Portrait 2 BABY FACE PYROGRAPHY TUTORIAL wood burning techniques

This is the second installment of my portrait tutorial series.  As promised this tutorial covers the entire face instead of just the eyes and nose as the last one did.  Ok, I didn’t burn in the top of the head, but that area isn’t any different than the forehead or the cheeks.  I will be covering everything you need to know to complete this tutorial.  We will transfer the image, create the artwork, sign off on the artwork and discuss fixing mistakes.  Also, I will be testing out a different brand of watercolor paper for this tutorial.

I’m releasing the YouTube version of the tutorial at the same time as I think that will help show what I’m trying to explain.  To watch the video, just click on the image to the left. 




If you’d like to watch a time lapse video of the artwork being created, then click on the image to the left.

One last thing,  I want to apologize now for the bad color of the photos.  They are screen shots from the video and the camera turned everything a blue hue.  I need to get better lighting for my studio. 

Now, let’s get started.


I rate this as a level 3 because you need a good ability to create uniform color and smooth gradient color.  Also you need to learn to see beyond familiar shapes and instead see highlights and shadows.  All of these are skills anyone can learn, but the less experience you have the more difficult this will be at first.


  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood or paper
  • Pencil – HB or higher
  • Eraser

I used a tombow eraser because it always has a small erasing area, so is good for when precision is needed, but any pencil eraser will work.  A kneadable pencil eraser would be great as you can shape it to be any size you need.  Tombow eraser.  

Please note that while I provide a link to the products, I do not receive compensation if you buy them.  Also I did not look to see who was selling the item at the lowest price.  Instead I used the link for the first item I found.



In one of my previous tutorials I explained how to make a Sepia and Grey Tone Value Finder.  I do think that such a tool would be very beneficial in portrait work.  Obviously it is not absolutely necessary as I didn’t have one for this artwork, but it might be helpful.  Value Finder 



This is the reference photo I’m using for this tutorial.  I got the photo from Pixabay and it was uploaded by user 1095178.  Here’s a link to the photo:








I cropped the photo as I will only be working from the mid-forehead down to the neck.   This photo was posted in black and white format, so we do not have a color version to deal with. 







If you want to include the top of the head, here’s the photo cropped to include it.










If using wood, then 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.





If using paper, then I recommend securing the paper on a sturdy backer board of some sort.  This will prevent the paper from warping.   Also I recommend using hot pressed paper versus cold pressed.  The reason is that hot pressed paper will have a smoother surface on it.  When looking for paper be aware that hot pressed paper will often designated by the letters HP, and cold pressed with CP. 




I am using a scratchboard by Ampersand because I had one on hand.  A piece of plywood or even thick cardboard will work.  Amazon Ampersand  








This photo is the backside of a project I burned on paper.   All of those tan and brownish marks are areas where the paper got hot, and that heat will transfer to whatever the paper is on and discolor it.  That wouldn’t be good for your table, countertop, etc., so place something UNDER the paper to protect the underlying surface.






For this portrait I’m testing out 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper by Lanaquarelle.  I’m going to tell you right now that I did not care for burning on this paper, so I’m not going to provide a link as I think it would be a waste of your money. 





At the time I wrote this tutorial, Jan 2020, I was working on the pyrography portion for the sixth installment of the portrait series. The paper I’m using for that portrait is my favorite so far.  It is a hot pressed watercolor paper by Winsor & Newton, and it is great for burning on.  Here’s a link to that brand, but make sure to get the Hot Pressed variety.  Winsor Paper 




I used white artist tape to secure the paper to the backing board.  The tape has a medium to low tack rating and is acid-free, so it is less likely to damage the paper like scotch tape would.  White Artist Tape





Now we need to trace the image onto the wood or paper.  I will cover the basics of what needs to be done, but if you have more questions I have a video that goes into the subject in much greater detail.  Tracing





Print out the image on regular copier paper.  In fact, while you are printing, print out two versions of the image.  The first we’ll use for transferring and the other will be used for reference during the burning process.






Flip the paper over and coat the back with graphite.






Here’s how the back of the paper looked once I was done.  Notice how the graphite is not uniformly applied.  That’s ok.  The only thing you need to avoid is creating gaps in the pencil strokes.






 Now secure the image to the surface using two pieces or more of tape.





