Ornamental Glow Pyrography Tutorial wood burning


In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Ornamental Glow artwork that I designed.  This project is the 7th installment in my Christmas Postcard series.   What I love about this project is the contrast between the smooth small round ornaments, the large textured ornament and the dark background.   I also like the soft glow of lights in the background as the method of creating them is a little different and fun to do.

If you’d like to watch a video version of this tutorial, then click 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 burning.




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

Note that I will be using terminology like pull-away strokes and optimal position.  If you are not familiar with my terminology, there is a blog I wrote that explain the terms I use:  Using the Shader.


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 on the board, 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.   






Now we’re going to emboss the cords used to hang the ornaments.  If you are using a die-cut piece of plywood, like I am, the wood is very soft and easy to emboss.   




I used an embossing tool that is used for card making, but any small firm metal object will emboss the wood.  For example, the back edge of a butter knife would work.




With the writing pen tip on medium low lightly burn in the trace lines.  Make sure to burn in the dotted lines so they are VERY PALE.  I burned them in as little super pale tiny dots.








A few of the dotted lines I’m referring to are marked with red arrows in this photo.  The dotted lines represent color changes, and we want as smooth a transition as possible, so that’s why the lines need to be burned in VERY LIGHTLY.








The circles in the background  can be burned as dotted or solid lines.   As you can see in this picture, I burned them in as solid lines.






After burning in the trace lines, rub an eraser over the surface to remove any residual graphite.   I prefer to use a kneadable eraser on the embossed lines.  The reason is that the eraser can be shaped to a point allowing it to get into the crevasses.





This photo shows a close-up of the embossed lines.  Hopefully you can see how deeply I embossed them. 








The first thing we will burn in are the three little ornaments at the top of the board.   Now, I have to tell you that I had some major issues with this project. 




My first attempt didn’t get far before I discovered I had a major problem with the design for the ornaments; they looked like bad renditions of a world globe. 






I fixed problem with the little ornaments during my second attempt at this artwork, but I discovered another problem.  This time I had gotten more than halfway through before I decided I had a problem with the light reflections on the large ornament.  So I started over.







My third, and final, attempt went well, except I lost most of the video while I was burning in little ornaments.  Fortunately I have the video from the second attempt, so I will use that for the explanation.   Unfortunately, the video is not complete, but I think you’ll be able to easily apply the information from the first ornament onto the others.  Let’s start burning.





Begin by burning around the dotted lines on the middle ornament.  Ignore the pine branch at the top as I eliminated them from the final design.  Also ignore the fact that the metal caps on the top of the ornaments are burned in as I’ll explain those later.





Continue to burn in the ornament around the dotted lines.  Make sure to use the flat of the shader when burning over the embossed lines that run through this ornament.  Also be careful when burning around the metal caps.





As you burn in the area around the dotted lines, make the top of the ornament slightly darker than the bottom.  Also only burn to the first dotted line on the upper right light reflection area.






Rotate the wood, as needed, to keep the pen tip in optimal position when burning along the edges of the ornament.






Burn over the smaller reflections.  Try to blend the edges so you don’t have clearly defined or sharp lines around the reflections.







Each ornament has a large reflection that is composed of several rings.  Each ring gets lighter in color as you approach the center of the reflection.   I circled the areas I’m referring to with red.  To help illustrate what I’m trying to explain, I colored in the middle ornament.  Each ring gets progressively lighter in color as they near the center.    




Burn in the first or outermost ring on the reflection.  Make sure it is several shades lighter than the rest of the ornament. 







Then re-burn along the edge of the ring to help it blend with the rest of the ornament.  I used small circular motions along the line to do this step. 







Continue to burn in the remaining rings.  Make sure to lighten the color as you work your way toward the center.  Try your best to make the seams between the rings smooth.   

Note that I left the very center ring un-burned.





Continued work.








Here’s a picture of the center ornament completed.  

Again, I left the very center ring un-burned so it would be the brightest spot on the ornament.






Do the same thing with the left ornament. Begin by burning the area around the dotted lines. 





Rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position, and make the top of the ornament a little darker than the bottom.






Continued work.







Burn over the smaller reflections and then start burning in the large light reflection.  Remember to decrease the color as you near the center ring. 






