Anaconda Snake Pyrography Artwork wood burning

I was at the Oregon Zoo and there was a display with a large yellow anaconda snake in it.  Todd took a photo that I just loved because of the colors, contrast, and textures of the snake in the water.  This blog is going to talk about how I made the Anaconda pyrography artwork.

Anaconda pattern  I’ve included at pattern for this artwork, but this blog is not a tutorial.  Think of the pattern as a bonus, so you can try to create the artwork on your own.  Note that the pattern has little blue dots on it that I used to indicate the reflection spots. 

When I started burning the Anaconda I decided I wasn’t going to make this a tutorial after all.  There were just too many areas I struggled and floundered my way through.  So I didn’t feel comfortable or confident to make it a tutorial.  Plus, I’m still undecided what I think of the artwork.    

To watch a time lapse video of the artwork being created, click on the image to the left.

Reader submitted artwork at the bottom of the blog, so please check it out.



This is the photo Todd took and I just loved the bright yellow right next to the black streaks on the face.  I also loved the texture of the scales.   Even though I’m not writing a tutorial, I’m including the reference photo in case you’d like to try the artwork yourself.  I really hope that you do.  

Looking at the photo you can see I altered the water and the background a lot.  The pattern represents what I altered.  You might prefer to use the reference photo to create your own pattern.  That choice is yours to make.

When I traced the pattern onto the board, I didn’t trace over the blue light reflection spots.  Instead I lifted the pattern and drew the highlights direction on the wood using a white charcoal pencil.  I will be extremely honest and admit that was a complete waste of time.

If you create this artwork, I would suggest not bothering with the reflection spots at all until the end of the artwork.  As I’ve mentioned numerous times in my blogs, to make something look white you need contrast.   Unless I burned the snake so it was brown to dark brown in color, I wasn’t going to get the needed contrast.  Not that I didn’t try, but I ended up drawing the reflection spots onto the artwork with a white colored pencil.

In this photo you can see I’m burning in the trace lines and you can also see all of the white charcoal marks I drew on the snake and even a few in the water. 





I’m adding the finishing touches to the eye.







The next area I worked was the black stripe.  This was one of the few places I didn’t need a color pencil to make the highlights appear white.






Now I’m working on the scales and most of them were burned individually.  I would look at the reference material and try to replicate what I saw scale by scale.





This is the first snake I’ve ever done in an art project, so the scales were an interesting challenge.  I would also have to admit that I’ve never really paid attention to how their scales are joined together.  I always thought they overlapped, but they don’t appear to.  Instead each one fits snuggly next to its neighboring scales and all of the scale edges are beveled or rounded. 




I actually enjoyed working on the face of the snake.  It was easy to see each scale and how the light played across its surface.






Some of the scales seemed flat and others seemed very rounded, so I actually enjoyed trying to replicate the look of them.






Plus the face had the black streaks on it which made it more visually appealing to me.






The reflection on the water next to the snake’s face was also interesting to me, but it is also when I started to flounder.  I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle the water.  Part of me wanted to convey the impression the snake was swimming through the water, but that would mean the water is moving around the snake.  Obviously that wasn’t happening in my reference photo.




Most likely there is some phenomenal artist who could easily modify the water to create the look I was imagining.  I’m not one of them.  Instead I have to use reference photos when I’m creating life-like art.   While I mentally debated altering the water, I didn’t act on it and just continued to plod along creating murky still water.




I used pull-away strokes to create the look of most of the water.








  My method wasn’t the fastest, but the only other thing I currently know how to do is create the look of choppy water on a distant lake.  That didn’t apply here.







While my method created an interesting look, I’m not sure if it was the best method to use or if it even really looks like water.







This was when I started putting the artwork on a shelf and ignoring it for weeks at a time.  When I retrieved the work, I’d work a little more on the water and put it back on the shelf for a few more weeks.






One of the things I wanted to accomplish with the water is to make it dark enough that the anaconda appeared to pop from the surface.  Or put another way, I wanted the water and snake darkness levels to contrast nicely.  Looking at this photo I think I was accomplishing that goal.





Continued work on the water.








In this photo the charcoal marks have been erased and it is a lot harder to see the reflection spots on the front of the face.  There just isn’t enough contrast.






The scales along the snake’s back were one of the few areas I could burn as a group.  The scales formed rows so  that is was tough to see the edges of each individual scale.





So all I had to do was burn the row so it was fairly uniform in color and then add some cast shadows onto the row from the row above it.   Ironically this was one of the easiest areas to burn, but it is also one of my least favorite.






