Pyrography – David’s Winter Scene Christmas Postcard wood burning tutorial

This tutorial is going to feature the artwork created from David Denton’s winning drawing from the 2019 Draw It / Win It contest I had last year.  What made the drawing appealing was the sense of depth, detail, and simplicity it had.  This artwork is part of my Christmas Postcard series and it marks the eighth installment in the series.  

Here is the winning drawing that David submitted.   Be aware that this is the pattern for the artwork.  I didn’t see the point in printing out the drawing and scanning it to create a pdf file when the photo works just as well.





Watch a 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 video of the artwork being created.





David Denton has a youtube channel.  Click on the image to the left to check out his channel.

 Now, let’s get burning.




  • Writing tip
  • Shading tip
  • Skew, rounded heel, or knife tip
  • 4 x 6 inch (10.2 x 15.2 cm) piece of wood
  • Embossing Tool
  • White Colored Pencil
  • Pattern – note that the pattern is the photograph of the winning drawing. It near the top of this blog.

Embossing tools are also called ball stylus tools.  They have a grip with metal prongs at either end.  The prongs have a rounded ball tip on them.




They come in an assortment of sizes.  Here’s a link to a set on Amazon:  Embossing Tools 



I used an electric eraser several times to fix issues in the artwork.  I like the electric eraser because the small tip allows for precision color removal.  This is not a necessary item, but here’s a link if you’re interested:  Sakura Electric Eraser

To be able to use an electric eraser in pyrography you have to use sand or ink pen erasers.  This is the only brand that I’ve found that manufactures them and here’s a link:  Sand / Ink erasers     









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 to the touch, 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.




We’ll first work on the sky.    



Begin by lightly burning in the trace lines with a writer pen tip.








I only burned in the trace lines around the sky, but that was only because I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle thing.  I recommend burning in all of the lines, but keep the color light as some of the lines represent snow.




With the rays of light I used a knife tip because it is great for burning thin straight lines. 







This pen tip I’m using is called MR or M rounded on Colwood’s website.  I’ve also seen this type of tip referred to as a skew tip.  I call it a knife tip because it makes burn marks that remind me of what an X-acto knife would create.





The key to burning straight lines is move your arm at the shoulder while keeping your wrist, elbow, and fingers in a locked position.  The burn stroke always starts at the furthest point or distance from you and then pull the pen tip back towards yourself; the whole time keeping your arm in a locked position.  Rotate the board as needed to facilitate burning in this method.






Once the trace lines are burned in, then rub over the board with a pencil eraser to remove any residual graphite.






Next use an embossing tool and create deep divots into the wood.  Depending on what type of wood you’re using, you might have to exert a lot of pressure.  I ended up placing the board flat on a table and pressing downward with the tool to get some deep divots.





Use the shader of your choice and burn the sky to a dark brown or black color.





Rotate the board as needed so your pen tip stays in optimal position when working along the rays of light.  We want crisp clean lines.






Most of my divots were not deep enough, so once I burned over the area many of them disappeared. 








I did use several different sized shaders on the sky, but any shader will work. 




I highly recommend waiting to burn the sky behind the tree until after the tree is done.  That way you can carefully burn around the branches that overlap onto the sky.




Burn the light rays to a tan color so that the star is the brightest object in the sky.






How dark you burn the light rays is your choice.





The very last thing I did was use a white colored pencil and color around the outer edges of the star.  This helped define the edges and make the star pop.

When I say that adding colored pencil was the last thing I did, I do mean it was literally that last step.  I never add color until after all of the burning is done!






Now let’s work on the Christmas tree.    









Use edge of the shader of your choice and fill the top layer or tier of tree with zigzags and single lines.  If it’s easier just burn a lot of individual lines.







Also it might be easier to use a wire nib style of pen tip like these calligraphy tips by Colwood.








As you work try to keep the top of each layer darker than the bottom.  This will help give the tree depth.







In this photo you can see how I’m using just the edge of the shader to burn zigzags and single lines.  







Do not use a lot of pressure when burning with the edge of a shader.  The reason is that the edge is very thin and has a tendency to sink down into the wood.  Applying pressure will cause the pen tip to sink down even further making it difficult to burn zigzags.




In this photo you can see how I’ve darkened up the area just under each of the upper layers.  Burning darker under each layer creates the illusion of a shadow being cast from the layer above.






Make sure to keep the lower edges of each layer jagged to give the impression of individual branches hanging down.








