Stiletto Shoe High Heel Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

With this tutorial I will explain the pyrography shading techniques to create the high heel or Stiletto Shoe, the 5th installment in my mini project series.   This mini project will explore how to replicate the reflective surface of a red high heel.   Also, I will show you what features I look at when analyzing a reference photo and explain the basic process I use to convert color to brown tones.  Another thing I will discuss is why I chose to deviate from the reference photo when I created this artwork.

You can watch a YouTube video version of this tutorial by clicking on the image to the left. 




To watch a time lapse version of the artwork being created, click on the image to the left.


Let’s get to work.



  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 4” x 6” (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  High Heel pattern

Please note that I will use terms like pull-away strokes, circular motion, etc., within this blog.  If you are not familiar with my terminology, then I recommend reading my blog:  How to use the Shader.      



 Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper.  The smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.   For more details about prepping wood and the different types of wood I’ve burned on refer to this blog:  Wood Prepping.







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 lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern.  Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.   





Here’s the reference photo for the artwork that I found on the internet.  I was after a generic red high heel and I liked the angle on this photo. Let’s explore the things that stand out to me. 








In this photo I’ve marked the really dark sole along the bottom of the shoe with yellow arrows.  The black is also found on the backside of the heel and along the bottom of the heel.  There is also a dark seam line where the shoe connects with the heel.







This photo has the reflection spots marked.  Examining the spots, I thought that most of them were the same color, but there are a couple that are very pale; like the crescent on the toe area.








The back of the heel is dark and the color fades along the upper edges.









There is a little depression on the heel that is slightly shadowed.









The edge of the shoe liner shows in this one area marked by the arrow.









The liner bottom is paler than the liner sides.









The liner on the side is several shades darker than the bottom and it’s also a touch darker near the toe area.








Lastly, there are stitches along the upper edge of the shoe.






When you are working with a color photo, you have to translate or convert the color to different shades of browns and tans in pyrography.  To help me with this process I pick a color to use my base color, so let’s explore that process. 

This is our reference photo and the black arrow in the black circle marks the shade of red I’m choosing to use as my base color.   

Why this shade of red?   I always try to pick an area that I think represents the true color; a shade of the color that doesn’t look like it has a tinge of white or black in it.  To me this area on the toe looks like pure unadulterated red. 





Next we select the same spot on the artwork to represent the base color.   Before I even burn the artwork, I know that the area marked with a yellow arrow will be the ‘brown’ tone version the red base color.  In this case, the brown tone is tan.


After picking a base color, I then use the base color to do color analysis before I burn in new areas.   Let me show you what I mean by that.


Here’s one of the analysis photos we examined earlier.  Look at the depression area and determine if you think the color is the same as, lighter than, or darker than the base color found on the toe box.



When I compare the depression area with the base color on the toe box, I think the depression area is a darker shade of red.




This means that, when I burn in the depression area, it needs to be darker than tan hue I chose to represent the base color.

Every time I get ready to burn in a new area I do a base color comparison.  After I’m done burning I do another comparison to make sure I got it right or reasonably close.




Look at this analysis photo and do a base color comparison.  

What do you think?   

It’s pretty easy to see that the area on the back of the shoe is considerably darker than the base color, but let’s take this one step further.






After the initial base color comparison, I then compare nearby areas against each other.  We already determined that the two spots marked with arrows are darker than the base color.  But how do they compare to each other?  

The lower area, marked with the white arrow, is darker than the top.  When this area of the shoe gets burned in we need to replicate this by making the depression area darker than the base color, but lighter than the dark area below it.





The last thing I want to discuss before we start burning is why I purposely chose to deviate from the reference photo.     

Obviously the reference photo has a pale shoe liner, but I burned the liner on the artwork dark.  Why? 

There are two reasons.  The first and main reason is that white on white lacks contrast, so it doesn’t show up well.  I could burn the liner a pale tan, but against an unburned background the low contrast means the liner still would not show up very well.   Or I could burn the background darker and leave the liner pale.  I didn’t want to do that because it would compete with the red shoe and burning in the background would take a lot more time than burning the shoe liner.


The second reason is to change the focal point.  When I look at the reference photo one of the first things I notice is the white liner on the bottom of the toe box (I put a black arrow pointing to the spot).   I want the focal point to be the red shoe.






In this photo I altered the photo to darken the shoe liner.  Now the liner shows up well against the background and the first thing I notice is the vibrant red colored shoe. 

Let’s start burning.






With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines. 







Burn in the trace lines with a writer pen tip, but make sure to keep the lines on the shoe surface pretty pale.

After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.







The first thing we will do is burn in the liner and sole of the shoe.  







We’ll begin with the sole.  Use a shader pen tip to burn along one edge of the dark sole.








Keep your pen tip in optimal position to ensure the edges are very crisp and clean.







Rotate the wood, if needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position and burn along the opposite edge of the sole.






