Burnishing Spirals


In one of my favorite movies, “North by Northwest” (Gary Grant starred, Alfred Hitchcock directed), there’s a scene where Grant’s character figures out where the femme fatale is going by rubbing a pencil over the paper that was under the paper she wrote down an address.  That’s the premiss of this particular creative activity.

The use of spirals is inspired by the spirals found at the Newgrange Ireland Megalithic Passage Tomb. In 1996, my husband and I spent the last afternoon of our last day in Ireland in this area. It was amazing. I want to go back so I can spend more time exploring.

Newgrange Spirals

Newgrange Spirals


  • a burnishing tool, this can be anything that has a smooth point to it, like a knitting needle, a nut picker, the tip of a pen cap, etc.
  • a piece of paper to draw & color on
  • color pencils (for this example, I used prismacolor canary yellow, scarlet lake, and true blue


Step 1:  Take the burnishing tool and draw a spiral on the paper.

Draw Spiral

Step 1: Draw Spiral

Step 2:  Draw as many spirals as you want on the paper.

Draw more spirals

Step 2: Draw more spirals

Step 3:  Using a color pencil, in this case I used the red, color over the spirals.  In this photo, I used the side of the pencil tip and colored with a light pressure.  What you’ll see that where the spiral was burnished into the paper, remains white, while the rest of the area takes on the red color.

Add Red Lightly

Step 3: Add Red Lightly

Step 4:  Now color with hard pressure.  When you do, the white of the burnishing shows up even more.

Add more pressure

Step 4: Add more pressure

Step 5:  Add another color, in this case I added yellow.  Color over the existing red (it will become orange) and into the uncolored area.

Add more pressure

Step 5: Add yellow

Step 6: Now add some blue.  Here too, color over some of the existing red, and then into the uncolored area.  Notice what makes that spirals stand out more, and where they are less noticeable.

Add Blue

Step 6: Add Blue

In the End:

Final Piece

Final Piece

This particular exercise was about showing you how to create a unique look to your coloring.

Here’s an example of an mandala I did using this very technique.

Spirals Mandala

Spirals Mandala

Happy Coloring!

Maureen, The Mandala Lady