Pyrography for Beginners – Maple Tree wood burning techniques

This blog is a bit of an experiment.  It is a condensed tutorial that supplements the YouTube video.  This blog contains the pattern, reference image, and the rules or guidelines for creating the grove of maple trees.  I provide a few photos to help convey the message, but it doesn’t contain near the number of photo a regular tutorial does. 

So please read the blog, watch the video, and let me know what you think about this format.  The reason I’m asking is that this format was so much easier to create.   I’m considering using this type of format in all of my tutorials going forward.

Click on the image to the left to watch the YouTube tutorial video.  The video will show how to create the maple trees. 






I’m using an image from Jim Harter’s book of Plants.  The book is filled with line drawings.  I think this type of image is perfect for pyrography projects like this where you want the basics of an object, but don’t want too much detail.  Plus there is color or gradients shading to deal with, so I think for some this type of reference material is great for those who don’t have lots of experience.   Amazon link to the book:  Plants Book 

By the way, while I provide links to products on Amazon that I use I do not receive compensation of any form if you choose to buy them.   The links are just for convenience. 




Here’s the image I’m using from the book.   When looking at an image like this break it down into smaller parts.








What I noticed is that the tree has what I will call clusters of leaves or leaf covered branch.  In this photo I’ve drawn a yellow line around some of the clusters I see.








Sometimes it can be easier to see things by altering the contrast.  In this photo I reduced the brightness and increased the contrast of the image.  I think this helps the clusters stand out more.








From the brightened image I created a super simplistic version of the maple tree.  Notice how I did not try to include all of the little stray branches that stick out past the edges of the clusters.   I didn’t want an exact replica of the tree.  Instead I wanted a very basic pattern that breaks the tree down into small easy to work on sections.








For the trees I used a standard writer pen tip and burned circular motion.









Note that the photo is showing a shader pen tip instead of the writer pen tip I actually used.   

Circular motion means that I am literally burning tiny circles.  The circles are open, so the underlying wood shows through.  

The circles are connected and this creates chains of tiny circles.  I let the chains meander around the cluster I’m working on. 



Do not burn straight lines of circular motion chains. 




Be aware that the size of the pen tip you use is dependent on the size of the trees you are working on. 

The maple trees for this demo are small; each tree is around 1 1/2 inches tall (3.8 cm).  My shaders were create circles that were too large, so I used the writer pen tip.     

This photo shows a distance tree I put in artwork featuring a horse in a pasture.  The tree is considerable larger than the maple trees I created for this tutorial.  Because of that I was able to use a shader pen tip.  




Determine or pick a light source.   When I looked at the book image I carefully examined where the highlights and shadows appear on the drawing.  








I determined that the light was coming from the upper left.   This means that the side of the tree closest to the light source will be lighter in color than the opposite side. 








With this artwork, the light is on the upper left, so the right side of the tree is in shadows.  Also the top is lighter than the bottom.








The rules with the light apply to each cluster on the tree.  The top and left side of each cluster is lighter than the bottom and right side of each cluster.








The tree is a three dimensional object, so areas that are closer to the front are lighter than ones in the back.  The circle encompasses most of the front clusters.








Looking at the pattern, the bottom center cluster will be lighter in color than the adjacent side clusters.     

Yellow = highlight.  Dark tan = shadows.







By making the side clusters a bit darker than the front, it will help create a 3D appearance.  An important aspect of this is to make sure to darken the side clusters where they touch the front cluster.   This will provide the necessary contrast to help push the front cluster to the foreground.

Yellow = highlight.  Dark tan = shadows.   Light tan = highlights that aren’t as bright as the yellow.   Brown = shadows that are darker than the dark tan shadows.





I highly recommend working on the front cluster before working on side clusters.   When working on the side clusters avoid burning over the front one.



Clusters in the back are filler and should be darker than the side clusters.

Yellow = highlight.  Dark tan = shadows.   Light tan = highlights that aren’t as bright as the yellow.   Brown = shadows that are darker than the dark tan shadows.  Dark brown = areas in deep shadows and they should be the darkest areas on the tree.







Continue to work your way up the tree applying the rules of light to each cluster.









Make sure to burn in some leafy branches that stick out past the boundaries of a cluster.  








In this photo I’ve burned in the lower clusters on the tree and now I’m starting with a center cluster on the next row of clusters.








Each cluster should be burned individually.  Front clusters first and then add the filler or back clusters.   I tend to fill the cluster with circular motion.  Then I re-burn over it using circular motion to add color variation and give it shape.







