Pyrography Portrait SMILING TEEN wood burning techniques tutorial

In this blog I will be explaining the pyrography techniques to create this portrait of this smiling teen.  I just love her smile and the happiness that radiates from her.   This portrait marks the fourth installment in my portrait tutorial series.  Just like I did with the previous tutorials I will try cover everything from start to finish.  Plus, this is another project where I tested out a different brand of watercolor paper.  Spoiler alert, this was terrible paper.

I do want to mention something before we get going.  I started doing portraits of photos I found on Pixabay in an effort to improve my skills and try to overcome my apprehension of doing portraits.  I do not know the people in the photos, and I won’t be hanging the artwork in my house.   Truly this series is just for practice.  Because of that I concentrate my efforts on the facial features because I think those are the difficult areas in portraits.  That’s why I don’t usually bother with the hair, neck, rest of the body, etc.   I create tutorials of my progress because of several requests to provide portrait tutorials.    Keep in mind that I feel like I’m still learning how best to handle portraits, and I’m sharing what I’m discovering with you. 

I’m releasing the YouTube version of the tutorial at the same time as I think that will help show what I’m trying to explain.  To watch the video, just click on the image to the left.     





I covered the tracing in much greater depth in a separate video.  To watch click on the image to the left.

Now, let’s get started.


I rate this as a level 3 because you need a good ability to create uniform color and smooth gradient color.  Also, you need to learn to see beyond familiar shapes and instead see highlights and shadows.  All of these are skills anyone can learn, but the less experience you have the more difficult this will be at first.

Also, I will be using terminology like circular motion in this tutorial.  If you are not familiar with my terminology I have a blog that explains them:   Using A Shader 


  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 5 x 7 inch (12.7 x 17.8 cm) piece of wood or paper
  • Pencil – HB or higher
  • Eraser
  • Printed Image – make 2 (1 to trace from and 1 to use for reference)

In one of my previous tutorials, I explained how to make a Sepia and Grey Tone Value Finder.  I do think that such a tool would be very beneficial in portrait work.  Obviously, it is not absolutely necessary as I didn’t use it for this artwork, but I am very comfortable with a process called Constant Comparison. I explain that concept in Step 3.  Value Finder 



This is the cropped reference photo I’m using for this tutorial.  I got the photo from Pixabay and it was uploaded by user Kassoum_kone.  Here’s a link to the photo:







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



If using wood, then 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. 

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

Let the board dry and then sand again.

This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be.




If using paper, then I recommend securing the paper on a sturdy backer board of some sort.  This will prevent the paper from warping.   Also, I recommend using hot pressed paper versus cold pressed.  The reason is that hot pressed paper will have a smoother surface on it.  When looking for paper be aware that hot pressed paper will often be designated by the letters HP, and cold pressed with CP. 





This photo is the back side of a project I burned on paper.   All of those tan and brownish marks are areas where the paper got hot, and that heat will transfer to whatever the paper is on and discolor it.  That wouldn’t be good for your table, countertop, etc., so place something UNDER the paper to protect the underlying surface.








For this portrait I’m testing out Strathmore 500 series 140 lb hot pressed watercolor paper.  I absolutely hated this paper! This teen girl has a beautiful joyous face with a radiant smile.  The paper burned so poorly that my artwork looks like the girl has the measles.  Don’t waste your money on this paper!








I have done several portraits on paper and my favorite paper so far is by Winsor and Newton. 

As I get tired of getting links to products, I put them all in one blog. You find links to the paper and the other supplies mentioned.   Supplies I Use 






Now we need to trace the image onto the wood or paper.   Note that this image is as close as you are going to get for a pattern.  I DO NOT recommend using it.  If you are trying to learn how to do portraits, part of that process is learning how to trace from the image.






Print out the image on regular copier paper.  In fact, while you are at it, print two versions of the image.  The first we’ll use for transferring and the other will be used for reference during the burning process. 

Some of you ask my why I don’t use a black and white version of the photo.  It is personal preference.  If you find it’s easier or more comfortable to use black and white, then please do so.  I’m just showing you how I do things, but that doesn’t mean you have to do things in the exact same way.




Flip the image over and coat the back with graphite.  You do not need a uniform layer of graphite, but make sure you cover everywhere you plan to trace.






Here’s how the back of the image looked once I was done coating it with graphite.