This photo is from paper that I used scotch tape to secure the tracing image onto.  The paper became very abraded or roughed up where the tape was and nothing can fix this. 




Instead I recommend using a very low tack paper tape like first aid tape.  Paper Tape






Next use a pencil or ink pen and start tracing in the image.   I prefer pencils because they produce finer lines, and I use a mechanical pencil so I don’t have to sharpen it.  Since pencil lines don’t show well, I’m using a red ink pen to draw over the pencil lines I’ve already traced.  If you look closely you can see some of the pencil marks that I haven’t drawn over yet.    

Do not use a heavy hand or exert a lot of pressure when transferring as they will show up as white lines when you shade over them.


I recommend using a combination of solid and dashed lines for this.   Use solid lines in areas with clearly defined edges; the iris, edge of the hat, crease in the eyelid above the eye, etc.   Use dashes or dots to mark transitions or shadows. 


Always check the trace lines for accuracy and missing info before removing the taped on image.






Once you are confident of your trace lines, then remove the image and place it nearby.  Look over the traced lines and if any seem too light, then draw over them with a graphite pencil.  Again do not use heavy pressure when doing this.




With portraits the majority of the lines will be dashes as there are very few  areas on the face that has clearly defined edges.   This photo shows the image after I was done tracing over it.  As you can see there are very few solid lines on the image. 



First off, you need to have a good set up, and I found that this set up worked well for me.  Keep in mind that I am left-handed.





If you are right-handed, then you should have an opposite setup.   






First off my burning surface in the center of my area.






The reference photo should be close by and placed in a spot where you can always see it very easily.   Again, I’m left handed, so for me the best spot is to have the reference photo placed to the right side of where I will be burning.  That way my hand never obstructs my view.




Lastly, always keep a piece of scrap material nearby.  The material is used to test burn darkness levels of your pen tip before you burn on the artwork.

DO NOT use the image you traced from as your reference photo.  Once you start drawing lines on the image you have altered it, so once you’re done toss it away.


Something I found that worked wonderfully was to cut out a small piece of the paper and secure it to the backer board near the burning.  This way it was always close by to test the pen tip on.  Since I wasn’t burning really dark on it I didn’t have to worry about heat transfer.  IE – charring the paper under it.    Unfortunately I didn’t think of this until the fifth installment of the portrait series, but I guess that is better than never.





Before we start burning I want to give you some general guidelines and provide an overview of how we’ll work on the portrait.

  • Always tap or blot your pen tip on the scrap material BEFORE working on the portrait. This will remove any excess heat and prevent dark blotches from happening when the pen tip first touches the paper.
  • Let the paper cool. I found that when I reburned too much in one area the heat seemed to bring out the paper texture more.  I found that I got better results if I burned for a little bit and then left it alone to cool down.  Once cool I could reburn back over the area and get better results.  I do want to point out that I didn’t notice this happening with the Winsor & Newton paper.
  • Use the flat of the shader when burning over pencil lines. This will prevent the graphite from getting shoved down into any burn marks.
  • Erase the graphite as soon as you don’t need it anymore. I burned up to a line so I would know where the edge or transition was at, and then I erased the pencil lines.
  • Don’t view the portrait as identifiable objects like a nose or eye. Instead focus on the highlights and shadows.
  • Work upside down if that helps.
  • If you work upside down, then make sure your board/paper and reference photo are ALL oriented in the same direction.
  • Use the flat of the shader when burning around dashed lines as those lines represent transitions; areas where the shadows get lighter or darker. Those shadows do not have clearly defined edges like an eye iris does.


Let me breakdown the how we will handle the portrait in an extremely simplified way.

Tracing the image onto the board fills the image with a bunch of odd shapes that have dashed lines defining their edges.  This photo shows a bunch of those shapes filled with difference colors.







We will burn in one shape at a time.  After a group of adjoin shapes are burned in, then the pencil marks get erased.  Once the pencil marks are gone, then we will adjust the color of the shapes and smooth out the transitions between the shapes.   Smoothing out the transitions is done by using gradient shading between the shapes.







Before burning in the shape, you need to analyze the reference to determine how dark to burn in the shape.  I use a process of constant comparison for this, but you can also use a Sepia / Grey Value finder tool.  Value Finder Truth be told the value finder tool is probably much easier to do than what I normally do.  Especially if you are still new to drawing.






