Pyrography Techniques – Short Dark Hair side view wood burning tutorial

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to the short dark side view hairdo.  This particular hairdo features a different hair lengths, and the hair is styled so it lays in different directions.  The variety of features in this hairdo will provide us with a nice selection of textures to work on.    

Let’s get burning. 

Click on the image to the left to view a video version of this tutorial.






  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 4 inch (10.2 x 10.2 cm) piece of wood

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. 

This paper isn’t bad, but I like the Winsor & Newton hot pressed paper better.  The legion brand is usually cheaper though. 

Amazon link:  Legion Paper  

Amazon link:  Winsor & Newton paper  

 I have found that Jerry’s artarama is usually cheaper for purchasing art supplies than Amazon is.

Jerry’s Artarama:  Legion Paper

Jerry’s:  Winsor & Newton paper 


I didn’t make one make a pattern, but here is the pencil tracing I made from the 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.







Here’s the color version of the reference photo









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



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

Yes, the photo is from a different hairdo, but I didn’t take a picture of the setup when I started this one.   

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.

Adjust the heat on your burner to get a dark tan to very light brown 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 you are burning on paper, there isn’t any pre-burn prep work that needs to be done, so you can skip ahead to step 2.   If you’re burning on wood then continue reading.

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 feeling, 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. 





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).   

Yes, I am again using a photo from a different project.  🙂







Coat the back of the paper with graphite.  I like to use a B-4B pencil or a piece of compress graphite for this.

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. 








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









The back of the hair is the area of the darkest values.









There is a part along the side. 









Above the part the hair is longer and angles up and to the right.  Plus the hair tends to be darker closer to the part and lightens out near the top of the head. 








Below the part the hair is very short.









The side of the head has very short hair and the scalp is showing through.  The closer you get to the ear the more of the scalp you see.








The front of the hair flips up and goes in different directions.









Lastly, there is a spot on the back of the head where the hair radiates outward in different directions.



Use the shader of your choice and burn along the trace lines.  Even though the hair is dark, keep the burn strokes in the dark tan to very light brown range.  This way the lines will easily blend into the hair when we burn over them.







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. 

Keep in mind that I’m holding the pen at an angle, so I’m not using the flat of the shader either.  






Here’s how it looked after I burned over the trace lines.  Currently the lines look very dark because the underlying graphite is still in place.








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








This composite photo shows how the hair looked before and after I erased the graphite.  Look at the after photo on the right and notice that the burn strokes are not very dark in color. 




Begin by burning short lines along the part where the hair is darkest.  Make sure to angle the lines in the direction the hair is growing. 








Next burn in the long shadow above the part near the back of the head.









The shadow is fairly thick or wide, so it will take a few passes of the shader to fill it in. 









Then start burning in the other shadows in this area. 


Notice how my burn strokes are not super dark.  I’m blocking in the hair to get the general shape down.  If mistakes are made it will be much easier to fix lighter colored burn strokes than dark ones.





Continue to burn in the thin shadows.  Once the shadows are in place then give the hair a base color of tan using the flat of the shader.  This will create wide burn strokes that represent locks of hair.  Make sure to vary the color of the burn strokes.  The color does not need to be hugely different, but the hair needs variety to look realistic.






After the hair has a base color, then add more fine thin shadow lines to help darken up the hair.









Be aware that most of the hairs above the part are long, but there are a few that are short.  These short hairs are found along the part, and if you omit them no one will notice.  








Rotate the board as needed to keep the pen tip in a comfortable position for burning.   For me the hair below the part along the back edge of the head was difficult to burn in while the board was vertical.  This position makes it easier for me to work.





Since this is the darkest area on the hair, it is okay to burn it to a medium or dark brown color. 







Just make sure to let the dark color fade a shade or two a short distance from the back of the head.







For the really short hair I’m using a zigzag burn stroke.  You can also burn single lines to create the same look.   If you are not familiar with my terminology I do have a blog that explains them.  Shader link  





Here’s progress photo.  Notice how the hair is changing directions from the central point on the back of the head.  We examined this spot in the photo analysis step.





Continue to burn in the hair below the part. 







Make sure to leave some thin gaps between your burn strokes.  Those gaps will serve two purposes; 1) highlights in the hair, and 2) areas where the scalp shows through.








As you work on the hair near the top of the head make sure to keep the color in the dark tan to light brown range.   This area has some reflected light, so we need lighter colored burn strokes to create that.






When I create the longer hair, I burn thin lines to represent the shadows.  Then I burn over the area using the flat of the shader to give it color.