At this point the gremlin infestation reared its ugly head and I discovered I was missing the video where I completed the large reflection on the left ornament. 

This is a photo of the completed center and left ornaments.





Unfortunately, the gremlin infestation ate almost all of the video on the last ornament, but I think you get the idea of what to do.

Burn in the ornament, but avoid the reflections.  Make the top of the ornament a little darker than the bottom.  With the large reflection, gradually decrease the color on each ring as you work your way towards the very center ring.  



Then burn over the smaller reflections. 

Notice that I did the steps in a slightly different order on this ornament.

Regardless of which order the steps are done, the end results will look good. 





Burn the caps on the ornaments so they are light to medium tan in color.







Make sure to use the flat of the shader when working near the embossed hanging cords.  The flat of the shader will glide over the embossed lines. 






Since the caps are several shades paler than the top of the ornament, you don’t have to worry about burning on the ornament.







The last thing to do is to re-burn along the left side of the caps to give the impression of them being slightly in shadows. 






Here’s the photo of the completed small ornaments.









I want to take a moment and mention that the quality of the wood matters.  Generally I only look at the color of the die-cut boards when I pick them out.   I will be checking the board surface better in the future!   The board on the right had an almost washboard texture to it.  I couldn’t feel this with my fingers, but it became very evident as I burned.


I think this photo really shows the different between the texture on the two boards.  I was able to get a nice smooth or mostly smooth burn on the right board.  The board on the left side of the red line was a pain to burn on.  The ornament looks grainy and not near as smooth as the right ornament.


I’m mentioning this because if you are newer to pyrography, you might think a bad burn is due solely to lack of experience.  It’s not.  The wood quality has a large influence on the burn results; poor quality wood has a bad influence. 


Another factor that greatly influences burn results is the smoothness of the board.  Even though it is really tempting to just start burning, take the time to thoroughly prep the wood (step 1) first.  Having a really smooth surface will greatly improve your burn results!     


In this photo you can see the washboard or huge slivers the board has.  Red arrows are pointing to a couple of them in the photo.  The problem is that the lines are embedded down in the wood and the flat of the shader pen tip just glides over the top of them.  This leaves “white” streaks in the burned areas of the wood.




To fix it, I had to scrape with my X-acto knife to remove some of the color, and then I had to use a micro writer pen tip to burn down into the bottoms of the washboard.  Unfortunately, the writer pen tip also darkens the sides of the sliver, so I had to re-scrape any excess color back off.     I spent a LOT of time fixing the uneven burning.





So when you pick out board, take a good look at the surface of the board.  Angle it in the light and if it looks like it has a lot of deep and/or wide slivers in it, then put it back.




The next thing we will work on is the large ornament.









Start by burning in the very top of the ornament so it is tan in color.






Gradually darken the color of the top as you near the left edge. 






Burn a dark line on the ring just below the top of the ornament.  Make sure to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you do this. 






Fill in the ring, but make the color a shade or two darker than the top so it will appear to be in shadows.







Rotate the wood to keep the pen tip in optimal position as you burn along the bottom edge of the ring.  This will give the bottom of the ring a crisp and clearly defined edge to it.





Next, use the shader to burn along the right edge of the three tabs.  Each tab is framed by a raised rib and the ribs cast a slight shadow onto the tabs.  Notice how I have the pen tip angled so it is in optimal position to burn crisp clean lines along the right edge of the tabs.





Rotate the wood and burn along the bottom of the tabs.  Burn pull-away strokes along the top of the tab.  Start the stroke on the top edge and pull it towards the bottom of the tab.  Stop the stroke near the halfway mark.  






Also burn pull-away strokes along the bottom edge of the tab.  Start these strokes on the bottom edge and pull them towards the center of the tab stopping near the halfway mark.   This will leave you tabs that have centers that are paler than the outer edges (top/bottom).





In this photo you can really see how the color is darker at the ends (top/bottom) of the tabs.  To get smooth color, overlap your strokes, and re-burn over the area several times.  I didn’t count how many times I burned and re-burned pull-away strokes as I built up the color, but I would guess it is at least 15 strokes per tab end.