Place the image graphite side down onto the board or paper you’ll be burning on.






Now secure the image to the surface using two pieces or more of tape.   It’s hard to tell from the photo, but I’m placing the tape on the white artist tape that is securing the watercolor paper to the mounting board.







This photo is from paper that I used scotch tape to secure the tracing image onto.  The paper became very abraded or roughed up where the tape was and nothing can fix this. 




Instead, I recommend using a very low tack paper tape like first aid tape. 







Next use a pencil or ink pen and start tracing in the image.   I prefer pencils because they produce finer lines.  I use a mechanical pencil so I don’t have to sharpen it. 







Since pencil lines don’t show up well, I’m using a red ink pen to draw over the pencil lines I’ve already traced.  This is just to make it easier for you to see what I’m doing.  I’m not exerting any pressure as the lines were transferred when I traced with the pencil.

Do not use a heavy hand or exert a lot of pressure when tracing as you can emboss the paper and possibly the wood depending on its hardness.  Embossed lines are lines that are embedded into the surface and they will show up as white lines when you shade over them.


I recommend using a combination of solid and dashed lines for this.   Use solid lines in areas with clearly defined edges; the iris, crease in the eyelids above the eye, etc.   Use dashes or dots to mark transitions or shadows.  The majority of the lines should be of the dashed variety.



In this photo you might be able to see that solid red lines were used around the outer edge of the face.   The solid lines were also used to mark the location of eyebrow hairs, and eye lashes.    The majority of the lines are dashed lines.  These lined indicate where the color or tonal value changes.






Once you are done tracing, the print out will be filled with a bunch of dashed lines that make assorted shapes on the face. 

Ideally the shapes created by the dashed lines will be burned in to a uniform color, but the edges should be smooth and seamless.   This means that along the edges of each shape gradient shading should be used to gradually transition to the color of the adjacent shape.




Always check the trace lines for accuracy and missing info before removing the taped-on image.







Once you are done tracing, set the traced image next to the board and check or lines that are difficult to see.  If you find any, then draw over them to darken them up.






I like to do one more check before I start burning.  For this check the unmarked printout of the reference photo is placed next to the tracing and I compare shapes.  For example, I will look at the shape of the teeth and make sure I traced them correctly. 





Here’s a comparison photo of the reference photo and how it looked after I was done tracing from it.





If you need more information on tracing from a photo to do a portrait, then I recommend watching the video I created about the subject.  Just click on the image to the left to watch the YouTube video.







First off, you need to have a good set up, and I found that this set up worked well for me.  Keep in mind that I am left-handed.





If you are right-handed, then you should have an opposite setup.   






The burning surface is in the center of the area.






The reference photo should be close by and placed in a spot where you can always see it very easily.  

Again, I’m left-handed, so for me the best spot is to have the reference photo placed to the right side of where I will be burning.   A right-handed person should place it to the left.   As you can see, I have both a color and a b&w version of the reference photo.

DO NOT use the image you traced from as your reference photo.  Once you start drawing lines on the image you have altered it.   The lines on the traced photo can impair your ability to determine darkness levels.


Lastly, always keep a piece of scrap material nearby.  The material is used to test the burn results or darkness level of your pen tip before you burn on the artwork.






Before we start burning, I want to give you some general guidelines and provide an overview of how we’ll work on the portrait.

  • Always tap or blot your pen tip on the scrap material BEFORE working on the portrait. This will remove any excess heat and prevent dark blotches from happening when the pen tip first touches the paper.
  • Let the paper cool. I found that when I re-burned too much in one area the heat seemed to bring out the paper texture more.  I found that I got better results if I burned for a little bit and then left it alone to cool down.  Once cool I could re-burn back over the area and get better results.  I do want to point out that I didn’t notice this happening with the Winsor & Newton paper.
  • Use the flat of the shader when burning over pencil lines. This will prevent the graphite from getting shoved down into any burn marks.
  • Erase the graphite as soon as you don’t need it anymore. I burn up to a line so I would know where the edge or transition was at, and then I erased the pencil line.
  • Try not to view the portrait as identifiable objects like a nose or eye. Instead focus on the highlights and shadows.  To help accomplish this, breakdown areas into smaller pieces.  For example, when working on the nose concentrate on one nostril.  Really examine the highlights and shadows on this nostril.   You can’t replicate what you don’t see.  It can take time to train your eye to notice small details.
  • Work upside down if that helps.
  • If you work upside down, then make sure your board/paper and reference photo are ALL oriented in the same direction.
  • Use the flat of the shader when burning around dashed lines as those lines represent transitions; areas where the shadows get lighter or darker. Those shadows do not have clearly defined edges like an eye iris does.