Continue this process of burning along both edges of the sole until the entire sole is done.






Remember to keep the pen tip in optimal position the entire time.Then burn in the area between the sole edges. 






Try to keep the color uniform and in the dark brown to black range.








Also burn in the dark seam where the shoe connects with the heel.







Don’t forget the bottom of heel.








Darkly burn along the upper side of the liner.  Make sure to burn UNDER the liner seam edge.  I marked this spot with a red arrow.






Rotate the wood and burn along the lower edge of the liner.






Use the shader to burn very dark pull-away strokes along the lower edge of the liner.  Start the stroke on the seam (where the side and bottom touch), and pull it towards upper edge of the liner.





Burn the bottom of the liner to a gradient medium brown color.  The color should be lighter near the seam.





Next, burn darkly along the remaining edges of the liner.








Then burn a brown line along the upper edge of the liner seam.







Burn the liner seam so that it is brown in color.







Lastly, burn uniform strokes that are dark brown to black in color on the liner sides.





Finishing up.








The next area we will burn in is the toe box of the shoe.







If you look at the toe box on the reference photo, you’ll see there is a reflection along the upper edge of it.  Just like the liner, this reflection would not show up against the pale background, so I made it “red” in color.








Another thing we need to be aware of is the thin pale highlight (black arrow), and the thin band of darker or slightly shadowed red (yellow arrow).








Burn along the outer edge of the toe box, but avoid the thin pale highlight area.  Make sure you keep the pen tip in optimal position so you have sharp clean edges.






Rotate the wood and burn a darker line just above the reflection on the toe box.






Burn in the lightly shadowed band along the upper right edge of the toe box and continue the line to the side of the toe box.






Use uniform strokes to burn in the dark patch on the side of the toe box.







Burn along the edges of the two reflections on the toe box and then fill in the toe box to a uniform tan color using uniform strokes.





Continued work.  Remember, this tone or hue of tan will become the base color representing pure red.





Finishing up.







Darken up the tip of the toe box area and blend or transition that color.  I used circular motion for this, but pull-away strokes could also be used.






Lightly burn over the long thin reflection that runs the length of the toe box.






Also burn lightly over the half crescent reflection.







Our next items to burn in are the heel and the shadow beneath the toe area on the shoe.







Start by burning a dark line along the outer edge of the shadow underneath the toe area.






Then burn in the shadow to a medium brown color. 






MAKE SURE to keep the shadow several shades lighter than the shoe sole otherwise it will look like it is part of the shoe instead of a cast shadow.   


With the heel, first do a color/hue comparison.  Comparing the heel against the base color, I decided that the heel was slightly darker.   





Begin by burning a wide line just below the highlight.






Use uniform strokes to fill the heel with a dark tan or light brown color.  Or, if this helps, 2 shades or so darker than the base color.








Continued work.








Lightly burn over the highlight.     After you are done, do another color comparison to check your work.






My color comparison revealed that I didn’t burn it dark enough, so I’m fixing that by re-burning over the entire heel surface.








Finishing up.    I did another color comparison when I was done and was happy with the results.








The smooth looking heel was created by burning and re-burning over the heel.   Plus, slightly overlap the burn strokes to eliminate signs of individual strokes.   Also, keep the heat setting on your burner on the lower side.  Ideally it should be set to produce a tan color with a normal hand speed.  For reference, my burner goes up to 10 and I had it set at 3 or very close to it.  I probably spent 20-30 minutes working on the heel to get the color built up and smooth looking.



In this step we will burn in the back of the shoe and the streak down the middle of the shoe side.   The great thing is that we already did the color comparison test for this area, so I won’t repeat the information.





I do want to point out that the very back of the shoe is dark and I’ve marked this with a black arrow.  Also there is a subtle darker streak that starts in the middle of the dark area and travels down the side of the shoe.








Burn a line along the back of the shoe and along the bottom edge that defines the end of the dark area.








Then burn a wide band of medium brown color along that line.









Next begin burning the darker streak that starts in the middle of this area, but don’t burn the spot too dark.  We just want to mark the spot so it’s easy to find when the rest of the patch is burned in.






Burn in the entire streak along the side of the shoe to a brown color. 








Make sure to keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning along the edges of the streak, so, if necessary, rotate the wood to facilitate this.





In this photo you can see how I have two bands of color along the streak.  The lower band is a shade or two darker than the top, but it is not an extreme color difference.






Fill in the rest of this patch with the slightly lighter shade of color.







Lastly, blend out the darker band’s starting point by burning circular motion around it.  This will slightly darken the area around the starting point and remove the tell-tell sign of where we started.





Here’s a progress photo, and, yes, I had bad lighting when I took the picture.







Next begin to burn in the depression area at the top of the shoe.






Burn next to the stitch mark, but do not burn over the stitch marks.  We’ll take care of those in a later step.






Finish filling in the patch with gradient color; the color gets paler as you near the reflection.  Or put another way, the color is darker along the top of the shoe.






