Pyrography Techniques – Halloween Pumpkin Tree wood burning tutorial

In this tutorial I’m going to explain how to create the Halloween Pumpkin Tree pyrography artwork.  This was artwork I did last year to participate in a YouTube challenge.  I had not participated in a challenge before, so thought I’d try it.  Since the challenge was issued in October and was supposed to feature a pumpkin, I created a Halloween scene. 

Click on the image to the left to watch a YouTube video version of the tutorial.  I must warn you that I did my impersonation of Bob Ross in the video to celebrate the Halloween.  While it’s not a very good impression of Bob Ross I do hope you’ll find it entertaining.




Click on the image to the left to watch a time lapse version of the artwork being created.  I did this artwork in 2019 to participate in an art challenge issued by Dena Tellefson.

Now, let’s get to work.




  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • 8 x 8 inch (20.3 x 20.3 cm) piece of wood
  • Pattern (enlarge or shrink as needed) Pumpkin Tree pattern


Wood burning is much easier if you take the time to prepare the wood surface.  Always 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.  The board should be damp, but not soaking wet. 

Let the board dry and then sand again.





This piece of plywood board is broken up into three sections.  The far left section is how the board looks without any prep work.  The board has a rough texture.   The middle section of the board shows how it looks after it was sanded, and the surface is a lot smoother.   The right section of the board shows it after it was lightly misted with water and allowed to dry.  Notice how rough the board looks, but a quick sanding will remove that and leave an ultra-smooth board.

Doing the 4-step process (sand, mist, dry, sand) produces 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. 







Make sure the heat is low on your burner and firmly burn over the spider.  The heat of the pen tip will help the pen tip sink down into the surface of the wood.  The low heat ensures the burn mark will not have any color to them.


Do not use a lot of pressure on your writer pen tip as you can bend the tip.




It might be easier to use an embossing ball stylus pen with a small tip.  This way you can exert a lot of pressure to get some really deep lines.  Here’s a link to the set shown in the picture:  Embossing Tools   


After you have burned in the trace lines, rub over the surface with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite. 


We will start with the bats.






Use a shader pen tip and burn along the upper edges of the bat.  In this position the pen tip will be in optimal position and you’ll get nice crisp edges.







Rotate the board and burn along the lower edges. 







While the board is rotated burn along the lower edges of the other bats.  Again the pen tip is in optimal position, so the edges stay clean.







The bats should be burned to a uniform dark brown or black color.







Yes, you could have burned in the bats completely when the board was reversed, but I did not do it that way for whatever reason.  






If needed use a writer pen tip to burn in the small areas on the bats.








Use a shader and burn a wide band of tan color around the moon.  For those of you who love to add color, the sky would look great with a dark blue tinge to it.  





It is up to you on how far you want to extend the color and how dark you want the sky to be.   


Now let’s work on the pumpkin head.









Begin by burning along the right seam edge on each segment of the pumpkin’s left half of the face.   On the right half of the face you need to burn along the left edge of each segment.






Use a writer pen tip and burn along the bottom edge of each branch of the stem.   Also burn a dark line along the left edge of the stem.   Keep in mind the image is upside-down, so it looks like the top and right edge in the photo.






Now burn very darkly along the edges of the the mouth opening, and fill the mouth with a dark brown to black color. 








I found that a writer pen tip worked well for this; especially in the small areas.  You may prefer to use a shader pen tip in the larger areas.








Switch to a shader pen tip and burn in each segment on the left side of the pumpkin.  The right side of each segment should be darker than the left.  I am primarily using uniform strokes as my burn method.







Also the bottom of the pumpkin should be darker than the top.   Make sure to rotate the board as needed so your pen tip is in optimal position when burning along edges.  This will keep the edges crisp and clean.







When you get to the right half of the pumpkin (looks like the left side in the photo since it’s upside-down) the shading reverses.  This means that the left side of each segment should be darker than the right.







Some angles might be easier to burn in than others.  My board has a horizontal grain line and it’s often easier to burn with the grain than across it.  This phenomenon seems a lot more noticeable with plywood and that’s what I’m burning on.






While the board is in this position I’m using pull-away strokes as my burn method.  The stroke starts on the seam where the color is darkest and gets pulled towards the outer edge of the segment.






I also use circular motion along the bottom of the chin to give it a rounded appearance.







Do your best to avoid burning over the branching stem on the top of the pumpkin.  I have switched to a smaller shader because it makes it easier to work around the stem and small segments.







Even with the small segments burn the seams darker so each segment will appear rounded.  The color should be darkest at the seam and get gradually lighter at the opposite edge.






Burn darkly around the eye openings, and then lightly burn in the pupils.  Make sure you are happy with the placement of the pupils before burning them in.  I tried to make sure the pupils were oriented towards the little kid.






Then use a shader or writer pen tip and burn the eye openings to a dark brown or black color.








Let the color get gradually lighter near the pupils.  Rotate the board as needed while you work.







Finishing the other eye.








Next, burn the nostril openings dark, but let the color fade at the bottom.  The openings are shaped like triangles that have a soft or faded bottom edge.








Now use the shader of your choice and burn in the forehead.  We are shifting the shadows with this ground of 3 segments from the right to the left.  So make the left side darker than the right for these three.  Also darken up just above the eye openings to create eyebrows.  Granted they are eyebrows of an odd sort.