I want to mention that you can use the printout you traced from to do some tonal mapping.  In addition to the printout, you will also need a value finder.







A value finder is a tool that has grey tones on one side and corresponding sepia tones on the other.  I was not able to find one for sale, so I made one.  I wrote a blog about it and I attached my scanned finder in the blog.  Tonal Value Finder  

Write numbers on your value finder to make it easier to do tonal mapping.







I always determine the lightest and darkest values before I do anything else.  With this photo the lightest value are the teeth, and the darkest value are the irises.








To do the tonal mapping, use a black and white reference photo.  Place the grey side of the value finder next to an area you want to check.  Once you have a match write the number down on the corresponding shape on the traced printout. 



I put the number zero (0) on the teeth.  That represents unburned wood or paper.  It is the palest color you can create in pyrography without using something like colored pencil or paints.   I put the number thirteen (13) on the iris, as this represents the darkest color I can burn in pyrography.  

When you start burning, use the sepia side of the value finder and burn in each shape so it matches the determined tone on the value finder.






We will begin by burning in the solid lines on the portrait.  There aren’t many.








Before you start burning, test out your pen tip on scrap material.  Adjust the heat until you get a dark tan burn result.   What the exact setting is doesn’t matter.  Instead all we are concerned about is get a dark tan burn result.   

Be aware that once I get my burner to produce a dark tan burn result, I do not adjust the heat setting.  Instead I use hand speed and re-burning to get darker burn results.

I will tell you now that my style of pyrography is something I’d term as low and slow.  This means I keep the heat as low and possible and I work slowly.   




Use a writer pen tip and burn in the solid lines.  Don’t burn them very dark.









I did not have many places I used solid lines.  Basically, the eyes, the lower portion of the nose, and the outline of the face.

Keep in mind that it isn’t necessary to burn in the solid lines right now, but this is what I did and it means I don’t have to repeat this information in each section.


We will start with the eyes. We’ll begin with the left and then burn the right one.




Here’s a close up of the reference photo for the eyes.




Equip a shader pen tip and set the heat so that you get a medium tan burn result.   Remember to test out on the scrap material until the desired burn result is achieved!  Which is still a dark tan burn result.


Once the heat is properly set, then burn eyelid where it touches the eye.  Make the color darker along the left side.  Also, extend the color on to the eye to left of the iris.








Then start blocking in the shadow on the upper eyelid to the right of the iris.









Burn over the dashed lines using the flat of the shader.  By using the flat of the shader, you will help ensure that you don’t end up with crisp lines.








I like to burn over some of the trace lines, and maybe block in a shape or two.  After which I erase any pencils lines that I can.








In fact, our immediate goal is to get to the point where the pencil marks can be erased.   I think that the pencil marks interfere with the gradient shading between the shapes, so that’s why I like to remove them as quickly as feasible.






I’ve erased the pencil marks from the upper eyelid area.  Reburn along the crease on the upper eyelid.  Keep the edge of the pen tip on the crease and the body of the pen tip angled over the eyelid below the crease.  This will darken the crease and do a little shading at the same time.





Burn in the iris to a very dark brown to black color. 








Do your best to avoid the spot of reflected light.  Depending on the size of your portrait, a writer pen tip might be a better choice instead of a shader.






Make sure to keep your pen tip in optimal position when working along the edges of the iris.  This will keep the edges crisp and clean.  If you are not familiar with my terminology, I have a blog that explains them:   How to use the shader






Next use the razor edge of the shader and burn in the eyelashes.  Start the stroke at the base of the eyelash.   Burn strokes start thicker than they end, so that why you should always start at the base of the lash.






At the end of the stroke lift the pen tip up and away from the surface.  This will give you a tapered end to the eyelash.  The quicker you do this the more of a point you’ll end up with.







Burn a dark line under the eyelashes to represent a shadow.






Then burn in the lower eyelashes.







Darken up the outer corner of the eyelids to a fairly dark color that fades near the iris.








Burn the right side to a dark tan color.








