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Pyrography Tutorial "Enchanting Eyes" - Pyrography Portrait Tutorial Work in Progress

Pyrography Tutorial Work in Progress by Nedra Denison

Please click on each thumbnail for a larger version of each photo

Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress.

This was all done in two sittings. I got the basic outline and eyes done on the first day and the rest was done on the second day. The description of how I did it so far is below.

Up until this point everything has been done using the bent spear shader (HD5MP).

It's been far too long since I had a chance to sit and work on this enchanting little girl. 

I have done a bit more shading on her forehead and sides of her face. I also worked on her hair a bit more developing the shading and details such as adding a few wispy hairs in the front. I still have more to do on her face but I wanted to start working on her blanket.

Moving on to the blanket I started shading the top of the blanket and then moved down to the right shoulder. Using the Single temperature burner I worked the darkest shading and once I got the deepest areas shaded I switched back to my bent spear shader to start blending the lighter tones. I work the pen just like a paint brush, blending the shading so that it appears to be painted.

I have done some more work on her hair, deepening the tone in the dark areas and adding more definition and texture. I also worked on blending the "lines" created by the grain.

Working more on the blanket I filled in some of the folds on the right side of her head and deepened the tones on the left side using the spear shader.

Looking at her now she kind of looks a bit like Tory Spelling.  That will change of course when I do more work on her face!

I have gone back to the blanket again now using the single temperature burner. I deepened the darkest shaded areas and began blending the "mottled" look of the blanket. As I am working on this blanket it is reminding me of the old woolen blanket I had as a child. Like this one it was brown and had that "mottled" look to it which I think gave it personality. Of course I didn't know what that meant back then!

I am hoping that my next sitting I can finish the right side of the blanket and move on to do more work on her face.


Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress.

It may not look like I've accomplished a lot here but I have "mostly" finished the right side of the blanket. I have some fine tuning to do in spots but it's well on it's way to being done. I will do some touching up, filling in here and there and then leave it and move on. Any final touching up will be done later when I work on the other side. Once that is done I will know if I need to darken any areas or not. So for now I will leave that side alone and begin working more on her face and the left side of the blanket.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know it still doesn't look like I have done much. I have done more work on the right side of her face and the blanket next to her face. 

I have done some fine detail on the edge of the blanket and it is  really starting to come alive and look more realistic. I also worked on the shading on the right side of her face from the edge of her face between the eye and below her nose. I started to define the left side of her face a bit around the edge of the blanket. 

Slow progress but that's the way I work. I opt to build my shading gradually so it is deeper and I have more control over the shading. 

I am working on the face a bit and then the blanket. It requires a lot of blending to ensure it is smooth and not blotchy.  You can actually now see the shape of the face and by next sitting it probably will have some definition to it.

Because wood is not a "perfect" canvas and there is grain to deal with I have to carefully work the grain area to blend it without leaving grain marks.  While you might see grain lines in the background I am trying to keep that grain line out of the burning. It requires a lot of patience and slow blending. Of course this what I like about wood...the aesthetic quality and you have to take the good with the bad!

Today I began working on the blanket on the left side of her face. I am working slowly blending the area between the folds to get the shading and highlights just right. 

One thing you need to keep in mind when doing shading like this. Dark pushes back and light brings forward so keeping that in mind with the folds I try to keep the highest point of the folds light to bring it up and the crease of the folds darker.

I'm sure that it seems like it's taking forever and to some it's probably true. I do work slowly and I do work with a cooler burner so that I can burn in layers. It is more time consuming but I get much better control and as I tell my students, this is not a race to get it done quickly. Rush your work and believe me it will show.


Holiday crunch hasn't given me much time to burn but now that things are settling down a bit I can get back into burning.

I am working on the left side of the blanket to create the folds.  Remember that light brings things forward and dark pushes them back. That is what I'm doing here to create a rounded look to the folds.

I'll continue working the area darkening the areas that need it and blending the lighter areas to create the texture and mottled look in the blanket.

More area has been shaded on the blanket. I'm not darkening the dark areas too much until I get the blanket all filled in.

Once that is done I'll re-evaluate what needs additional darkening.  I want to ensure that the tonal values are as they should be and it's best not to make adjustments until the area is all filled in with the first layer of tones.

I was getting a bit tired of working on the blanket so I did a bit of detail work on her eyes. I did a bit more shading and added more depth to the "eye liner" around her eyes to bring them out a bit more. 

My poor hand is getting stressed from all the burning and the arthritis so I have pulled out the big guns to continue working on it. I am now using the Wall Lenk 30 watt burner set at med-high setting that is plugged into a temperature control unit much like that on a detail burner. 

I deepened a few of the very dark areas on the right side and then filled in the middle area and did a bit more darkening on the other folds. Next sitting I will try to finish filling in the last of the blanket so I can then make any necessary adjustments on the deepest areas.

