Entwined Seahorse Pyrography Tutorial wood burning


Entwined Seahorses

A while back Todd got into fractal wood burning, or Lichtenberg Figures burning as some call it.  Fractal wood burning is done by using electricity and I’ll explain it a bit more at the end of the blog.    He gave me several pieces he had done so that I could try wood burning on them.  Since most of the time his fractal burns reminded me of coral, my mind went to sea creatures.  I first tried a sea turtle design, but that turned out terrible.  My next attempt was the seahorses and while they didn’t turn out as grand as I was hoping, I think the process of creation is worth discussing.   During the tutorial blog I will explain how I created the Entwined Seahorses pyrography artwork.


Watch a time lapse video of the artwork being creating by clicking on the icon to the right.

Artist submitted art at the bottom of the blog, so please check it out.



  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • Ball tip (optional)
  • 8 3/4 x11 (22.2 x 27.9 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  Entwined Seahorses pattern
  • White Charcoal Pencil 

Foreword:  note that during some steps of the explanation you will be able to see that addition work has been done.  Please ignore this and concentrate on the items I’m discussing as the addition work will get discussed later.

A quick word about the pattern.  Since there are two seahorses I drew them on the pattern using slightly different colored ink to help differentiate between the two.  The seahorse in the back is a dark brown and has thinner lines whereas the front seahorse was drawn with a black ink pen.

Entwined Seahorse reference photo


Here’s reference photo to help you with this one.  Yes, it’s not a great photo, but it’s the best I had to do this project with.








I do not have any photo’s for this step, but you always need to prep the wood surface for burning.   Do this by sanding the surface smooth using 220 grit sand paper.   For more details about prepping wood and the different types of wood I’ve burned on refer to this blog:  Wood Prepping.



Checking trace lines for missing spots

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, position on the wood, and trace over the pattern.  Make sure to check the trace results for accuracy before removing the pattern.

For more information on pattern transfer please refer to my blog:  Transferring Patterns.






Trace lines burned in

With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines.   I have to really emphasize the need to keep the lines around the ridges very pale.   

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

burning in the trace lines





Close-up of the face

First we will burn the face on the seahorse in the back.









Darkly burn along the bottom of face

Start by darkly burning along the bottom edge of the face.  The key to keeping the outer edges sharp and clean is to keep the pen in optimal position.  This means the edge of the pen tip is along the inside edge of the face.  This ensures you are burning on the face and not on the background.  



burning in the top area of the head


Next burn the top of the head a medium tan color, but leave the two circular spots unburned for now.  I used a small circular motion to fill in this area.  Note that I wrote a blog about how I use the shading pen tip, so if you need more information about the different types of strokes I mention in this blog please read:  Using the Shader.




Darkly burn in the snout


Darkly burn the snout.  Note that I left the lips (end of the snout) unburned, and I’m not sure why.   My guess is that I was debating on how closely to replicate the reference photo. 





Burn the iris



Burn the iris a dark brown-black color.  I used my micro-shader for this, but you might find it easier to use a writing pen tip.







color the rest of the eye a tan color



Lightly color the rest of the eye a tan color.  Also darkly burn on the face around the eye.





Face progress




Here’s how the face looks so far.




color the circular spots






Using a small circular motion fill in the two circular spots a tan color.







Finish darkening up the face


Do a final burn around the face to finish it.  First darken the lower half of the eye, but leave a slight ‘lip’ next to the iris.  Darken the horn and work your way down to the snout.




Finish the snout


Finishing burning the snout a dark brown color.






Burn the fins

Last thing to do is very lightly burn the fins near the back of the head.  Keep them pale with even paler ends.  Then burn in some fine lines on the fins with the razor edge of the shading pen tip.  Switch to a writing tip if that’s easier for you.




Face close up

Now we will burn the face on the front seahorse.  Keep the front seahorse paler so the two are distinguishable from each other.  Note – when I did this seahorse I got carried away with the snout and it ended up being super long.  I later shortened it up, but most, if not all, of the pictures will show the longer snout version.



shade the knobby top of head



Shade the knobby bumps on top of the seahorse’s head.  Shade them so the back side is darker than the front and the bottom is slightly darker than the top.   




start defining the gills


Next burn in the fine gill lines using the razor edge of the shading pen tip.  Again, if it’s easier, switch to a writing pen tip for this step.   





Continued work on the gills



Continued work.







color bottom edge of face


Burn along the bottom of the face a medium tan color and keep the pen in optimal position.  Also burn in the lip line.


