How to Make Small to Medium-Sized Pumpkins with Paper Mache Clay

Today we have a guest post by our friend Rex Winn, showing us his latest techniques for making pumpkins with paper mache clay.

Just follow this tutorial, and in no time you’ll have plenty of colorful pumpkins for a beautiful Autumn display. Thanks, Rex!

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Making Small to Medium-Sized Pumpkins

These pumpkins range in size from 25 cm to 40 cm [10″ to 15″] in circumference. They could be larger, but I wanted them to fit on my bookcase shelves.

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The pumpkins were made from three different sizes of doggie bags.

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Gather one end of the bag and seal it with masking tape.

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Cut off the “square” end. (I figured out this makes a round bag on my 25th pumpkin instead of fighting square bottoms and tops!)

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Turn the bag inside out. This places the masking tape “knob” inside, which makes it easier to remove later.

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Place rice (or whatever works for you) in the bag. The amount of rice in the bag will determine the size of the pumpkin, of course.

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Create the stem of the pumpkin by placing masking tape around the top of the bag. Remove as much air as possible and cut off the excess plastic at the top of the bag.

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Using a strong string, create a loop around the stem.

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Wrap string around the ball to create the grooves in the pumpkin. Do not tighten the first loop around the pumpkin very much because as you make multiple passes around the pumpkin, it gets tighter and tighter. As you pass the string over the stem, wrap it around the stem to create an anchor to hold the string in place.

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As you wrap the string around the pumpkin, try to keep the string on the bottom passing at the center point. It doesn’t always work, so after I have tied off the top, I take a piece of string and gather the strings at the bottom.

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This is how the bottom looks after the strings are tied together.

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Cover the strings with masking tape, pressing the masking tape into the grooves of the pumpkin. (You do not need to cover the plastic with masking tape.)

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Make paper mache clay. Instead of measuring the ingredients, I weigh them. I find this method works for me to make more consistent batches of Jonni’s paper mache clay. I add everything but the flour, and when the clay is well mixed, I add the flour. That way I get a smoother clay. (A personal preference.)


Add clay to the top of the pumpkin.

On my 45th pumpkin, I discovered if I add the paper mache clay around the top of the pumpkin as though it were a ball, the process is faster.

Using your pallet knife, you can quickly create grooves all around the pumpkin in a matter of seconds.

Follow the string pattern to create grooves.

Push or smooth clay from the grooves to create the ridges. Add paper mache clay as far down the pumpkin as you can comfortably.

The clay now needs to dry.

I add clay to the stem and check that the grooves follow the string (where the masking tape is).

When the top is completely dry, add clay to the bottom in the form of a ball.

Make a round button in the center of the bottom and then create the grooves with the pallet knife, drawing the knife from the button to meet the groove on the side.

Connect the top and bottom portions of the pumpkin with clay. A smooth transition will ward off unwanted bumps around the ridges.

When the pumpkin is dry, cut open a section of the pumpkin. I use a pullsaw, (a dovetail saw). It is a small saw and cuts when you pull it, giving you more control. I cut in a groove and then move over two grooves to make the next cut.

Make a cut at the top and bottom of the panel.

The panel should remove easily, and the rice (or whatever is inside) can easily be removed.

Remove the doggie bag and the rice. This will make certain the pumpkin dries properly and does not develop mold later. At times I get impatient and do not wait until the clay is completely dry, and I’ve had pumpkins totally collapse. Practice your meditation at this point!
Needle-nose pliers are a great tool to remove the insides.

In this case, the doggie bag and string came out in one pull.

After removing the insides, paste on the cut-away “panel” using a little clay.

The pumpkin now has the first layer of clay.

For the second layer of clay, I love using Jonni’s smooth air-dry clay. You can use whatever you choose, of course. I repeat the above instructions, creating a ball of smooth air-dry clay.

Make grooves using a pallet knife.

Unlike the paper mache clay, I like using my fingers dipped in water to smooth the surface of the pumpkin. With my finger, I make a smooth line in every groove and then form the ridge.

Repeat the process on the bottom of the pumpkin.

Refine the pumpkin as you add the second layer of clay.

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When the pumpkin is dry, I sand it to remove any unwanted bumps.

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After I sand, for a smoother finish, I wipe the pumpkin off with a wet rag.

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Cover the pumpkin with gesso to seal it. Jonni’s recipe is cheap, easy to make, and seals the pumpkin. If you want, you could add a little warm yellow to the gesso instead of the white acrylic paint. (I never remember to do this.)
I love creating different colors of pumpkins. With Cadmium Yellow Medium (a warm yellow) and a Cadmium Red (a warm red), you can create any color of orange you desire. Some of my pumpkins are yellow, some a red-orange, and for others I add Titanium White to create a light-colored pumpkin. (If you don’t use a warm yellow and a warm red, you will not get a good or vibrant orange color.)

