mini project 3 Seashells Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

With this tutorial I will explain how to create the Seashells, the 3rd installment of my mini project series.   One of my goals with this project is to show you how shapes can affect shadows.  Another goal is to help you critically examine reference material, so you can better replicate what you see.  In my last mini project, Denim Fabric, I introduced two burning method concepts; circular motion and uniform strokes.  This mini project will continue the use those two burn methods to create the shadows and texture of the seashells. 

You can watch a YouTube video version of this tutorial by clicking on the image to the left. 





Click on the image to the left to watch a time lapse version of the artwork being created.

Let’s get to work.





  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • White Charcoal Pencil
  • 4″ x 6″ (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed)  Seashells pattern


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 lightweight 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. 







This photo shows the pattern with some red and blue arrows on it.  The red arrows indicate the highlighted area on the scallop seashell which is the lightest part on the shell.  The lines are nothing more than visual reminders to burn lighter through this area, so DO NOT burn in the lines indicated by the red arrows.

The blue arrows indicate transitions zones for shadows.  When you burn them in burn them in VERY LIGHTLY and as small dashes or dots.  The reason for this is that pale tiny dots will be a lot easier to hide or blend into the burning.

Burn in the trace lines with a writer pen tip, but make sure to keep in mind the information I just mentioned.






After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite, but do not erase the two visual reminder lines (red arrows).






As I mentioned in the intro, this project was created using Circular Motion and Uniform Strokes.  Before we go any further, let’s review what these burn methods are.


This photo shows the motion I make when burning in a circular motion.  Yes, I am literally burning a continuous chain of small circles, but this example is highly exaggerated.





This thick line was burned the same as the previous photo, but the difference is that the circles are much smaller and they overlap slightly.  This removes the hole in the center of the circle and the gaps between each circle.





I continued the line out further and you can see that the line is not uniform in color.  Part of that is because I was burning at a much higher temperature than normal as I wanted the strokes to show up well.






Here I’m starting a new patch of circular motion. 







This patch is much wider and that is accomplished by changing directions while I’m burning.  I don’t lift the pen tip from the wood.  Instead I’ll burn a couple of circles in one direction, change direction and burn a few more, repeat. 





Continued work on the wide patch of circular motion.







If I wanted to darken up a section of my patch, I just burn more circular motions over the area I want darkened.  I want to point out that I do not adjust the heat setting on my burner when I do this.  Wood will continue to darken up with repeated re-burning no matter how low the heat setting on the burner.  Granted, if the heat setting is super low it’s going to take a while.  




Continued work on darkening up a section.







Another option is to extend the color and/or fade that color out.  So here I’m burning circular motion around the edges of the dark patch.  This extends the color a bit and softens the transition from unburned board to the dark patch.





There is another way to get a dark burn besides re-burning over the area, and that is to slow down your hand movement.   In this new band of circular motion I’ve started, I’m using a really slow hand movement and this is giving me a nice dark band.





With this band of circular motion I used a much faster hand movement and notice how much paler the line is.  Again, I did not change the heat setting at all.   






A uniform stroke is created by pulling the pen tip towards you (this is easier anyway) at a set speed that allows the resulting burn to be the same color throughout the stroke. 







The heat setting your burner is on will determine how fast or slow you have to move your hand to accomplish this.








When you are filling in an area with uniform strokes the individual strokes should be touching or slightly overlapping.








If you look at the photo, you will notice that I’m using the side of my pen tip when doing this.  I can produce wider strokes with the side of the pen and I find that this position is more comfortable for me to burn.







Finishing up the patch of uniform strokes.  My patch isn’t perfectly uniform in color, but for a quick demo it’s pretty darn good.

Try not to get into the habit of constantly adjusting the heat setting on your burner.   Controlling the color or darkness levels through re-burning and hand speed gives you much more flexibility and a larger range of tan/brown hues in your work.

Let’s recap the information.  Circular motion is used to create transitions where you want a gradual increase or decrease in color.  Circular motion is also used to burn in an area of color where you want a subtle, or not so subtle, color variation.    Uniform strokes are used to give an object a solid base color.  I often do both burn methods in the same area.  For example, I’ll use uniform strokes to burn in the base color and then use circular motion to gradually darken up the bottom edge of an object.   To darken up an area, reburn and adjust your hand speed while burning. 