Let me explain constant comparison.  For this example I will start with the bag under the left eye.  To make the easier to explain, I will refer to that shape as shape A.  







Find the matching area on the reference photo.  I will refer to the shape on the reference photo as shape B.  Compare shape B with the adjacent shapes.







With how I traced in the photo, there are 3 shapes that touch shape B.








Compare the tonal value or darkness level between shape B with shapes 1, 2, and 3.  Which one is the darkest?  In this case, shape B is the darkest, and it is a lot darker.   I will give it a value of Dark Tan.   Now compare the values between shapes 1, 2, 3.  Which one of the shapes is the lightest and which is the darkest?  To me, shape 3 is the lightest, so I will give it a light tan color.  Shapes 1 and 2 seem very similar to me, so I will make them both medium tan in color.




So when you burn in the shapes, burn them to the predetermined colors.  Afterwards, use those values to help you determine the color of the shapes they touch.







Look at the thin line the yellow arrow is pointing to.  Compare the color of the line with the shapes we have assigned a value to.  Which one does it match the closest with?  To me it looks to be the same tonal value as shape B, so I would burn the line to a dark tan color.






What about the bright spot above the thin line?  To me it matches the color or tonal value of shape 3, so I would burn the bright spot a light tan color.






How does the upper eyelid compare to the areas that have already been assigned a tonal value?    To me it is darker than any of the other shapes we have dealt with.  I would burn this to a very dark tan or a very light brown color.  

Again, learning to constantly compare tonal values takes time and practice.  For many people using a tonal value finder tool is easier and it helps them during the learning curve.



Here’s a link to the blog I wrote about making a tonal value finder tool.  I did scan the one I made, so you can printer it off.  Just keep in mind that depending on the printer it might not produces the same rich sepia tones as making your own will.


Now we’re ready to burn in the portrait.  







Equip a shader pen tip and set the heat so that you get a medium tan burn result.   Remember to test out on the scrap paper until the desired burn result is achieved.   Once the pen tip is at the proper temperature, then use the razor edge to burn over the solid pencil lines around the eye.  




Then use the flat of the shader to start burning in some of the shapes around the eye.  I am using a combination of uniform strokes and circular motion to burning the shapes.   If you are not familiar with my terminology I have a blog that explains them.  Using Shader






As you burn in the shapes make sure to examine the reference photo first to determine how dark each shape should be.







Make sure to burn the highlight along the side of the face a few shades lighter than the adjacent skin.







When you have an area that the pencil marks are not needed anymore, erase them.  The pencil marks interfere with our ability to accurately judge the color.  They make things seem darker than they are.








Once the pencil marks are gone, then fine-tune the shapes and smooth out the transitions between the shapes.  Smoothing out the transitions is accomplished by burning over the area between the shapes to create gradient shading.






Also lightly burn over the whites of the eyes.








If needed, re-burn over the eyelashes to darken them up.








Here’s how the artwork looks so far.







Switch to a writer pen tip and burn around the edges of the iris and the light reflection spot on the iris.







Then burn in the pupil.







Afterwards re-burn the areas around the eye that should be darker; including the inner corner of the eye.  






Continued work.








Here’s another progress photo.








Now burn in the iris.  I switched to a larger writer pen tip for this. 







Darken up the base of the eyelashes.







Here’s another progress photo. 








I want to point out the mistake I made with the eye.  I burned a dark thick line along the edges of the iris.  The reference photo does not show this, so don’t replicate my mistake.  






Having made the mistake I have to decide if I should fix it or leave it alone.   Because of how small and dark the lines are, I’m going to leave them in place.  The reason is that I think I would damage the paper a lot trying to lighten up the color.  For your information, if I were to try and fix this mistake I would try using the flat of a sharp knife and try to scrape away the excess color.   


I wanted to remind you that you should ALWAYS test out your pen tips on scrap paper before burning on the artwork.  I do this EVERY time I switch pen tips and after I’ve paused burning while I examine the reference photo. 





With the eye burned in, resume working on the skin around the eye.







Then start burning in the dark shadow along the right nostril.







Continue to burn in the darker shadows on and next to the nose.







Afterwards burn in the top portion of the right cheek.  This will give you a break from the nose. 







