Lizard Face Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Lizard Face pyrography artwork.  For some reason the title of this artwork reminds of some Marvel character and that makes me laugh as I start to imagine what sort of ‘powers’ this guy would have.    Lizard Face is the sixth installment in my mini projects tutorial series.   I designed them to help you learn techniques while working on small projects.   With this project I be will explaining how to create scales and the lizards’ dark reflective eye.   

Click on the image to the left to watch a YouTube video version of the tutorial. 





Click on the image to the left to watch a time lapse video of the artwork being created.

Now, let’s get to work.





  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  Lizard Face pattern


This photo shows the entire face of the lizard.  I chose to zoom in a bit on the face to make it a little easier to create.   I also chose to ignore the dark blue dots found in the middle of most of the scales.  When you create this artwork, you can do the same as I did or challenge yourself by burning the entire face. 

I will use terms like, optimal position or circular motion, and if those terms are unfamiliar, then I recommend reading my blog on Using The Shader Pen Tip



Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper.  

Wet out the wood by liberally misting/sponging water onto the surface. The board should feel very damp when you’re done. 

Let it dry completely.  How damp the wood is will determine how long it takes to dry, but it generally 3-4 hours or more.  If the wood is dry in 10-15 minutes then you didn’t get it wet enough.   I usually let the board sit overnight.   

After the board is completely dry, sand it again with at least 220 grit sandpaper. 

This process will give you a very smooth board to burn on.  



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.   





This photo shows the pattern after I traced it onto the board.  I put little x’s on the scales I’ve drawn, so if I get interrupted I can easily see what still needs to be done.  Also there are tiny dotted lines on the pattern.  These indicate areas of highlights.  I draw and burn them in as dotted lines, so I don’t get confused as to what lines are scale edges and what are highlights.





I want to mention the need to burn in the dotted lines as lightly as possible.  Since they mark highlights, we won’t be burning darkly around them.  The goal is to burn around the lines just to the point where the dots disappear. 




With the writing pen tip on medium low, 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. 




It is easy to get into the habit of burning your outline or trace lines darkly, but if you want to create realistic art try not to get into that habit.  Look at the photo and notice how I don’t burn my lines very dark.  Plus, I burned the little dash lines indicating highlights even paler.






We’ll first burn in the eye and the lids around the eye.








Here’s the reference photo for the eye. 






There is a thin pale iris ring in the center of the eye, but the ring is not uniformly colored (yellow arrow).  There is a bright arching reflection of light in the upper left corner of the eye (red arrow).  





To the left of the light reflection there are a few darker reflections.






Above and to the right of the iris ring very subtle inner eyelids can be seen. 






Begin by using a shader in optimal position to burn along the edge of the upper lids.






Then use the shader to burn along the edges of the iris ring.  Again keep your pen tip in optimal position as you do this.






Rotate the wood, as needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you finish burning along the edges of the iris ring.  Also fill in the center of the eye to a dark brown or black color.






Next start filling in the rest of the eye to a medium to dark brown color.  You want to leave a band of medium brown along the edges of the inner eyelids.






Again make sure to rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position and burn along the edge of the lower eyelid.






Finishing up the center of the eye.







Burn just above the upper edge of the reflected light.






The right corner of the eye is where the other inner lid is located, so burn this area to a medium brown color.






Continued work.






Then burn a thick dark brown/ black line along the edge of the lid.  Fill in the area between the lid and the iris circle to a dark brown / black color.






Use circular motion, or the burn stroke of your preference, to gradually increase the color on the right side of the lid.  The color should be dark brown to black once you reach the outer edge of the eye.





Finishing up.







Do the same thing for the upper inner lid. 







Darken up the upper left corner of the eye.






Burn the remaining portion of the left side of the eye to a medium brown color.






Next lightly burn over the iris ring.  The ring is not a uniform color, so vary the color as you burn. 







Finishing up the iris ring.




Before we go any further, I need to explain how to create a scale.  We’ll start with the circular scales and then move onto the irregular shaped scales. 




If you fill a circle with uniform color, it is going to look like a flat disk as this photo shows.  