Next burn in the upper eyelid below the crease.  This area is in shadows, so needs to be a few shades darker than the rest of the eyelid.   Don’t worry if you don’t burn it dark enough right now.  Once more areas get burned in, you can always fine tune previous areas.







The eyelid above the crease is also shadowed, but only for a very short distance from the crease.








Block in the curved shape along the left side of the upper eyelid.






Reburn over the eyebrow hairs, so they are darker in tonal value.








Now start blocking in the different shapes on the upper eyelid.







You will need to consult with the reference photo often to determine how dark to burn the shapes.  Either that or use the value finder as I mentioned in the tonal mapping section.








I’m using a Tombow eraser to remove pencils lines that are no longer needed.  Any pencil eraser will work.  I like the Tombow eraser because it keeps a small point allowing for precise erasing.  Again, I wrote a blog listing all of the products I use along with links to Amazon on this blog:  Products I use 






Continued work blocking in shapes.







In this photo you can see the blotchy texture of the paper starting to emerge.








Look at this photo and notice how I have some lines that formed around some of the shapes.  I have two options for dealing with this.   1 – try to erase the lines, or 2 – reburn over the lines using circular motion to help them blend in.   Because I already tried fixing a mistake on this paper and discovered it ruined the paper texture, I won’t try to fix anything until after I’m done burning.

If you’re burning on paper, try to avoid fixing anything until the very end.  Paper isn’t very forgiving.  Plus, it is easy to abrade the paper.  Once that happens it is almost impossible to burn over and get smooth results.




Now block in the shapes on the lower eyelid.








Take your time.  Rushing seldom produces good results.  My artwork size is small.   The paper measures 5 x 7 inches (12.7 x 17.8 cm), and I didn’t burn to the edges of the paper.  I spent 5 hours working on the face and I didn’t include the forehead, neck, hair, etc.






Use a writer pen tip to re-burn over the thin crease on the upper eyelid, and along the inner edges of the eyelids.







If needed, use the writer to darken up the eyelashes.  Like before start burning at the base of the eyelash.  








Then burn thin really dark tan eye on the eye next to the lower eyelid.  The line should start to the left of the iris and extend to the outer corner of the eye.








Finish blocking in the shapes on the lower eyelid.









Rotate the board and use the razor edge of the shader to burn a very dark thin line along the bottom edge of the upper eyelid.   You can also use a writer pen tip for this.








It can be extremely beneficial to rotate the board and work on portraits from a different angle.  The reason is that the brain has a much harder time recognizing familiar shapes.  This allows the brain to concentrate on the shadows and highlights.




While the board is rotated, reburn over the shadow above the crease.  Keep the edge of the pen tip on the crease. 







Here’s a progress photo.








Now start reburning over the shapes to smooth out the transitions and get the color to its final value.








Continued work.








My transitions are looking better, but the blotchy paper texture is very pronounced.  I hate how the paper performed.








Lightly burn over the white of the eye and the reflected light on the iris.







If needed reburn over the eyebrow hairs.  Once I got the skin tone the shade it needed to be, the eyebrow hairs weren’t that noticeable so I had to reburn them in.







Lastly, I burned in the skin just above the eyebrow.  I didn’t burn in the forehead because I really hated this paper, and didn’t want to spend the extra time it would take.


Burning in the right eye is the same as the left except I didn’t burn in the shapes in the same order.







Instead, I started on the inner edge of the upper eyelid.  Probably because I was working my way across the portrait.






Just like the left eye, I’m just blocking in the shapes around the eye.  They are not burned to their final color.  The goal is to get the shapes to the point where the pencil lines are not needed.







I’m using a micro writer pen tip to burn in the crease and eyelashes.  A regular writer pen tip will work.  So will the razor edge of a shader.  Use what works best for you.








I also burned around the edges of the iris with the writer pen tip.









Then it’s back to blocking in shapes.









I like to block in a few shapes, erase the pencil lines, and then to a bit of reburning.








This method of working may not be your preferred way, but my goal with these blogs is to explain how I do things.  Afterwards you can decide what aspects you want to incorporate into your work.







Use the razor edge of the shader or a writer pen tip and burn the eyebrow hairs to a dark brown or black color.








Notice how I burned over the area behind the eyebrow hairs.  This young lady’s eyebrows are super thick, so you see quite a bit of skin around the hairs.  In fact, I think the majority of eyebrows are this way.






