s surface.   Illusions like this are one of the reasons I love creating artwork.  Part of me still thinks it’s almost magical.


I love the interesting skin wrinkles along the lizard’s side and in this photo I’m just starting to work on the side ridge where the wrinkles are located.




Here I’m working on the spots located on the lizard’s back, but you can also see that a couple of the side wrinkles are starting to take shape.





This photo was taken after one of my stopping points.  You can probably see that I still have a lot of pencil marks on the wood.  I still hadn’t decided how to handle the scales, so left the pencil marks in place from when I transferred the image onto the wood.  I had to be very careful with my hand placement so I didn’t smear the pencil marks.



In this photo I’m continuing to work on the spots on its back and those wonderfully interesting looking skin wrinkles.  I enjoy working on stuff like this because I love the variety of color, texture, and shapes that fill the area.  Working on the side was very enjoyable to me whereas the lizard’s back was a bit monotonous.




Working around the feet was a little challenging because of the those long toes and small shadows.   It made me super glad I had purchased a micro shading pen tip!




Creating wrinkles and ridges is really a simple process of leaving pale highlights next to dark shadows.  The contrast makes the pale highlights appear to rise up from the background.  




So in this case, the pale highlight is the side ridge and the dark shadow is found under the ridge running along its length.  The combination of extremes makes the ridge appear to stick out from the side of the lizard. 



In this photo I’m contouring (a fancy way of saying I’m shading) the legs to give them their shape.  It was during this process I discovered a very important lesson; don’t draw the scales until you’re done shading.  I had drawn a layer of scales on the legs, but after I was done contouring the legs I had lost most of the scales I had drawn.   OOPS. 





When drawing the scales I have to use the writing pen tip.  They are just too small and tightly curved for me to be able to render them with a shading pen tip, even a micro shader.






The photos below show the continuing work of adding scales to the face







Working on the arms I discovered that a lizard’s scales have a growth pattern direction.  Much like how an animal’s fur had growth direction.   To make sure that I kept the scales in the growth direction, I first drew in lines that followed the growth direction.





Here I’m drawing more lines in the growth direction.







After I got the lines drawn in, then I drew little circles that represented the scales along the growth lines.   Yes, I drew a LOT of little circles; hundreds and hundreds of little circles.





Even the belly area along the sides of the lizard was covered with circles.  Again, I drew growth lines, and then drew the circles following those lines.







This photo shows me drawing scales on the back leg. 








And this photo shows the continuing work drawing the scales.    An added benefit of drawing all of the scales was that they helped to darkened up the lizard.







The folds, eye ridges, and dark areas around the eye were done with a writing pen tip. 







I was able to use my micro shader for the markings on the face 





I also used it for a few of the shadow areas. 







This photo shows the front leg after I was done drawing scales.  Some people would be happy with how it looks, but not me.  I’m way too picky or obsessed with minute details.






Here’s how the front leg/arm looked after I was done with a little  contouring of the area.  To me, the leg looks more three-dimensional and realistic looking now.






Even the tail also received the two-part texture treatment of growth directional lines drawn and then covered with scales.  Here I’m working on the growth directional lines using the micro shading pen tip.  On the tail, the lines were semi-vertical (up/down) on the sides and then angled slightly as they crested the top of the tail.  This angling helped give the tail its illusion of being rounded.



During the entire time I was working on the lizard I kept debating about whether or not to put in a background.  Once I decided not to do a background I looked critically at the lizard and decided it wasn’t dark enough.  I wanted it to pop more, so here I’m in the process of darkening up the spots on the back of the lizard.



This also meant I had to re-draw the scales and that’s what I’m doing in this photo.   I do know how to have fun.







And continuing to have fun drawing scales.  Drawing the circles actually went fairly quickly as the lizard wasn’t very big, but I would have to admit I was tired of drawing them by the time I was done with this piece of artwork.





One special touch I added with this artwork was to drape the lizard’s tail down over the side of the board.   I thought that when I placed the board on its side it helped to continue the illusion of a real lizard crawling across a piece of wood.


Here’s a similar photo at a slightly different angle.



This head close up was before I decided to darken up the lizard a little more.






Below is the head after I darkened up the lizard one last time.  I also included the reference photo for comparison.  







What do you think?  Obviously I can’t re-create the yellow colored bands in pyrography, but color aside I thought it turned out pretty well.  There are differences, but I like that I captured the essence of the lizard’s look.

So, what did I learn from this project?

  1. Scales have growth direction just like animal fur does.
  2. You can transfer too much info onto the wood. Lots of really small stuff clustered closely together (like scales) just results in a blob.
  3. Draw the scales AFTER the lizard is colored and contoured!

And, because I love to learn new things and little tidbits about the animals I’ve drawn, I discovered that this particular collared lizard is a girl.  The boys have blue and green coloring to them whereas the girls are drabber with brown and yellow coloring.  They can grow up to 10 inches long (24.5 cm) including the tail, and if they lose their tail it doesn’t grow back.  Most interesting of all, to me, is that they can rise up on their hind legs and run.  I enjoyed watching several videos showing that.   I couldn’t discover how fast this variety of lizard ran, but it looked impressively fast.   

Maybe one day I’ll get lucky and get a photo of a lizard running for a future pyrography project!



Just a few more words before I sign off.   I really ended up liking this artwork because of its realism. It’s hanging on my wall and at first glance I still think it looks like an actual lizard pausing on the wood.  It is probably one of the best 3D illusions I’ve created in pyrography.   I also like the texture on the lizard’s skin and my favorite spots are the wrinkles on her side and the bumpy rough skin on her knee.      

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The artwork measures 7 x 17 inches (17.8 x 43.2 cm), was burned on basswood, and it took me 12 hours to complete.

Until the next blog,


April 21, 2017

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This artwork was submitted by Lissa Moquin of Pyrography Portraits.  This is Lissa’s first ever reptile and it’s great looking.  She has wonderful contrast, and nice details on the lizard.  I love the little claws.  The shadow makes the lizard look like it’s ready to crawl off of the page.  Great job Lissa!

2 thoughts on “Collared Lizard Pyrography Art wood burning

  1. OMG! I LOVE THIS! I have been waiting for someone to do a tutorial on reptiles. I have a lot of friends and family who have asked me to do snakes, lizards, frogs, etc. and I just don’t know how. I had a bearded dragon that looked just like this so I am definitely doing this tonight! Thank you so much!

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