Now I’m back to working on the water.






Continued work on the water.






This a progress photo of the entire artwork. Let me add a little time frame to this artwork.  I started burning Anaconda on June 10th, 2017.  This photo was taken August 3rd, 2017 and I’ve only gotten about one third of it done so far.  



Fast forward to September of 2017 and I’m working on the submerged portion of the snake.





Fine-tuning some of the scales on the snake’s head.






I’m trying once again to create some reflection spots along the side of the snake.  I drew them back in with a white charcoal pencil and the burned around them.  With the nearby water completed, it made it easier for me to see how dark I could make the snake and still keep up the contrast levels with the water.



And now I’m re-working my least favorite part of the snake; the rows of scales along the back.





This photo is a progress photo after I was done with my September burning session.





It’s October now and I’m back to working on the Anaconda.  I’m on a mission now to get the water behind the snake finished.  Granted, my mission only occurred because Todd encouraged me to finish this thing.






As I continued to work on the water near the shoreline, I reflected on how I always learn the most when I’m challenged.  This artwork definitely challenged me in several ways: 

  • Snake scales weren’t shaped like I had imagined them to be
  • Creating the look of murky still water was tough
  • Working on a subject that is partially submerged was tough


In this photo I’m finally finishing up the water behind the snake.  I almost felt like I was in a marathon and the finish line was within sight!





Here is another progress photo.  The water in the background is done, but I still have water in the foreground, most of the snake, and two little leaves to burn in.



Little leaves were the first to get worked on as they wouldn’t take much time and then all of the background stuff would be done.








Now I’m working on the submerged portion of the snake again.  There were two primary things I did to convey the look of being under water.  First I shifted the scale rows slightly once under water.  Secondly I softened or blurred the scales a bit. 




In this photo I’m working on the other part of the snake that is out of the water.  This area was in some shadows along the edge of the display.  In retrospect, I probably would have created a better piece of art if I had only done the facial area of the snake.





Continued work on the back part of the snake.








I did redraw some of the reflection spots with charcoal.  I clung to my original idea for the reflection spots right to the bitter end.







A lot of the scales on this portion of the snake were like the face in that they were easy to see and were burned individually.







Working near the transition area where the snake’s body submerges under the water.







As you can see in this photo I burned a dark super thin line along the edge of the water to help convey where the water begins.  Currently I’m working on the dark mass of scales near the water.





Continued work on the scales.








This is another progress photo.  All of the charcoal has been erased and almost all of the light reflection spots are not noticeable.   For reference, this photo was taken October 24th.  I never said I was going to accomplish my mission quickly.


At this point the only thing I have left to do is the water in the foreground; which is what I’m working on.






Continued work.





Continued work.






Finishing up!






The very last thing I did was use a colored pencil to create the light reflection spots.  I can’t tell you how much time I spent trying to use contrast within the artwork to create them, but if I had known ahead of time that it wasn’t going to work I wouldn’t have bothered trying.






Below is a comparison photo of my artwork next to the reference photo. You know, looking at this photo I feel like I should have colored the snake.  It’s too late now as it has been sealed with many layers of lacquer.


That’s it for this blog.  While I don’t consider this artwork to be one of my better pieces, it was a learning experience.  It was also a piece of artwork that I almost didn’t finish.  As I stated, this project began on June 10, 2017 and I didn’t finished until 5 months later.  At one point I was considering having Todd sand down the board and I’d use the board for some other project.  In October of 2017 he gave me a little pep talk and I began in earnest to finish the artwork.   Finally, a month later on November 1, 2017, I was officially finished with the Anaconda.

Why am I telling you this?  Not everything is going to be a masterpiece, but everything is a learning experience.  I actually have this artwork on my studio wall, not because I think it’s awesome, but because it is a reminder of what I learned through its creation.

I recommend you keep pictures of all of your art and date them.  Occasionally look through your photos and reflect on what you learned and how much you’ve improved over time.   There will be pieces you like and others not so much, but that’s okay.  You don’t have to like everything, but you should respect the effort you spend creating the art.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on basswood that measures 5 1/2 x 16 3/4 inches (14.0 x 42.5 cm).  It took me 14 1/4 hours to complete the artwork.  

Until the next blog,


Mar 9, 2018

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This artwork was submitted by Martin. I love his creative touches to the artwork like the lily pads and addition of color.  Martin’s bank along the upper edge of the water looks so much better than mine.   Martin told me he drew in the snake himself, so no tracing.  Awesome job!   Martin, thank you for sharing your artwork with us all.


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