Make sure to darken up the eyelids where they touch the eye.  This area is slightly shadowed.  Plus, it will provide contrast with the whites of the eyes, which will need to be burned over at some point.







Erase pencil marks once they are no longer needed.  This particular eraser is another Tombow eraser.  I bought a set that included the small round tip and this rectangular tip.  Again, any pencil eraser will work for this.








Burn in the iris so that it is dark brown to black in color, but avoid the reflected light.  After the iris is burned in, then lightly burn over the reflected light.







Rotate the board and burn along the bottom edge of the iris.  This will put the pen tip in optimal position and produce a nice crisp, clean edge.






Also burn along the inner edge of the upper eyelid.









Here’s a progress photo.









In this photo you can see how the color is mostly smooth and seamless between the different shapes created by the dashed lines.  That is the goal, so we don’t end up with a coloring book styled image.








With the upper eyelid done other than some finetuning, concentrate on getting the lower eyelid blocked in.








Make sure to consult with the reference photo before burning in a shape to determine how dark to burn said shape.








Reburn along the lower crease lines on the lower eyelids to darken them up.








Lightly burn over the whites of the eyes including the reflected light on the iris. 







Finish blocking in the shapes below the eye on the lower eyelid.








Continued work.









Reburn over the “seam” lines between the shapes.  This is to make sure there is smooth gradient shading between the shapes.








Darken up the upper eyelid below the crease.








Burn along the outer edge of the temple.









Then start burning in the temple.








Continued work.








Do any fine tuning that is needed.








I reburned over the lighter areas around the eye to darken them up a shade or two.








I found it helpful to rotate the board to re-burn over the right eyebrows.  This position made it easier for me to replicate the slight curve the hairs had.  Keep in mind I am left-handed, so if you’re right-handed you may find it harder to work on the left eyebrow. 







While the board was rotated, I did some fine-tuning.  

I highly recommend working on your art in different directions.  The reason is that the shapes don’t look as familiar, so your brain spends more time really concentrating on the image.  This makes it easier for you to see the highlights and shadows.


When you rotate your artwork make sure to rotate the reference photo so it matches!




Here’s a composite photo showing what I’m talking about.  Our brain looks at the image and can see an eye, but the eye looks off.  Because of this we tend to spend a more time really examining the area.  This is a perfect way to help adjust tonal values, fine tune details, and determine if you have problem areas.   








Finishing up the eye area.


Now we’ll work on the nose.









Here’s a close up of the reference photo for the nose.









Block in the area around the slight depression on the nose between the eyes.








Also block in the forehead.






Continued work.







Don’t forget to erase pencils lines when they are no longer needed.







The sides of the nose are darker than the top or bridge of the nose.  Even though we are just blocking in the shapes, make sure to keep the tonal relationships in place.   This means that when you burn in the top or bridge of the nose, it should be lighter in color than the sides.  Doing this helps give the area shape and makes it easier to compare with the reference photo.






Continued work.







I like to burn the shapes a paler color than what they should be.  This means I have to re-burn over everything, but I think that produces better artwork.  One reason is that there tends to be more tonal depth with this approach.






Plus, burning at a lower heat and using re-burning to get things to their final tonal value provides the most control over the results.  There are fewer accidents. 







Burn in the slight cast shadow under the nose.








The shadow is only near the nostril openings, so don’t burn dark under the entire nose area.









One of my personal preferences is to burn in the darker shapes first.  I find that this helps me match shapes with the reference photo easier, but again that is how I like to work.  Keep in mind that there isn’t a set way to do things.  






I’ve seen artist who work left to right, top to bottom, etc., so do what feels comfortable to you.







The important thing is the burn in the shapes to their proper tonal value and to make sure the shapes maintain their tonal relationship.








My main reason for blocking in the shapes to a lighter color than they should be is that lighter colored burn strokes are easier to fix than dark ones.







As I slowly block in the shapes, I’m evaluating how the overall area is looking.  If something isn’t looking right, I try to fix it at this stage.  This is a cautious approach to burning, but I find it helps reduce the number of times I have to fix problems.






Again, a reminder to erase pencil marks that are no longer needed.  I personally think that they interfere with determining the tonal values of a shape.  I also think they make it harder to access if the gradient shading between the shapes is good or needs more work.






