Pyrography for Beginners – Fall Maple Leaves wood burning tutorial

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the fall maple leaves.  This is a beginner friendly project because it only uses pull-away strokes to create the leaves.  Even though I filled a board with maple leaves, keep in mind that you can use this on craft boxes, picture frames, cutting boards, mirror frames, cheese boards, etc.   It is up to you on whether or not you want to add color.

Speaking of color, most of the color was airbrushed on.  With the top group of leaves I used colored pencils as I figured most people don’t own an airbrush.   

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

Now, let’s get to work.




  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Maple leaves – real, fake, paper, or stencils
  • Coloring Medium – optional

Colored Pencils

All pencils are Faber Castell Polychromos

  • Cadmium Yellow 9201-107
  • Dark Chrome Yellow 9201-109
  • Dark Cadmium Orange 9201-115
  • Deep Scarlet Red 9201-219
  • Pale Geranium Lake 9201-121
  • Pompeian Red 9201-191
  • Sanguine 9201-188

Airbrush Colors

All airbrush colors are transparent ComArt unless otherwise noted

  • Bright Yellow
  • Burnt Orange
  • Burnt Umber (opaque)
  • Ochre
  • Rose
  • Vermillion


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. 






The board should be damp to the touch, but not soaking wet.

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. 



Find some maple leaf images you like on the internet and print them out on standard copier paper.    Then cut out the maple leaves.  I used an X-acto knife to do this as I find cutting with scissors time consuming and uncomfortable.    






In this photo you can see the backside of the a few leaves. I found several leaf shapes I liked and printed two sizes of each leaf; small and large. You can print what sizes you think you might like to use.






Or if you prefer you can actual leaves or use store bought items.  An example would be the fabric maple leaves shown in this photo.  I’m sure that there are rubber stamps and stencils of maple leaves available.  


Start arranging the maple leaves on the board.







You can always flip leaves over to add a little more variety.  Plus the white contrasts with the colors and that might help see the arrangement easier.







One you have an arrangement you like, then trace around the paper maple leaves.  Be gentle as you do this because the paper is not that strong.








Once the leaf has been traced around, remove it, and draw in the major vein lines.








You can draw in the major vein lines last after all of the leaves are traced onto the board.







I put yellow circles around a couple of areas where two leaves overlap.  I’ve found that it works best to decide now which leaf is going to be the one on top.





Once you’ve decided, then erase the pencil marks of the bottom leaf in the overlap areas.   I’m using a mechanical eraser because it keeps a small point on it.







Here’s how my board looked once I was done.










Let’s burn in the background which is the small areas between the leaves.









Begin by burning over the trace lines using a writer pen tip.  After you are done use a pencil eraser and rub over the board to remove any residual graphite.








Then burn in the background between the leaves using the shader of your choice.   I am using pull-away strokes for this.  The stroke starts on the edge of the leaf.






Pull the pen tip down towards the background or towards yourself.







As you create the burn stroke, the color gets lighter towards the end of the stroke.






Lift the pen tip up and away from the board.  One pull-away stroke has been completed, and a yellow arrow marks the spot.






Start a new pull-away stroke adjacent to the one you just did.








I often re-burn over the strokes to darken them up and smooth them out.  Smoothing them out means I’m trying to remove signs of individual burn strokes.






Slightly overlapping the strokes will help create smoother looking burn results.







I also find it helpful to burn a thick dark line along the edges of the leaves before burning the pull-away strokes.






By burning the line along the edges first you don’t have to worry if you don’t start the stroke precisely on the edge. 







Another thing I like to do is burn along all of the edges that allow me to burn pull-away strokes in a direction where I’m pulling the pen tip down towards myself.   I find this produces better burn results, and I have more control over the burn.  I will refer to this as the convenient edges for the rest of this tutorial.





Rotate the board as needed and burn pull-away strokes along the convenient edges.







By continually rotating the board and burning along the convenient edges, you end up with a burn area that is slightly lighter in the center than the edges.






Work your way around the board burning the background. 

By the way, if you want the background to be a uniform color, then re-burn over the lighter center area until it matches the edges.






Here’s how my board looked once I was done with the background.


Let’s burn in the leaves.