This photo shows how I’m re-burning the area to build up the color. 





Continued work.







Next, lightly burn over the ribs that frame the three tabs.  The ribs should be light tan in color.






Rotate the board and burn very short dark tan pull-away strokes along the bottom where all of the ribs connect. 





Then lightly burn along the right edge of each rib.  This will help make the ribs look rounded.





If needed, use the razor edge of an X-acto knife to scrape a super thin highlight along the top of each rib.   






With the next ring on the large ornament, we’ll start by burning in the dark circles along the upper right edge using a writer pen tip.  






Then use the writer to burn the lines between each rounded knob to a brown color.






Use a white charcoal pencil to color in the circles that span from the upper left to the lower right on this ring.  

You do not have to do this step, but I find it helpful to have a visual marker of the spot I want to avoid burning.  Especially when the spots are small like these are.




Shade in each knob.  The color should be darker the further away from the white charcoal you are.  Gradually decrease the color as you near the white charcoal spot; you want a smooth transition like we did with the little ornaments.





I want to point out that the first knob I started shading in was the one to the immediately left of the transition knob.  I will explain what I mean by this later, but make a mental note of it for now.


As you work your way further along the left side of the ring, the white charcoal dots transition to the top of the knobs.  This means that the color along the bottom right edge of the knobs should be much darker. 





Don’t be afraid to rotate the wood, if needed, to make it easier to burn in the knobs.  By rotating the wood it was easier for me to keep the pen tip in optimal position. 






Continued work.








Make sure that the left of each knob is paler than the right edge of the adjacent knob. 

In this photo, a yellow arrow is pointing to the left edge of one knob.   The red arrow is pointing to the right edge of a knob that is several knobs away from the yellow arrow.  Notice how the right edge is dark to provide contrast with the left edge of the adjacent knob.  This makes each knob look rounded; the right edge appears to be in shadows and the left edge is being struck with light.




Another thing I want to point out is how the knobs change direction.  This happens on all 3 rings that have raised knobs, and I marked the transition knob on each ring with a red arrow.   Granted the middle ring has such large knobs that they are more like ribs, but I will call them knobs to keep things simple and consistent.




I’ve marked the transition knobs with red circles. Transition knobs are important because the shadows change sides. 

Look at this photo and examine the shadows.  What do you notice? 

Hopefully you noticed how the knobs to the left have shadows along on their right edge.   Whereas knobs on the right have shadows along the left edge.

Remember back when I told you to make a mental note about which knob I first started to burn in?  This is the reason why.  I started on the first knob to the immediate left of the transition knob.


The transition knobs don’t have dark shadows on either edge.  Instead both edges are slightly darker than the center, but both edges remain paler than the adjacent knobs on either side.






Now we are ready to burn in the transition knob.  First, burn it to a medium tan color that gets lighter as you near the white charcoal mark.   Then re-burn to slightly darken both edges of the knob.






With the knobs to the right of the transition knob, burn the left edge darker than the right.  Again make sure to use gradient color as you near the white charcoal spot.







Rotate the wood, as needed, while you work to ensure the edges of each knob stay crisp and clean.






Erase the white charcoal if you used it.






Here’s a progress photo.






Rotate the wood and burn a dark line above each of the large knobs.  Then burn pull-away strokes along the small ring.  Start the stroke on the knob edge and pull it away from the knob towards the top of this small ring.





Continued work.






Now burn extremely short pull-away strokes along the top of this ring.  Start the stroke at the top of this small ring and end it where the ring curves downward.  This is a VERY small burn stroke.






Finishing up.








Begin working on the ring of large knobs by burning in the first knob on the left. 

Remember that because we are working on knobs to the left of the transition knob, our shadows are along the right edge of each knob.





I used pull-away strokes to burn along the right edge of the knobs.  I have the wood rotated so my pen tip stays in optimal position as I work.  Start the stroke on the right edge and pull it towards the left edge. 





As you work, make sure to avoid the light reflection spots.  If it’s easier for you, color them in with white charcoal.






Continued work.







This knob I’m burning right now is the last knob before I reach the transition knob.  As you are burning, make sure to keep track of which knob is the transition knob.  Use a pencil and draw a X on it if that will help.








