How to Make Paper Mache Pumpkins


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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.)

Start by filling plastic bag with crumpled newspaper.
Start by filling plastic bag with crumpled 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.)

The pumpkin is shaped with cords, and the cords are covered with masking tape.
The pumpkin is shaped with cords, and the cords are covered with masking tape. Toilet paper roll is used for the stem.

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:

  1. Around the pumpkin as far down as I can go comfortably;
  2. 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;
  3. 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.)
The paper mache clay is being added to the pumpkins.
The paper mache clay is being added to the pumpkins.

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.
Pumpkins getting their coating paper mache clay.
Pumpkins getting their coating paper mache clay.

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.

Paper mache pumpkins, all finished!
Paper mache pumpkins, all finished!

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.

Have fun!

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29 thoughts on “How to Make Paper Mache Pumpkins

  1. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Having finished making 20 small pumpkins — from 3″ to 5″ tall — I learned to tie the top of the bag, cut off the square bottom, turn the bag inside out so the “tail” is inside (which forms the bottom of the pumpkin). This makes it easier because there is a round bottom and also when I remove the inside of the pumpkin, the plastic comes out easier. I wish I had put this in my tutorial.

    If you are having problems with the clay sliding on the plastic, I would add more masking tape. I don’t have problems with the clay sliding very often, but if I do I put a little masking tape between the seams in the pumpkin so the clay has something to grab onto. Hope this makes sense.

  2. I made a paper mache pumpkin the old fashioned way using the flour/glue/water method, and my son and I won two ribbons at our county fair. I was so excited that we decided to make a Charlie Brown head for his Halloween costume (he’s 8). I’m just a beginner, but I used your paper mache pulp recipe to do it and we’re getting countless comments about how great it is. I wanted to say thank you for the paper pulp recipe!!

  3. Hi Rex,
    Thanks for this posting. I used it to make my pumpkin. The plastic bag was a challenge to get the clay to adhere to, I found it best to use a thin layer and let it dry first. Drying time is also very long, going on 48 hours and still not hard. Looking forward to flipping him over to finish bottom jaw/pumpkin. I will post a finished picture once I’m done. Thanks again to you and Jonni.

    • Lisa, yes, the plastic keeps the clay from drying quickly. It is hard to be patient while it dries enough to turn it over. You have a great start here. Look forward to seeing it finished.

  4. Hi Rex,
    Thanks for this post. I followed it to make my pumpkin. The plastic bag was tricky to adhere the clay to and drying time has been long. I’m still waiting for it to dry enough to flip over and do the bottom jaw/pumpkin. I’ll post an update once it’s totally done. Thanks again to you and Jonni.

  5. Great tutorial! I’ve been making pumpkins for a few years now. I start with about six layers of paper mache before I start adding the clay. Then I add the clay in thin layers. It takes more time to complete a project, but each layer of clay dries in about 24 hours. I do get in a hurry sometimes and add thick layers which is a pain to dry.

    One of the best purchases I’ve made for this hobby has been a dehumidifier. I know they’re expensive to buy new, but I’ve managed to find three of them at yard sales and flea markets for $30 total. This has really sped up my drying time though I did have to resort to the warm oven recently to get a piece completed on time.

  6. Nice tutorial Rex! I wonder, if you did the first layer with regular paper strips and paste, let dry and then covered that with the paper mache clay, it may dry faster and eliminate the need to take out the innards? Just a thought. Or would the pumpkin be too heavy with all the innards? Nice description of the paint job as well but you forgot to give Loki credit for supervising! Thanks for the great tutorial. I am of the mind to do one for the little boy next door after seeing this.

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