Celtic Knot and Rose Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

Todd is building a lap harp and wanted me to burn a Celtic knot design on the side.   I drew up an idea and did a test burn so he could get a better idea of my interpretation of his idea.  This tutorial blog will cover designing and burning the Celtic knot and rose I created.   

You can watch a time lapse video of the artwork being created by clicking on the image to the left.

Now, let’s get to work.




  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 8×10 (20.3 x 25.4 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  Celtic Knot Rose pattern

Please note that I mention pen strokes in this tutorial and I provide a basic explanation of them, but if you need more information than what I cover here, please read a blog I wrote about how to Use the Shader Pen Tip.  

Before I cover the wood burning portion of this tutorial, I thought I’d share how I created the pattern.  The first thing I had to do was get familiar with what a Celtic knot was.  I had heard of the term and had some vague mental imagery to go with it, but if I had to draw one on the spot I’m not sure I would have been able to.

So I looked at some images and formed an idea of what I wanted; a double loop that frames itself.  I wanted this design to repeat itself along the harp, so I divided the harp side length into equal segments.  This gave me a height of 4 inches (10.2 cm) to come up with a design segment.   

Here’s my first design sketch as I worked out the logistics of what I wanted and how best to fit it within the 4 inch segment.  It was during this process that I determined the knot line width, the spacing between each double knot segment, and the distance the frame could be from the double knot.  I took measurements and made all sorts of notes that would help me with a revised sketch.  





When I started the revised sketch, I first put in basic guidelines: center of the page, frame boundary (where the frame edge could be), and the 4” (10.2 cm) segment lines.   Then I added dash marks on the centerline to indicate where the circles should start, where lines should cross, etc.  Once I had all of the necessary marks on the paper all I had to do was draw in the lines using a ruler and a circle stencil.   Notice how all of the intersections where knot lines cross don’t have a clear indicator of which one is on top.   







Another thing to notice is the center line running down the page.  This line served two purposes; a) make sure I kept the pattern perfectly centered, and b) allowed me to align my circle template on the page.  







I have a plastic circle template I bought for airbrushing, but it has come in very handy for some of my other hobbies.   The template has guidelines and a bunch of different sized circles on it.   This makes it easy to place the template on the pattern and line it up with the markings; ensuring it’s centered.   I used a slightly smaller circle on the template for the inner line, thus giving me a nice perfect and uniform looking curved knot line.  






After the lines were all drawn in I needed to erase some of the intersection lines to make a Celtic knot.  I picked an intersection (A) and erased the lines from the straight knot (colored blue).  This made the curved knot line appear to be on top and made the blue line appear to be below it.  At the next intersection (B) I alternated which knot lines are erased, so the blue line moved to the top.  And again, at the next intersection (C) I again erased the alternate lines, so the blue line went back to the bottom.   Put another way, every intersection should be opposite of the last intersection.




Once the necessary lines were erased then I inked in the pattern and curved the corners along the frame as I worked.








To make it easier to create the large harp pattern I needed, I inked in two complete segments on a piece of paper creating a base pattern. 








I taped the base pattern to the window (my not-so-hi-tech light box) and got out a large piece of paper that had the harp outline drawn on it.   I traced both segments from the base pattern onto the harp paper.  Then I shifted the harp paper so that one of the segments aligned with the base pattern and then traced the remaining segment onto the harp paper.  This ensured that my spacing never changed.  I shifted the paper again and continued to fill the harp paper with the Celtic knot segments.

I did have one slight problem in that the harp did not have the same width along its length.  I had originally tried photocopying the pattern and reducing each copy slightly, but this also meant that the knot line width decreased and I didn’t want that.  What I ended up doing was shifting the frame inward about 1/4 inch (0.64 cm) on every segment.



With the harp pattern still in pencil form, I placed pictures of mini roses from my garden onto it to see where I thought they’d look good.  If I was happy with where a rose was placed, I traced it onto the pattern.  As I worked my way up the pattern, I inked in the areas I was happy with.   In this photo you can see a rose is inked in, but I haven’t erased the knot lines behind it yet.






Once I ink in the design, I erase all of the pencil work and voila I have a pattern ready for use. 








In this tutorial I’m only going to cover one segment of the pattern as there isn’t much difference between the segments, but some of the pictures might show more than just the segment I’m covering.