It is important to take frequent breaks when working on complex items.  This will give your eyes and brain a chance to rest.  When you resume burning you see things with fresh eyes and this lets you notice details better than eyes that are super familiar with the object do.


Resume burning in the darker shapes on the nose.  I really do think it helps to stop thinking about the nose as being a nose, and instead just concentrate on individual shapes created by the dashed lines.





Once the darker shapes on the nose are burned in, then start working on the shadows by the left nostril.  This shadow continues down towards the mouth.






Now burn in the cast shadow under the nose.







Next burn in the shapes between the nose and the upper lip.  Then burn in the upper lip.







Work on the shadows around the corners of the mouth







Rotate the board and burn along the lower edge of the upper lip.  In the photo it looks like the top of the bottom lip.






Finish burning the shadows on the right side between the lip and the nose.







Afterwards work on the forehead.








Continued work.








Here’s a progress photo.







Rotate the board or paper and burn along the inner edge of the ear.







The ear is slightly out of focus on the reference photo, but I’ve burning the ear so that it is in-focus.







Rotate the board back and burn along the outer edge of the ear.  Make sure your pen tip is in optimal position to the edge is clean.







If needed, re-burn over the highlight on the face next to the ear.







Work on the brow and extend the color towards the left side of the face.








Then start burning in individual shapes around the left eye.







A reminder to use the flat of the shader when burning.  Use the razor edge of the shader when you need to burn lines and the edges of clearly defined shapes like the iris.






Also use the razor edge of the shader to burn in the eyelashes.  Start the stroke at the base of the eyelash and pull the pen tip outward. 







Then resume burning in the individual shapes around the eye.  This area on the face was used to demonstrate constant comparison, so the values have been assigned.  It should be a simple matter of burning the shapes to those tonal values assigned in the demonstration.





Work on the darker shapes that are near the eye.







Burn along the transition line for the left cheek.  Afterwards erase any pencil lines that are not needed.







Here’s another progress photo.







Now switch to a writer pen tip and burn the pupil.  Since I chose not to fix the mistake I made on the right eye, I have to replicate that on the left eye to make the portrait look normal.  A reminder that the dark line along the edges of the iris is now what the reference photo shows, so don’t mimic this.  I am just explaining why I’m doing what I’m doing.




If needed re-burn the eyelashes to darken them up.







Then it is up to you if you want to use the writer pen tip or use a shader to burn in the iris.







If using a shader, then rotate the board so the pen tip stays in optimal position when burning along the bottom edge.







Also, burn some thin lines that radiate outward from the pupil.  This should be done on both irises.  Vary the length and the darkness level of the lines.  This will help mimic the texture the irises have.






If needed, you can use a writer pen tip to burn in the lines that angle towards the pupil.






Finish up the forehead.







Fine-tune the skin around the eye.






Make sure the lightly burn over the whites of the eye as they are in shadows.







Next burn in the left ear. 






On the reference photo the left ear is slightly out of focus and not very dark.  I’m burning the ear so it is in focus and I’m burning it slightly darker than what the reference photo shows.






Here’s a progress photo.






Now burn in the lower portion of the right cheek.  For this area I mostly used uniform strokes.   Uniform strokes are great for areas that don’t have a lot of color variation or texture.






Also burn in the lower portion of the left cheek.  The left side has a more shapes on it, but you can handle this.  After all, we are just burning in shapes like we have been doing all along.




Make sure to pay attention to the little fat roll under the chin.  There is a clearly defined line between the two and the fat roll is darker in color.






Work on the right side of the fat roll.  Afterward erase any pencil marks that are no longer needed.





Here’s another progress photo.






Now start burning in the shapes on the chin.







Check with the reference photo often as you work.







Again, erase pencil marks when they are no longer needed.






Pay close attention to how the light is interacting on the chin, fat roll, and the neck.  Creating realistic artwork is a matter of accurately replicating shadows and highlights.





Rotate the board when working along the lower edge of the fat roll.







Burn a dark line under the upper lip.  Make sure to avoid the two teeth.






The extend the color further onto the tongue.







Rotate the board and burn a line next to the lower lip.






Then burn along the outer edge of the lower lip, but only burn along the shadowed edges.






Also burn around the edges of the teeth.







Finish burning in the tongue, but make sure to avoid the reflection on the left side.






Burn over the lower lip.






