This guest post is from our old friend Rex Winn, who has shown us so many of his lovely sculptures. You’ll see Rex often in the comment sections of this site, especially over at the Daily Sculptors Page, and you may also remember his tutorial that showed us how he turned a sculpture of a black and white calf into a ‘piggy bank.‘
Since writing this pose, Rex worked on making this process even easier, and you can see his new, easier method here.
Creating Paper Mache Pumpkins
©2015 Rex Winn
Step 1, the bag:
To create a pumpkin I begin by filling a plastic bag with newspaper. For my pumpkin projects (nine of them), I used grocery bags, garbage bags, and leaf bags. Below is a garbage bag filled with newspaper. (For the larger pumpkins, I had large pieces of plastic that were lying around that I stuffed in with the newspaper.)
Step 2, the shape:
I use macrame cord or jute to create the shape. The smaller the pumpkin, the smaller the cord, but I’m not sure it made any difference in the end. I knot one end of the cord around the neck of the garbage bag and then circle the cord around the bag. To keep the cord tight, I tie a knot at the top of the garbage bag every pass around the pumpkin.
I gather the cords that crisscross on the bottom by tying them together. I then cover all cords with masking tape.
I use a toilet paper roll for the stem. At one end of the tube I cut about every 3/4″, bend the pieces I have cut, and use these “tabs” as an anchor for the stem. I place the tube over the cords I have tied at the top of the pumpkin. I then cut off the part of the tube to the length I want the stem to be and cover it all in masking tape. (This also helps when I remove the inside of the pumpkin.)
Step 3, the paper mache clay:
Next I cover it all in Jonni’s paper mache clay. The photo below shows two pumpkins in the beginning steps of adding the paper mache. I usually add the paper mache in three steps:
- Around the pumpkin as far down as I can go comfortably;
- The top – the reason I don’t add clay to the stem in step one is because the stem gives me a handle to hold onto. Plastic is slippery and the stem is a handy grip. In the tall pumpkin, I was having trouble keeping the shape elongated, so I stuck a piece of thick packing board through the pumpkin. You can see it sticking out;
- Last I turn it over and add the clay to the bottom. (It takes patience because the top needs to be dry on the top or it will collapse when you turn it over to add clay on the bottom.)
Step 4, removing the paper and plastic:
The next step is to remove the insides. This is where I lose patience. The clay needs to dry. I can’t say it too many times. Because the clay is on plastic, drying takes longer. I left them outside in 90-degree weather three days before the clay was dry. I cut out a piece of the pumpkin large enough to be able to pull out the insides. (I use a box cutter; they are sharp. Be careful.) In the case of the large pumpkin, I needed a large hole because large pieces of plastic were inside. If the skin is not dry enough, the pumpkin will collapse – it happened twice with me. The biggest mess was the large pumpkin. Not only did I have a large hole in the stem area where I put the packing board, the whole top collapsed. In the end – after waiting days while it dried anyway – I added wire to shape the top and the stem; this added a lot of time to the project.
While removing the insides, make certain all the plastic and masking tape are removed. Because the stem has been taped together, I grab a piece of it with pliers and twist. Usually the whole stem comes right out. No matter how many days I have let the pumpkins dry, the clay always seems to be moist against the plastic, so I believe if you do not remove the plastic you will get mold. Also, they are fragile. Handle with care.
The photo below shows pumpkins in various stages:
- Bottom left – the second coat of paper mache has been added.
- Top left – final layer of clay has been added to top.
- Bottom right – rough finish, first layer. There is a hole where I held onto the piece when replacing it. The piece I cut out usually warps a little when it is drying, and I need a corner to hold onto while I paste the removed piece back onto the pumpkin. That means there is a hole where I have held onto the piece while adding clay.
- Top right – there is a hole in the top where I have pieced the pumpkin back together.
When I add the second layer of clay, I add definition. If I think the clay is getting too thick, I let it dry and come back with a third layer for definition. By this point the pumpkin has pretty much taken on a life of its own.
Step 5, gesso and paint:
When everything is dry, I add a layer of gesso to prepare it for painting. I use Jonni’s gesso recipe and add a little more joint compound to make it thick. A personal preference for pumpkins.
The colors I use for making orange – Cadmium Yellow MEDIUM and Cadmium Red Medium. Because I had many pumpkins to experiment on, I tried different undercoats: Cadmiun Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Medium, the orange when I mixed them together, and a Hansa Yellow Medium. I varied the yellow and red mixture as I painted the pumpkins, so while each pumpkin had a variety of color within itself, each pumpkin came out a different color – from yellowish to reddish.
The one “red” pumpkin I thought was too unreal. My favorite combination of colors was to paint the entire pumpkin with Hansa Yellow Medium (which is a cool yellow) and then add another layer using Cad Yellow and Cad Red, trying to stay on the yellow or orange side. You can see the different colors in the photo below. If I wanted to add a “grayer” orange, I added a little Ultramine Blue. That gives off a green cast, of course.
For the stem I used an undercoat of yellow, a wash of Burnt Umber, and then a wash of Burnt Sienna. Along the way I usually added a little yellow or orange or blue (green).
For the finish I used FolkArt Clearcote Acrylic Sealer, Matte finish. For a spray varnish, this has become my favorite for paper mache projects, and I’ve tried many.