By shading the circle you can transform the flat disk into a round ball.







Depending on how you shade the circle, you can control how rounded the object looks.  Looking at the photo the first circle is a flat disk, the second a very rounded ball, and the last is a slightly domed circle.

Altering how the circle looks is done by controlling the contrast.  The first circle has no contrast, so it looks flat.   The middle circle has high contrast, so it looks very rounded.  The last circle has a little contrast, so it looks domed.  



The high contrast circle was created by burning around the edges of the circle numerous times to build up the dark color level.  Then the unburned center was lightly burned over.   Because the edges are so much darker than the center, it makes the circle appear very rounded.







The low contrast circle was created by burning the circle a uniform tan color and then burning about the edges of the circle one or two times.  This increased the contrast slightly between the center and the edges and that gives a slight curve to the edges.





Let’s take our circle and add a highlight and a shadow on it.  I put a little ‘x’ near the circle to indicate where the light source is.  I find this helpful as it tells me where the highlight and the shadow should be.







First burn around the edge of the circle.   The edges are the sides of the scale, so they won’t receive as much sunlight as the flattened scale top does.






Then fill in the circle with a tan color than is a shade or two lighter than the edge.   Remember the top of the scales are fairly flat and receive more sunlight than the sides do.  Thus the reason the sides should be darker. 







I used circular motion to color the scales in.  The reason is that circular motion generally creates little variances as you burn.  The variances are very subtle, but I think it adds to the overall texture or look of the scales.


Make sure to leave a thin un-burned band near the edge of the circle where it is closest to the x mark or light source.  The thin, un-burned, band is the highlight and highlights are ALWAYS on the side closest to the light source.







Add a shadow by re-burning along the edge of the circle that is farthest away from the x.   Again, the edge represents the side of the scale.






Let’s do that again, but we’ll shift the sun’s location to a new spot.   Like before, I put a little ‘x’ to indicate where the light was coming from.   Also, I’m going to change the order of some of the steps just to show that you don’t have to do them in the exact same order to get the same look.





Burn the sides of the scales aka the edge of the circle.








Add the shadow by re-burning along the side of the scale that is opposite of the x.   







Fill-in the scale, but leave a thin un-burned band for the highlight along the flatten top closest to the x.








This photo shows some scales that are not round. 



These first three scales show the same features as the first 3 circular scales.  The first scale is flat because there isn’t any contrast.  The second scale has an extreme contrast and, so, looks very rounded.  The last scale is slightly rounded since it has little contrast.




Let’s create a non-round scale.    As you can see from the photo, I’ve marked the light source with a x.








Burn around the sides of the scale. 







Then fill in the scale, but leave a thin band, closest to the light source, very pale as this is the highlight.






Create the slight shadow by darkening up the side opposite of the light source.







One last time.  Like before we’ll move the light source.







Mark your light source and then burn around the edges or sides of the scale.







Fill in the scale leaving the area closest to the light source pale.









Darken up the shadows.  






With an understanding of how you can create scales, we’re ready to start on the eyelids. 






There are 3 eyelids, as I’m calling them, around the eye that are fairly pale and have very few really defined scales on them. 






The first or upper lid is very pale on the top of the lid where it’s receiving the most light.






The sides of the lid get a little darker and have a couple of fairly defined scales.






Along the seam are shadows.  The seam is where the upper eyelid and the brow touch.






The lower eyelid next to the eye had a bright reflection along the right side of it.






It also has dark blue coloring along the upper portion of the lid.






This lid is very rounded, so the lower portion of it is in shadows.






The last eyelid has defined scales along both ends.






This lid also has a round shape, so the lower edge is in shadows. 






Lastly, there are some fairly defined scales along the edges of this eyelid.  The right side has a little cluster of them. Whereas the left side has a couple before transitioning into body scales.





Burn in the skin, darkly, to the right of the eye.  Make sure to avoid the highlight.






Rotate the wood and burn in the dark area on the lower lid.







Finishing up.






Next burn in the shadow along the lower edge of this lid and extend the color slightly from the edge.  The color should fade the further from the edge you get.  





