Pyrography Tutorial Bobcat pyrography techniques for realistic fur in wood burning

In this pyrography tutorial blog, I’m going to explain how to create the Bobcat artwork.  I will show you my zigzag burn stroke technique to creating realistic looking fur.  The reference photo for this artwork was taken by my husband, Todd, while we were visiting the Oregon Zoo.  The bobcat was sitting in a patch of morning sunlight and the sun’s angle created some deep shadows on and around the cat.  I instantly loved how dramatic the photo looked and knew I had to create a pyrography version of the image.    My goal with artwork is to show you how easy it is to create very realistic looking fur using zigzag strokes.

Let’s get to work, and please leave a comment and let me know if I accomplished my goal.

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




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




Ear – this video is a compilation all of the video clips showing how to create the the ear.  To watch the tutorial on just the ear click on the image to the left.  

There is reader submitted art at the bottom of the blog, so please check that out.



  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 10 x 10 inch (25.4 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
  • Attached pattern (shrink or enlarge as needed)  Bobcat pattern
  • White Charcoal Pencil (optional) – – DO NOT USE A COLORED PENCIL! 


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

Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet.  Let the board dry and then sand again.

This will produce a super smooth surface and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be. 






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.   






We are going to begin by embossing the whiskers down into the surface of the wood and then we’ll burning the trace lines. 







First look at your whisker lines and determine if they need to be lightened up.  My whiskers are pretty dark and all of the graphite will get shoved to the bottom of the embossed line, so I need to lighten up my pencil marks.







This is a simple process of just erasing over the lines.  The goal is to leave just enough of pencil to see the line, but barely.








Here’s how the whiskers looked after I erased them.  The yellow arrow is pointing to some whiskers I burned in before erasing the pencil lines, and, as you can see, the whiskers are pretty dark looking.







Use a writer pen tip on LOW HEAT and burn over the whisker lines.  Press firmly as you want to create a deep channel or groove along the line. 

I use a heat setting of 1 on my burner which goes to 10.  If you are coloring the wood at all when you’re doing this, your heat is too high.  You want just enough heat to make it easier for the tip to push into the wood.



Always start the burning at the source of the whisker (jaw).  The starting point of a line tends to be thick and when you end the line, pull away quickly to leave a tapered point.






Next firmly rub over the whisker (and only the whiskers) with a pencil eraser to remove any embedded graphite.






If needed, use the tip of a sharp knife to scrape along the embossed lines and remove any graphite that got pushed to the bottom.






Here’s how my whiskers end up.  







Make sure to do the same steps on the brow whiskers (yellow arrow).


With the whiskers embossed, we will burn the eye and some of the trace lines around it.







Use a writer pen tip to burn short dark lines along the top of the eye.






Then burn in the remaining pencil lines on the eye.






Here’s how the eye looked once I was done.







Burn over the trace lines immediately around the eye.  Make sure to burn the lines in the same direction as drawn on the pattern.  I drew the lines in the fur’s growth direction, so it’s important to burn them the way they were drawn.





MAKE SURE TO BURN THE TRACE LINES TO A LIGHT TAN COLOR!   Keeping the lines pale will make it much easier to blend them in with the fur.





Continue work burning in trace lines.






Notice how I’m keeping the burn lines short and in the same direction as what was drawn on the pattern. 







Fill in the eye to the left of the iris with a dark brown or black color.







Burn darkly along the top of the eye.  Make sure to keep the jagged hairline.





Darken up a few of the lines in the eye brow.







Rotate the wood and burn along the bottom edge of the eye.  Rotating the wood will make it easy to keep the pen tip in optimal position while burning. 





If you’re unfamiliar with my terminology, I have a blog that explains them: Using the Shader



Burn the eye to a dark brown/black color, but don’t burn over the part of the iris that is showing.





Burn over the iris.  The top part of the iris is much darker than the bottom.    I burned the top part to a brown color and the bottom a dark tan.






Burn in the dark spot just above the corner of the eye.








In this step we will burn the background around the contours of the face and burn in the left ear.