Usually once the pencil marks are gone, I’m ready to start re-burning over the shapes.   Not always, as sometimes I burn over the pencil lines just so I can erase them.  Then I block in the shapes.  Like I said before, there isn’t a set order in which the steps have to be done.







I mentioned before that I purposely block in the shapes to a lighter value than they should be.  The main reason is that I plan to re-burn over them, and the reburning process will darken the shapes.  Once the shapes are blocked in and the pencil marks are gone, I often start working on smoothing out the transitions between the shapes.







Yes, I tend to bounce around the artwork.  I am constantly consulting the reference photo and I will see something that needs adjusting.  While it’s in fresh in my mind I go work on my observation.   I know this makes it harder to follow along, but this is something we’re both stuck with.







I mentioned the importance of maintaining tonal relationships.  The top or bridge of the nose is lighter in color or tonal value than the sides.  If you should block in a shape and you burn it too dark, then you have two options to fix it.  Option 1: try to remove some of the color.  Option 2: darken the shapes around it to restore tonal relationships.






Unless the shape is really dark, I always choose option 2.  Trying to lighten burn marks almost always mars the surface, and when reburned over can look blotchy.  This is especially true on paper.







Most of the time if something gets accidently burned way to dark it is a problem of either not observing properly or the heat is set too high on the burner.  As I said before, I keep my burner set so I get a dark tan burn result and then I leave it alone.  Low and slow works well for me.







The higher the heat is set on the burner, the quicker the pen tip heats up.  During pauses the heat can build up to the point where you can get a very dark blotch when the pen tip comes into contact with the board.   That’s why you should ALWAYS blot the pen tip on scrape material before you resume burning.  I do this even though I keep the heat very low on my burner.  






The nose is now completely blocked in, so now it’s time to reburn to darken and smooth out the color.








As you work make sure you are keeping light and dark areas in their proper spots.  For example, near the tip of the nose is a spot of reflected light, so it is paler in color than the rest of the nose.







The transition on the forehead is nice and smooth.  You can see that it gets darker, but there isn’t a clear or crisp line where the color changes.  Instead, it’s a gradual change.








All of the nose is blocked in, so it’s time to fine tune.  This involves darkening up shadows and smoothing out transitions as needed.


We’ll burn left cheek first and then burn the right one.  








Here’s a close up of the reference photo for the cheeks.


I like to start on the darker shadowed areas first, so with the left cheek that is the laugh line.  The smile line starts along the nostril and is darkest next to the nose.






The tonal value gets lighter not far from the nose.







Afterwards I started block in the top of the check just below where the eye area ended.









The top of the cheek has a bit of a highlight and the color gets darker from there.







Now that the top of the cheek is blocked in, start burning over the pencil lines using the flat of the shader.  We want to erase the pencil lines as soon as they are no longer needed because I think they interfere with gradient shading and accessing tonal values.








Keep the burn strokes on the lighter side so that it will be easy to blend or hide them when the shapes get burned in.








Erase the pencil lines once they are not needed, and then start filling the shapes.  As always, use the flat of shader as you burn to help keep the edges of the burn strokes soft.  This will help prevent lines from forming.








I want to mention that I set my burner to get a dark tan burn result.  Once it is set, I do NOT adjust the heat setting.  Instead, I reburn to get darker results.  The darker the area means there is a lot more reburning required.







You will need to consult with the reference photo often to make sure you are replicating the shadows and highlights found on the face.  I often burn along the edge of a shape which marks the spot where the tonal value changes.  Then I fill in the shape.








I spend a considerable amount of time making sure my transitions are smooth.  









To accomplish this means I start burning on the shape that is lighter in color.  I reburn just above the transition line.   The color gets darker on the transition line, and darker yet just past the line.  Or to put it another way, the number of burn strokes I do increase as I work my way towards the darker shape.








As you can see, I tend to bounce around a lot while I’m burning.  I’ll look at the reference photo or the artwork and something will catch my eye that needs fixing.  Most of the time when this happens, I jump to the spot and try to fix it.








Because this young lady has slight dimples, the middle of her cheek is darker than the lower edge.  Close examination of the reference photo will reveal this.








Blocking in the last shape.









Fine tuning the area to adjust tonal values and smooth out transitions.


We will start on the upper portion of the right cheek by extending the color from the side of the nose to the highlight.