Continued work.







Finish adding the color along the bottom of the lid.  Notice how the color is darkest near the edge or seam.  The seam is where the two lids touch.   The color gradually fades near the halfway mark on the lid and this is what gives the lid a round appearance.





Burn along the bottom edge of the second lid.  Don’t extend the color as much on this lid.  We’ll come back to it later.






There are three scales along the edges of the upper lid with a bit more definition to them.  They are rounded in shape, but very pale in color.  Burn in the shadow along the lower edge to give them shape, but don’t get the color too dark.





Do the same with the two roundish scales on the other side of the eyelid.






Rotate the board, if needed, and burn along the seam of the upper lid.  Extend the color along the edge of the first of the three scales.






Next, start burning in the skin found around the scales.  In the reference photo this looks dark blue.  Maybe it’s just coloring on the scales, but I’m calling it skin.





Do the same with the left side of the eye.







Sorry, I did bounce around a bit while working on the eye.   Back to burning the skin on the right side of the eye.  






Continued work.






Lightly burn over the three scales on the upper lid, but keep the upper edge paler than the lower.   Or, to put it another way, make sure to keep the shadow a shade or two darker.





Burn in the darker areas along the seam on the upper lid.






Then lightly burn over the rest of the lid, but make sure to leave the top the palest area.  I recommend consulting the reference photo as you work in this area. 





Here’s a progress photo.   I had a gremlin infestation and lost a little video, so make sure to lightly burn over the light reflection in the eye.  Please note that if my husband should mention something like ‘user error’ don’t believe him.  





Switch to a writer pen tip to burn the skin around the scales.  I’m using a standard writer pen versus the micro writer I normally use.  






Colwood’s micro writer has a small tip on it and is great for drawing lines and creating small dots. 





The standard C writer pen tip has more surface area.  Depending on how I have it angled, I can draw thin lines or thick bands.  I like the versatility of it and use it in small places where I need to draw lines and/or do a little shading.    This helped reduce the number of times I was switching between pen tips.



Consult with the reference photo as you burn in the skin around the scales to the right of the eye.






Continued work.






If needed, use the writer to re-burn the dark area along the edge of the first lower lid.






Use the shader to finish the 2nd lower lid.







Next individually burn in each of the little scales to the right of the eye.  Quite a few of these scales are in shadows, so they don’t have highlights. 






Along the right edge of the lowest eyelid area a group of very rounded scales.  Burn lightly all around the edges and leave the centers a couple shades paler.   





Continued work.







The last thing to do in this step is burn in the small scale on the left side of the lowest lid.  At this point the third eyelid starts to merge with the very defined scales on the rest of the body, and we’ll get into those a little later.







The next area we will burn in is the upper snout.  In this area we start to see some of the dark blue bumps on the scales.  I purposely omitted those from my artwork because I didn’t think they would translate well. 





My concern is that the dark blue bumps would end up looking like shadows on the scales.   Looking at a black & white rendition of the reference photo makes me feel like I made the right decision.  You may or may not agree and that’s ok.   I like to explain why I make the choices I do in my art and then it’s up to you to decide whether or not you want to do the same thing. 



The area circled in yellow on the reference photo indicates the area we’ll work on next.  






First, notice the thin dark line that runs in an almost straight line along the bottom of this area.






Also notice how the highlights change location depending on where the scales are. The blue arrow points to a scale on the side of the snout and the light strikes along the upper edge.   Whereas the yellow arrow points to scales on top of the snout that have light reflecting along the front left edge.




The scales along this area I call transition scales because they are where the snout changes from the side to the top of the snout.  What makes these couple of scale noteworthy is how the light strikes along the ‘bend’ where they transition from the side to the top of the snout.





Lastly notice how the scales along the far side of the snout are a little fuzzy or not as in-focus as the closer scales area.






Really at this point it is a matter of burning one scale at a time.  Check the reference photo first and then replicate what you see.






Most of the scales on the lizard are fairly flat, so the contrast levels should not be extreme.