The thin lines represent shadows, but they are what give the hair shape.  The thin lines are also what creates little clumps or locks of hair.

Keep in mind that we are not burning individual hairs.  Instead we are burning in locks or clumps of hairs.  Each lock or clump represents numerous individual hairs that are very similar in color and angle in the same direction.  Each lock or clump of hair should be slightly different in color. 





Use a pencil to draw a circle around the highlighted area on the hair.  If you are burning on wood graphite pencil isn’t easy to see, so I recommend using a white charcoal pencil instead.   

I hope you noticed how I keep the reference photo nearby as I work.    When creating realistic art from a photo you need to consult with the photo often.  The closer it is the easier it is to see and consult with.




Continue to burn in the hair. 








Work small sections at a time.  Make sure to burn the lines in the direction the hair is styled. 








Also keep the hair within the confines of the pencil oval the lightest in value.








Burn in the shadows just below the hairs that are sticking up along the front of the head.







Then burn in the shadows on the longer hair.







A reminder that the hair above the part is darker the closer you are to the part.  I start burn strokes on the part and pull them up towards the highlight following the curve of the hair.   I let the burn stroke fade out before reaching the highlight area.   





I often rework sections of hair adding more shadow lines to give the hair shape.  It’s the shadows that give the hair the illusion of locks or clumps of hair.







Here’s another progress photo.  Already the hair above the part looks like it rises up and gently curves over the top of the head.  








Burn in the shadow just before the bangs that rise up on the front of the hair.








Then burn the ends of the hairs along the front of the hair.







Notice how the tip of the upright hairs get pale in color as you reach the end of the hairs.  This is what gives the area shape.  

To replicate this begin by burning the hairs to a medium or dark tan color, and make sure to burn them in the direction they grow.  Then re-burn over the lower portion of each hair to darken it up.  The color does not need to be uniform.  In fact a little variety will add to the realism.




Continued work.







Finishing up the upright hairs.








Resume working on the long hairs above the part.  I do want to point out that the dark shadows on the upright hairs really help the highlight seem much lighter in color.





Be mindful to change the direction of your burn strokes depending on where you are burning.   In some areas along the part, the hair is almost horizontal, but the further away from the part the more it curves towards a vertical direction.






Also be aware of the hair length.  There are a few locks of semi-long hair below the part.  More accurately these semi-long locks of hairs comprise the part.







Yes, I do tend to bounce around a lot in my projects.   Burn in the semi-long bangs that curve slightly upward.







Again burn in thin lines to represent shadows and thicker lines to create the locks of hair.







Don’t rush.  The area I’m working is 3.5 inches square (8.9 cm sqr), so it’s not very big.  Despite the small size I still spent more than an hour working on the hair.   





Continued work.







You do not need to replicate the reference photo exactly.  Remember when doing portraits the hair is not the focal point, so as long as you have the general shape and color it will look good.






There are a few short wispy hairs that hang down over the forehead.  I’m choosing to add them, but be aware that these hairs will not be missed if you choose to ignore them.





Make sure to erase the pencil or charcoal line when you don’t need it. 

Just because I have erased the pencil mark at this point in the artwork, does not mean you have to. 

If the pencil line is a helpful reminder of where the highlight needs to be, then keep the pencil mark in place! 



Resume working on the hair above the part.  The hair above the part is blocked in, so it’s a matter of fine tuning the color and details.







I did burn over the hair using the flat of shader to darken up everything that was outside of the highlight zone.







Here’s a progress photo.








Re-burn over the short hair below the part near the back of the head.









Darken up the shadows on the hair above the part.   I believe that I did mention before that I bounce around a lot when creating art. 







Darken up the front of the hair.







If needed add any shadows to the hair above the part.







Also make sure that the hair above the highlight is darker than the highlight area.






Here’s another progress photo.








Now burn in the hair below the part.








The hair is short, so keep your burn strokes short.








As you get close to the ear leave larger gaps between the burn strokes.  This will make the burn strokes look paler in color and give the impression that the scalp is showing through.








You may need to re-burn over the area to build up the color.  If so, just make sure to leave gaps between the burn strokes as the color shouldn’t be a dark as areas where the hair is thicker.








Here’s a composite photo showing the reference photo and my pyrography rendition of it.   It’s not an exact replica, but it doesn’t need to be.  In fact if I was doing a portrait I would consider the hair a huge success. 


We’re done.    Hopefully I was able to explain things well enough and provide enough picture so you could follow along.  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,


Feb 16, 2021

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