Burn the iris



Burn in the iris.  Again, use a writing pen tip if it’s easier.




color the face a tan color


Fill in the face so it is tan in color. 




Continued work on the face



Continued work coloring in the face.






Continued work on the face


Continued work coloring in the face.  Keep the lower parts of the face darker than the top and darken up underneath the eye.





continued work darkening the face and adding the shadows



Continue to color the face and notice the cast shadow under the eye.





final defining of the gills





Further define the gills by burning the area between the gills a medium tan color. 





Almost done



Here I’m almost done with the face.




lightly color the face fin


Lastly lightly color the fins and burn in some fine lines on it.








White charcoal applied to the ridges

Using a white charcoal pencil draw in the ridges on both seahorses.  DO NOT use a white colored pencil.  Color pencils contain wax and will char and melt under the heat of the pen.   Charcoal will resist the heat of the pen helping keep the ridges pale.

Please note – that while it’s obvious I had started burning the bodies before I covered the ridges in charcoal, I highly recommend applying the charcoal before starting as it made burning the seahorse much easier.  At least it did for me.









Darker Seahorse

Like the faces, we will burn the seahorse

body in the back first.








Start defining under the ridges and along the edge


Start defining the area under each ridge along the outer edge.  (pretend the white charcoal is in place).






Edge the belly



Next darkly burn along the outer edge of the belly.




Extending the color




Next extend the color and let it fade the further from the edge you get.  






Fill in each segment on the back


Now fill in each segment along the right edge, or back, of the seahorse to a medium to dark brown color.  Make each segment darker just under the ridge and fade the color a bit when you reach the bottom of the segment.    

NOTE – avoid burning on the charcoal to keep the ridges as pale as possible.

Fill in the next group of segments



Do the same thing with the next group of segments, but also fade these out as they near the belly. 



continued work filling in each segment




This pictures show my continued work on the segments.  Yes, I slowly built up the color by repeatedly burning over each segment. 



Continued work


Again this photo shows the continued work on building up the color.   I’ve mentioned before in other blogs that my process of re-burning to build up color is the key to how I produce highly realistic looking artwork.



Working on the folds



On the upper part of the body there were some small folds that were a bit paler than the surrounding area, so carefully burn around them.



Folds done and working on a segment near the bottom





This photo shows the small folds completed and I’m currently working on the last outer segment just above the seahorse in the foreground.




Progress photo



Here’s a progress photo.







Starting on the tail


Darkly burn the underside of the ridges on the tail.  Don’t worry about the curled end of the tail as I will discuss this later.





color the tail tan



Shade the rest of the tail a tan color.  Keep in mind that the back of the seahorse in the foreground will have dark segments next to the tail, so the tail is kept a tan color to contrast with the other seahorse.

starting the thick vertical lines



Next burn dark thick vertical lines along the curled end of the tail.   





Continued work on the vertical lines



Continued work burning the dark thick lines.





darken the tip of the tail




Burn the tip of the tail very dark.




Burn the side lines


Burn lines along the side of the tail that extend from the dark thick lines. Notice how the dark thick lines were vertical (up/down), but the lines on the side angle and become more horizontal.


finishing the tail




Continued work burning the lines to finish the tail.






draw lines on the fin



Using the razor edge of the shading pen tip lightly burn fine lines on back fin.





Lightly color the fin


Color the fin with pull-away strokes.  Start on edge of the fin that touches the body and pull the stroke towards the outer edge of the fin.   Let the color fade before it gets to the edge.



Burn short lines along the outer edge of the fin



Burn the very edge of the fin darker using very short lines.  The goal is to keep the fin’s edge jagged or irregular.




Soften the ridge lines





Erase the charcoal and soften the ridge lines by lightly burning over them. 





Continued work on the ridges



Place more emphasis on the lower part of the ridges and the spots between the ridge knobs.  The knobs are the spot where the vertical and horizontal ridges meet.







Below are the before and after photos of the ridge softening.   











Paler seahorse



Now for the seahorse in the foreground.  The process of burning this one will be very similar to the first seahorse.






starting to define under the ridge lines




Start defining the area under each ridge along the outer edge.  And again pretend the white charcoal is in place.





Fill in each segment


Color each segment along the right edge a light to medium to tan color.   The process is the same as the first seahorse.  Make each segment darker just under the ridge and fade the color a bit when you reach the bottom of the segment.   Make sure to keep the overall color paler than the seahorse in the background for contrast.



