Pyrography Techniques – Short Blond Hair wood burning tutorial

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to this short blonde hairdo.  The techniques used for this artwork can be applied to any hair style with the same basic texture.  Quite truthfully the method I used on this hairstyle was the same technique I used to create a tail on a horse.  So this technique can be used in other applications.    

Now, let’s get to work.

A video version of this tutorial is available on YouTube.  Click on the image to the left to watch it.





  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 4 inch (10.2 x 10.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern – see section on pattern below

Note that I am burning on watercolor paper for this project.  The paper is by Legion and is called Stonehenge.  It is hot pressed, 140 lb (300 gsm), acid-free, and 100% cotton.  It wasn’t a bad paper. 

Amazon link:  Legion Paper  

General I find that art supplies are cheaper on Jerry’s Artarama website, so I’m providing links to that site too.  

Jerry’s Artarama:  Legion Paper




I like the Winsor & Newton hot pressed paper better, but it costs a lot more unless you can get it on sale.   When purchasing paper I do recommend making sure to get hot pressed as it has a smooth texture.   

Amazon link:  Winsor & Newton paper  

Jerry’s:  Winsor & Newton paper  


I don’t have a scanned pdf of the pattern, because I didn’t make one.  Instead here is the pencil tracing I made from the photo.  







Here is the reference photo.  I highly recommend you try tracing from the photo yourself.  This is not an overly complicated image, so it provides great practice on working directly from a photo.








Regardless of the medium you are burning on, you need to have a good set up.   This photo shows mine

1)  Since I’m burning on paper, I have the paper taped to a backing board (green arrow in the upper left of image).  This keeps the paper from warping and protects the underlying surface from heat damage.    

2) The reference photo is kept close by and preferably in a spot where you can easily see it at all times.  If you are right handed the photo should probably be placed to the left of where you will be burning.

3) Always keep a piece of scrap material nearby.  Ideally it should be the same material that you will be burning on.  Use the material to test out how hot the pen tip is.   Or more accurately what burn results are you getting.

Since we are working on blonde hair, adjust the heat on your burner to get a medium tan burn result.   What setting that is depends on what type of pen tip you are using.  How much burn time that pen tip has, and the material you are burning on.   Test out the burn results on the scrap material and adjust the heat setting on your burner until the desired result is reached.



If using paper

If you are burning on paper there isn’t any pre-burn prep work that needs to be done.

If using wood

Wood burning is much easier if you take the time to prepare the wood surface.  Always 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 piece of plywood board is broken up into three sections.  The far left section is how the board looks without any prep work.  The board has a rough texture.   The middle section of the board shows how it looks after it was sanded, and the surface is a lot smoother.   The right section of the board shows it after it was lightly misted with water and allowed to dry.  Notice how rough the board looks, but a quick sanding will remove that and leave an ultra-smooth board.

Doing the 4-step process (sand, mist, dry, sand) produces 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 or photo on lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect). 






Coat the back of the paper with graphite.  I like to use a B-4B pencil.





If the pattern is large I like to use a piece of compress graphite.  It’s messier, but covers a large surface much quicker than a pencil does.

Position the paper on the wood, graphite side down, and trace over the pattern/photo. 







Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern or photo.   


Before we start burning, let’s analyze the reference photo.  This is something you should do before starting any project. 







Here’s a black and white version of the photo.








First off I will be using the word clump a lot in this tutorial. A clump is the term I’m using to describe group of hairs clustered together.  The clump forms a shape that reminds me of a spaghetti noodle.   A green arrow is pointing to one clump.






There is a highlight along the crown or top of the head.  This needs to be the lightest area on the hair.







The left side of the hair is darker as it isn’t receiving direct sunlight.  Also the hair is a bit longer on this side.







The right side of the hair is very short.  There is a highlight along the top of the short hairs.  Keep in mind that this highlight needs to be darker than the highlight on the top of the head.   The green arrow is pointing to the highlight.






There is a transition zone along the back of the hair.  This zone had a lot of shadows as the hair is changing directions between the left and right side of the head.







Lastly the front of the hair is filled with numerous thin clumps.








Making the hair or head look 3D requires two things:  1) highlight, and 2) shadows.   The highlight needs to be the palest spot on the hair.  The shadows need to get gradually darker the further from the highlight.  With the head this means the sides of the hair should be the darkest areas.


Apply the tip to the reference photo.   Arrow 1, the top arrow, is pointing to the area that contains the highlight.  This area has the lightest overall color on the hair.  Arrow 2 is pointing to the hair that is a few shades darker than the highlight.   Arrow 3 is pointing to the sides of the hair where the hair is several shades darker than the highlight.     







Use the shader of your choice and burn along the trace lines.  Remember this is blonde hair, so keep the lines in the tan range.







I am using Colwood’s D shader for this, but any shader will work.







I’m not using the razor edge of the shader to burn in the lines, so the lines are a bit thicker than they would be if I used the razor edge.








That said, do keep in mind that the pen is being angled so that little of the metal is in contact with the surface.  







After the lines are burned over, the use a standard pencil eraser and rub over the area to remove the residual graphite.








Here’s how the hair looked before and after I erased the graphite.  Notice how much lighter the burn strokes look with the graphite gone.




Now use the flat of the shader and start burning in the darker areas of the hair.







I am mostly using uniform strokes as my burn method, but I do use some pull-away strokes.






On the really short hair I’m using a combination of single lines and zigzags to create the texture found there.   Really short hair is very similar to short animal fur, so I use the same techniques that I use on animal fur.