We will concentrate on two leaves.  This first leaf is the most basic style.








Use the shader of your choice and burn pull-away strokes along one side of a vein line.  Pull-away strokes are the same burn stroke we used on the background.   Start the stroke on the vein line.






Then pull the pen tip away from the line.   It can be helpful to rotate the board so you can burn in a way that allows you to pull the pen tip towards yourself.





I think the burn strokes look good as gentle arcs or with gentle curves in them.  It is your choice if you want to replicate that.







At the end of the burn stroke, lift the pen tip up and away from the board.  Then start a new stroke adjacent to or slightly overlapping the previous burn stroke.    





Make the burn strokes proportionate to the area.  By that I mean make the burn strokes longer or shorter depending on the size of the area you’re working in.   For example, the area I’m currently working in is fairly large, so the burn strokes have been long.  When I start working near the pointed end of the leaf I will be shortening the length of the burn strokes.  




Also vary the color or darkness level of the burn strokes.  This will add visual interest to the leaf.







If needed, rotate the board so that you can burn the pull-away strokes in a direction that is most comfortable to you.  Most of the time pulling the pen tip towards you is easier to do and produces more consistent burn results.  Also, pulling the pen tip towards you generally provides better control over the burn stroke.






Continue to work your way around the leaf burning pull-away strokes on both sides of each vein.







Keep in mind that I left an unburned border around most of the leaves;   especially the leaves that are on top.  The reason is that it helps provide contrast.  In areas of overlap I lightly burn over all of the underlying leaf.  This helps the top leaf stand out more.








This is our second leaf style.  It is slightly more complex because it has more vein lines, but we will use the same pull-away burn stroke for it.







To begin burn in side veins.  I’m using the razor edge of the shader, but a writer pen tip can be used instead.  In fact, the writer pen tip would be easier and more precise.







How many side veins you add is your choice.  I pretty much added a vein that went from the main vein towards the leaf points.  The yellow arrow is pointing to a point on the leaf.






Now start burning pull-away strokes along the edges of the veins.








Be sure and experiment with is burning along both sides of the side veins versus burning along just one side.  It produces a different look and you’ll have to decide which way you prefer.   I did a little of both.







You can increase the variety of how the leaves look by altering how many side veins you create and much burning you do around the veins.







Rotate the board as needed while you work.  Also I recommend keeping contrast in mind as you work.  In areas of overlap I will burn over the lower or bottom leaf so that it is slightly darker than the top leaf.   A yellow arrow is pointing to a spot where I did this.  It’s not a huge color difference, but it helps the end of the top leaf stand out a little more.





Again a reminder to adjust the burn stroke length to match the area.  For example in this photo I stop the burn stroke before reaching the side vein.  The smaller the area, the shorter the burn stroke should be.







Another thing I experimented around with was the direction of the burn strokes.  I varied the direction a lot more with the side veins.  Sometimes I burned the lines so they curved and almost paralleled the vein line.  I mention this to point that you can really experiment with the leaves and find a look that is pleasing to you.







Now it’s just a matter of burning in the rest of the leaves.









I didn’t do anything new or unique with the remaining leaves other than to experiment with burn stroke direction and the other ways of modifying the leaf look that I already mentioned.






One thing I haven’t mentioned is altering the overall darkness of the burn strokes.  With the bottom or lower leaves I generally burned them to a dark color to give the pile of leaves depth.  





I think that the variety makes the leaves more interesting.







You can really change how a leaf looks just by altering a few things.  







Finishing up.








Let’s recap the ways to alter the leaves  

  • Adding side veins   
  • The length of the burn strokes
  • How much curve or arc the burn stroke has
  • How dark the burn strokes are
  • Burning pull-away strokes on both sides of a side veins versus only one side
  • How close to the edge of the leaf you burn


A couple words about safety

Make sure you are completely happy with the pyrography portion of your artwork before you start adding color!  Never ever burn over color!  Seriously, I cannot emphasize this enough.


photo from Wikipedia

I had someone tell me that it shouldn’t be a problem to burn over watercolors.   Yes there is.   All colors are created by using pigments that are mixed with some sort of binder so they will adhere to the paper, wood, etc. 

