Cape Disappointment Lighthouse Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

Ilwaco wa lighthouse wood burning pyrography

A friend of mine has a cabin at Long Beach, WA. She spends quite a few weekends there enjoying the scenery, ocean air, and the soothing sounds of the ocean waves crashing on the sand.  During one of her hikes along the beach she took a photograph of Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.   It was a typical overcast day and this combined with the angle of the photo gave the lighthouse an ominous look to it.  I was immediately taken with the photography and asked her if I could use it for a pyrography project; this is what emerged.  In this blog I will explain how to create the pyrography lighthouse scene.

You can watch a timelapse YouTube video of this artwork being created. Just click on the image to the left.

A quick note about the pictures in this tutorial.  This is the first project that I didn’t take still shots with my camera and instead used the frame capture from the video.  I won’t do that again as it makes the tutorials harder to show what I want, so my apologies in advance.   

Time to get to work.

SKILL LEVEL:  3 (intermediate)


  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 11 x 14 inch (27.9 x 35.6 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Cape D Lighthouse Pattern
  • White Charcoal Pencil
  • Sanding Pen or Colored Pencil Eraser (optional)

A Sanding pen is an eraser made out of fiberglass and it’s advertised as a rust remover for automobiles.   Do not get one that is listed for use on watches as the bristles are not strong enough for wood.  I found mine on Ebay.



Sanding the surface smooth using 220 grit sandpaper or higher.   Then spray the board with water and let it dry.  This will raise the grain or nap of the wood.  After the board is completely dry, then sand again. 

Now you have an ultra smooth board that is ready for burning.







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 light weight paper (standard copier paper is perfect), coat the back of the pattern with a graphite pencil  (I use one in the B ranges), place pattern on wood, tape in place, trace over pattern with a sharp pencil, remove pattern, and you’re ready to burn. 







With the writing pen tip on medium-low burn in the trace lines.   For my burner medium-low is around 2.5 – 3 as the unit goes to 10.   

Keep in mind, that while I tell you what setting I had my unit on, this setting can vary a lot!    For example, old pen tips don’t need as much heat as new ones.  Hardwoods require a higher heat setting than softwoods.   What brand of burner you’re using will also impact the heat setting.   I could have 10 Colwood Super Pro II units lined up and it wouldn’t be surprised if I needed a different setting on each one to get the same burn color result.




Do your best to keep the lines straight.  The railing at the top of the lighthouse can be burned in pretty darkly as it is black metal.






When burning straight lines, especially long straight lines keep your hand and wrist in a fixed position and move your entire arm.  This approach will result in much straighter lines.    Or burn small segments of the line at a time, but again try not to flex your hand and wrist much. 





With my artwork I wanted it to look like it had black frame around it, so I measured 1 inch (2.54 cm) from the edge and drew a frame around the wood.  I drew another frame inside the first one that was slightly smaller as it measured 1.25 inches from the edge (3.18 cm).   I used the metal straight edge of the ruler to help keep my line super straight when I burned it in, but that didn’t work super awesome.  The metal acts as a heat sink, so it took a LONG time to get one side of the frame done. 



You may or may not want the lighthouse name label on your artwork, but note that I used a writing tip to carefully outline each letter.  Take your time when doing this.  Because I have to slow down my hand speed a lot when I burn in letters, I keep the heat on my unit on a medium-low setting.   





After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. 

You might have noticed that I forgot to draw the clouds when I traced the pattern onto the wood.   Oops.  That also meant that I didn’t burn in any trace lines.  I will assume you didn’t make the same mistake, so when you burn in the cloud lines switch to the shading tip and keep the heat on a low setting (mine was around 2 and my unit goes to 10).   With the shading pen tip, lightly go over each of the lines with the flat of the pen tip.


This is a super easy step as all we are doing is burning the 1 inch (2.54 cm) wide frame a very dark color.   But before I discuss that I need to talk about proper pen tip position.






NOTICE the placement of the pen tip in this photo; I call this Optimal Pen Tip Placement.

The end of the pen tip is on the inside edge of the frame.  Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am only burning on the frame and not on the contents in the frame – seashells, lighthouse, etc.

If you walk away with only one thing from this tutorial, I hope optimal pen tip position is it.    Optimal pen tip position ensures that you are burning where you INTEND to burn and that your borders are crisp/clean.

Turning the wood, when needed, is important to ensure optimal pen tip placement.   You can angle your hand in weird positions to accomplish this, but if you’re burning for any duration of time it’s much easier to just turn the wood. 

With optimal pen tip position in mind, burn a thick dark line along the inside edge of the frame.  This creates what I call a buffer zone and it makes it easier to fill in the frame because you don’t have to be as careful when you get near the edge.    After the buffer zone is burned in, then I turned up the heat on my unit to medium (5) and darkly burned in the rest of the frame.  



continued work on the frame
Almost done with the frame







While burning the frame, it can be very useful to have a small fan in use.  Direct the fan AWAY from you so that wind it generates is not blowing on you.  Having the fan positioned to pull the smoke away from you, so your eyes (and lungs) won’t get irritated.   The small fan I use runs on batteries, clips onto edges, and the blades are made out of foam.  I like that because if I accidentally bump it, nothing gets hurt or damaged.   I found it on Ebay under a listing for a baby stroller fan and it cost around 10-15 dollars.   It can also be found Amazon.