As you work, make sure to be mindful of the highlight along the right side.  Or to put it another way, don’t burn the area to a uniform color.





Make sure your burn stroke length matches the hair length.  Use really short strokes along the right side of the head.  The transition zone has some really short areas, but most of the area has longer hair than the right side.   The top and left side of the head has much longer hair.   

Let me mention that I do not burn the long clumps of hair in one stroke.  It takes me several to extend the color the entire length of the clump, but it looks like a single burn stroke when done.

With the longer hair, I burn over an small area to fill it will color.  I have to re-burn over the small area a number of times to build up the color.   As I do so I make sure to leave tonal variation in the area.






Another thing to do is alter the width of the burn strokes.  In this photo you can see that I have a number of thin lines in the transition zone.  There are also some thicker lines in the area.






Also create the ends of pale or lighter clumps by burn around an area.  The green arrow is pointing to a section that is unburned and it comes to a tapered point.  Later on this will become a highlight in the area.  Technically it’s a highlight now.






I use the flat of the shader to fill an area with color.   I use the edge of the shader to burn thin darker lines that really define the edges of clumps.







Keep in mind that the thin darker lines are shadows.  Some shadows on the hair are darker than others, so you should check with the reference photo often.







Generally speaking when I start working in a new area I burn in the shadows first.








The shadows are easier to see and really help give the area shape.  Plus you need the shadows to enable the pale clumps of hair to stand out.







Also shadows are what you use to break up areas into clumps of hair. 







Keep in mind that shadows vary in color.  Some shadows are barely darker than the clump of hair and others are considerably dark.




Here’s a progress photo of the hair.








Continue to work your way around the hair burning in the darker areas first.








I often work in new areas and then return to previous areas to do a bit of fine tuning.







When I return to previous areas I working on building up the color and texture. 







Creating texture means I’m forming new hair clumps or placing greater emphasis on existing clumps.  Placing greater emphasis is done by making the area around the clump several shade darker.  The contrast really makes the clump stand out.






Also I noticed that I started at the back of the head and worked my way towards the front.  







The back of the head was simpler in that the clumps tended to be larger and the shadows darker.  








Closer to the front of the hair the texture gets finer.  Or maybe I should say that the clumps got a lot smaller, so I worked out my approach or method on the area with larger clumps.  Once I was feeling a lot more confident with the clump making process then I was ready to work on the front.






Let’s recap that the clump making process.  First an area is filled with color that varies a bit in tonal variety.  I use the flat of the shader for this, but the angle is changed to alter the width of the burn strokes.






Then individual clumps of hair are created or emphasized.  This is done by using the edge of the shader was used to burn darker thinner lines.  Those lines help define individual clumps of hair by creating shadows around clumps.







Light hair clumps will look like they are on the surface of the hair.  Darker areas will appear recessed.  You need both to give the hair a layered look.






Use a white charcoal pencil and draw a circle or oblong shape around the highlighted area on the hair.  Since I’m burning on paper and white charcoal doesn’t show up I’m using graphite.  







You can use the white charcoal to draw over individual hairs that you want to be highlighted. Just color over the section of the hair that is highlight as the entire clump isn’t.








The area inside the oblong needs to be the lightest area on the hair.  Be aware that the hair adjacent to the oblong doesn’t need to be a lot darker.  Instead it should be a shade or two darker.  The further from the oblong you are working, the darker the overall color should be. 






With the front of the hair I did not use the flat of the shader as the area needed much thinner burn strokes.  







Hopefully as you get further into the hair clump creation process you will feel more confident with what you are doing and spend less time trying to an exact replica of the photo.







My attitude is that as long as the clumps of hair are burned in the direction the hair is styled, then the hair will look fine. 







Here’s another progress photo.  At this point I think the highlighted area inside the penciled oblong is the palest area on the artwork







Once the area around the highlight has been darkened up and the pencil marks no longer needed, then erase them with a standard pencil eraser.








A quick reminder to always test your pen tip on scrap material before you resume burning.   Pen tips build up heat when they are not in contact with the material.  Burning on scrap material will remove any excess heat so you are less likely to get a dark blob or blotch at the start of your burn stroke.





Now it is a matter of getting the hair to its final darkness levels. 







This is also the time to finish creating texture or clumps of hair in areas.








Make sure you don’t darken up your highlight, or if you do make sure the rest of the hair is still darker than the highlight.







Here’s another progress photo.  Notice how the highlight along the top of the head is really standing out, but so is the front of the hair.  Obviously I need to fix that.






To fix the front of the hair is a matter of re-burning over it to darken it up. 








I use the same burn strokes during the re-burn that I used during the initial burning of the area.  The right side of the hair was re-burned using single lines and zigzags.






The rest of the hair was re-burned using uniform strokes and some pull-away strokes.






Below is a composite photo showing my artwork compared to the reference photo. 

There are enough similarities that my artwork looks like a good replica of the photo.  But if you really start comparing the clump structure, you can tell that I did not try to replicate each and every clump of hair.   Again I will remind you that you do not need to!  As long as the general shape of the hair is there, it will look good!


We’re done.    Hopefully I was able to explain things well enough so you could follow along.  Also I do hope you’ll watch the corresponding tutorial video as I think it really helps visually show what I try to explain through pictures.  

Now to answer the usual questions I get.  This was burned on watercolor paper and I already stated the brand at the beginning of this blog.   It took me a bit over 1 hour to complete the artwork.

Until the next blog,


Sep 22, 2020

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