Caribbean Carb Pyrography Art wood burning

A number of years back Todd & I were on a dive vacation in Bonaire.  Todd spotted this colorful crab perched on a ledge overlooking the ocean.  Fortunately he had his camera with him and got a picture before the crab scurried down into the surf.  I loved the picture and this blog will talk about the Caribbean Crab pyrography artwork I did based on that photo.

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



I had originally planned to do the artwork in colored pencil as I loved the colors the photo had, but for some reason I lost inspiration/desire to finish the art.  I can’t even explain why, but the more I worked on it the less I liked it, so I gave up.



Once I decided that I wasn’t going to finish the colored pencil project I decided to try wood burning it instead.  I had an oddball sized piece of basswood and the image fit it perfectly, so I got to work.




I quickly burned the background a tan color with streaks in it to help give the impression of the ocean and then I started on the crab.




I switched to my favorite pen tip, the tight round shader, and tried burning in the shell markings.  The markings were too small and squiggly, so the shader didn’t work well.



I switched back to the micro writer pen tip and burned in the markings. 





Continued work.





I wanted to see how the artwork might look with a darker background, so I grabbed a pencil and colored around the crab.  I can draw all sorts of pencil work on the wood to see what I think; it’s an easy way to test out ideas without burning it.  Once erased from the wood there isn’t a trace of the pencil and this is a feature I LOVE about pyrography.




Below are some progress photos of the shell being worked on









Close-up of me working on the shell.  That thing had a lot of squiggly lines on it and took me a bit to get them burned in.





Here are more progress photos of me burning in the markings on the shell.  








After I was done burning in the squiggly markings on the shell I switched to a shader to contour the shell; make it more three dimensional in appearance.





Continued work.





Below are the before and after pictures of the contour work.  

Before contouring
After contouring







Based on the pencil work I knew that I wanted a darker background.  Here I’ve got half of the background done and I like the darker side a lot more than the pale right side.




Here’s the work after I got the background burned in dark.  I think the background really helped the crab stand out.





In this photo I’m starting on the rocks; actually they are the skeletons of an old coral beds.



As you can see, I’m burning lots of dots on the rocks.  I’m currently using the large ball pen tip and I cluster dots in shadow areas to help form the shadows and concave sections of the rock.


Then I switched to the shader pen tip to start burning in the shadows and define the rock structure.  I used a circular motion during this step to keep the surface irregular.


I would alternate between shading and dotting the rocks to build up the texture, color, and look.   While I’m not showing it, I also worked a little at a time to continually darken up the background.  The background was a bit tedious, so I’d break up the monotony of it by working on the rocks.




Below are progress photos of the rocks being burned in.  

















I have a mental aversion to using paints, colored pencil, etc. on my pyrography art projects.  This might seem odd to you, but I feel like it’s cheating to use things like that in pyrography.  I guess because I think the artwork should be able to stand alone and not need embellishments. Where I got this notion from I have no idea.  Heck I’ve viewed some pyrography on line that looks lifelike because of the application of color.   There are some extremely talented people on this planet!  But if I think about using color in my work I immediately get this feeling of wrongness.

With that in mind you can start to understand my problem.  Here’s a picture of my ‘final’ artwork and I wasn’t happy with it.   The crab just didn’t stand out enough.  All of the markings on the shell just weren’t enough to make the crab pop.   The thing is I couldn’t figure out a way to resolve the issue. 




The thought I kept circling back to was what initially attracted me to the photo was the contrast/complement of the colors in the photo.  I love the pale blue ocean and the green crab.  And I loved the contrast of those colors with the white and grey rock.




I got my colored pencils out and did a color overlay on the crab to see what I thought.  The great thing with colored pencil, if applied lightly on the wood, it can be erased completely.

At this point I put the crab away on a shelf.  I do highly recommend placing your ‘final’ artwork out of sight for a day or two and then looking at it with fresh eyes.  I often see little things that need to be fixed; a shadow needs to be darkened, a highlight scratched in, etc.  Todd says I’m nitpicking, but I disagree.  I view it as being meticulous.  Anyway the crab sat on a shelf for two weeks.  When I retrieved it I knew the color had to stay.

Here is a side-by-side of the just burned version and colored version for comparison.







Ironically looking at the photos now I think I should have applied more color!


Crabs molt when they need a larger shell.  First they grow a new shell inside the old one and then shed (molt) the old shell.  During the process of molting they have to extract themselves from the old shell and then they must seek shelter until the new shell hardens.  The crab can expand its new shell while it is still soft to make room for future growth.   Also a crab’s legs have setae on them which look like hairs, but are actually sensory organs that help them detect food and vibrations in the sand and water.


That’s it for this blog.  While I’m still a little bit disappointed with this artwork, I do have to admit that it’s not horrible and could have been a lot worse.   Also I’m beginning to think that not all subjects translate well into a monochromatic color scheme.  Maybe if I had changed the photo to a black and white version I wouldn’t have wanted to burn it at all. 

What do you think about adding color to pyrography?  Also, I am curious as to which version you prefer, the plain or the colored?

Lastly to answer a few commonly asked questions.   The artwork measures 6 by 10 3/8 inches (21.6 x 26.7 cm), was burned on basswood, and it took me 12 1/4 hours to complete it.

Until the next blog,


Sept 8, 2017

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