First let’s finish burning in the trace lines using the razor edge of the shader.






Remember to burn the lines in the same direction as they were drawn on the pattern.






Also make sure to keep the lines pale in color.






DO NOT burn the wispy hairs on the ear as we’ll handle those a bit differently. 


Leave the trace lines for the ear hair on both ears unburned. 



Continued work.







Use a pencil eraser and remove the pencil lines around the ear.  Make sure to leave just a trace of the wispy hair lines.






Use a white charcoal pencil and redraw in the wispy hair lines.  Always start the lines on the ear side.







And draw the line outward towards the background.  That will create a nice tapered end to the line.






DO NOT USE A COLORED PENCIL!   Color pencils will melt and char under the heat of the pen tip.  Charcoal resists the heat.  I use white charcoal because it doesn’t discolor the wood and it’s very easy to see against the burn marks.


Here’s how my white charcoal wispy hairs look.







Use a shader pen tip of your choice and start burning the background behind the white charcoal lines.  Be careful and avoid burning on the lines.  The charcoal will resist the heat, but won’t completely prevent it from darkening up the wood.





This photo shows how I’m burning around the white lines. 







Notice how well the white charcoal shows up against the burn marks?  It’s why I love to use white charcoal. 



Charcoal smears very easily, so avoid touching, rubbing, or resting your hand on any area that has charcoal on it. 




Now burn short dark lines on the background just above the top of the head.   Make sure to burn the lines ON THE BACKGROUND.  You can extend the lines slightly onto the cat’s head, but the majority of the line should be on the background. 






These lines will give a jagged look to the area and it creates the look of little bits of hair sticking up here and there.   







Create a buffer zone by burning a dark brown to black color band that is 1/4 inch wide (0.64 cm).  Be careful to keep the jagged hairline as you work.






Rotate the wood, if needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you burn along the edge of the ear.






Erase the charcoal lines.







Burn tan pull-away strokes along the base of the ear.  Start the stroke on the base of the ear (where it touches the top of the head) and pull the stroke up and curve it gently towards the wispy ear hairs.   Stop the stroke once it is around 1/4 inch (0.64 cm) long.






It will take several layers of pull-away strokes to build up the color on the ear.  You want it to be slightly darker at the base and lighter at the end of the burn stroke.






Darken up the top of the ear.









Now burn new pull-away strokes, but start these strokes where the old ones ended.  Pull the stroke towards the ear hairs and let a few of the strokes extend to the end of the hairs.   Make sure to vary the color just a little with the strokes.  This will give the impression of different colors and layers of hair.






Darken up where the new pull-away strokes started (the base of the wispy hairs).







Continued work.







Here’s how the ear turned out.








Now we’re going to create a buffer zone around the cat’s face.  This is done by burning short dark lines on the background right next to the edge of the fur.  Allow some of the lines to cross over into the fur area.   Then burn a 1/4 inch or so (0.64 cm) wide band of dark brown or black next to the lines.

Why create a buffer zone?   The buffer zone allows us to work more quickly on the background because we don’t have to get close to the cat where precision is needed.



I’ve found that my whisker lines stay cleaner if I burn along one edge.







Then I rotate the board and burn along the opposite edge.  This keeps the pen tip in optimal position while burning.







Continue to work your way around the contours of the cats’ face creating a buffer zone.







This section of the jaw is in shadows, but it can still be seen against the dark background.  Burn this area between the whiskers to a dark tan color.







Continue to work your way around the face.







Continued work.







Shift the direction of the short dark lines when working along the back of the neck.  The lines should be more horizontal now instead of vertical.







With about every 3rd line on the pattern burn a line above and below.  This is similar to how we burned in the wispy ear hairs minus the white charcoal. 





After burning the short dark lines remember to create the buffer zone.







Finish burning the short dark lines along the patch of neck fur.  Notice how long I burned the lines below the fur patch.  If you look closely, you’ll see the pencil lines that mark the end of the visible fur. 