I have finished filling in the left side of the blanket. It is just the first layer and next I will start deepening the shading where needed now that it is done and then blending the right side as needed. Once I get the blanket to where I think it's just right I'll finish up the face. 
Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress.


Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress. Enchanting Eyes work in progress.

With the blanket "almost" done I am starting to add some detail to the face. I also darkened the hair on the right a bit more when I added more depth to the shading on the right side of the face. 

She now almost has a nose and mouth and more shading on the forehead and eyes getting ready to add some brows tomorrow.

Saturday I'm meeting with the framer to discuss options for framing. I'm trying to get the frame ready so I can take it to the show in Yuma all framed.

Ok, moving right along at a snails pace I added more detail to the face and deepened the darkest shadows on the sides. 

I sketched lines with my burner to serve as guide lines for certain details such as placement of eyebrows, facial lines and shadows. All to help me visualize where shadows will go as I burn. 

I am still using the bent spear shader but I have turned the temp down to about a "4" on the dial while working on her face.


The frame has been ordered and will be ready when she is.  Today was a disaster and not much time to get anything done but I did get a bit done on her face and the blanket. 

Some of the shadows and shading have been added to the nose, chin and mouth area. 

The framer said last chance to get it done in time for Yuma is Thursday. That means I have to work hard tomorrow and get it done no later than Monday so I can set it aside for a couple of days before applying the final finish.

This should be the last posting until I finish the portrait. I'm finishing her face now. I've roughed in her brows but they need some work. I'm not happy with them right now so I'll work on them again later. 

Her cheeks, chin and nose need more blending of shadows and highlights and that will be done next.  Once I finish this today I will set it aside and look at it for a while to be sure I'm really happy with it and then I'll apply the final finish. 

Remember when you look at the finished burning and the photo, this is not intended to be a photocopy of the original photo!!!!


This piece is being done on a 9" x 12" basswood plaque that is 3/4 inch thick. I will have custom framed when it is finished. I started this piece and then thought perhaps it might help people to see what I am doing as I go along. I apologize for not giving you more details in the very beginning but I will try to do that now and then pick up from there. 

The burning was done using a photo from the Library of Congress website regarding the Edward Curtis Collection. "There are no known restrictions on publication or other forms of distribution of the photographs in this collection. The collection was acquired by the Library through copyright deposit and the copyright registrations expired and were not renewed. The images are now in the public domain". For more information about Edward Curtis and his collection, please go to the LOC website http://www.loc.gov/rr/print/coll/067_curt.html.

I am doing this work in progress for educational purposes to help others learn how I create a lifelike burning or a human portrait using a photograph.  It is my interpretation of the original photo. If you decide to do a burning of this same child (or any photo) please don't try to "copy" my burning or the original photograph. Look at it closely with your own eyes and let your mind and soul "feel" it before you even attempt to burn it. Make it come alive in your mind so it is not just a photo copy.   

The first thing I started with is the eyes and anyone who knows me understands why. My feeling is that since the eyes are the windows of the soul they can either make or break a piece if done wrong. So, if I mess up here I can sand and start over. As I usually do, I burn in layers bottom up, back to forward...just as you would get dressed and as things grow in nature.  It makes things more natural and lifelike and if you look at the petals of a flower you will be able to visualize layers better and how it makes it more natural if you burn using that same technique. So if you have read my book "Lifelike Pyrography from Photographs" you will have this down pat. I give step-by-step directions on doing a face in the book so if you are interested after watching this evolve please order the book.  In my first book, "Pyrography 101" I do a step-by-step of a rose using the "layering technique". By the time you finish that piece you will see why burning it in layers makes it just pop off the wood and look alive. 

I started on the iris of the eye and make sure that I leave the wood bare where I want the highlight. Up until now I have exclusively used the Razertip HD5MP for everything. Once the iris is done to my satisfaction I begin with the lids and shading. When I am satisfied I move on. I will not complete the eye area now but will go back later.  I've gotten the most important part and I am happy with how it looks. 

Next I moved to the shadow under the blanket (top of head) and then start working the hair and shadow on her forehead under the hair. What I am doing now in the hair is merely laying in the tone (what I also call the base coat) and will add the texture to the hair later. If you look closely at the larger view of this you will see that this piece of wood has variations in tones in the wood. It almost looks like streaks in the wood and it shows more when burned so I am working at the shading to try to blend.  What that means is that if you have this problem when one part appears lighter or darker you blend both so they match better almost making the variation disappear. This takes time and patience as you blend the shading, much like you are using a paint brush and paint. 

BTW, the name of this wood burning is Enchanting Eyes.  It is all I could think of at the moment and it might change later but the first time I saw the photo I was totally taken with those eyes and that is what drew me into doing this piece. I wanted to see if I could capture "the look".

Happy Burning ©!

Nedra Denison signature.


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