The first thing we will burn are the cast shadows on the ground, so let’s look at the reference photo.






Here’s our reference photo.  Ignore the seashells and instead concentrate on the shadows the seashells are casting on the ground.  What do you see?

The first thing I always do is determine where the sun or light source is located by examining the location of the shadows.   Cast shadows are opposite of the sun’s direction.  The seashells cast shadows are on the left, so the sun or light source is located above and to the right of the seashells.   After I determine where the light source is coming from I examine the shadows more closely looking for peculiarities.

At the point it is time to start asking yourself questions.  1) Are the shadows uniform?  2) Do the shadows have lighter areas and, if so, where are they?  3) Do the shadows have darker areas and where are they?  4) What are the shapes of the shadows?  

Let me answer the above questions based on my observations.  1) No.   2)  Yes.  I’ve indicated the two areas with yellow arrows.  These areas are where the light is creeping in (via light bouncing or reflecting off of other objects) around the back of the shells.  3) Yes.  I’ve indicated a couple of areas with blue arrows where the shadows are darker than the nearby area. 


To answer the 4th question, let’s look at this photo.  The cast shadow from the green and white seashell on the left has the bumpy outline that matches the shape of the shell (red arrow).      The shadow between the two seashells in the front is a smooth straight line along the front edge (yellow arrow).  Also this shadow fills in the area between the two seashells, but it does not have uniform coloring.    Directly under the scallop seashell on the right there is a small, dark, curved shadow that has the same outline as the shape of the shell (blue arrow).  

Now that we’ve critically examined the reference photo, let’s replicate what we found.

Begin by burning a medium-dark tan line along the edges of the seashells.  Even though most of the shadows are much darker than medium-dark tan, not all of them are.  So we’ll burn in initially to the LIGHTEST color found and build up from there.     




Another thing to do while you’re burning along the seashell edges is to keep the pen tip in optimal position.   The end of my pen tip is right on the edge of a seashell and the rest of the pen is angled over the shadows.   This is OPTIMAL PEN TIP POSITION.  

Optimal pen tip position ensures you burn only where you intend to burn; in this case that is the shadows.  The only way I could burn the seashell is if I went past the seam line where the shadow ends and the seashell begins.

After burning along the edges of the seashells, start to fill in the shadows by burning short dark uniform strokes along the scallop. 





Continue to burn in the cast shadows. I will mention that I mostly used uniform strokes on the shadows, but did occasionally use circular motion.  Remember that the left shell has really dark shadows by it, so re-burn several times to build up the color.




Rotate the wood when working near the lower edges of the shadows.  You should always be able to see the end of your pen tip and the edge of the area you are burning when burning near and on edges.  Doing this will help make sure you burn only where you intended to burn.




Continued work.







Burn along the lower edges of the shadows by the left shell.





Remember to rotate the wood as needed to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you work.






Continued work on the shadows.






 Finishing up the shadows around the left shell.








Burn in the dark shadow under the scallop shell.








The next thing we will burn in is the brown and white seashell in the back.  Let’s look at the reference photo and see what we need to do.






Here’s our reference photo for the shell we will work on.  Critically look at the seashell in the back and ask questions about its properties. 

1) What is the shape of the seashell?  2) Where are the shadows located?  3) Are the shadows uniform in color?  4) Where is the lightest area on the seashell?  5) Where is the darkest area on the seashell?  6) What sort of texture does the seashell have?   7) Does the shell have any markings on it?



1)  This seashell looks like a stack of rings that get smaller as they near the top of the stack.  Each ring has rounded sides, so this means the upper and lower edge of each ring curves inward.  The blue arrow points to a lower inward curve on a ring and the red arrow points at the upper inward curve.     2) Along the left side of the shell (yellow arrow).   There are also shadows along the lower edge of each ring; blue arrow points to one of the shadows I’m talking about.   3) No.  All of the shadows start dark and fade away.  4) The lightest area is slightly off center and a little below the upper edge of the ring.  I marked a couple of rings with white ovals to indicate the lightest area.   5) The lower left area on the shell is the darkest area (found just below the yellow arrow).   6)  The texture looks very smooth. 7) Yes.  It has an assortment of brown and tan streaks running along all of the rings except the top two.  Also, the lower two rings have some white streaks on them.