Also incorporate a variety of color or tonal value into your burn strokes.









Use a writer pen tip or the edge of a shader to burn dark slightly curving lines on the tree trunk.  These lines form the bark on the tree.








Then use the flat of the shader to burn over the trunk.  Make the trunk a medium brown color.  It should be considerably darker than the tree, but not so dark that you can’t see the bark lines.






If needed, use a writer pen tip to darken up any of the bark lines.








Then darken up the tree trunk just under than branches to create a cast shadow.








Next use the writer pen tip to further define some of the branches at the bottom of the top layer.







Lastly burn a few dark short lines here and there on the tree.

You can add colorful ornaments to the tree by simply adding small dots of color here and there.  Again adding color needs to be done after all of the burning has been finished.




Next thing we’ll burn in are the twisted trees. I did the left tree first, but I did a lot of experimenting.  By the time I was almost done with the tree I had worked out a system to create the tree.  I implemented this system on the second tree, so I will cover the second tree first.  





Burn guidelines in the direction that you want the tree to twist.   I have the board rotated to make burning the curves on the tree roots comfortable for me.

It might be easier to draw in the guidelines with a graphite pencil first.  Once you have the lines drawn in to your liking, then burn over them and erase any residual graphite.



While the board is rotated burn guidelines along the lower edge of most of roots and tree branches.







You are in complete control of the direction that you want the guidelines to be burned.  The guidelines will end up being the darkest lines on the tree and they give the tree shape.







I worked sections at a time, but you can burn in all of guidelines first and then give the tree color.  

To give the tree color, use the flat of the shader to burn either pull-away or uniform strokes that follow the direction of the guidelines.






Make sure the strokes vary a little in color. 

Emphasize some of the pale burn strokes by burning darker around the pale streak.  A yellow arrow is pointing to an example of an emphasized pale streak.  

What I like about the pale streak is that it looks raised up from the surface of tree.  It adds to the gnarly twisted texture of the tree.




Continue to fill the tree with guidelines and burn strokes that vary in color.









Do keep in mind where the light source is as you work.   The light is on the left of the tree, so the right side should be darker than the left.








Also the bottom should be darker than the top.   In this photo I’ve rotated the board so my pen tip will be in optimal position as I darken up the lower part of the roots.








Finishing up the tree on the right.









With the tree on the left, I burned curving lines using either pull-away or uniform strokes.  I varied the color of the burn strokes.






I did not burn guidelines first because I had not figured out that technique yet.   I highly recommend using guidelines. 








As I said before, I burned this tree first.  I did a bit of experimenting as I trying to discover what would look good.  Since I wasn’t sure how things would look, I kept the burn strokes very pale in color.







The pale color allowed me to make changes in direction, but it also required a lot more re-burning before I thought the tree was dark enough.







Speaking of tree darkness.  You have to decide just how dark you want your tree.  


There are a couple things to consider about the darkness of the tree.  First the upper branches of the trees overlap onto the dark sky.  Secondly there are a lot of snowy banks around the trees.  Third there are lantern posts near the trees.  

I knew I wanted the tree to be considerably lighter than the dark sky.   I also knew that I wanted the lantern posts to be pretty dark in color because they are surrounded by pale snow.  I decided that I would make my twisted trees as dark of a tan or light brown color that I could while making sure that they were considerably lighter in color than the lantern posts.  I burned in the lantern posts to help be determine how dark to make the twisted trees.

Once I got to the roots on the left twisted tree I came upon the idea of using guidelines. 








I really think the guidelines help visualize the shape of tree.  Plus they make it easier to know what direction to burn the pull-away and uniform strokes that give the tree color.





The left tree probably took me twice as long to burn in than the right.  Most of that is because I was experimenting. 

Yes, if I would practice on scrap wood I could have discovered how to handle the trees before touching the actual artwork.  My problem is that I hate practicing on scrap wood.






The very last thing I did was darken up the shadowed side of the roots.  Since this tree is to the left of the light source, the left side is darker than the right.    






There are four hanging lanterns, and I will cover the closest one on the left in greater detail than the others.    








First off burn in the trace lines if you haven’t done so already.  Then start filling the post with zigzags and short single lines to create a tree bark texture.  I’m using the edge of a shader pen tip to do this, but you can also use a writer or wire tip.







Continue to fill in the post with the tree bark texture.









The key to the tree bark texture is to have a range of colors. I often fill a section with the zigzags to give it some color and a basic texture.  Then I re-burn some single line over the section to create the cracks or shadows of the bark.