Also burn over the skin just below the lip.






Make sure to lightly burn over the teeth.  Concentrate the color along the edges of the lower teeth as the sides are more shadowed than the front.






Here’s another progress photo.







Switch to a writer pen tip and burn a layer of dots over the tongue.  Do not burn the dots really dark.  The goal is to replicate the bumpy texture that is found on the tongue and subtle dots will help accomplish this.





Then switch back to a shader and do any fine-tuning that is needed.   I burned over the tongue a bit more and the photo shows I’m re-burning over the skin near the mouth.  In fact, I ended up re-burning over most of the chin.






Once you are happy with your artwork, then it’s time to sign off on it.  I always use a pencil to sign my name.






Then I use a writer pen tip and burn over the pencil marks.






Afterwards I erase over the signature to remove any residual graphite.







I made several mistakes while working on the portrait and tried different ways to fix them.

First off I used the flat edge of a knife to gently scrape away mistakes. This worked fairly well, but it was really easy to scrape too hard and rough up the paper.





I also tried using an ink pen eraser on areas where I didn’t have to be very precise.  That didn’t work very well.  It abraded the paper giving it a very rough texture.  When I burned over the area it looked blotchy.






On the lower lip I used a combination of scraping and erasing.  Again it abraded the paper and turned very blotchy when burned over.






But the combination of the two did remove all of the color from the burn. 








Here’s a comparison photo of my artwork and the reference photo.  It’s okay.  I think a lot of the problem is how blotchy or unsmooth the burning looks and a lot of that is the paper.  Not all papers are equal.





The paper I burned on for this portrait was 140 pound, hot pressed, 100% cotton, acid-free watercolor paper by Lanaquarelle.   I already mentioned that I did not like this paper.  It was very difficult to get smooth results.  Plus if I burned in one area for too long it would start looking blotchy.  I really disliked burning on this paper, and I don’t recommend it.





That’s it for the second installment in the portrait tutorial series.  I was a little disappointed with how this portrait looks, but I know that is because I don’t care for the blotchy look the paper texture created.  I continue to learn a little more with each portrait and I’m feeling more confident with burning on paper.    

Let me recap the basic process.  1) Transfer the image using a combination of solid and dashed lines.  The solid lines are used along the edges of clearly defined objects.  Dashes are used to indicate the transition lines of shadows.   2) Burn around the lines and erase the pencil marks when they are no longer needed.  3) Burn in areas between the lines checking with the reference photo to determine how dark they should be.   4) Use gradient shading to transition between areas.  

I do want to point out that the process I used to create the portrait is very similar to how I do most of my work.  I say similar because if I’m working on animal fur that requires a completely different burn stroke method that what I used for the portrait. 

I hope that this tutorial provided you with some valuable information for doing your own portrait work.  More importantly I hope that I showed that portrait work is something that can be broken down into smaller steps making the creation process easier.  Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Until the next blog,


Feb 18, 2020

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5 thoughts on “Portrait 2 BABY FACE PYROGRAPHY TUTORIAL wood burning techniques

  1. Your work is beautiful and wonderfully explained. In your tutorial yoh burned on paper, what type and weight of paper do you use? I am a big fan❣❣

    1. Hi Theri,
      thank you for the lovely comment. Under Step 1 – Prep the Surface, I show the paper (Winsor & Newton) that I have enjoyed burning on and provided a link to the paper on Amazon. It is HP, 140 pound paper.

  2. Hi Brenda Martin here from the UK I’m after your advice I’ve got the Peter child’s machine but seem to be struggling for the tips really considering buying a collwood super pro 2 from the USA replacement tip version I know they do a UK version now I’m really enjoying pyrography so cost is not a problem any help would be great many thanks martin

    1. Hi Martin,
      glad to know you fell in love with Pyrography. On Colwood’s website they have two package deals for the Super Pro II and either one would be wonderful. If you want the ultimate, then select the Deluxe kit as it comes with 9 pen tips. The standard kit comes with 5. The shader I use (J) is in both. That said,
      I know that Val (drawing with fire) absolutely LOVES her optima. I haven’t tried one so I can’t comment on how good of a burner it is or isn’t. Plus I’m not 100% sure if their burners are available internationally, but I think so as it seems like Richy Coelho is using one. I think Val has a code you can use to get 10% off of the unit.

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