Ok, now that we’ve critically analyzed the seashell, let’s replicate what we discovered.

Burn in the top ring so it is tan in color, and burn the seam line (lower edge) to a medium tan color.






Burn in the second ring in a similar fashion, so the base color is tan and the bottom edge is medium tan in color.






With the 3rd ring use uniform strokes to burn the base color a tan color.






Burn in the brown streaks you encounter as you are burning in the base color on the seashell.






Continued work.







Rotate the wood to burn in the shadows along the lower edge of the ring.







While the wood is rotated, burn in the shadows along the lower edge on the 2nd ring. 






Also, burn along the left edge of the second ring, so it is a shade or two darker than the base color.





 The left side of the third ring should also be a shade or two darker than the base color.  After you’re done burning in the shadows, you might need to darken up the brown streaks so they once again look like streaks instead of strangely shaped shadows.   





Start burning in the brown and tan hued streaks on the 4th ring.  I find it helps to burn along the edges of the streaks before filling them in as this ensures the edges are clean.






Rotate the wood and burn along the opposite edge of the streak and fill it in so it is brown in color.







Continued work.







Rotate the wood so you keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning along the lower edge of each streak. 





Burn in the shadow along the lower edge of this ring.






 Here’s a progress photo.







Burn in this ring so it is the base color, but there are a couple of white streaks on it, so consult the reference photo.  







Begin burning in the streaks on the lowest ring.  Consult the reference photo to determine how dark the streak should be as they vary in color on this ring. 






Continued work.







Rotate the wood and burn a tan to medium tan line along the lower edge of the seashell.  The goal is to provide contrast between this seashell and the one in front of it.  Plus we want very crisp, clean, and clearly defined edges between the two shells.





Burn the lower left side of the shell so it is medium to dark tan color.  This is the darkest area on the shell and we need the darker color to make the shell stand out from the background.






Rotate the wood, if needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position while burning along the left edge of the seashell.








Continued work.







Resume burning in the streaks on the shell.






This dark tan streak I’m just starting is connected to a wide swath of color that is lighter than this streak.






Continued work.







Continued work.






Continued work.







Working the left side of the shell.









With the white streaks, burn the upper and lower portion of it so it is light tan in color.   This will make the streak look curved as the center will be paler than the edges.






Add some small dashes in the large color swath to replicate the irregular color along this area.

Now it’s time to look at your seashell and see if you need to fine-tune any areas.





I decided that my brown streaks needed to be darker, so I re-burned all of the brown streaks.





This also meant that the bottom shadowed edge of the streaks needed to be darker yet, so I burned them a medium to dark brown in color.





Lastly, I VERY GENTLY rubbed over the lightest area on the rings with a sand pen to remove a little color.  This was done to help them look like the highest area.





A few words about the sanding pen I used.  It is made out of fiberglass and is used to remove rust from automotive metals.  That should give you an idea of how powerful or strong this pen is.  If you use one, keep the pressure light!  This pen can quickly gouge a channel into the wood and nothing can fix that.  The spot sanding pen is found on numerous sites online, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding one.  

Don’t waste your money on fiberglass erasers advertised for cleaning watches as they are very soft.  I think those grey erasers for removing ball point pen ink has more erasing power than the watch cleaner.   


The next seashell we will burn is the scallop shell on the right.   You probably noticed that the pattern didn’t have the dark markings for this shell on it.  I did that on purpose.  This way you will add as many or as few dark markings as you want.





Here’s the reference photo for the scallop.  Critically look at it.  Ask yourself the same questions that were asked with the first seashell.

1) What is the shape of the seashell?  2) Where are the shadows located?  3) Are the shadows uniform in color?  4) Where is the lightest area on the seashell?  5) Where is the darkest area on the seashell?  6) What sort of texture does the seashell have?   7) Does the shell have any markings on it?