Here’s another progress photo.






Fill the back of the shoe with a uniform color.  Notice how the color or tone is matching the lower part of the depression area we just burned in.   






Re-burn along the back edge to darken it up.  Pull-away strokes would be a good burn method for this.






Use circular motion to burn over the reflection area.  You want to gradually transition the color along the edges so that it appears to fade at the center of this area.







Continued work.








Lastly, re-burn under the stitches to slightly darken that area up.









The last thing to do is burn in the side of the shoe and we’ll start with the stitching.






Use a writer pen tip to burn little dots between the stitches.







Then use the writer to burn around each stitch.






As your work along the front of the shoe, the stitches get smaller.  Ok, that’s not a true statement, the angle changes and the stitches aren’t as visible.  Instead what is seen are the dark holes between the stitches, so burn dark tiny dots to represent the stitch holes.




Now work your way up the side of the shoe burning around the stitches and adding the dots between them.







At the top where the shoe curves the stitching becomes less visible and we see dark holes again.







Re-burn under the stitching again, if needed, to build up the color there. 







Lightly burn over the stitch marks. 






Let’s look at the reference photo for the side of the shoe to do our last color comparison.  We have the two areas above and below the dark streak to burn in.  Are those areas lighter, darker, or the same color as the base color?    To me both areas are lighter.





Burn in the top reflection on the side of the shoe.  The reflection is the palest at the top and is a few shades darker next to the stitching.







Burn the thin reflection below the stitching along the toe area.







Next burn in the large reflection on the side of the shoe.  Start at the top above the heel, but avoid the bright reflection line just above the seam.






Use uniform strokes to burn in the side reflection.  Notice in the photo how I’m leaving an unburned band right next to the sole.  The reference photo shows a slightly paler reflection along this area, so leave a thin band unburned.  Don’t worry about making it match the photo exactly as this is a subtle detail that adds to the overall realism of the shoe.




At the bend where the toe box of the shoe begins there is a darker band that runs along the curve.  Burn this area 2-3 shades darker than the color of the shoe side.





Burn in along the reflection along the bottom of the shoe.





As I was consulting the reference photo, which I do frequently, I noticed that I burned the bottom reflection too dark at the bend.  To fix this I’m using a sanding pen to lightly (very lightly!) rub over the area to remove a little color.   Also thoroughly clean over the area to remove any residue.





This is a sanding pen, and it is made out of fiberglass.  Thus the reason you need to thoroughly clean the area after you use it.    I buy the pens on online and they are advertised as a product to remove rust from metal.   They are extremely abrasive, so use a very light pressure as they can quickly gouge channels into the wood.   DO NOT waste your money on fiberglass pens advertised for cleaning watches.  The fiberglass is very soft on those pens and I’m not sure it could even remove pencil from paper.  

Lightly burn over the reflection line we left next to the shoe sole.







Lastly, very lightly burn over the reflection above the heel.









Now it’s time to critically look at your artwork and decide if any fine-tuning is needed. 






I find it is very helpful to put the artwork on a shelf and don’t look at it for a day or two before doing the critical analysis of the art.  The reason is that taking a break from the artwork gives your brain time to forget about it to some degree.  Then look at your artwork with the reference photo by it and critically analyze it.  

After I did the above, I decided my artwork needed a little fine-tuning.  First I darkened the lower side reflection.







Next I darkened the bottom reflection along the toe box a little.






Lastly, I pretty much darkened the entire toe area that we did in step 6.







Below is a before/after composite photo of the fine-tuning.  


Notice how much smoother the transition is on the front of the toe.  I think the shoe looks a lot better after I fine-tuned it.   

Below is a comparison photo of my final artwork with the reference photo next to it.



We are all done.    What did you think of the tutorial?  I try to provide a wide range of subjects to burn as I realize we all have different likes and dislikes.   With this tutorial I really tried to explain the processes I use to determine the shade of brown to use and why I make choices to deviate from the reference photo.  Did you find the information helpful?

If there is something you would like to see as a tutorial leave a comment and let me know.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on die-cut Birch plywood that measures 4 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches (12.1 x 16.5 cm).  It took me 4 1/2 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 creating art.

Until the next blog,


Sept 28, 2018

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2 thoughts on “Stiletto Shoe High Heel Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

  1. I have learned so much from you in the past several months. I do find that I have better control shading with the spoon shader than the rounded shader. I also found a tip about using rubber O rings to help with heat resistance and it does work. Thanks for all the videos!

    1. Hi Tammy,
      I’m glad my website has been useful for you. There are so many great artist on YouTube using the spoon shader, so I got one trying to emulate them. I could not get the hang of it. But it goes to show that what works for one person doesn’t always work for everyone else. Congratulations on discovering what works best for you! Sometimes I think that is half of the learning curve with hobbies.

      I would love to see what you’ve done. If you don’t mind sharing send me a photo at

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