Pyrography for Beginners – Jaguar wood burning tutorial (part 1)

In this first installment of a three-part tutorial series I am going to explain to you how to create the Jaguar artwork featured at the beginning of this blog.   This is a beginner friendly project, so our goal is to create artwork that is clearly a jaguar but is not a photorealistic one.  With that goal in mind we will examine the reference photo and determine the essentials needed for the artwork.   Then I will walk you through the basic steps that will produce great results without being overly complex.    

I said that this is a three-part tutorial series.   In part 2 and 3 we build upon the artwork we create in this tutorial.  You can decide how much, if any, of the additional tutorials you want to do.  So let me quickly show what the other tutorials cover.   

Part two is nothing more than re-burning and fine-tuning the jaguar from this tutorial to give it more tonal depth and make it look a bit more 3d.  Part 2 is not an essential step, so if you’re a beginner you can skip it. 





Part three covers adding a background to the artwork.  To make it as easy as possible, I broke it down into stages that get progressively more difficult.   The first stage adds the dark tree trunk shapes, the second stage add color to the entire background, and the last stage adds the underbrush to the background.   Depending on your skill and comfort level you can decide at which stage you want to stop burning.   





Click on the image to the left to watch a YouTube video version of the tutorial for part 1. 

Now, let’s get to work.





  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern  Jaguar mp pattern


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. 


Here is the reference photo I used.   Note that the Jaguar image I’m used was obtained from Pixabay user NetzwerX.  Here’s a link to the original photo.  Jaguar Photo 

Looking at the photo and decide which aspects or details are the essential.   Another way of thinking about this is to decide what are the minimum amount of details needed to create the impression or appearance of the jaguar? 



I consider the shape or outline of the body essential.







Of course, the spots are a main identifying characteristic of the jaguar.






I thought that the orange-colored portion of the fur was a needed detail to convey a jaguar; otherwise the jaguar might seem like an albino version. 

Obviously, I did not add color to my version of the artwork, but if you want to add a touch of color to yours please do so.  Just be safe about it and add the color after you are completely done burning.





Lastly, we need the jaguar’s facial features; eyes, nose, ears, and mouth.









I’m adding one more item to the list and that is the log the jaguar is standing on.  The log isn’t essential for the jaguar, but I think it is needed for the artwork.  Otherwise, the jaguar will appear to be floating in space.




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 on lightweight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern.  Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.  By that I mean look for any missing lines. 

Once the pattern is removed it is very difficult to replace it so that the lines match up perfectly.

I often get asked why I don’t use carbon or tracing paper.  Carbon paper has wax in it.  Wax will melt and bond with the wood leaving a mess that can’t be fixed.   The graphite tracing papers I’ve tested out are either too light to see or so dark they won’t erase.  I got tired of wasting money on them, so use my old-fashioned method that has never failed me.



In this step will take care of 2 items; the jaguar’s shape and spots.  Be aware that I put the facial features in it’s own step (step 6), so don’t be concerned if you see photos of completed features.






Begin by burning over the trace lines using a writer pen tip.  I am using a micro writer pen tip by Colwood, but any writer pen tip will work.







Use a light hand pressure when burning.   Writer pen tips have a tendency to sink into the surface of the wood which leaves an embedded or grooved line in the board.  Depending on its location this embedded line can really show up. 





On the pattern there are some dashed or dotted lines.  These lines mark where the orange-colored fur ends and the white fur begins.   Make sure to burn these lines so they are super pale in color!  These lines need to blend into the orange-colored fur, and the lighter the lines are the easier it will be to do this. 






Also, there is a curved dashed line on the face.  This line marks the location of shadows and is needed for part 2.  If you plan on doing part 2, then burn in the dashed line.  Otherwise ignore it as it serves no purposes for this tutorial.   







After the outline of the jaguar has been burned over, then start working on the many, many spots. 








With the spots you can fill them in using a writer pen tip.  Try to keep the color mostly uniform, but it doesn’t need to be perfect.  If the spot is mostly dark or in the brown tonal range then it will be more just fine.





I switched to Colwood’s standard writer pen tip because it is larger than the micro writer I was using.  This makes it easier for me to fill in the spots.







There are a lot of spots on the jaguar, so this step will take a bit to do.








Keep the heat setting on your burn adjusted so you get a light brown burn result.  This will allow you to create a dark burn without creating overburn.  Overburn is discoloration of the wood beyond the edge of the item you’re burning in.




I like to burn along the edges of the spot and then fill in the spot using circular motion. 







If you are not familiar with my terminology, I have a blog that explains them.  Here’s a link to that blog:   USING SHADER   

Nearing the end of the spots.  I mentioned before that there are a lot of spots on the jaguar, and burning them in gets a bit monotonous.  Don’t feel that you need to burn them all in one session; I didn’t.  






Once the trace lines and spots have been burned in, then rub over the area with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.

STEP 5 – THE FUR                   

Now we will burn in the fur.  We’ll start with the orange-colored fur and end with the white fur.  Again a reminder that the facial features are covered in step 6.







Begin burning over the colored fur on the head using the shader of your choice.  Then do your best to burn uniformly over the areas that the orange fur is found.






Use the flat of the shader and a very light hand pressure to burn uniform strokes.   The light hand pressure will allow the pen tip to glide over the surface of the wood producing more consistent burn strokes.   






Adjust the heat on your burner to the point where you get a dark tan to very light brown burn result.  The lower heat setting will keep the pen tip from getting super-hot and this will make it easier to control the burn strokes.    