Smooth the wood surface by sanding it with at least 220 grit sandpaper. 

Then thoroughly wet the board by misting it with water or running it quickly under the sink faucet.  Let the board dry and then sand again.

This will produce a super smooth surface, and the smoother the surface is the better the burn results will be. 






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.   








With the writing pen tip on medium low, lightly burn in the trace lines.  After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.





In this step we’re going to burn the knot work.   It will be extremely important to keep your pen tip in optimal position while doing this step.









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 of the upper edge of the knot line.  Positioning the pen tip this way ensures that I am only burning on the knot line and not on the background.   Looking at the photo you can see that the edges of my knot lines are crisp and clean.  They have very defined edges because I kept the pen in optimal position the entire time I worked on them.   

Part of the process is turning the wood, when needed, 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.  It makes sure you can see what you’re working on and it’s a lot more comfortable for burning.

First darkly edge along one side of the knot line.    Work on one section of a knot line at a time.  As the photo shows, I have already completed one section so you can see what the end product will look like.   





Then use short pull-away strokes to fill in half of the knot line.  Start the stroke on the line edge and pull the pen away from the edge and towards the center of the knot line.  Lift the pen up and away from the wood once you reach the halfway mark.  Execute the stroke semi-quickly so the color fades as you reach the center.




Continued work.  It might be helpful to draw a line down the center of the section with a white charcoal pencil.  This can help make it easier to see where the stroke needs to stop.




Rotate the work and repeat the same motions on the opposite side of the knot line; darkly edge and the do pull-away strokes all along the section.







Next lightly burn down the center of the knot line to reduce the contrast.







Lastly, burn dark shadows on the lower knot line at the intersection spot.





Another knot line section example:

In this section, I’ve got one side of the knot line burned and I’m working on the opposite side just below where it to turns into the base of a rose.  Notice how I edged the rose base; treat it just like a knot line at this stage.




Continued work.  Notice that pull-away strokes were done on the rose base.





Burn the dark shadows on the lower knot line next at the intersection.





Darkly burn along the top of the rose base (right under the rose bud).







Darkly burn along the bottom of the rose base (the spot just before the base narrows becoming the knot line).







Lastly, lightly burn over the center of the knot line to reduce the contrast.









Below are progress photos of the remaining Celtic knot sections being burned in. 















In this step we’re going to burn the first rose on the pattern.   I will cover this rose in great detail, but subsequent roses will have considerably less instruction.

The leaves and the rose petals are all created with the same basic steps; contour (give the 3D appearance), outline, and fill in.  They don’t necessarily have to be done in that specific order, and, as you will see, I alter the order that I do them.

Let’s start with the leaves.


First contour the leaf by adding a dark cast shadow from the petal onto the leaf.  I used the pull-away stroke on this starting the stroke next to the seam where the leaf and rose petal touch.






Next darkly outline the leaf by burning a dark line around the outer edges of the leaf.   The reason I outline the leaf is because it ensures I have crisp clean edges.  If you burn carefully during the fill in step you might not need to outline.  For me I’ve found this methods works well, so I stick with it.




Fill in the leaf with a dark brown color.   I used a small circular motion to fill-in the leaf and I kept the leaf pretty simple; i.e. not a lot of detail.  My goal was to make it seem like it could almost be a part of the knot line.






Move to the next leaf and repeat.  Here I’ve added the dark contour shadow at the top and I’m currently outlining the leaf.







Fill in the leaf so it is a dark brown color.







Finishing contouring the leaf by darkly burning the ends of the leaf.  Note that I went back to the first leaf and did this step also.







Move to the last leaf and repeat.  Here I’m outlining first.







Contour the leaf.







Fill in the leaf.








Now for the rose petals.

Outline the petal along the seams where it touches other petals.  These tend to be the darkest areas on the petals.  








Start contouring the leaf with pull-away strokes that start at the seam and head towards the outer edge of the petal.








This petal curves downward at the edge, so contour that side by rotating the wood and do pull-away strokes along the outer edge of the petal.   Start the stroke on the edge and pull it towards the seam.







Fill in the petal using a small circular motion. 






