When an artist chooses a medium, it is as if the medium chooses them. It somehow presents itself in a way that speaks to you, as if to say “Imagine the possibilities.” For some, it’s a camera. For others, it’s a piece of wood, a canvas, or a bolt of fabric. For me, it’s a gourd.


Growing Gourds for Art

As first impressions go, gourds were decidedly unremarkable for me. My first sighting was a small painted birdhouse; cute, but not noteworthy. It was a few years and an inexpensive birthday gift later that opened my eyes to the possibilities of a hard shelled gourd.

Before I venture into the “what” and “how” of fine art gourds, I think it is important to give you a proper introduction to this botanical wonder. It is harvest season, after all, and you are probably seeing odd shaped and colored gourds all around the north country. I consider myself lucky to find them at roadside farm stands and farmers markets around our area. Many farmers and gardeners grow them, not realizing that they have uses beyond fall decorating. Due to this fact, they are usually inexpensive (hence the luck) and all of you artists and crafters out there should grab one or two and give gourding a try!!

Before you head out looking for the perfect gourd to carve, burn, paint or dye, it may be beneficial to you to know how they got to that farm stand you are looking for. They obviously grew in someone’s garden, but without seeing a trellis covered In gourds, you can’t fully appreciate what you are about to venture into. Standing under the trellis my husband and I built in our backyard, inspecting my gourd vines, oohing and aweing at all the dippers, swan necks and snakes is one of my favorite September activities.

 

HARVESTING GOURDS

When October hits, it’s time to decide how to harvest the gourds. The harvest process for gourds actually depends on the grower, as they can be handled multiple ways. The gourds can be cut from the vines and placed in a dry place for the extent of time needed for drying, or they can be left hanging on the vines, where they will dry through the winter. I have tried harvesting both ways and found that either way produces beautifully dried gourds after a few months.

Most people I speak to that grew gourds have lots of comments about how they tried growing, but all their gourds started smelling real bad and rotted, so they threw them away. For anyone that grew or bought a gourd they are trying to process into a craft ready product, DO NOT THROW THEM AWAY WHEN THEY SMELL AND MOLD!!! That is what they are supposed to do. When they absolutely reek and are covered with a layer of slimy, moldy green and brown goo, you know you are headed In the right direction. As long as they seem solid to the touch and don’t have large spots that have sunk in, they should dry nicely in 3 to 6 months. Then the fun begins; but that is an article for spring time, when they are ready for cleaning!

Fall gourd with Autumn leaves

I am currently working on gourds that were dried between 1 and 3 years ago. Since it is Autumn, I am probably woodburning leaves and pumpkins, coloring my designs with ink dyes of reds, yellows and deep purples. This is my favorite time to work on gourds, as I feel constantly inspired by the vast beauty around me. We are blessed with great beauty here in the north country, and this time of year is glorious. Around every turn is something inspiring, from hued forests to snow covere d sidewalks and brightly lit yards and trees.

In the coming months, we will all be roaming around our homes looking for small hands on things to occupy our time during the cold winter months. It’s a great time to start experimenting with gourds.

 

SOME ITEMS YOU MIGHT NEED

If you are making a Christmas wish list, I recommend adding a few inexpensive items that could start you on your way:

  • Small and inexpensive woodburner, such as the one offered by Walnut Hollow
  • A couple of containers of ink dye, offered on various web sites such as the Welburn Gourd Farm and Memories ink dyes
  • A rotary tool, which is a bit more pricey but completely worth it if you are serious about the Craft. There are a large variety of them available at pretty much every hardware store
  • A book about gourd growing and crafting. There are lots available so be picky and get on you really enjoy the art in. Amazon has a great selection, but don’t forget to check your local bookstores first!

Adding to the list of needs but not necessarily a wish list is rough and fine grain sandpaper, brillo pads, pencils and a really good eraser, face masks (the kind that cover your nose and mouth.These are a definite need for keeping the mildly toxic dust from the interior of the gourd from getting into your system) and other basic art supplies like paint brushes.

Now that some of you have hopefully put some serious consideration into giving gourds a try, I hope to see some art popping up in our area. There are not many artists here who work with this medium and It is always nice to see other artists’ accomplishments. In the spring, I will enjoy sharing with you lots of tidbits about growing for the upcoming season, and cleaning what you bought or grew in the fall. I look forward to seeing some of you share your art with BIRCH Magazine!!