Danette Smith's Pyrography Series #1: Portrait of Megan

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Blog entry by Danette Smith posted 10-09-2008 07:18 PM 4925 reads 3 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Danette Smith's Pyrography Series series Part 2: Pyrography Exhibit at Andrews Art Museum in North Carolina. »

Hi Everyone!

Well here is my first attempt at a blog.

To wood burn a portrait I start out with a photo of the person. I scan it to my computer and then I print out the size of the portrait, Megan was done as an 8” x 10” size.

Next I find the piece of wood I want to put it on and do several sandings starting with 400 grit sandpaper and end up with 600 grit sandpaper. Always sand with the grain of the wood. Then I “buff” the wood using a brown paper bag and move it over the wood as if I were sanding it.

Now I am ready to transfer the picture onto the wood. I do this by taking the picture and placing it on the wood to position it where I want it to be. Once I have found this I take “painters tape” and tape the picture to the wood so that it won’t move while I am transferring. I usually tape at the top of the photo.

The next step is to place “graphite paper” under the picture so it will be ready to trace the photo onto the wood. Make sure you have the tracing paper face down on the wood, if you don’t you will be tracing the photo onto the back of your paper and not onto the wood. I always take a peek under the graphite when I first start tracing to be sure. I use a “red ink” pen and begin to trace over the lines of the photo. The red ink allows me to see what lines I have already traced.

Now that the photo is traced onto the wood it will look like this…

I’m now ready to start burning the portrait. Using the shading tip I now start with her eyes. I always do the eyes first…it helps me capture her likeness. If the eyes don’t turn out right the rest of the portrait won’t be right. Never use a skew to outline anything on a portrait…it will produce a deep line into the wood. You want a soft outline of the eyes. I use a ballpoint tip to outline the iris and pupils as it doesn’t dig into the wood, but rather flows over the wood. Here is Megan with her eyes done…

Next I do her nose, mouth, teeth and add some shading to these areas using the shading tip again…I also lightly outline the shape of her face….she is now starting to come to life…

Now I move to the left side of her face and add more shading, and using the shading tip I outline and shade her ear. I add light shading to her cheeks, chin, and forehead. Next I switch tips and using my hair pen tip I begin to lightly add her hair being careful to follow the direction her hair is going in.

I keep burning her hair so that it becomes all shaded in. Watch for where the highlights are in the hair so that you burn that area lighter. Notice that her hairline is not outlined or solid…there are always wisps of hair and broken ends that stick out.

It’s now time to move onto her fur collar on her sweater. I turn her picture sideways and using the shading tip I start under her chin and begin to draw the tip towards me on her left collar. I make short stokes having some areas lighter and others darker. Then I turn the picture again straight up and begin on her right collar by drawing the tip downward towards me. When done it will look like this…

Next it’s time to do her sweater. I was trying to figure out how I would get the look of the knit lines in the sweater and did some experimenting and came up with this. I took my hair pen and using either no heat or a very, very low heat, I started drawing in the lines of the sweater. You need to follow the direction all the curves and bumps in the sweater. Once I got all the lines put in I took my shading tip and lightly shaded over all the lines. This leaves a reverse effect where the top of the sweater is shaded, but the lines are indented into the wood and don’t get shaded when passed over with the shading tip. Pretty cool, huh? Photobucket

Last but not least…I go back and look where I need to add more shading. When I feel it is almost done I put it somewhere in my house so that I can see it as I pass by for a couple of days and look at it as I go by. This allows me to look for anything I may have missed. After a couple of days I will go back and touch up anything I may have seen during those couple of days and finish it up. Sign it and I’m done.

I hope you all find step-by-step tutorial interesting. This portait took me 40 hours to do. Hugs…Dannie
“Keep burning and learning © ™”
Danette Smith
Pyrographic Artist and Instructor

-- Danette Smiths Pyrography and Easels -

13 comments so far

View Toolz's profile


1004 posts in 3771 days

#1 posted 10-09-2008 07:52 PM

Lovely work Danette. I just e-mailed the links and this blog to my wife who is a budding pyrographer.

-- Larry "Work like a Captain but Play like a Pirate!"

View coloradoclimber's profile


548 posts in 4096 days

#2 posted 10-09-2008 09:56 PM

holy cricks! that’s really cool. I’ve never seen anything quite like that. thanks for the progression, that’s just pretty amazing.

View Sawdust2's profile


1466 posts in 4116 days

#3 posted 10-10-2008 02:53 AM

I’ve seen photos and watercolors that are not that detailed!

I know the Peter Principle. I’ll stick to cutting and gluing straight pieces.


-- No piece is cut too short. It was meant for a smaller project.

View romansfivefive's profile


302 posts in 3802 days

#4 posted 10-10-2008 04:11 AM

thanks for sharing. that is an awesome portrait. what kind of burner do you use? I have been thinking about a razortip system, do you have any thoughts on that system?

-- The CNC machine can either produce the work of art you imagined, or very decorative firewood.

View kolwdwrkr's profile


2821 posts in 3619 days

#5 posted 10-10-2008 04:21 AM

very nice blog, and the portait is amazing. Thanks for sharing

-- ~ Inspiring those who inspire me ~

View Danette Smith's profile

Danette Smith

161 posts in 4308 days

#6 posted 10-10-2008 07:06 AM

Thanks to all of you for your kind words about my portrait. I really love sharing my art work here in this forum.
Have a great week…hugs…Danette

-- Danette Smiths Pyrography and Easels -

View MsDebbieP's profile


18615 posts in 4189 days

#7 posted 10-30-2008 11:24 PM

this is wonderful .. and the pix of your work are great as well.
Thank you!!

-- ~ Debbie, Canada (

View PetVet's profile


329 posts in 3516 days

#8 posted 11-12-2008 03:50 PM

Wow, I am humbled.

-- Rich in Richmond -- Experience is something you don't get until just after you need it.

View woodbutcher's profile


592 posts in 4194 days

#9 posted 01-31-2009 02:21 AM

Danette Smith,
I just now discovered your work and the blog. Your work is simply Amazing! The detail is wonderful and allows it to look just like a real portrait. Reminds me of some older sepia toned photos that were done. Thanks so much for sharing with the blog also. Congratulations on a beautiful work of Art, and again TY for sharing.

Ken McGinnis

-- woodbutcher north carolina

View mike85215's profile


127 posts in 3173 days

#10 posted 10-17-2009 07:40 AM

Absolutely beautiful !!!
My wife is beginning to do pyrography….she feels so intimidated and is reluctant to try to do a portrait any suggestions ?

View Danette Smith's profile

Danette Smith

161 posts in 4308 days

#11 posted 10-18-2009 02:45 AM

Hi Mike!

How long has your wife been burning? A portrait is a bit intimidating…even to me. All I can say is have her read my Portrait Blog…use a low temperature…don’t outline anything…shade it in. Start with the eyes…they have to be right or everything else won’t look right. I wish her good luck and if she has any questions tell her she can email me anytime. Blessings…Danette

-- Danette Smiths Pyrography and Easels -

View a1Jim's profile


117128 posts in 3606 days

#12 posted 10-18-2009 03:19 AM

wonderful and amazing.Great art.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Roger's profile


20929 posts in 2833 days

#13 posted 05-27-2011 02:42 PM

very much comes to life. awesome

-- Roger from KY. Work/Play/Travel Safe. Keep your dust collector fed.

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