Rotate the board as needed so your pen tip is always in optimal position when working along edges.  You want the edges to stay crisp and clean.








As you work make sure to darken up the edge that is furthest from the lantern.  With this post that would be the left side, but since the photo is rotated it appears as the right side.








I recommend burning the post to a dark overall color to it stands out from the twisted trees and surrounding snow, but that’s just my opinion.








Lastly add some slightly curving dark lines to the post to create the cracks and shadows of the bark.








Then burn the trace lines of the lantern.









Use the writer pen tip to burn the dark metal of the lantern.  I used circular motion as my burn stroke to create a subtle texture on the lantern.








I switched to a larger writer pen tip and burned the lantern base to a uniform dark brown or black color.








I decided that I liked the dark uniform color, so re-burned the top of the lantern to match the bottom.  If you prefer the textured version, then leave the top along and make the bottom match.







Next, use a writer pen tip to burn a pale candle with a short dark wick.








Once ALL of the wood burning is done, then use a white colored pencil and color the space above the candle.








I’m using an electric eraser equipped with an ink pen eraser to remove some of the darkness from the ground where I wanted the glow of the lantern to be.







Here’s how it looked once I was done.   I used the electric eraser because it allows me to easily remove some color from much smaller areas than I could with sandpaper.  Plus it’s much faster than scraping with the edge of a knife.








I added some white colored pencil to a small area adjacent to the lantern to extend its glow.







Burn in the trace lines on the right front lantern.







With this post I burned in the shadowed right side first.








Then I filled the rest of the post with the tree bark texture.







Next use a writer pen tip to color the metal portion of the lantern.  A reminder that it is your choice if you want it to have the subtle texture from using circular motion, or burn it to a uniform color.







Now create the pale candle with a short dark wick.







Lastly use a white colored pencil to add a glow to the lantern.







With the two distant lanterns begin by burning in the trace lines.







Then burn in the posts, but don’t worry about creating the tree bark texture.  The lack of detail will help push them further into the background.





Next burn in the metal potions of the lanterns to a uniform dark color.   We don’t want any texture for the same reason we don’t have texture on the posts.




Do not create the candles, but do add the soft glow with a white colored pencil.





Now we will burn in the rocky ground.  I think you’ll be surprised at how simple it is to create; at least I hope you will.






Use a writer pen tip and burn open circular motion over the ground.






Open circular motion means that you are burning chains of circles, so the circles are hollow in the center.  To put it another way you can see the underlying wood in the center of the circle.     






To build up the color just re-burn over the ground until it is as dark as you desire.





Continue to fill in the area with circular motion.





I recommend burning the ground to a different color than the twisted trees and the lantern posts.  I chose a color darker than the trees were, but lighter than the lantern posts.





As you work there are a couple of things I recommend.   1) Make the ground lighter near the distant lanterns as this will create the impression of the light’s glow.   2) Add shadows around the base of objects like the rocks and rabbits.



I darkened up the ground along the edges of the pathway.








Since I got a bit carried away with the darkening up process, I’m using an electric eraser equipped with an ink pen eraser to remove some of the color.







Be careful when working around the rabbits.  I burned a line around the rabbits and then filled the areas with circular motion.






Add shadows behind the tree and the rabbits.  How far you want to extend the shadows is up to you.






Make sure to leave the front edge of the upper pathway lighter in color than the lower pathway.   This will help convey the impression that there is a change in elevation.




I used the writer pen tip and burned circular motion over the semi-large rock to give it color and some texture.







Next I used the writer to burn in a shadow under the snow on the large rocks.








Switch to a shader pen tip and fill the rocks with color and some texture.  The texture was a combination of circular motion and blotching.  Blotching is my term for creating a blob of color by holding the pen tip in place for a brief moment.  The longer you hold the pen tip in place the darker the blotch.




Continued work.







Continued work.






Rotate the board so your pen tip is on optimal position and burn along the bottom edge of the rocks.  This will ensure there is a crisp clean line between the rocks and the snow.






Lastly burn along the bottom edge of the snow to create a soft shadow.






Add a cast shadow under the smaller rocks.







Then switch to a shader and lightly burn over the rocks using circular motion to create a bit of color variation.






Do the same steps with the smaller rocks on the upper pathway.







Since these rocks are closer and a bit larger, I recommend re-burning over the bottom 1/3 of the rock.  This will turn that portion of the rock into the side of the rock making it look 3d.