In this step we will take care of the base or bottom of the image.  This means we’ll burn the name label, the lighthouse foundation, and all of the seashells decorating the bottom of the image.


For whatever reason I only outlined the letters when I burned in the trace lines, so here I finished burning them in. 



I used my writing tip and had the pen heat on medium-low (around 2.5) as I needed to go slow on this step.   After I burned in the letters I went over the label with my shading tip and colored it a pale tan color.






I colored the foundation a dark brown color.  I didn’t try to keep it uniform or smooth in tone, in fact I purposely added some blotches here and there.  The base is made out of concrete; not a surface known for a glass-like texture. 








I first outlined the foundation by burning darkly along the edges.







Filling in the foundation.







Also I kept the right side of the foundation a little lighter than the left side.  This goes along with how the lighthouse itself is more illuminated on the right side.






Now it’s time for the seashells

First the Left Seashells




The clam shell was a simple matter of burning a tan line between each of the ridges and then color the rest of a the clam a very pale tan color.




Use the shader to burn thick lines along one edge of each line on the shell.







The spiral snail shell was edged along the bottom of each ring, shaded so the color fades as it reaches the top of the ring.  



Burn along the base of each ring.  Allow the color to fade before reaching the next ring.






For the sand dollar I used a writing pen tip to darkly burn in the design including the holes that are dash shaped.   Then I lightly shaded the edges of the sand dollar a very pale tan color. 



Burning in the dark pattern and then burn around the edges of the sand dollar.






For the small mussel, I just shaded the shell a light tan and darkened up the left edge so it would contrast against the “white mat” border.


On the cowrie shell that is barely peeking through, I darkened the center with the writing tip and shaded the rest of the shell a tan color.


For the small ends of the starfish that show I first dotted the surface with a writing pen tip.  Then I lightly shaded around the edges of the starfish.




With the sea urchin shell I first dotted along the edges of each stripe with the writing pen tip.      



Use a writer pen tip and burn dark dots along the lines.







Then I colored the stripes to a medium tan color and the center hole opening was blackened up.








The last shells on the left side are the 2 mussels and the spiral snail shell.  The two mussel shells I shaded to an overall tan color.  I did the spiral snail the same way I did the upright shell.  The base of each ring was darkened and the color faded as it reached the top of the ring.


Now for the Right Seashells





For the two seashells behind the starfish, I just lightly colored them a uniform pale tan color.  




With the starfish, I dotted its entire surface and lightly shaded around the edges.  Lastly, I put a dark line under left most tentacle and under the lower right tentacle. 




Burn lots of dots over the surface of the starfish.





 The burn the lower edges of the starfish to a tan color






Lastly, burn shadows under the starfish.






The two cowrie shells are colored a light tan and the back one has the center opening burned in dark.  The clam next to the cowrie shells was colored a light tan.



The sand dollar received the same treatment that the one on the right did.  A writing tip was used to darkly color in the pattern and the edges were very lightly shaded.




The last shell is the spiral snail shell and it got the same treatment as the others in that the base of each ring is shaded and the color fades as it nears the next ring.



Burn along the edge of the ring and let the color fade when nearing the next ring.


Other than the top of the lighthouse, there isn’t much to the lighthouse.  The majority of it is a white column that narrows at the top.  The top though has a bit going on, so let’s work on that first.








The top of the lighthouse has railings, glass, decorative recessed panels, etc.  I find I tend to burn the dark items first, and that’s what I did here.  






The roof was burned a very dark brown/black color that is pretty uniform in color.  





The underside of the viewing ledge is a different matter as it has decorative cornices on it.   First I burned the underside a very dark brown/black color avoiding the cornices.  






Next I burned a dark line or band through each cornice and then darkened them a shade or two lighter than the underside color.   You see them, but they don’t really stand out.  Also, the cornices on the left side of the lighthouse were darkened up more than the ones on the right side.  Or, to put it another way, as you work your way from the right to the left, the cornices gradually increase in darkness or color.





Shading the cornices
Almost done shading the cornices








Next I darkened up the frames between each pane of glass.  






Then darkened up the railing






Time to work on the recessed panels.  I switched to a writing tip to darken up the lines on all of the panels.  Keep the top and right lines of the panel darker and thicker than the left line.   The reason is that the light is coming from the right side, so it strikes the left side of the panel more.   



burning in the right edges of each panel









In this photo I’m almost done with the panel lines.  Notice how the right sides of the panels have thicker line than the left.





Now shade the inside of the panels.  I’m shading along the right side, so it is darker than the left side.  The goal is to give the impression that the sun is located to the right of the lighthouse, so this means that the recessed areas on the right are in shadows.





Below is a detailed example of shading one of the recessed panels:


Working on the top most panel ledge, shade along the right side of the ledge. It is important to keep optimal pen tip position while doing this.







Here I’ve started on the right edge of the second ledge in the panel.