1) The shell has a fan shape made of ribs that narrow towards the base.  The fan sits on a slightly rectangular base (yellow arrows).  2) There are shadows between each rib and along the left side of the shell (blue arrows).   3) No.  The shadows at the bottom of each rib fade the further from the bottom you get.  4) There is a white reflection band arching through the center of the shell (white arrow).  5) Along the left side of the shell.  6) It looks smooth.  7) Yes.  It has bands of pink and maroon hues, especially on the right side of the shell.





Begin by burning in the shadows on the left side of the shell base.







Continued work.







Rotate the wood to burn shadows along the very bottom of the base and to burn thin vertical lines along the curved ends.






With the right side of the base burn along the edge of the fan, so there is a clearly defined line between the two.







Then burn the vertical line that runs down the right side of the base.









Fill in the rest of the base with color.







Burn in the shadows or bottom of the ridges on the fan.  Start at the top or wide end of the fan and pull the pen towards the bottom or narrow end of the fan.  Let the color of the burn fade slightly as you reach the bottom of the fan.





Continued work.








Burn uniform strokes to give the shell a base color of tan.  Avoid burning between the two pencil lines that indicate the lightest area of the shell.







Continued work.








Continued work.  After you burn above and below the pencil lines, then erase them as they have served their purpose.







Next use circular motion to burn along the left side of each ridge.  This is to extend the shadow a little and make the rib look a curved.








As this photo shows, you extend the shadow even in the highlight area that was marked with pencil lines.








Here’s a progress photo.  Periodically critically look at your artwork and see if it needs fine-tuning.








After looking at my shell, I discovered I missed burning circular motion along one of the ribs, so I’m fixing that in this photo.








Another thing I discovered were some dark lines on my seashell.  The black arrows point to a couple of them.  They were all clustered right in this group with most of them being along the top of the highlighted area.  








To fix the small spots, I use the FLAT of a Xacto knife tip.  Notice how I’m holding the knife and look at the end of the knife.  The end of the tip is NOT pointed down into the wood as that would just dig narrow channels into the wood.  Instead I’m using the FLAT of the knife and I can control how much of the flat I use by the angle I hold the knife.




Starting to scrape along vertical line. 

Use extremely light pressure when doing this.  The goal is to remove a thin layer of color, but not gouge the wood.  It takes me many, many gentle passes with the Xacto knife to remove a super thin layer of color.




This a before/after of the the shell getting treated with a Xacto knife.





Now you get to decide if you want markings on your shell.   If you do, I recommend starting a band of them near the top as the markings should follow the basic arch of the shell.  





Continued work.  If you look closely at the markings I’ve burned, you’ll see they have ragged edges.   When I created them, I burned in a zigzag fashion where the lines were really, really close together.  I varied the length of the zigzag to get the ragged look.




You can add as many or as few rows of markings as you want.






Finishing up.








The last shell we need to take care of is the green and white one on the left.    






Here’s the reference photo for this shell.  Look at this photo and ask yourself the same questions that were asked for the other seashells.

1) What is the shape of the seashell?  2) Where are the shadows located?  3) Are the shadows uniform in color?  4) Where is the lightest area on the seashell?  5) Where is the darkest area on the seashell?  6) What sort of texture does the seashell have?   7) Does the shell have any markings on it?




1)  The shell has a spiral shape and the opening is facing forward looking like the entrance to a cave.  The shell has ridges or raised rings that circle its surface (red arrow). 2) Along the left side, the opening, and the bottom of each ridge on the shell.  3). No.  The shadows tend to get darker the further from the light they get.  4) There is a white or pale ring on the edge of the shell around the opening (white arrow).  Also, the sun is striking along the top of the shell just to the right top (light blue circle).  5) The darkest area is along the bottom (blue arrow), but the left side of the shell is darker than the right (yellow arrow).    6)  This shell also looks smooth in texture especially around and in the opening.  7) There are a lot of green bands and streaks on the shell (green arrows).  Ok, let’s get to work.

Burn a thick brown line along the upper edge of the shell opening.








Fill-in the shell opening letting the color fade to dark tan near the opening.







Extend the dark tan color to the dotted line as indicated on the pattern.