Make sure to transition the color around the reflection spots.  With the large triangular reflection, burn a tan band along the right edge.  The right edge is in shadows, so even though the light is reflected in some spots, the edge won’t be as bright as the center of the reflection.





Notice how I’ve started to transition the color on the triangular light reflection.  All around the reflection I’ve burned tan bands and left the very center of the triangle unburned.   

I am using a combination of circular motion and uniform strokes as I burn in the rest of each knob.




As you work, the left edge of each knob should be several shades paler than the right edge.  Try to keep the color gradient and smooth as this will make the knobs look rounded.






Finishing up the knobs along the left of the transition knob.







I had a little oops and accidently burned over the triangular reflections on the far left knobs.  I used the edge of an X-acto knife to very gently scrape away the color.   






Here’s another progress photo.







Now burn in the knobs to the right of the transition knob.  Again, I’m using pull-away strokes along the left edge (right in this photo) of the knobs.   It might be easier to rotate the wood as you work along the edge of the knobs as I’m doing.





When I’m working along the pale edge of the knobs, I use uniform strokes and/or circular motion.







On this side of the ornament, I completely burned in one knob at a time.   







I like to point out things like that because I think it’s important for to know that you don’t have to do things in one specific order to get good results.  Do what feels comfortable for you.





Finishing up the knobs to the left of the transition knob.






With the transition knob, start by burning around the light reflection spots.  Then fill the knob with a tan color.






Then re-burn over the knob to gradually increase the color along the edges and in areas away from the light reflection spots.







Continued work.








Finishing up.






In this photo I’m making a couple of the shadows on the left knobs a little darker.  It’s a good idea to periodically examine your work and make adjustments as needed.   






Here’s a progress photo with the middle ring of large knobs completed.







Let’s work on the last ring of knobs.  In this ring I worked from left to right, so start with the left most knob and burn it in using pull-away strokes.  Start the stroke on the right edge and pull it towards the left edge.




In this photo I’m burning in the knob that is immediately adjacent to the transition knob.  As you work on your ornament, it’s important to keep in mind where the transition knob is.






When burning in the transition knob, remember that the both edges are darker than the center of the knob.  Another item to remember is that both edges remain paler than the knob edges on either side.






It may be easier to burn pull-away strokes if you rotate the wood.  For me, I find it is easier to keep the pen tip in optimal position with the wood rotated, but this may not be the case for you as it depends on how you hold the pen and/or which hand you use.





Continued work.







Finishing up.







With the final ring, or bottom of ornament, begin by burning a dark line just under each knob on the ring above.






Then burn very short pull-away strokes along the top portion of this area. 






Rotate the wood and burn uniform strokes along the middle part of this area.  Start the stroke near the halfway mark and pull it toward the top of the ornament.  (since this photo is upside-down, the top is actually below in the photo)





Continued work.







Re-burn along the center in this area to gradually darken it up.  The sides should be paler than the center.






Burn in the rest of the bottom area to a tan color.






Then, if needed, continue to re-burn along the center to darken it up.









When I created the background, I used white charcoal pencils to help create the spots of soft glow.   It is VERY important to use charcoal and NOT colored pencil for this step.  I have some photos to show that will help demonstrate why this is important.

I started with a white charcoal pencil by General.  Any brand will work, but this is what I have on hand. 





Next I colored in one of the spots with the pencil, applying a VERY thick layer of charcoal.






Then I switched to a Prismacolor brand of white colored pencil.






I colored in the smaller spot in front of the large charcoal one with the colored pencil.  Again, I applied a very heavy layer of colored pencil.






Lastly I grabbed a Soho brand of white colored pencil.






I colored in a nearby spot with the Soho colored pencil, and, again, applied a very heavy layer of color.







I used a shader to burn over the colored in spots.  I ONLY burned over them one time and I tried very hard not to overlap my strokes.   The shader can smear the charcoal around, so that is why I minimize the number of times I burn over.





In this photo I’m just finishing the burn over the spots.  You can easily see where the spots are and you can tell they are discolored.  So now I need to erase over the area to remove the charcoal and colored pencil.






