Introduction: Portrait Gourds Grown in Molds

Picture of Portrait Gourds Grown in Molds

Here's how to grow gourds in a mold to create any shape you want.
Even portrait sculptures. It's an ancient technique from China.
This method also works for other vegetables. Portrait pickles anyone?

Jim Widess, proprietor of "The Caning Shop" in Berkeley CA and author of many books on gourd craft walks me through the steps.
These molds and gourds were made by the Chinese master Zhang Cairi.

Step 1: Get or Carve the Original Pattern

Picture of Get or Carve the Original Pattern

Here's Jim Widess holding mold-grown portrait gourd sculptures of himself.
The light-colored one is the gourd's natural color. The darker one was stained with dark tea.

Almost any object can be used as a pattern for gourd mold.
Most likely you'll want to cast your head full-sized and make a mold from that.
Watch this space for an instructable detailing that process.

The mold must be slightly smaller than the gourd's natural size.
Match the gourd to the rough size and shape of the object you're molding.
There are gourds that grow very large and in a variety of shapes.

Step 2: Head Patterns, Mold, Gourd

Picture of Head Patterns, Mold, Gourd

The original clay sculpture is on the left. Then Zhang made a latex rubber mold over the original, pulled it off, and cast hard rubbery plastic resin in that. That's the white version standing to the right of the original.

That white pattern was used to cast the mold you see here.
This particular mold has a rubber interior and plaster around that to support it.

From left to right are the original carved pattern, plastic resin duplicate, and an actual gourd grown in the mold.

Step 3: Gourd in Mold

Picture of Gourd in Mold

Depending on your climate, the gourd seeds are planted in the spring in a sunny place that gets plenty of water. If it's cold you can sprout and start them indoors. It's best if you have a trellis for the gourd vine to climb up. When the baby gourd is just big enough, put it in the mold.

Step 4: Clamp the Mold Shut

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While I am taking this picture Jim is explaining that next you
clamp the mold shut by tying it with string or wire.

Step 5: How to Hang the Mold

Picture of How to Hang the Mold

While I am taking this picture Jim is explaining that you next suspend the mold with string or wire so the vine doesn't have to bear the weight of the mold.

Step 6: Nature Takes Its Course

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If you harvest a gourd when it has reached the size you want, it will be soft and won't keep well.
You must wait until the season has finished and the vine starts to die. When there are six inches of brown dry stem above the gourd, you can harvest it.

This picture shows approximately how the gourd sculpture looked in the mold. It was a much lighter color at actual time of harvest.

Step 7: Remove, Dry, and Finish the Gourd

Picture of Remove, Dry, and Finish the Gourd

This mold has a flexible rubber lining which makes it easy to remove from the gourd.
A plaster mold adheres to the gourd more tenaciously and usually the mold is destroyed in the course of removing it from around the gourd.

The gourd is then allowed to dry slowly, and the outer coating called the "cuticle" is removed.
Then the finishing steps, if any, are done.
On this gourd, the details of the face and hair were then traced with the point of a jade knife to enhance the detail, It was dyed with dark tea, and a coat of varnish was applied to make it shiny.

Step 8: The Finished Gourd Sculpture

Picture of The Finished Gourd Sculpture

Here's Jim again with the finished sculptures.
One is tea-colored and one is the natural color of the gourd.
He's standing in front of a gourd vine [ at his shop].

For more details on Zhang Cairi's methods, get a copy of the book.

This method will work for many other vegetables also. Portrait pickles anyone?


artmakersworlds (author)2016-09-03

So how do you make the mold? What materials, where do you get the materials, where do I find instructions on actual mold making for this?

I have growing a gourd between two panels of hand carved wood but it just gets rotten.

Hi! I'm an Instructables Design Studio team member and I just created a free (for community members) class on Mold Making & Casting. Lesson 5: Two Part Molds will guide you through how to make a similar kind of mold that is used here that should do the trick!

AntalyaS (author)2015-05-14

Just by chance I met this group while surfing on the Internet...

I have lived in US and returned to Turkey a few years ago. After my return , I have been in search of what to do and finally decided making gourd lamps.

First, it was just a hobby but making gourd lamps turned to a pofessionality in time and today I am a gourd lamp producer and exporter.

If you would like to have an idea about my works please visit following links. Starting from gourd lamp beads to table lamp bases, you can find some materials used for making gourd lamps.

Thank you,

BitisG (author)2015-04-24

Nice! This is exactly what I was after. My question is, how do you make the actual mold? And if one did the latex method of making a mold, how do you create a mold of the object you want in the shape of a gourd? Great instructables.

ellen.willingham (author)2014-08-07

Wow Jim! This is so, so cool! I've always loved coming to your shop on 8th Street and miss my times there for gourds, beads, leather, classes, etc. I think I may want to try this new thing!

Ellen Willingham

fruitmouldcom (author)2013-10-23

wow, there is a site called has more type of this kind of molds , there are square watermelon molds ,buddha pear molds ,baby shaped molds and many other type of molds , you can check ,there will be a lot of fun ...

paneer65 (author)2013-07-01


jin tang (author)2012-04-26


gnawrag (author)2012-03-17

I once grew a pear inside a bottle for pear infused vodka. It tasted great and really impressed everyone who saw it.
I had heard of the molded square melons before and always assumed that the mold needed to be transparent to allow light to fall on the surface of the fruit. I guess gourds don't need sunlight on their skin to grow. Great project really has me inspired for spring.

angela-la-la (author)2012-03-16

"the outer coating called the 'cuticle' is removed"

Anyone care to speculate on the process for this? Gentle abrasion, chemical process, very tricksy work with a peeler...?

canida (author)angela-la-la2012-03-16

Happily, the first related project (see sidebar) covers exterior scrubbing and waxy cuticle removal here.

dbarak (author)2012-03-15

They must be out of their gourds. ; )

shortone (author)2011-11-28

Put you in my gift guide for guys! Just thought I'd let you know :)

Drake79 (author)2010-03-16

Can you grow more than one gourd inside a mould? If so it would/could make for some really interesting effect....

