Introduction: Pyrography: Making Burning Easy

About: I am a third generation artist with a background in oil painting and watercolors, I fell in love with pyrography in 1984 and have won numerous awards, written 6 books, am a regular contributor to major print m…

It’s deceiving, woodburning instruments can look and feel so much like standard art tools that it is natural to treat them in the same way. Unfortunately this is a big mistake. Because in doing so, you counteract the very essence of burning, sabotaging your efforts and making it more challenging and at times impossible to achieve the results you desire.

This is why often I often come across people who feel this is a limited art form so they discount it for other mediums. Pyrography is in fact a very versatile and simple medium to master. There are not many variables to consider and so it doesn’t take long to gain proficiency.

In this article I’m going to discuss a practical approach to the pyrographic process. This is important because if you don’t understand the principles of the process itself you will be struggling against the very thing that creates the effects you desire.

Pyrography is a physical and not a mechanical process. What this means is that you need to be aware that you are NOT mechanically laying down ink but rather physically transforming your surface into its “burnt” state. This usually translates into a darkening effect (hence the look of ink or paint).

The key to remember here is that the transformation is happening ALL the time that your pen is in contact with your surface. Any variation in pressure, heat, or duration during this contact will make a significant difference.

If you don’t allow enough time for the pen to transform the surface through burning, you will not see any markings. If you use your burning tool like an ink pen this is likely to become obvious. When we write or draw we do not maintain a consistent speed or pressure. Our strokes vary, they hesitate (which causes a dark blotch in the burning) and we sweep our stroke (which doesn’t show any burn).

In order to control your burning marks you need to become intimately aware of the fact that all contact with the surface must be monitored. The moment your pen touches the surface something is happening. Any hesitation can result in a burnt blob and any swift reaction will cause your line to disappear. This is why most beginner burnings appear course and blotchy, with sketchy lines.

But when you gaze at the work of a proficient pyrographer, this idea of pyrography as a rustic medium goes out the window. Not only can the lines be clean and fine, but they have a delicate quality that cannot be reproduced in any other medium. Shading can take on a photographic look that rivals airbrushing.

These effects are not difficult. They do however require the artist to take the time to learn a new approach to the medium.

Step 1: A Practical Way to Approach This...

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you approach your burnings. Think of your pen as either a helicopter or an airplane. When your pen “touches down” it will either be moving or standing still.

There are three approaches to “landing and taking off” with your pen.

• Like a Helicopter – straight down and straight back up vertically (Image A).

• Like an Airplane – glide down, drag, glide back up horizontally (Image B).

• And the Combination – straight down (vertically), drag, glide up (horizontally) (Image C).

Keeping a consistent speed and pressure will give the best results. Remember, because you are burning and not drawing, any hesitation will result in blobbing or dark burns and any speeding up will fade your burn. Watch your follow through with any of these techniques being sure that your speed and pressure are consistent and smooth.

One last bit of information, the pen will always be hottest when you first land because the heat has built up on the metal and has no way to disperse. Your initial contact with the surface will disperse initial heat and then even out its temperature. So begin your burns at the darkest area first and use this natural tendency to your benefit.

In this article I’ve given you a practical understanding to the pyrographic process so that you can better understand not only what is happening in your burnings but also how to achieve the effects you desire.

If you have enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about pyrography I invite you to check out my FREE Burning Video Series which goes over the fundamentals of pyrography. You can learn more at