Add any additional contouring if needed.  Here I’m adding a shadow to the right side of the petal that is cast from the petal above.





Outline the dark areas of the next petal.








Contour it.







And then fill it in.






Move to the next petal and repeat.   In this photo I’ve outlined and I’m currently contouring.   The petals on the left side of the rose receive more sunlight, so they don’t have as many shadows on them.






Fill in the petal.








Working the next petal.







This particular petal starts on the side and then at the top it curls down.  This casts a shadow on the side of the petal, so burn in the shadow and fill in the rest of the petal.






Outline and contour the large curling petal at the bottom front of the rose.







Continued work contouring.






And then fill in the petal.







Continued work.






Contour the next curling petal end.







Outline along the dark seam and continue to contour.






Fill in the petal.







With the small, barely showing, petals along the top edge of the rose, edge along the seam and contour.  Use the pull-away stroke, starting at the seam, and stop at the edge of the petal.  This will contour and fill in at the same time. 




Continued work on the tiny petals.







It’s important to leave the edges of the petals a little pale for contrast.  Otherwise it will be difficult to see individual petals on the rose. 







Almost done with the tiny petals.





Again outline and contour the next petal on the rose.









Continued work.








Fill in the petal.







The adjacent petal curves downward and is away from the sunlight so contour along the outer edge.







Fill in and make sure to add the dark shadows along the seam.






Outline right under the curved petal top where the shadow is.






Contour the sides.







Fill in.






Lastly, burn lightly along the curved petal top.






On the very last petal, again outline and contour the petal.







Fill in the petal.






Then lightly burn along the petal curved top and contour it.  The lower part of the curved edge needs to be slightly darker as it curves away from the sun.








First we’ll work on the rose bud.









Outline the leaves, contour, and fill in.   In this photo I’ve outlined the leaves (yes, all of them) and the leaf I’m currently working on is filled in and I’m adding the contouring.





Continued work.





Contour and fill in the large petal on the left.  There weren’t any dark shadow areas to edge in.  Plus, the rose bud is just starting to open, so there aren’t a lot of curved petal ends.





Edge the next petal at the petal seam. 







Fill in the petal.







Burn in the small petals on the right side of the bud.







Lastly burn the petal in the front of the bud that is directly behind the leaf.







Now we’ll burn the last rose in this pattern segment.









Outline, contour, and fill in the leaves.







Continued work







Edge along the seam and contour the left petal.






Burn the small petal at the top just to the right of the curved left petal.  Then shift down to the large curved petal at the front.   Edge, contour, and fill in the petal.






Do the same thing for the far right petal.







Contour the curved portion of the large front petal.







Edge, contour, and fill in the back petal.







Do the same for the center petal.







Lastly edge the top tiny petals and do some super tiny pull-away strokes in the center of the rose.






This is a picture of the entire test burn that I did.  There was only one more segment burned than what I covered in the tutorial.    And, as you can see, there isn’t a huge difference between the different segments.  









Another tutorial comes to a close.  Despite my design not being exactly what Todd had envisioned, he liked the test burn results.   I’m happy about that as it means whenever the harp is ready so am I.   

I hope you found this tutorial informative and easy to follow along.  One more thing, don’t be afraid to let your creativity through.  Maybe you want dark roses and pale Celtic knot lines, or no roses at all, or a dark background with white roses, etc.  Make it your own.  I provide these tutorials to help you learn, but not to dictate how your artwork must look.

When I was trying to learn airbrushing, I found it very beneficial to follow along another artist’s project example (tutorial).  It really helped me to learn the basics of airbrushing and understand how they created some of the effects I was seeing.  I’m trying to do the same thing for you with my pyrography tutorials.  

If you don’t have a background in drawing, as I do, pyrography might seem a little intimidating at first, but with a little persistence and practice you’ll be amazed at what you can create.   

If you do draw, I would love to know if you have found pyrography to be extremely similar to drawing as I did.   Leave a comment and let me know.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on plywood that measures 8 x 10 inches (20.3 x 25.4 cm).  It took me 6 1/2 hours to complete the artwork.   Remember that I only put how long a project takes me as I get asked that question a lot.  I’m not trying to make this a contest.  You may get this done faster or slower, but that doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy with your artwork. 

Until the next blog,


Sept 15, 2017

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