Darken up the area between the eyes.  This will push the area down or make it look recessed, and this will help the nose look elevated.








As you can see I extended the dark color under the eyes stopping once I was even with the pupils.   Burn in the rest of the face so it matches the color on the highlighted side (right) of the brow segments.








As you work make sure that the top of the nose is the lightest area on the face.








Burn along the bottom of the nostrils to darken the area a bit.  Don’t burn it as dark as the area between the eyes.  The added color along the bottom of the nose will further help the top of the nose appear elevated from the surface of the board.







Now burn in the segments on the right half of the face.  Rotate the board as needed to make burning easy and comfortable for yourself.








Since I’ve got the board rotated, I’m using pull-away strokes as my burn method.  Pull-away strokes start darker than they end, so this produces gradient shading.  Plus I find that pull-away strokes work best if you have a clear line to start the stroke on, and I do in this situation.







Make sure to burn in the small segments on the top of the pumpkin.

It’s always interesting to me how the color or darkness level of the pumpkin seems to change depending on how the light is striking the board.







Do any fine tuning if needed to the pumpkin face.  I blended the color out from under the eyes so they didn’t look like dark stripes.







Switch to a writer pen tip and burn chains of looping circles on the stem. 







Essentially I’m using circular motion, but the circles are open, so the underlying wood can be seen in the center of the circle. 






2d28.  By burning and re-burning over the stem it produces a very mottled color that gives the area a slightly rough organic appearing texture that I like.


Now let’s work on the tree body.









Begin by using a writer pen tip to darkly burn in the openings on the belly.








Burn around the edges of the opening that houses the spider.








Then switch to a shader and use the flat of the shader and burn over the spider.  This is the point where you discover if the embossed lines are deep enough to show up.  Mine were too shallow, so I had to carefully burn around the spider.






Afterwards I used the sharp point of a metal ceramic pick to scrape away the char marks on the spider.  The tip of a sharp knife would work for this.







Now rotate the board and burn along the shadowed edges of the tree arms.





Also burn along the shadowed edges of the tree roots.  We want all of these edges to be really crisp and clean, so having the pen tip in optimal position helps ensure they are.




Then burn a dark shadow under the head, and create a cast shadow from the chin onto the neck.







Then switch to a writer pen tip and burn over the body using circular motion.  









As you work make sure to burn in or extend the shadows.








If needed, re-burn over the body and arms to get them to the desired darkness levels.  When re-burning use the same circular motion burn stroke.






When you get to the belly and all of the forked openings, burn each one separately.







It is up to you how dark to burn the area.  I tried to make sure the tree was a number of shades lighter than the dark belly openings.








In this photo you can really see the mottled texture that the circular motion is creating.  I think that the viewer will interpret the texture to be tree bark since they are looking at a tree.





Be mindful of where the light is coming from as you burn, so the shadows are placed appropriately.






Also darken up the ends of each finger so that the finger nails are a dark brown to black color.







Of course the tree roots also need a layer or two of circular motion burned over them.





I had considered using a different texture on the roots, but decided to keep it simple.  





Using a shader and burn a cast shadow on the ground.






Give the shadow the basic shape of the tree.





If you want to get fancy you can include a cast shadow of the reaching arm.   I debated about creating a cast shadow for the left arm, but decided it was behind the pumpkin head.   You may or may not agree, so it’s up to you if you want to create a cast shadow.





Notice how I burned the shadow under the right roots a bit away from the actual root.  This helps create the illusion that the tree root is arching up and away from the ground.




The last thing I did was use a white colored pencil to color over the spider. 






I do literally mean that the coloring was the very last thing I did.  Always add color after you are done burning regardless of the color medium.  Some of the ingredients that are used to create different colors are toxic when vaporized.  The heat from a pen tip is enough to create vapors. 




Now let’s burn in the child and the bucket of candy.









Begin by burning in the dark spots on the outfit.









The burn the tunic to a dark tan color.  It can be uniform in color or not. 









Finishing up.  As you can see the color is not uniform on my tunic.









I lost some video files, so don’t have clips from the skin and hair.  With the skin burn it to the uniform color of your choice.  I went with a light to medium tan color to contrast with the outfit, but any color would work as long as it is noticeably different from the tunic.








The hair is created by burning an assortment of different color thick lines.  The lines are burned so they radiate outward from the center back of the head.  I used the shader for this.  I angled the shader to vary how much metal was in contact with the wood and this created lines of different thicknesses.





Burn the inside of the candy bucket.  The color should be a touch lighter as you near the opening.






Then burn the handle to a dark tan or light brown color.






Lightly burn over the outside of the bucket.






Use a writer pen tip and burn in the candy.  I burned small shapes of differing sizes to give the impression of assorted candy.





Then burn a dark shadow under the candy pile.






Next burn along the edges of where the cast shadow is for the little kid.  It is your choice if you want to create a cast shadow for the entire body.







Then fill in the cast shadow.   I should have angled the shadow to match the tree’s, but I didn’t think of that until it was too late.


This project is at its conclusion.  I hope you enjoyed it and found the corresponding Bob Ross Halloween video amusing. 

Now to answer a couple of questions I get asked frequently.  This artwork was burned on birch plywood that measures 8 x 8 inches (20.3 x 20.3 cm).  It took me 3 1/2 hours to complete the artwork.

Until the next blog,


Oct 27, 2020

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