In this photo you can see there are some ‘blotches’ of irregular coloring on the scales.  As I mentioned before, I used circular motion to burn in the scales because I wanted those irregularities. The scales have little depressions and bumps on them, so the light doesn’t strike it uniformly.   






The further from the eye you get you’ll see some highlights on the scales.  I did mark these on the pattern with tiny dotted lines.  If you look closely at the photo you’ll see that I faintly burned in those tiny dotted lines.





I should point out that there are a couple scales that have highlights along the left side, but the shadow runs along the entire lower edge instead of just on the right side.  This isn’t anything you can’t handle; just be aware of it and burn the scales accordingly.





Continue to burn in the scales individually checking often with the reference photo to determine shadow placement and if there are any highlights.  Keep in mind that while I provide a pattern, it might have errors.  I try to make them as accurate as possible, but sometimes ‘oops’ happen.





Notice how my scales have slightly rounded sides and a few have highlights.  As I mentioned before, the rounded sides are created by burning around the edges of the scale so they are a shade or two darker than the top.  The highlights are created by either not burning in the area or very lightly burning in the area.   




In this photo I’m working on the transition scales.  The only thing to keep in mind is that the highlight runs long the bend.






Remember that the scales along the far side of the snout don’t have as much detail to them, so reduce the contrast.  Or, put another way, burn them so they are fairly uniform in color.







Finishing up the snout.









The next area we will burn is everything remaining above the mouth; eye ridges, top of the head, and upper jaw. 






Here’s our reference photo for this area and we’ll be concentrating on the area between the yellow lines.






The first items are the two eye ridges.  Notice how sharp and in focus the closer ridge is (yellow arrow).  It has lots of distinct scales with their own highlights and shadows.  The back ridge looks more like rows of ‘v’ shaped scales (red arrow).  

Now I will admit right now that I didn’t do a good job of making the back ridge seem blurry.  Or maybe it’s that my closer ridge isn’t distinct enough. 



The scales along this row are transition scales, so notice how the highlight runs along the middle of them.






Along this area we see the dark blue skin, or what I’m calling skin.






The skin between the scales in this area is visible, but not near as dark the skin above.






The last thing I want to point out is the white area along the mouth.  If you are burning in the entire face, this white area extends to the end of the snout and encompasses the front of the mouth.





Start with the ‘v’ scales along the back ridge.  Remember they are a little blurry, so don’t make the lines super crisp.






Continue to burn in the slightly blurry scales along the far edge of the head.





The next row of scales are a little more in focus and there are some highlights.   Work your way towards the front eye ridge.





When you get to the eye ridge, burn in the skin that is present along the left side.  I’m using the razor edge of the shader for this, but it might be easier to switch to a writer pen tip.





Move to the right side of the ridge and start burning in the scales on the ridge.  Be sure to consult the reference photo often as you work.





Continued work.






Some of the scales above the eyelid are pretty small, so I switched to a mini shader for this area.  If you don’t have a mini shader, then you might want to use a writer.






Continued work.






Finishing up.







Now if might be difficult to avoid burning on the highlights in this area since the scales are so small.   You can use an eraser for ink to ‘erase’ some of the color to create the highlight.  Most likely you need to add a few shadows back in as the ink eraser isn’t small enough to work on one scale at a time.




Now we’re going to work on the area right next to the eye. 

Please ignore that the eye ridge isn’t done in the next few photos.   I thought it would make the tutorial easier to follow by grouping all of the information on the eye ridge together.




This area has a lot going on.  To replicate this I added blotches of color that varied in darkness. 






Here’s a progress photo.  





Because the area by the eye had a lot going on I’d work on it for a little bit and leave.  I found this helped me, and maybe it will help you too.  In this photo I burned in a few more scales by the eye ridge.






Another round of working on the area next to the eye.






Burning some nearby scales.






Finishing up the eye area.







Now return to the scales near the top of the head and burn in the last row.







Then start working on the scales along the side.  This is the area where the skin is showing in places.






I’m using the mini shader in this area as it is small enough to take care of the skin, but large enough to handle the scales.  Depending on what pen tips you have, it might be easier to burn in the scales and then switch to a writer to burn in the skin.