Now I’m doing shading along the right edge of the last ledge or the bottom of the panel.







If you need to, burn over the ledge edges again to darken them up as I did.








Repeat the process of burning along the ledge edges for the top.  Here I’m burning along the top most ledge edge.






Here I’m starting on the second ledge edge.  Again notice that the optimal pen tip position is making it so that the top edge of the ledge is shaded, but the bottom edge is pale.





Finally burning along the last edge.







The final step for each panel is to shade the bottom of it.

Starting to shade the bottom.








Almost done shading the bottom panel.  Note that I keep the right side darker than the left.







Below are some progress photos of a couple other panels being burned in.








Next item to take care of are the glass windows at the top of the lighthouse.





Using a white charcoal pencil go along the edges of the window frames and draw a thick line.  Note that you must use a white CHARCOAL pencil and NOT a white colored pencil.  The reason is that colored pencils contain wax, so they will melt under the heat of the pen tip.   Charcoal, on the other hand, does not and it resists the heat of the pen tip, so it will help keep the area it covers paler or un-burned.






The red lines in this reference photo indicate where the white charcoal lines need to be placed.   





With the shading pen tip, lightly burn over the entire surface of each glass window.  Keep the pen heat low (for my unit that goes to 10, I had it on 1.5) during this step. 






I find that using a slow straight stroke that travels the down the length of the window works best. 

After lightly shading in the window panes, erase the white charcoal.






If need be, darken up the metal rails along the viewing deck. 







Last step on the lighthouse is to shade the tower walls.  I used a combination of small circular motions and straight strokes to slowly shade the lighthouse.  When I am working on the edge of an object I almost always use a straight stroke that follows the contour of the object’s edge.  I use the circular motion type of strokes to fill in the center.  

Straight strokes tend to be more uniform in color, but as the lighthouse is made of concrete, I wanted some subtle texture so I used the small circular motions in addition to the straight strokes.

Two more things to note:   1) the right side of the lighthouse is paler than the left, and 2) the walls get gradually darker the further to the left you go. 

To accomplish this, I barely shaded the right side of the tower walls, and I gradually increased the color the closer to the left side I got.  This helps give the lighthouse walls a rounded look. 

Below are some progress photos:  





While I was working on the clouds, I used my shading pen tip.  I kept it on a medium-low setting (around 3; my unit goes to 10) the entire time.  I’m going to break up the cloud step into two sections.  The first will cover the fluffy clouds that fill most of the sky and the second will cover the dark thin clouds near the horizon.







There are 3 basic steps to the fluffy clouds.

  • Shade the underside of the cloud
  • Shade the middle & sides of the cloud. Left side gets shaded more than the right.
  • Leave the top of the cloud un-burned

Clouds are not uniform in shape, but I tend to think of them as several cotton balls grouped together.  I use a circular motion when doing the fluffy clouds.  A small and slow circular motion will produce a darker thick line whereas a larger fast circular motion produces lightly colored fluff. 

Along the bottoms of the cloud = small, slow circular motion.

Sides = large, faster circular motion.  

Below is a detailed example of a cloud patch being burned in. 





Here I’m starting to define the bottom of a cloud patch.  







The arrow shows the spot I’m starting to work on. 












I just continue to work on the underside of the clouds as I work my way from the right side to the left. 
























Here I had to rotate the board to get a crisp edge along the lighthouse wall.  I kept the board rotated as I worked on darkening up this spot. 






This shows how, as I darken the underside of one cloud patch, it defines the upper edges of the clouds below it.








That’s what I’m doing – working my way up the board darkening up the bottom of each cloud group. 







Below are a couple more pictures I was worked my way up from the demo patch.  






The red arrow shows the original starting of this detailed explanation.







Below are progress photos of the clouds being worked on and the Horizon clouds will be explained after that.




The clouds closer to the horizon I made darker in color to give the impression that a storm front was moving in.  Plus it allowed the top of the lighthouse to stand out more.

With the horizon clouds I used short, jagged lines that resembled wood grain to me as I started out.  I just kept adding more lines and keeping the lines varied in thickness and color to get the look I was after. 




The transition line is the line between the fluffy upper clouds and the dark ominous clouds.






Getting the basic shape down.






continued work.








I just continue to add more lines and slowly darken up the clouds.  








Below are progress photos of the dark thin clouds being worked on.





















It took me a several times burning over the lower clouds to build them up to the color level (darkness) that I wanted. 








 If needed, use a sanding pen or an eraser for commonly used with colored pencils to lighten up some of your cloud tops. 





Another tutorial concludes.  I hope I’m accomplishing my goal of giving you projects that you are able to follow along with as you gain skills and confidence to venture out on your own.

Let me know what you think about the tutorial.  I welcome your feedback as that is the only way I will discover how I’m doing and what improvements I can/should make.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on bass wood that measures 11×14 inch (27.9 x 35.6 cm). It took me 13 3/4 hours to complete the artwork.   That said this is not a race or contest.  I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.  You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter.  What’s important is you’re learning to create pyrography artwork, and hopefully having fun while doing so.

Until the next blog,


Feb 24, 2017

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