I created a Transition Zone by burning the long dark lines BELOW the pencil marks.  The transition zone is where the fur ends and the shadows begin.  We don’t want this to be a straight line, so that’s why I varied where the lines start and end.  This created a very jagged area in the transition zone.   Below the transition zone create a buffer zone.




There is another patch of fur a little distance down from the neck patch.  Create a transition zone above this patch.  The area between the two transition zones can be burned to a dark brown/black color.  It’s such a small area that it’s easier to just burn in the area instead of creating a buffer zone.




Burn dark pull-away strokes along the cast shadow line.  Start the stroke on the line and pull it towards the cat’s face.   The strokes at the top of the ear should be just light enough to show against the dark background. 





Continued work.








Burn the long lines for the transition zone on this patch of fur in the photo.  Note that this was the only photo I could get where you can fully see the transition zone.






Rotate the wood, if needed, and burn pull-away strokes along the edge of the ear.  Start the stroke on the edge of the ear and pull it towards the shadow line.  Again when working at the top of the ear keep the color a shade or two lighter than the background. 





Leave a wide area around the ear flap (or whatever you call this) un-burned as we’ll work on this area later.






Finish burning in the cast shadow.







Continue to create transition zones around the fur patches and burn in the dark shadows between the fur patches.






Continued work. 






Now we’re going to burn in the fur patches using zigzag strokes.  To create depth and realism requires burning several layers of zigzags.  Initially the layers are pretty light in color, so it might be hard to see what is going on.  To help you understand my process I’m going to provide a zigzag demo that I burned a lot darker, so it should be much easier to see what I’m doing.







What is a zigzag?   A zigzag is literally a line burned in a back and forth or zigzag motion.







Zigzag Burst

 I refer to each zigzag as a zigzag burst.  This picture has 9 (or maybe 10) zigzag bursts in it.







Each burst has between 3-7 lines in it.  It’s important to vary the number of lines and how long the lines are.  Also vary the distance between the lines.

Zigzag Patch

A zigzag patch is a grouping of zigzag bursts.








It is important to vary where you start each burst in the patch.







Seriously, it is really important to vary where you start each zigzag burst.  This rule remains even when re-burning over a zigzag patch!






Zigzag Bands

DO NOT burn bands or rows of zigzags!







Bands of zigzags do not even remotely resemble the look of fur. 








No bands or long rows of zigzags allowed.





Flat vs Edge

In this photo I’m using the flat of the shader to burn zigzag bursts.  Notice how thick or wide each line in the burst is.







To me this does not look like fur texture either as the lines are just too thick.







In this photo I have angled the pen tip so that I’m using the razor edge tip of it.  Notice how much thinner the lines are.  This is what you’re after.






Here’s the comparison showing how different the patches look. 








In this photo I’m just finishing up a patch of zigzags using a heavy hand pressure as I burned.  The patch to the right was created using light pressure.  They don’t look a lot difference except the left one is darker.






I found the process of burning another layer of zigzags over the patch easy to do on the light pressure side.  For the record, the second layer was applied using the same light pressure.






With the heavy pressure side, I found it very difficult to burn another layer.  The pen tip wanted to get down in the deep lines from the first burn.  I think all I really accomplished was to deepen the lines even more.





Here’s a comparison of the two burns.  The patch on the left was created using heavy pressure and the one on the right was done with a light hand pressure.  The left side looks deeply rutted.







I angled the board a little to try and show just how deep the lines went on the left patch.  I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some of the wood started flaking off if I tried to add another layer of zigzags.






Layer It Up

Here is a photo of a zigzag patch with one layer of zigzags.








Now I’m burning a second layer of zigzags onto the patch. 







The second layer darkens up the patch a little and fills in some of the unburned gaps.  It also adds texture and tonal depth to the patch.  Each layer continues to add to the texture and depth of the burn and this really helps provide realism to the fur.




Growth Direction

The last thing I want to demo is the fur growth direction.








It is extremely important to burn the zigzag bursts in the same direction that the fur grows.   In this photo I’m working on the area that would be above the nose.  This area tends to have vertically aligned fur. 