For some reason I tend to start at the bottom of the tree and work my way towards the top.  This is a personal preference.  Experiment around and discover what works best for you.




When adding trees, do not place the trees on the same horizontal line as this doesn’t look natural.




Instead, offset each tree you add.   The trees to do not need to be offset a lot, but should be offset to look natural.




When I add trees, I only add a couple at a time.  I tape the pattern to the wood and check the placement of the trees before tracing them onto the board.





Then I burn in those trees before adding more.  I do want to point out the great job I did adding leafy branches that stick out past the boundaries of the cluster.  





By the time I started on the second tree I was feeling a lot more comfortable with the process, and I hope that you will too.







Here’s how my grove looked after I added the 2 trees.  ALL of these trees are completely visible, so all of the rules apply to each one.






All background trees should be placed further back or slightly higher than the foreground trees.  The spot where the tree trunk touches the ground should never be on the same horizontal line as trees in the foreground.




Then burn in the tree using the rules from foreground trees, but make sure that the background tree is slightly darker.  This is especially important along the places where the background tree “touches” the tree in front of it. 




Avoid burning over trees in the foreground.



A yellow arrow is pointing to a light area on a foreground tree.  When I burned in the background tree I made sure to burn it dark enough to provide contrast along the edge of the foreground tree.  This helps the foreground tree stand out and gives depth to the grove.




Here’s how my grove looks after two trees were added to the background.  I tried to provide contrast along the edges or seams where the background trees “touch” the trees in front. 





Just like the last the last time, I place the pattern(s) on the board in the area I want a new tree.





Generally I choose to place a new tree between two existing trees.   I do try to avoid placing all of them exactly between two existing trees.





Now each new tree gets burned in.  Try to avoid burning over any of the existing trees.





Also BEFORE you burn in a new background tree evaluate its placement and size in relationship to the existing trees.   When I started burning in this tree I realized it was too tall compared to the trees in front, so I didn’t burn in all of the clusters that I had traced onto the board.






Notice how I make sure the right side of the background trees are darker than the left side of the trees in front of them.  This provides contrast so each tree stands out.   Please keep in mind that the contrast does not need to be extreme.   The more distant the trees are the harder it becomes to tell individual trees apart.



With the last two trees on the left I chose to burn in the far left one first.  The reason is that to me this tree was closer in the foreground, and you should always work from front to back.  So trees in the front get burned in before trees further back.





Here’s how the trees looked once I was done.  If you want you can continue to add more background trees until the entire area above the front trees are filled in.  




Do not add trees in front of the grove.   





  • Note where the light is coming from. Or pick a spot for the light source.
  • The side of the tree closest to the light source will be lighter in color than the opposite side of the tree.
  • The above applies to each cluster on the tree
  • The top of the tree will lighter than the bottom.
  • Again, the above applies to each cluster on the tree.
  • Work front to back. This applies to the whole trees and to individual clusters on a tree.
  • The above is especially important with whole trees. The background trees are filler, so we don’t see all of their branches like we do with the front trees.
  • Burn in the front trees first.   
  • Add a few trees and burn them in.   Continue this process until you have as many trees you want.
  • Burn leafy branches that stick out past the edges of the cluster trace lines.
  • Side clusters should be slightly darker than front clusters.
  • Back clusters should be darker than the side clusters.
  • When working on side and back clusters avoid burning over clusters in front of them.
  • The above applies to whole trees. When burning in trees in the background, burn them so they are slightly darker than the ones in front.  Plus avoid burning over the trees in the front.
  • When adding new trees, offset them from existing trees.
  • Make sure your trees are similar in size. Some variation is okay, but it looks off if you have a tree that sticks too far above the others.


That is it for this blog.  What do you think of my little experiment?  Is having a condensed blog better or worse than a full tutorial type of blog?   Leave a comment and let me know.


Jun 30, 2020

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8 thoughts on “Pyrography for Beginners – Maple Tree wood burning techniques

  1. This video is the most excellent of tutorials! I have only just found you, and you are a wonderful teacher. And so well organized! I will be looking for your other you tube videos and your blog posts. Thank you so much

  2. I feel that the more detail the better for beginners but this condensed version still had plenty of detail so I like it. This tutorial, as usual, was very helpful. Thank you.

    1. Hi Terry,
      thank you for the feedback. My intent was for this to supplement the video, so it wasn’t designed as a stand alone tutorial. Maybe I need to change the title so expectations will be closer to my intentions. Again thank you for the feedback.

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