Let’s burn in the distant mountains.    



Begin by burning a thick line along the base of the mountains.  This will serve as the buffer zone to ensure the top of the snow covered hills remains unchanged.






Then use the edge of the shader and fill the mountain with zigzag strokes.  Burn the strokes so they angle from the base towards the peak of the mountain.

Use a very light hand pressure when burning zigzags.  This will help prevent the pen tip from sinking into the surface of the wood.




By altering the direction of the zigzags you can create crevasses, ravines, etc.







An easy way to do this is to draw a line with a pencil than angles towards the top of the mountain.  Then burn zigzags on both sides of the line.  The zigzags should angle towards the line.








As you work on the mountain I recommend burning the base of the mountain darker than the top.  Also for the mountains to the right of the star, the right side of the mountains should be darker than the left.







Burn over the snow using circular motion.  Leave the top edge paler than the bottom.  Also the left edge of peaks should be lighter in color than the right.






Then use a writer pen tip to burn a dark shadow under the snow.  Also burn some thin jagged lines here and there.  The lines should follow the same direction as your zigzags.  The purpose of the lines is to create little dark cracks here and there.  This will give the mountains a little more visual interest and a touch more contrast.





Repeat the same process on the mountains to the left of the star.







I like to burn a base layer of texture, and then re-burn over the area to increase the darkness of some burn marks or areas.







Since the is coming from the right, the shadows on these mountains are on the darker on the left side.





As you work try to keep the light source in mind because shadow placement really impacts how the mountains look. 





While we have the shader equipped, burn over the left side of the snowy peaks to give them a touch of color.






Use a writer pen tip to burn the thin dark lines.






Also burn a thin dark shadow under the snow.







Now let’s work on the snow.  Let me state upfront that I am not of a fan of leaving white areas unburned unless the area is small.  I actually burned over almost all of the snow in the artwork. 







The first thing I did was use a metal pick to poke holes or dots into the most distant hills.  I’m going to tell you right now that this idea was terrible, and I don’t recommend doing it.   I just wanted to explain where the dots came from.





Then use the flat of the shader and burn over the snow. 






Rotate the board as needed to ensure the bottom edge of the hills are clearly defined.





As you work make the bottom of the hills darker than the tops.






Also leave a small patch around the base of each lantern unburned.  This will create the impression of glowing light coming from the lanterns.



It is your choice how dark you burn in the snow.  I kept my dark enough that you could tell there were unburned areas, but it wasn’t a huge tonal difference.




I ended up re-burning over the hills a number of times as I slowly built up the color.




Add a shadow under or next to the roots.  Keep the shadow fairly pale in color as we are working on snow.







Re-burn along the right edge of the left snow banks.  This will create the illusion that there is a thick layer of snow on the ground.






Also make the color darker where the lower snowbank touches the upper snowbank.  The difference in color will help further the illusion of a decrease of elevation.





Then add a cast shadow from the lantern post.






Darken up the right edge of the upper snowbank.  I’m using a larger shader just to get the burning done quicker.  Any shader pen tip will work.






Afterwards burn over the snow.  Don’t make it uniform in color.  Some slightly darker areas here and there will add realism to the snow.





Repeat the same process on the right snowbanks.  I began by burning the cast shadows.







Then I burned over the snow using circular motion. 







I used circular motion because it tends to create randomness.  Plus it doesn’t create crisp lines unless you are really trying to.


The last thing we need to do is burn in the rabbits.    






Use a writer pen tip to burn the underside of the bend ear to a tan color.  Then burn a dark line around the eye and burn the iris to a dark color.  Lastly burn a dark dot for the nose.






Do the same thing with the far right rabbit.







Then burn a thin tan color line around the neck and tail of each rabbit.






Switch to a shader and burn a soft shadow along the right edges of the right rabbit.  I kept the left edges unburned.







Continued work.









With the center rabbit I left both edges unburned.








With the left rabbit I placed the shadows along the left side and kept the right edges unburned.  







Basically I used the star’s location as my determination for shadow placement.


This is one of the more complex Christmas postcards in my series, but I really like how it turned out.  It is a unique drawing, and I had to figure out some new textures.  Since I like both variety and challenging myself this was a wonderful project to work on.

To answer some common questions I get.  The scene was burned on birch plywood that measures 6 x 8 inches (15.2 x 20.3 cm).  It took me 9 ¾ hours to create the artwork.

Until the next blog,


Nov 17, 2020

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