First off you do not know what is contained in the binder, and some glues can be very toxic when vaporized.  The heat from a pyrography pen tip is more than hot enough to vaporize glues.

Secondly some pigments that are used to make paints, colored pencils, etc., are very, very toxic.  An example of this is cadmium.


Cadmium is a silverish metal that is used to create yellows, oranges, and reds.  Exposure to dust and vapors can cause cadmium poisoning which can lead to all sorts of problems including cancer.   

Cadmium has a melting point of 610 degrees Fahrenheit (321 celsius).  Pyrography pens tend to range between 400 and 900 degrees Fahrenheit (204 – 482 celsius) depending on the setting.  There is more than enough heat to potentially vaporize the metal.   

Is there a high risk of this happening?  I do not know, but is your health worth so little to you?  I hope not.

Burning over color is not worth risking your health over!  Especially since it can be easily avoided.

If you would like more information about cadmium toxicity, here is a link to an article issued by the NCIB (national center for biotechnology information) :   Cadmium Toxicity


I will cover the leaves I used colored pencils on first.  They were actually the last ones to have color applied, but that was because I had to use frisket film with the airbrush color.  I didn’t want to risk the film removing any of the colored pencil when I pull the film off the board.





Start with a light yellow color and apply it along the edges of the leaves.  I’m using Cadmium Yellow. 






Continued work.  As I stated at the beginning of this blog, all of the colors are Faber Castell Polychromos. 






Then use a blender of your choice and rub over the color to smooth it out. 






I’m using a blending stump, but just about anything can be used for this.  Things like tortillions, cloth, paper towel, your finger, q-tip or cotton earbud, etc.






Here’s how the leaves looked once I was done.   Notice how I didn’t apply yellow along the bottom of the leaves.  I did this to help contrast with the adjacent leaves.  My basic plan was for the top or upper portion of each leaf to be a bit lighter in color than the bottom or lower portion.




Next I added sanguine along the burn strokes on the vein lines.









The color is not super noticeable, but it does darken up the center area of the leaves by a shade or two.







With the small distant or bottom leaf I covered the entire surface with sanguine.







Next rub over the leaves with the blender of your choice.  This will blend the colors, smooth out the color, and help remove individual pencil lines.





Dark chrome yellow was the next color I used.  This was applied to the entire leaf except the outer edges along the upper portion of this large top leaf.  All of the other leaves were covered completely with the color.   Once you’re done, blend the color.





Here’s how the leaves looked after I blended the dark chrome yellow.






With the Pompeian red I applied it only to the burn marks along the vein lines on the top leaves.






I applied the color over the entire surface of the adjacent leaves. 






The reason is that it provides contrast and variety.  I didn’t want all of the leaves to look alike.







Don’t forget to rub over the leaves to blend out the color after each application of color.







Pale geranium lake was applied over the burn strokes along the vein lines on all of the leaves.






Dark cadmium orange was only applied to the two leaves adjacent to the large yellow leaf on the left.  Green arrows are pointing at the two leaves I colored.





The deep scarlet red color was applied to the same two leaves from the previous step.






Lastly I applied a bit more dark cadmium orange to the background leaves.







Now let’s talk about airbrushing the color onto the leaves.









First off I used frisket or masking film by badger.







I covered the entire board with the film.






Then I used an X-acto knife and cut around each leaf.  In this photo I’m lifting up the frisket from one leaf to check if I was applying enough pressure.  The goal is to press hard enough to cut through the frisket, but not so hard as to score or cut into the wood.







Once I was done cutting around all of the leaves.  Then I removed the frisket from two background leaves and sprayed translucent bright yellow by ComArt over them.






Then I sprayed a layer of ochre.   As I stated before I’m using ComArt for all of my airbrush colors on this project.   

Note that each time I change colors I clean the brush of the old color first.  This is done by flushing the brush with water until the old color is gone.  When I add the new color I first spray on a piece of scrap paper to make sure the old color is gone and that the new color is flowing properly.

The next color I applied was burnt orange.






Followed by rose.






Then I sprayed a layer of vermillion.