If you are having difficulty getting uniform burn strokes, I suggest turning down the heat on your burner.  I’ve found that burning at too high of a heat causes a lot of problems especially when you are first learning pyrography.    Also, burn the strokes in the direction the fur grows.  That way if the color isn’t uniform the burn strokes will look like fur.





Do not worry about shadows or contouring.  Instead, do your best to apply uniform color to the orange areas of the face.








When you work along edges keep your pen tip in optimal position.  This means that the edge of the pen tip is on the inside edge of the shape.  The rest of the pen tip is angled over the shape you are burning in. 

In this photo I’m working on the neck adjacent to the ear.  I don’t want to burn over the ear, so I’ve got the edge of the pen tip on the outer edge of the ear.  Rest of the pen tip or the body of the pen tip is angle over the neck.  This means that only the neck gets burned on.   Optimal position is what helps ensure your edges are crisp and clean. 





Here’s a progress photo. 

I want to point out that you can see the curved dashed line on the jaguar’s face.  I mentioned before that the line is needed for part 2, so the dashed line needs to be just slightly darker than the orange fur.   Again if you are not going to do part 2, then leave this line out.






I’m using a different shader on the body.  This shader is larger than the one I used on the face, so produced a wider burn stroke.   I switched to it because I have more room to work.   Any shader will work for what we are doing. 

If you only have one shader or if there is a shader you really like to use, then use it.  





The goal with the body fur is the same as the fur on the head; we are trying to apply a uniform layer of color. 






Don’t worry about shadows and highlights those are not needed for this project.  The only thing you need to avoid are the areas of white fur on the jaguar.   

Determining where the white fur is located is the only thing I used the reference photo for.   Ok, yes, I did use the photo to create a pattern.




Here’s another progress photo.   My color isn’t perfectly uniform, but it’s close and that’s good enough.   Plus, some areas will seem darker depending on how many spots are in the area.  The more spots the darker the area will seem.





Pay attention when working on the sides of the jaguar as the lower portion transitions to white fur.  I marked the transition with a dotted or dashed line on the pattern.  






Along the upper edge of the back is another place you need to keep your pen tip in optimal position.  This will help ensure that you don’t burn past the edges of the jaguar shape.






I do want to point out that the underside of the tail is white and the white furs extends a little on the sides of it.   The same situation is going on with the legs, so pay attention to both the reference photo and the dashed lines.   I should mention that I ignored the small area of white fur on the front of the hind legs.  I did this to simplify the burning process.  Unless you were really comparing the artwork with the reference photo you wouldn’t never know it was there.




A reminder that we are not trying to contour or shade the jaguar.  Instead our goal is create fur that is fairly uniform in color, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.  Just do your best and try to enjoy the process.





Don’t forget to burn over the tops of the feet, but avoid the toes as they are white in color.








Here’s how my jaguar looks with the orange-colored fur burned in.  Now it’s time for the white colored fur.  







Lightly burn the inside of the back right leg.  This will help the viewer tell where the leg ends and the tail begins.  Plus the color will help push the leg into the background; making it seem further away than the closer leg.






Then burn a wide band of tan along the bottom edge of the belly.   This is just so that the lower edge of the belly is a different color than the unburned wood behind it.    This is really important if you decide to omit the background step or only do the first part of the background. 





Lastly, burn a light tan band of color on the neck adjacent to the white cheek on the face.  This is just to help differentiate between the white fur on neck and the cheek.








Let’s start with the the writer pen tip work on the facial features.







Reburn around the eye filling it with a dark brown to black color.  Do the same with the pupil.








Then repeat those steps with the other eye.








Next burn the dark area around the nose.








Lastly burn in the shadowed area on the mouth.








Let’s finish up the jaguar.







First, lightly burn over the nose.  I chose to make it a shade or two lighter in color than the orange fur.







Then lightly burn over the eyes making them a tan color, or the same color as the nose.







Now, burn tan strokes of color along the outer edge of the ear.  Start the stroke on the outer edge of the ear and pull the stroke towards the inner ear.  Stop near the halfway mark.  Try to vary the color of the burn strokes a little.






Repeat the process on the left ear.  Notice how the burn strokes are not the same length.  Also, I have less metal in contact with the wood, so I’m getting thick lines for burn strokes.





I’m re-burning the right ear so it matches the left a bit more.







Very lightly burn over the chin.  This is so that it will stand out a little more from the background.  That’s it, the jaguar is done.


We are almost done with this artwork.  The only thing left to do is burn in the log.



Begin by burning the cast shadow next to the front feet.






I will warn you now that I didn’t burn my shadows dark enough and had to re-burn them later on.  Which I will admit didn’t happen until part 2.






Then reburn over the lines on the log so they are a brown color.






Now use the flat of the shader and burn long wide strokes that follow the contours of the log.






I am using my largest shader for this, but any shader will work.






The color of the burn strokes do not need to be uniform.  In fact, a little variety would be good.






As you can see the log matches the color of the cast shadows around the feet.  It’s not imperative that the shadows be there.  You can add them or not.  The jaguar will look great either way.


That’s it for part 1 of the jaguar series.   Even though the jaguar was reduced to its essential elements, I think it turned out extremely well.  It is very easy to tell that the artwork depicts a jaguar.   I really do hope that you’ll try this and be ready for part 2.   Part 2, which will be my next blog, builds upon the artwork from this blog.

Before I go I’ll answer a couple of common questions I get.  The artwork was burned on birch plywood.  It measures 4 ¾ x 6 ¾ inches (12.1 x 17.1 cm) and took me 2 ½ hours to create.

Until the next blog,


Mar 23, 2021

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