Always check the temperature of the wood before you try to erase anything from it.  I made the mistake once of using an eraser too soon and the residual heat was high enough to melt part of the eraser!  I had to scrape it off with an X-acto knife.






Once the wood is cooled down then rub the eraser over the spots.








Here’s what I ended up with.   I was able to erase the charcoal and the wood underneath was burned to a light tan color.  Notice how much lighter the wood is compared to the nearby wood that didn’t get coated with charcoal. 

As for the colored pencils, they didn’t erase well.  Both areas still look whitish, and both have charred white areas that look grey in color.   The Soho charred so much that it looks like a dark grey spot.   Basically the colored pencil melted, charred, and is now permanently adhered to the wood.  I rubbed the eraser numerous times over the spots to try and remove the residual colored pencil, but it is stuck on there.   I might be able to scrape it off with an X-acto knife, but then I’d be back to bare wood.


To me the spots with color pencil do not look like the regular wood burning colors.  I don’t care for it at all.  Plus there is some question about whether or not toxic fumes are emitted when the colored pencils get heated up.  They are man-made substance, so I wouldn’t recommend burning over colored pencil work.




Armed with why you need to use charcoal and not a colored pencil, let’s burn in the background. 








Start by burning a thick dark line around the ornaments.  This will create a buffer zone.  Buffer zones allow you to work faster on the background because you don’t have to get close to the ornaments. 






Make sure to keep your pen tip in optimal position as you burn around the ornaments.  Also use the FLAT of your shader when burning over the embossed lines of the hanging cords.







Finishing up the buffer zone.







This photo is showing the hanging cords.  Mine got a little discolored, so I’m going to brighten them up using an X-acto knife.







Use the tip of an X-acto knife to scrape along the embossed lines.  This will remove any slight charring and clean up the lines.






If you accidentally scrape outside of the embossed line, use a writer pen tip to burn over the spot.  The writer pen tip is more precise, so that makes it a good option for this task.






Use a white charcoal pencil to color in the spots.  I worked sections at a time, so I colored the spots on the top half, burn them in, and then worked on the middle of the board. 

The reason for this is that charcoal is prone to smearing, so I only colored in spots where I knew my hand wouldn’t rest and smear them.



Use a shader of your choice and burn in the background.  You can make it as dark as you like.  I personally thought I got my background a little too dark, but that’s ok. 

I also want to point out that I burned AROUND the spots first before I burned over them.  This ensured the background was nice a dark and that I don’t have to burn over the spots more than once.




This photo shows a spot that I did not color in with white charcoal.  I marked the spot with a red arrow.  The purpose was to point out that you don’t have to use charcoal.  Instead just avoid burning over the spots.






After you’re done burning in dark, turn down the heat and burn over the spot. 

In this photo I’m testing the pen tip first by blotting the pen tip on an unburned section of wood.  This way I can see how dark of a color I’m getting and make adjustments to get the tan color I want BEFORE I burn on the spot.




Once the pen tip is tested to make sure it is at the right burning temperature, then burn over the spot.  Burn over it several times to slowly build up the color.






Now I’m working on a new section of the background. 

Before I started, I did let the wood in the old section cool down, and I erased the charcoal.  The red arrow is pointing to the spot that did not receive a charcoal coating.  I think the spot looks similar to the ones coated with charcoal.



Which way you’d prefer to handle the background is up to you.  I like to provide ideas, but you have to decide what methods work best for you.







Finishing up the dark background.







The last thing to do is erase the charcoal (make sure the wood is cooled sufficiently) and then, if needed, re-burn over any spots that seem too bright.








Since this is a “postcard,” flip the wood over and burn in a few lines.  Then write your message.









We’re done.    Hopefully I was able to explain things well enough so you could follow along.  That said, don’t be afraid to experiment.   Maybe you don’t want the background to be dark.  Instead maybe you’d like to have the ornaments hanging from a pine branch.  Or maybe you’d like the ornaments to have different colors to them.  Go for it.  It’s your artwork, so make it reflect your preferences in art! 

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on Die-Cut Birch plywood that measures 4 x 6 inches (10.2 x 15.2 cm).  It took me 5 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’s important is you’re learning to create pyrography artwork, and hopefully, having fun while doing so.

Until the next blog,


Dec 7, 2018

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