In this photo I’m applying the vermillion to the other leaf.  I want to point out the overspray.  I’ve got some green arrows pointing to a few of the areas.  Unless you are using a stencil it is really tough to airbrush without overspray.  Especially with objects that don’t have straight edges and are small in size, like these leaves.





Once I was done airbrushing the leaves, I replaced the frisket film over them.  I uses tweezers to hold the film as it tends to stick to my fingers.







Now I remove the film from the next leaf that I want to spray.







With the frisket film gone, I start applying the same colors I did with the first leaves. 








I may or may not use all of the colors.  I also change how I apply the colors.  For example the darker colors won’t get sprayed all the way to the edges of the leaf.







Again, once I’m done I replace the frisket film.








I work my way around the board removing the film from one or two leaves.  The only time I remove the film from more than one leaf is when there are several leaves or one large leaf separating them.  Otherwise it is too difficult for me to control the overspray.  My airbrushing skills are basic as best.






Continued work spraying on color.








What I like about airbrushing is that the color is very smooth looking.  Plus it is dry almost immediately, so you can layer up quickly.  The key is to apply very light layers of color.







Here’s how the leaves look so far.









Removing the film from the last leaf.








It’s important to be careful when removing the film.  It is easy to remove the film from adjacent areas.  In this photo I’ve got tweezers holding a small piece of frisket in place as I remove the film from the leaf.








Film removed.









Now it’s just a matter of spraying on color. 








I have a dual action airbrush.  This means you push down on the trigger to release air, and pull back to release the paint. 

A common mistake most beginners make is to try and control how far down the trigger is pushed.  All of the books I’ve read and videos I’ve watched advise to always push the trigger all the way down.  That way you get consistent results.





Here’s how the board looks, but there is still frisket film covering most of the leaves.  Only the lower left leaf is film free.








Now I’m removing all of the film.









I use tweezers on some of the leaves as the edges can be difficult to grab onto.







Frisket is gone from the leaves, but I can see some remaining frisket in this photo.








The areas where the background has an orange tint tell me that frisket is still in place.  Green arrows are pointing to the spots.








Todd didn’t like how bright the leaves where, so I’m spraying burnt umber over the lower leaves to tone down the color.  This is the only opaque color I used.  The first couple airbrushed layers of opaque colors will be translucence unless you apply the color really thickly.  Otherwise you have to spray several layers to achieve a truly opaque color.




Here’s a comparison photo showing before and after the burnt umber was applied.



The things I like about airbrushing:

  • The color is very translucent
  • The color is very smooth looking
  • I don’t have to use a paintbrush
  • The color is dry almost immediately
  • I can cover the board with color quickly
  • The colors layer up wonderfully

The things I dislike about airbrushing:

  • There is a lot of prep work if frisket film is involved
  • It’s more work when changing colors 
  • Replacing pieces of cut frisket can be tough; especially as my eyes get older
  • Wearing a mask – airbrushing puts fine paint particulates into the air, so always wear a mask
  • The airbrush must be completely disassembled to clean it very thoroughly after I’m done spraying


I hope you found this tutorial fun and easy to follow along with.   Like I said before, you can put the leaves on many different surfaces.  You can add color or leave them as straight wood burning.  Regardless of what you do the main goal is to have fun while doing it.

Until the next blog,


Nov 3, 2020

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8 thoughts on “Pyrography for Beginners – Fall Maple Leaves wood burning tutorial

  1. You are my all time favorite person on YouTube. Your videos are
    so easy to follow and very informative. Thank you for all the hard work!

  2. First of all, I love your work and thank you for these fun tutorials. I just want to share that I do use color for most all my projects. At first, I thought it was because I was not good enough and was trying to cover for my lack of experience. Then I realized it was my own unique style. I use watercolor pencils then can give the needed texture and thickness by adding implemented water. I am very subtle with the color as to not take away from the actually pyrography. But I think it really makes it pop.
    Thank you for keeping me inspired.
    Kelly Lyn Brunelle

    1. Hi Kelly,
      thank you for the comment and compliment.
      I must say that I’m glad you realized adding color was your style. I actually love color, but using it is not my strong suit so I tend to avoid it.
      I think it’s awesome you’re comfortable adding color and that it enhances your work!
      Thank you again for the wonderful comment.

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