By Christina VanGinkel
Decorating dried gourds is an activity that fascinates many crafts people. The fact that someone can grow a gourd from seed, harvest it, dry it, then use it to make a variety of crafts is often what makes working with gourds so intriguing to so many people. Even those who do not take the process from seed to finished product, and instead purchase their gourds already dried and ready for creating with, still will often tell you that working with gourds are by far their favorite hobby. From bowls to birdhouses, lamp bases, to custom pieces of art, you can do many things with dried gourds. Once you start, you may find yourself constantly in search of more things to make.
Etching on gourds is one of my favorites. If it can be drawn, it can be etched, so the gourd's surface becomes your sketchpad, and can be decorated in works from Native American themed, to bird and animal designs, Victorian, even in themes such as Halloween! The surface of the gourd is such a natural background for a piece of art that it lends itself well to just about any subject one might desire. One of the gourds I most admired was in fact etched with a haunted house and bats galore all over its surface. It was actually a bowl and the artist who made it had lined the inside with a silky fabric and was using it to hold her Halloween candy that she passed out to the neighborhood kids.
Probably one of the earliest forms of decoration used on a gourd, painting lends itself well to a gourds surface, especially when the gourd is going to be used indoors, though if you take care to seal the painted surface, it could also be used outdoors, for birdhouses or feeders, for example. The first gourd I ever decorated was used as a birdhouse, and I painted the exterior of it in a simple flower design, and then sealed the paint with an outdoor safe clear sealant. I resealed it each year, and now three years later, it is weathered, but still holding up. I do clean it each summer, after the birds have abandoned it for the year, and store it inside until spring arrives and I put it back out. If I were to leave it out year round, I am sure it would not hold up as long as it will with just a bit of care.
Similar to painting, using Modge Podge or similar products on a gourd to decorate it, will last longer if the gourd is used as an interior decoration, or if it is sealed and not left outdoors year round. I have had good success with applying dried flowers all over the surface of gourds and using Modge Podge over the dried flowers to both apply them and seal them; ending up with a decorative surface that can be wiped clean. While bowls made in this form would not be food safe, they would be very decorative and fun to make! This is an ideal form of decoration for making a gourd over into a lamp base, combining two items from nature into a very useable piece.
Some of the simplest designs on gourds, and that are at the same time the most visually stunning, have been with beads. From tiny seed beads to larger beads, they seem to be have been made solely for decorating gourds once you see the two combined. The first gourd I ever saw, other than as a plant growing in the garden, was actually a combination of a painted and beaded gourd. It was a bowl, with a woman painted on the surface, and the rim of the bowl was beaded with large beads and feathers, appearing as if they were part of the woman's attire. Done in the traditional southwest colors of turquoise blue and burnt orange, I have never forgotten how the colors, materials, and design itself all blended to make such a visually appealing piece of art.
If you are looking for a hobby that combines natural materials with a choice of finished product and modes to achieve the finished designs, working with dried gourds might be just the hobby for you!