Our goal is to create a bowl with a star-shaped lid, in response to a customer's specific request. We started by selecting a gourd for this project. Obviously each gourd is different, and the quality of the surface and its markings are important factors in selection, based on the needs of the project. Sometimes you select a gourd for a particular project, and sometimes the gourd's shape, size, and features dictate the project for which it will be used. This squat little canteen gourd measures about 4 inches high by 6¼ inches in diameter. It is nearly round, but has quite a "personality" in the uniqueness of its shape. This one already has been cleaned on the outside, but it needs some surface sanding (which we'll do later in this project).
We decided to use a paper template for the cut line (see below). To create a different lid design, you can freehand the lid outline or use your own template. Obviously a flat paper template won't fit perfectly to a round gourd, so you must make some adjustments as you trace the template onto the gourd.
After tracing the pattern for the lid, we opened a small slit with an Exacto knife ... just wide enough for the saw blade, as shown below. Note that we're using a piece of non-skid drawer liner as a work surface – this helps to keep the gourd from sliding around on the table.
The next step is to cut along the traced line. We used a MicroMark mini jigsaw for this cut, but you can use a number of other tools as well. An important point to remember: if you want the lid to fit snugly, the cut must be as narrow as possible, so we suggest that you don't use a relatively thick handsaw, for example. It also is a good idea to angle the cut slightly towards the center of the lid to reduce the chance of "fall-through."
After completing the cut, the lid is removed – with a bit of wiggling and gentle prying – and the "gourd guts" are exposed! Notice that this gourd appears, at first glance, to be fairly thick-shelled. However, as we start cleaning, we will end up removing some of that thickness because a good part of it is "lining."
The next step is rough removal of the lining of the gourd's shell. You always should wear a respirator mask when cutting and cleaning gourds, as the dust and mold spores can irritate your nose and throat.
We use a variety of tools for rough removal of the lining: Exacto knife, potter's shaping loops (as shown in the picture), and even a spoon and a melon baller! We also use copper "scrubbies" (the same as you might use to scrub pots and pans). As you remove the lining, be careful to avoid removing material from the mating surfaces of the lid and bowl – otherwise you will spoil the fit.
Now that the rough cleaning is completed, the next step will be finish sanding, inside and out.
These are the tools we commonly use for inside cleaning, driven by the flex-shaft on our trusty Dremel tool. From left to right: a circular saw blade for reducing the blossom end mound; a cone-shaped wire brush; a medium-grit abrasive brush; and an 80-grit flap-wheel sander. We also will use plain sanding paper and sanding pads in a variety of grits.
Here is the gourd after finish sanding. Because our customer asked for an acrylic paint finish, we've sanded the exterior with a little more vigor than would be the case if we were using dyes or inks. If the gourd's natural surface will show through the finish, you must be very careful to avoid scratching its natural beauty!
Because we were careful with the mating surfaces of the lid and bowl while cleaning and sanding, the lid is still a nice clean fit.
Here we've applied two coats of charcoal acrylic paint to the interior. We usually mix acrylic varnish with the paint in a ratio of about two parts paint to one part varnish. That way we color and seal the interior in the same step. You can, of course, leave the interior natural in color, or use dyes or inks — but you should seal the interior in some manner to protect it and to keep it from releasing dust over time.
Here we've applied the first coat of paint to the exterior. We're going to build up quite a few coats of paint to get the "depth" we want, so each coat is heavily watered down. We're using Jo Sonja's Artist's Gouache in Burgundy for the bowl and Rich Gold for the lid — these paints come in plastic tubes and are excellent for any acrylic painting project. We'll add a little Carbon Black to the Burgundy in subsequent coats to achieve the deep red color requested by our customer.
And, we're finished! After several more coats of paint, and some very light sanding between coats, we used multiple applications of "Final Coat" — a remarkable fast-drying finish applied with a cloth — to achieve the high luster and shine. Gold-painted raffia tied to the stem provides a final embellishment.