Continued work.







I can’t emphasize enough the need to consult the reference photo frequently as you work.  I burn in one or two scales at the most and then consult with the reference photo before moving on.  






Be mindful that when the skin isn’t showing, the area between the scales shouldn’t be so dark.







In this photo I’m working my way towards the mouth. 







Something I haven’t mentioned before is the need to keep your scales consistent in color.  As you burn in each scale individually, make sure that it is the same color or darkness level as the nearby scales.  It would look very off or wrong to have a really dark scale surrounded by much paler scales.


Rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position when you burn the dark line along the mouth.







I burned this area in sections.  So I’d burn in part of the dark mouth line and then burn the scales above it before burning along section of the mouth.





You can do the same or you can burn in all of the scales and then burn in the mouth line.  Either way will get you the same results.





Continued work on the scales.






Make sure to avoid burning in the white area found just about the dark mouth line.  The white area starts below the eye and continue to the end of the snout.






Also in this area there is a shadow on the lower jaw, so you need to burn the mouth line UNDER the upper jaw.






Continued work on the scales.







Finishing up the scales.





Lastly, lightly burn along the lower edge of the upper jaw.  The lip, if you will, curves inward, so the lower edge is lightly shadowed.







The only thing left on the lizard is the lower jaw.






Here’s our reference photo and we need to concentrate on everything below the yellow line.






The first thing I notice is the shadowed area on the left side.






Closer examination of the shadowed area reveals that we see just the tops of the scales along the underside of the jaw.






Lastly, there is a shadow being cast onto the lower jaw.  Yes, we did take care of this already, but I decided to mention it anyways since it’s better late than never. 





Begin by burning in the cast shadow, if you haven’t done so already, and then start burning in the scales.





Continue to burn in each scale individually working your way towards the back of the jaw.





Continued work.






Burn in the scales in the shadowed area. 






If needed, burn over the shadowed area to darken it up.








I wanted the lizard to pop a little more, so I decided to burn in the background.  This is an optional step. 






Rotate the wood so the pen tip is in optimal position and burn along the edge of the lizard’s face.





Burn in the rest of the background using the burn method of your choice. 





I do find that burning with the wood grain it is much easier than burning across it. 







Below is a before and after comparison showing how burning in the background altered the impact of the art.

The scales in the right ‘after’ photo seem a touch paler than the scales on the left.   That is a byproduct of contrast.   On the left, the scales appear darker than the background since the background is unburned.  On the right the background is darker, so the scales seem paler.  



That’s it for this tutorial.   While I didn’t create a new Marvel character, I did create a rather decent looking face of a lizard.  I hope you found the information useful and easy to follow along.    If you try this artwork send me a picture as I’d love to see it.  Send the picture to:

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on die-cut plywood that measures 4 ¾ x 6 ½ inches (12.1 x 16.5 cm).  It took me 9 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 you’re learning to create pyrography artwork, and hopefully having fun while doing so.

 Until the next blog,


Nov 9, 2018


Want to subscribe? 

  • Click on the “Leave a Comment” field at the end of any post (blog) and a subscribe option will appear.
  • Put something in the comment field (if you put “test” or “just subscribing” I won’t make your comment public)
  • Fill in the sections for your email address and name, and then click on the “notify me of new posts via email.”
  • You will get a confirmation email from WordPress confirming you want to subscribe.
  • Click on the confirm button in that email and you’re done.

Please note that I do not send out emails.   If you have a WordPress account there is a way to subscribe within the WordPress system, but I cannot provide specifics on how it works as I don’t know.

2 thoughts on “Lizard Face Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

  1. I loved this tutorial. I am a gourd artist and trying desperately to learn technique on pyrography. I want to do a long curly gourd and make it into a snake. This is the perfect instructions to begin. I shared your youtube videos with our patch. They are so filled with great information, Thank you.

    1. Hi Diana,
      I’m so glad that my tutorial is helpful. Pyrography is a lot of fun and I really enjoy sharing my love it. Thanks for sharing my videos on your patch and for your wonderful comment I appreciate it.

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.