Burn the area from the dotted line to the outer edge of the super smooth shell opening so it is tan in color.






Continue to burn in the super smooth shell area around the opening so it is tan in color.





Continued work.







Burn medium tan lines on the super smooth shell to represent the indication of where the ridges are on the outer portion of the shell.






Rotate the wood so your pen tip is in optimal position as you burn the first of the ridge bottoms brown in color.  This first one is the darkest one.







Continue to burn the ridge bottoms that extend from the starting point.





Burn in the rest of the ridge bottoms on the shell.  Make sure to keep the end/edge of your pen tip right on the starting point of the shadow, or the seam between the shadow and the ridge before it.





Continued work.







Rotate the wood, if needed, to finish burning in the shadows.







Continued work.







Burn in the really dark shadows the scallop shell on the right is casting on this seashell.  Also burn in the spiral end of this shell so it is brown in color.







Continued work on the spiral end of the shell.







Burn a dark brown line along the left edge of the shell point.  This is to help define the end of one spiral and the start of the last spiral.





Also, if needed, darken up the shadows just below the spiral end so they are dark brown in color.  Again, this is just to help define where the shell is.





Burn in the green markings along the bottom edge of the shell.  Consult the reference photo as there are whitish areas down there too.






Continued work.






Make sure to rotate the wood so the end of your pen tip is right on the edge of the shell when working along the left side.






Notice how I’ve got my pinky finger down on the wood to help stabilize my hand as I work on the small knobby edge of the shell.   Most of the time the side of my hand is resting on the wood as I work, but there are times when I have to lift my hand from the wood to angle the pen tip more.  When this happens I put my pinky finger down for support because is it easier to burn precise when your hand is supported.



Now burn the whitish areas so they are tan in color, but avoid burning on the white thin ring around the opening.






Use a white charcoal pencil to draw in the white thin ring around the opening as this will help visually mark the area and help you avoid burning on it.







Resume burning the whitish areas along the bottom of the shell so they are tan in color.






Also burn the first two tiny ridges so they are tan in color.







Burn a tan line than extends from the dark ridge shadows to the super smooth area of the shell.






Erase the white charcoal with a pencil eraser.






Switch to a writer pen tip to burn in the green markings along the top ridges.






Continued work.







Continued work.






On the larger markings you can use a shader pen tip if you prefer, but if you like using the writer pen tip for this, then please do so.






Rotate the wood and use circular motion to burn a medium tan band next to the shadowed bottoms.  This will transition the color at bottom, so it appears to fade away giving each ridge a more curved look.






Continued work.






Continued work.







Lastly, lightly burn along the left edge of the shell so it is tan in color.  

Now critically look at your seashell and decide if it needs any fine tuning.





I decided that the pale lip around the super smooth opening needed to be darkened a little on my seashell.






Below is a comparison my artwork with the reference photo.






We’re done.    What did you think of the tutorial?  As I said before, one of my goals with this project was to help you critically look at a reference photo and replicate what you see.  Do you feel I helped you in that regard?  Also I provided a couple of examples of what  I did to fix some blemishes in the artwork.  Did you find this helpful?   Did I not cover something you have questions about?  Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on die-cut Birch plywood that measures 4 3/4 x 6 1/2 inches (12.1 x 16.5 cm).  It took me 5 hours to complete.   You might do it faster, or slower, but no matter what speed you achieve have fun as you create your art!

Until the next blog,


Apr 27, 2018

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4 thoughts on “mini project 3 Seashells Pyrography Tutorial wood burning

  1. Excelente este mini tutorial como todos sus videos, he aprendido mucho con ello soy muy nueva en este hermoso arte y sigo aprendiendo y practicando GRACIAS.

    1. Hello Admiral,
      thank you.
      I do not feel that I am qualified to write a tutorial on creating portraits. I struggle a lot when I do them and I end up having to do a LOT of erasing.
      Instead I would recommend watching Richy Coelho’s tutorial. I would also highly recommend watching portrait drawing tutorials as the concepts for how you create a face would be the same. Some of the actual techniques might differ just a little, but pyrography and drawing are very similar. There are so many artistic on youtube doing pencil drawings that there is bound to be something that would help.


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