For the stem I get a bit crazy. I add yellow, red, green, blue, and then Burnt Umber. I mix the colors on the stem until I’m happy and then use a baby wipe to remove the excess. I discovered baby wipes a few years ago and don’t know how people paint without them.

Good luck, and please share your projects with us online.

22 thoughts on “How to Make Small to Medium-Sized Pumpkins with Paper Mache Clay”

  1. By the way meant to say I love your pumpkins and how U constructed. It sounds like your mass producing These!

  2. Hello my name is Linda and I am kind of a newbie with the papier-mâché Clay, made my first batch of Jonni’s original clay I don’t think it came out right but nonetheless I want to finish my project which happens to be a pumpkin. I would like to know your method and tips about applying the Smooth Air Clay. (It comes out almost opposite as the first version.)
    I want to use it on the humps which Didn’t cover very well with the p.m. Clay. ( it came out like cream of wheat)
    I lightly sanded it and applied DIY gesso.,
    PS I lack sensation in my hands so …. I trust my eyes more

  3. Rex, I love your pumpkins and your method of making them is ingenious. Can you use grocery T-shirt bags to make them instead of the doggy bags? I was also wondering if you’ve ever tried carving these pumpkins? I know you can’t put a candle inside them because of the risk of fire, but I have a few bright flashing L.E.D. lights made for pumpkins. I live in the deep South and down here real pumpkins only last a few hours before they’re well onto their way to rotting. So I carve mostly artificial pumpkins made from plastic foam. But these are expensive (running about $12-$15 each). I carve pumpkins two primary ways: surface carving, where the image in carved into the surface of the pumpkins, and through carving, where the image is carved through the surface of the pumpkins. This latter method is great for illuminating pumpkins from the inside. Your method of making pumpkins sounds great for making pumpkins for this. But I’m a little concerned- do you think that carving through the walls of the pumpkin would weaken them to the point where they’re fragile enough to collapse?

    • Interesting question – I would like to know, too. The paper mache clay does dry incredibly hard, so carving it would be difficult. However, I wonder if you could create the holes ahead of time, by blocking them out with modeling clay. Haven’t I seen this done, sort of, on the stolloween-style pumpkins?

      • Aryea, I agree with Jonni. Carving these pumpkins would be very difficult because they are very hard. However, I don’t see why you could leave holes. You could remove a great deal of these pumpkins before they collapsed. A cousin made a large one and took off one side. She decorated inside the pumpkin. It looks great and has held up for years.

    • Have fun. Part of my reason for making pumpkins was to show my sister how to make them with her grandchildren.

  4. These look fantastic!! I was wondering if you could tell me what kind of paint you used for the final products? You give the name of the colors but I’m not quite sure what paint to buy! If you could let me know that would be wonderful 🙂 thank you, can’t wait to try this!!

  5. Nice pumpkins and a very good tutorial Rex! I think I would do the first layer in paper strips and paste in order to save myself from making another batch of clay. I love the rice idea, it makes the look of the pumpkin so realistic. I did some large apples for my daughter’s wedding as her theme was apples and the rice idea would have come in handy. You are very clever! Thanks for taking the time to show us your process.

  6. Jonni,
    I do so look forward to all of your creative emails! I have learned so much from you.

    I love your pumpkins!!! Can’t wait to make some. What fun!
    Thank you both for sharing your ideas!

  7. I have been looking at antique trays.boxes etc made from Papier mache and they are of a smoothness and hardness I cant imagine replicating…have you ever discovered the recipes these antique objects use?I would be very grateful for a share….

    • Hi Clare. I did some research several years ago, and what I can remember are that the trays and boxes were made with left-over scraps of wallpaper, because there was a tax on the paper and they didn’t want to waste any of it. (Might be a good idea to bring something like that back – we throw so much paper in the landfill, cut down so many trees – but I digress …) Anyway, I don’t know what type of glue or paste they used, but there were some fancy hydraulic presses involved, and lots of linseed oil. Also, there were special ovens. I can’t imagine reproducing the results without the expensive equipment.

  8. I like the rice idea! I have had great luck placing my paper clay pieces in the oven at 175 degrees for an hour or so until the clay has dried. Speeds the drying process up for impatient people like me. I have never tried it wth plastic inside though. I think if the temerature is low enough it may not be a problem?

    • I did place these in the oven many times. I was especially worried the first time when the clay was only on the top; if the bag had melted, there would be rice all over. Because I was concerned about the melting, I placed them on a cookie sheet and kept the oven below 200. (My oven does not have a temperature reading under 200, so it was guesswork.) I ought to have kept a lab notebook, but none of the bags melted.

      When I removed the insides, I did notice that a very few of the bags were sticky as though they had begun to melt. I think this was because when the pumpkins were completely covered in clay, I turned up the heat a bit.

      Thanks, Karen.

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. I keep them in my bookcase year round. I’m not a Halloween nut by any means, but I do love the pumpkins.


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