Below are some progress photos of my working on the seahorse’s body.

























Continued work on the body.  Obviously I erased the charcoal at this point, but you may wish to keep it in place.





Below are more pictures of the body being burned in.








Continued work on the body


The tail looks like it’s made of segments with a pale ridge separating each segment.  So burn the segment the same color as the body, but leave the ridge paler.






Continued work on the tail


Continue to burn the segments on the tail.



Continued work on the tail




Continued work on the tail.






Color the fin

Using the razor edge of the shading pen tip, lightly burn fine lines on back fin and color the fin with pull-away strokes.  Start from the body edge and pull it towards the outer edge of the fin.   Let the color fade before it gets to the edge.


Burn short lines along the outer edge of the fin


Burn the very edge of the fin darker using very short lines.  The goal is to keep the fin’s edge jagged or irregular.




Soften the ridge lines



Erase the charcoal and soften the ridges just like we did with the first seahorse.




Add random dots


Now place some random dots on the seahorse with the ball pen tip.  If you don’t have a ball pen tip then use a writing tip.





add a few dots to the face



Add a couple of dots to the face.






add a few dots to the fin



And a couple of dots on the fin.






close-up of the coral

The last thing to do is burn in the coral.  The coral is marked in orange on the pattern.   Just burn that in darkly using a small circular motion.  Obviously I didn’t do this step as I was using a piece of wood Todd has done fractal burning on. 


That’s it we are all done with the seahorses, but, as promised, I will briefly discuss fractal wood burning.   






Fractal burning on a piece of wood

Todd uses a neon light power supply that he hooks up to a piece of wood.  The wood has been liberally sprayed with a baking soda/water solution to help the electricity skitter across the surface of the wood.

Close-up of a fractal wood burn



After he’s done burning, he scrubs the wood with a nylon brush under running water to remove the loose carbon and reveal the intricate design. 




Assorted trivets hung on the wall



Mostly he creates wooden trivets with them.  We have an artful grouping of trivets on a stone wall near the kitchen.  They look great and are readily available when I need a place for a hot pan to cool.






Sea turtle experiment

This is a picture of my sea turtle experiment.  I hated it so much I didn’t even finish it.  One of the main reasons for my massive dislike is the blue background.  I tried painting the background with watercolors, but they reacted with the baking soda solution and ended up looking like pastel chalks.  During my turtle experiment and the seahorses I discovered that don’t care for burning on the wood after Todd has done his fractal burning.  The baking soda solution alters the wood forcing me to keep my burner on a super low setting (around 0.5) so it wouldn’t darken up superfast; basically I felt like I didn’t have good control for shading.

Below are the assorted stopping point photos I took.  They show the work in progress as I actually created it.  







Here’s the final artwork with the shortened snout.  Looking at it I think I went from too long to too short.   Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.



I wanted to update this page with a before/after of the artwork after it was seal with lacquer.  I was curious as to whether or not the lacquer would interact with the baking soda solution Todd used during the fractal burning process.  

The right side is the lacquered finished side and I’m not happy with how it turned out.  All pyrography will fade some over time, but plywood is the worst for this.  It fades faster and more dramatically than any other wood that I’ve burned on.  The baking soda seemed to make this worse.  Sections of the wood seem bleached and the artwork really faded a lot. 


Another tutorial has concluded and I do realize that this artwork isn’t as grand as some of the other art I’ve produced, but it was a learning experience and I felt that was worth sharing.  Plus I try to provide a variety of subjects at differing skill levels in the hopes that everyone can find something of interest and use.  That is my ultimate goal with this tutorial; providing some useful information that is presented in an easy to follow fashion. 

On another note, keep in mind that the seahorses can be placed on bookmarkers, picture frames, etc., so experiment around and see what you can create besides a wall hanging like I did.   After all, creative experimentation is what art is all about.

Like always I welcome all feedback.  I love hearing your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions.  Heck I’m open to idea/suggestions for future tutorials, but I can’t promise I will act on them.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on Birch plywood that measures 8 3/4 x 11 inches (22.2 x 27.9 cm).  It took me 4 1/2 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 matters is the process of creating art.

Until the next blog,


June 4, 2017

This artwork was submitted by Trish.  Trish did a fantastic job and I continue to be amazed at the wide range of projects she tackles.   I love the splash of color on the coral.    Trish, thank you for sharing your art with us!

I love hearing from you, so leave a comment.