90mp11 (author)Drake792011-08-09

So long as you leave enough space so that the vine's aren't having any weight put on them I can't see a problem with it.

Wouldn't water get into the mould and rot the gourd in the process of the casting?

BtheBike (author)2011-02-24

this reminds me of 'Invasion of the body snatchers' pods

stevoIution (author)2007-10-23

You could make some crazy gourds if you had a 3D printer. Good instructable. +

ewilhelm (author)stevoIution2007-10-24

Did you see this video?

DIY-Guy (author)ewilhelm2010-10-04

I looked at the video and was wondering, well, exactly why did you encourage us to watch that video? Was there something relevant to this instructable? Maybe I missed something. Please clarify.

stevoIution (author)ewilhelm2007-10-25

Cheers! Wish I had that much energy. Keep up the good work.

albylovesscience (author)2010-04-23

awesome portraits!  weirdly enough you share the same facial structure as danny divito!

vacu (author)2007-10-23

Nice one! They look beautiful and strange.

How about making a portrait mold in which the gourd stem comes out of the top of the head? Gourd bottom = face, gourd top = hat, remove hat to fill head.

TechNerd1012 (author)vacu2010-04-23

haha yeah, you could make it look like a garden gnome lol

Thinkenstein (author)2010-03-18

A very cool instructable. 

This is similar to an idea a friend once had to mold eggplants or other vegies to make Jesus faces and then to reverse shoplift them -- sneaking them into supermarket bins for people to find.   A miracle!

I think the Japanese used to mold square bamboo for furniture making.  Also, someone was molding cubical watermellons for more compact shipping and storage in refrigerators. 

porcupinemamma (author)2010-01-09

Hi :0) Oh Brilliant one! Can you suggest some possible objects that I could use for molds?

xie1113 (author)2007-10-30

COOL! One promblem though, where do u get the gourds

phoebeh1 (author)xie11132009-12-09

I bought seeds in home depot..

Sashi (author)2009-09-12

That's AMAZING! I never figured that gourds would grow to fill whatever space they occupied. Truly outstanding science.

porcupinemamma (author)2008-12-22

can anyone tell me how to book mark this instructable? i would like to be able to refer to it again. it is awesome


Hieronymus Reiter (author)2009-04-14

This is a brilliant technique! Pumpkins could be used in larger molds for Halloween decorations. You could also make gourds look like other kinds of food, like cucumbers that look like ears of corn or hot dogs, for instance.

porcupinemamma (author)2008-12-22

I'm wondering if soap molds or chocolate molds might work? I don't have the skill to make my own mold. your gourds are phenomenal! wonderful tutorial. Thank you!!

indeepknit (author)2008-10-03

Hey... I know that Jim Widess guy! Awesome tutorial. I wish it was gourd growing season, as I'd love to try this out. I guess I could try to come up with some molds for when it *is* time.

GunsAndGloryFx (author)2008-07-09

You're my favorite person of the day for posting this. Thank you so much; I absolutely have to try it.

bentply (author)2008-05-15

Hilarious. Anxiously awaiting the EPS mold making tutorial.

Spacecoyote (author)2007-11-28

Does this only work on gourd-like vegetables? Or do other plants work, such as potatoes, lemons, etc.

Spacecoyote (author)Spacecoyote2007-11-28

Besides the possible industrial/functional uses (which are running through my head as we speak), I also envision a real potato that looks exactly like the modern plastic Mr. Potato Head.

quentinwolf (author)Spacecoyote2008-03-31

The only problem with Potatoes, is since they grow underground, It would be quite difficult to partially dig around the plant, put the mold around one of the smaller potatoes, then bury it again. :)

superasian33 (author)2007-10-29

wait, do the gourds keep for ever, or do they ever go bad?

carpespasm (author)superasian332007-12-15

they dry out and are usually pretty hollow after a while, so they don't have any moisture to go bad. They can quite a long time. I've seen people use them for maracas (seeds still inside) or cut a small hole out and hang them as bird houses.

theque (author)2007-11-01

i heard that they grow watermelons somewhat like this in japan, except in a box shape so that the watermelons stack

theque (author)2007-11-01

if you dry out gourds they can last "forever"

PatsLong (author)2007-10-26

Very awesome instructable my friend. I have a question about what kind of gourd that actually is. And how long does it take to get to stage one?

flio191 (author)2007-10-25

hahaha, should have kept it in that genie form haha

blksheep (author)2007-10-25

This is great. You could do a chess set or something like that. Have you done any religious figures yet? That would be a miracle!

gayjaybird (author)2007-10-25

If I'm not mistaken, Epcot at Disney uses this method to grow 'Mickey' pumpkins.

clamoring (author)2007-10-24

Your patience is amazing. And so is the project! Nice work.

royalestel (author)2007-10-24

Read about someone doing this with pears several years ago. However, they used transparent plastic enclosures. Didn't realize it was so old and could be so low tech! Will do next year!

whiteoakart (author)2007-10-24

This is really fantastic!

AT (author)2007-10-23

Unbelievable! That is too funny.

About This Instructable




Bio: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output ... More »
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