Burning in the growth direction of the fur and varying where each zigzag burst starts are the two most important aspects to creating realistic fur using the zigzag stroke method.



As I start burning towards the eye, the fur direction changes, so in this photo I’m starting to change the angle I’m burning the zigzags in.







Now I’m burning directly above the eye and the angle of the burn has become almost horizontal.






As I fill in the area or expand the patch, I keep the zigzags in the same horizontal direction.






In this photo I’m starting to change the angle of the burn along the lower corner of the eye.







Continued work.








With this photo you can see the gradual angle change as I work my way from right to left below the eye.






The burn strokes along the left side of the eye are horizontal.







To contour or give shape to the fur, you re-burn as needed.  In this photo I’m re-burning along the right side of the eye.  This darkens the area and makes it look recessed or sunken down from the fur on the nose area. 






Often it takes a couple rounds of re-burning before the area is dark enough.







Final Tips for Better Burn Results

  • Thoroughly sand the board before burning. The smoother the wood surface is, the better results you will get.  (see step 1 of this tutorial).
  • Use a light hand pressure.
  • Keep the heat between low and medium. The higher the heat the easier it is for the pen tip to sink down into the wood.  My unit goes to 10 and I have it set around 3.


Now that we have a better understanding of zigzags, let’s create fur texture starting with the nape of the neck.







I want to point out that my goal with the fur on the neck is just to create the general impression of realistic fur.  No one is going to examine the fur that closely on the neck, so I didn’t try to replicate every detail on the reference photo.  Instead the reference photo was used to help determine darkness level and shadow placement. 

Here’s the reference photo for this area. 







The one thing of note I want to point out is the small area where the fur is receiving a touch of sunlight on it.






Equip the shader pen tip of your choice on your burner and set the heat so you get a medium tan burn result.  Then start filling the patch with zigzag bursts.  Remember to vary where you start each burst, and how many lines are in each burst. Also vary the gap between the lines in the burst.






As you can see, there are quite a few small un-burned gaps on the fur patch.  That is perfect.  We want that because we will be adding several layers of zigzags as this creates wonderful tonal depth and texture.







Here’s how the fur patch looks after one layer of zigzags have been burned.








With the first layer of zigzags done, add a second layer.  I’m starting at the bottom and working my way back up to the top.  You can do the same or start at the top and work your way down.  It really doesn’t matter.







What does matter is following the rules or guidelines we used on the first layer while burning in this layer.  In fact, the rules apply for ALL layers of zigzags.






here’s how the patch looked after I applied the second layer of zigzags.








Here’s a composite photo showing how the fur patch looked after the layers of zigzags were done.  As you can see, there isn’t a huge difference.






We’re going to add another layer of zigzags using the same rules that we did during the first to layers.  To refresh you; vary where you start each burst, vary the number of lines in each burst, and vary the gap or space between the lines in each burst.





During this layer of adding zigzags, make sure to also burn over the transition zone.  I used a combination of zigzags and thick single strokes on the transition zone.  The thick single strokes were all started in the dark buffer zone and pulled up into the transition zone.




Here’s how the patch looks after I was done with the 3rd layer. 









This composite photo shows how the patch looks at the end of each layer of zigzags.   With each layer the overall darkness of the fur patch increases as does the tonal depth of the patch.




The patch is still too light, so add another layer of zigzags.  Again follow the same rules or guidelines that were used in the previous layers.








Continued work on the 4th layer.







Finishing up the 4th layer.






Here’s how the 4th layer looks.






I want to point out the small patch of pale fur marked by the yellow arrow.  If you look at the reference photo this spot is several shades lighter than the rest of the fur patch.





The small patch I pointed out in the previous photo is the foundation of the sunlit patch of fur circled on the reference photo.






I think the patch still needs to be darkened up.  You will have to evaluate your patch and decide if you have the same issue.





To darken up the patch is a matter of re-burning another layer of zigzag bursts over it.






Also finish up the buffer zone if you have any spots where it is lacking.  






Continued work on the next layer of zigzag bursts.