The process remains the same as before.  Our first goal is to get the shapes block in, or at least burn over the pencil lines so they can be erased.   I think the pencil lines interfere with determining tonal values, so I like to remove them as quickly as possible.






There isn’t a set way that portraits must be done in.  In fact, I seldom do the steps in the exact order.  Sometimes I block in shapes, erase pencil lines, and then smooth and fine tune the shapes.   Other times I burn over the pencil lines, erase them, block in the shapes, and then smooth and fine tune the shapes.  

I do highly recommend saving the smoothing and fine-tuning steps until after the pencil lines are erased. 






Always check with the reference photo before you start blocking in a new shape.  The reason is that it is a very good idea to double-check what the tonal value should be before you start burning.








In this photo the pencil marks in the area have been erased and I’m lightly burning in the highlight.







Then start block in the shapes on the side of the cheek.









Make sure to keep your pen tip in optimal position when burning along the edge of the face.   This will help ensure you don’t accidently burn past the outer edges of the face.








I mentioned before that you should use the flat of the shader when burning.  Not only with this help keep lines from forming, but it puts more metal in contact with the surface.  This produces wider burn strokes and that helps get the job done faster.







There is a slight dimple on the right cheek, so it is a touch darker than the surrounding skin.








Block in the area to the left of the dimple.   Also, just a quick reminder to erase pencil marks when they are no longer needed.








Once the upper cheek is blocked in and the pencil lines erased, re-burn over the area to darken and smooth out transitions.







Here’s a progress photo.








Now start working on blocking in the lower portion of the cheek.









Use your pencil lines as guides to help you navigate the artwork and reference photo.









Once the pencil lines are gone and the shapes are blocked in, then it’s time to fine tune the area.  This means adjusting the tonal value and smoothing out transitions.







Continued work.







Continued work.








Work your way down towards the bottom of the cheek.









The lower portion of the cheek is slightly shadowed due to the curve of the face.








Rotate the board as needed when working along the edge of the cheek.  You want to keep your pen tip in optimal position when working along edges.  This will help prevent accidently burned past the line.







Do any final tonal adjustments and / or fine tuning as needed.


Now let’s burn in the ear.   Be away that the young lady has an ear piercing, but I am ignoring it for two reasons.  One, I didn’t want to hassle with it.  Two, it doesn’t contribute to the artwork because it’s not a focal point.   If this was a commissioned piece instead of a practice piece, I would include the ear ring.








Here’s a close up of the reference photo for the eyes.









Burn in the dark shadow along the top of the ear next to the face.









Then burn in the shadow under the curved top of the ear.









Afterwards burn in the curved top of the ear.  The color is darker near the top left side and gets lighter along the bottom edge.








If needed rotate the board so your pen tip is in optimal position and reburn the shadows along the depression on the ear.






Then burn along the outer edges of the ear while keeping your pen tip in optimal position.








Burn in the outer portion of the ear just below the curved top.  Begin by burning over the dark curving line.








Then fill in the area with the appropriate tonal value.








Finishing up.








Now burn over the pencil lines and block in the lower portion of the ear.








Continued work.








Consult with the reference photo often as your work.  It’s important to make sure you are capturing shadows, highlights, and proper tonal values.








Finishing up.


The last thing to take care of is the mouth and chin.  








Here’s a close up of the reference photo for the mouth and chin area.








Let’s start with the area above the upper lip beginning by defining the edge of the upper.







Then burn in the shadow between the upper lip and the nose.







Next start burning over the remaining pencil lines in this area.







Erase the pencil lines and start blocking in the shapes.








I tend to concentrate on the darker shapes first, but this is mostly personal preference.







Continued work.






I would have to admit that looking at this photo the shading isn’t very smooth looking.   I’m going to blame the terrible paper for the majority of that.  😊







Once the right side is blocked in, then work on the left.







Continued work.






Block in the left corner near the mouth.






Then start burning in the dark areas on the right corner of the mouth.







Notice how the edges of this wide burn stroke are slightly irregular and soft.  This is desirable and it’s a result of burning with the flat of the shader.






It might be helpful to work on the mouth upside down so you can concentrate on the shadows instead of familiar shapes.






The corners of the mouth are pretty dark.







The color is even darker inside the mouth past the edges of the teeth at the corners of the mouth.






In this photo I’m starting to do a little fine tuning on the skin above the lip.







Continued work.