Also make sure to work on the transition zone again.






Here’s how the patch looked once I was done with the 5th layer of zigzags.







This composite photo shows the difference between the 4th & 5th layer of zigzags.



I want to pause a moment and just look at the fur patch to get an impression of it.    When I look at the fur patch I think it looks flat.  It reminds of fur, but it doesn’t have any shape to it, so that needs to get fixed.





The final step with this patch is to contour or give shape to the fur patch.  Start by darkening up along the top portion on the right side of the patch.






Also darken up along the transition zone. 







During the contouring process the goal is to add the shadows to give the area shape.  The yellow arrow is pointing to the top portion of the fur that was darkened up considerably making it look like it is in shadows.   This was accomplished by making sure to burn in the little gaps between the lines to a brown color.




Lastly make sure to darken up around the sunlit patch to increase the contrast.






Here’s how the patch looked once I was done contouring it.







Compare this composite photo and notice how the patch has a little more shape to it.   Looking at the photo I do wish I had made the transition zone a lot more jagged.   Even to the point where there were small gaps of missing fur (highly shadowed fur).




Our next patch of fur is just below the nape of the neck.








Here’s our reference photo for this patch of fur.  The fur is a touch longer in this patch. 








Here’s how the patch looks before I did anything to it.








Begin by darkening up the transition zone along the top of the patch. 







In addition to zigzags, I also burned some long thick lines.  The lines started in the transition zone and entered the fur patch.






Do the same thing along the bottom transition zone.







Use the flat of the shader to fill the patch with long tan lines of varying color.  Notice how the lines all have different curves on them.   The lines start in the transition zone and get pulled into the fur patch.





Continue to burn more long tan lines on the patch.  The process of filling the patch with tan lines will take several rounds of re-burnings to build up the color and texture of the fur.






The lines burned along the bottom transition zone are not as long as the ones along the top.






The lower portion of this fur patch is shadowed.









Burn a jagged or irregular transition line to create an upper and lower portion of the patch.   I did this by burning a few dark tan lines in one spot.  Then I moved to another spot and repeated.   This will start to push the lower portion of the patch into the shadows.





Darken up the lower portion of the patch, but continue to burn in the area using long lines in the tan hue range.







Here’s how the patch looks so far.







Fill the top portion of the patch with zigzags.







Then darken up the back half of the patch.






Darken up the front edge of the patch.  In this picture I’m eliminating most of the transition zone, but making sure to leave a couple of single hairs sticking out.






Here’s how the patch looks.







Now create a few pale long hairs.  This is done by burning around where you want the hair to be. 






To do this, I look at the patch and if there is the start of a pale line already in existence, then I burn around it to emphasize the line.  The yellow lines indicate the places I would turn into the pale hairs. 





You can also use an X-acto knife to scrape in a few of the hairs.






Continued work.








The patch is done.









The third patch of fur is to the right of the first 2.  I lost a little video from this patch, but I think we’ll manage just fine.








Here’s the reference photo.  There is a shadow line running through the area and the lower half of the patch is in shadows.   Use the same process to burn in this fur patch that was used on the first fur patch.








Begin by burning a layer of zigzags over the patch.







Continued work.







Darken up the transition zone.







Add zigzags to the lower portion of the patch.






Work on the transition zone along the back of the patch.








This is the last shot I have from the video.







Here’s how the patch looked once I was done.   








Our last patch of fur is the patch in the lower right hand corner of the photo.








Here’s the reference photo.  What I notice is that the fur is short and the lower right corner is in shadows.   Handle the patch using the same methods that were used on fur patch 1.  There are a few “long” hairs to the left of the shadowed corner.  You can create them like we did on the 2nd fur patch or you can make all of the fur the same length.






Burn a dark transition zone around the fur patch. 







The darken up the background around the fur patch to a dark brown or black color.





Burn a layer of zigzags over the fur patch.  Use the exact same rules or guidelines that were explained in the demo and in fur patch 1.






Continued work.







Darken up the lower right corner of the fur patch







Create a few longer hairs, if you want.  Otherwise just add more zigzag bursts.





Here’s how the patch looks so far.






Add another layer of zigzags over the fur patch to darken up the overall color.






Continued work.






Contour the fur patch.  There is a slight shadowed area where I’m working in the picture.





If needed, re-burn to darken up the lower right corner a little more.






Define a few more longer hairs.






All done.







The last thing to do in this step is burn in the remainder of the background.









Equip the shader of your choice and set the heat on your burner to a medium-high temperature. 






Burn carefully around the whiskers.






I accidently charred some of my whiskers.  Apparently I didn’t emboss it deep enough.  The yellow arrow is pointing to the whisker that got the worst of the charring.






To fix, use the point of a sharp knife to scrape away the charring.  I’m using an X-acto knife as it has a very fine (small) tip on it.





Resume burning in the background to a dark brown or black color.







Continued work.






Finishing up.








To finish the artwork we need to do is burn in the Bobcat’s face. The face as a lot more tonal variations and markings on it, but I’m confident you will handle this just fine as the basic process of burning zigzags remains the same.







I want to mention now that I tend to bounce around a bit on the face.  The reason is that the face has a lot going on, and bouncing around allows me to do two things:  1) build up proper color and contrast, and 2) have fresh eyes. 

  • As I work I’m constantly comparing the area I’m working in with the surrounding area to make sure the color is similar. I also frequently compare my work with the reference photo to determine if I need to increase the darkness level, add facial markings, etc.
  • If you stare at one area for too long your eyes get numb to what you’re seeing. By moving around as I work, my eye don’t get numb; they stay fresh.  I’m more likely to notice details and errors when my eyes are fresh.


Here’s the reference photo.



Keep the reference photo nearby as you work and consult it often.   As you saw with the last fur patch, I keep the reference photo very close.





Do not burn uniform layers of zigzags on the face like we did with the neck fur.  The reason is that you will lose the guidelines for the markings and shadows on the face.   Instead, as you burn make sure to re-burn as needed to create markings and shadows.


Start by burning short lines and very small zigzag bursts along the inner corner of the eye.







Follow the curve of the cheek and burn zigzag bursts down towards the whiskers.






Darken up the dark dot near the nose.







Continue to fill the area along the nose between the eye and whiskers with zigzag burst.  Make sure to burn them in the growth direction of the fur.






Darken up the corner of the eye under the brow just past the white spot.







Then add a layer of zigzags to the nose making sure to follow the growth direction of the fur.  The inset reference photo has yellow lines drawn on it indicating the growth direction of the fur.






Continued work.







Burn in the dark marking on the brow that starts at the dark corner of the eye.   The inset photo has the area I’m referring to marked with a yellow circle.






Burn around the small whitish streak on the cheek.







Re-burn along the side of the nose to darken up the area.  Start at the corner of the eye and work your way down along the curve of the cheek and the side of the nose.






Keep your pen tip in optimal position as you burn along the outer edges of the nostril.  Then fill the area to a dark brown or black color.







Here’s a progress photo.








Rotate the wood so your pen tip stays in optimal position and finish burning along the edges of the nostril.






Burn in the dark spots along the jaw.  I used a zigzag burn stroke for this, but I didn’t leave many, if any, gaps, and I burned in a long continuous line where I could.





Finish the first row of dark spots and then re-burn along the dark spot along the side of the nose to darken up the fur between it and the dark spots below.






Burn a layer of zigzags on the cheek.  Keep the burns sparse and very pale on the white streaks.






Re-burn the dark eye corner under the brown and add a few more dark lines on the patch above it.






When working on white steaks, I tend to use very few zigzag bursts and instead burn single lines.  I keep the color pale and I don’t completely cover the area.





Continue to burn in the brow area.  I want to point out that I do not burn a uniform layer of zigzags like I did on the neck fur.  The reason is that the face has markings on it, so as I burn the face I re-burn over the marking areas to make sure they remain.





Add zigzags to the cheek across from the eye, but make sure to darken up any markings while you work.







Continued work.







Darken up along the far right edge.