Introduction: Artsy Gourd Luminaries
If you’re anything like me, you constantly see neat, pretty things everywhere and your first thought is “ooooh, I want that!” And if you’re anything like me there’s a nagging voice in the back of your mind, maybe it’s practicality, maybe it’s your significant other, maybe it’s your frugal grandmother, but it says, “you can’t afford that” or “where are you going to put that” or “is this an impulse buy?”. Then you go on thinking about that pretty thing, wishing you had the money and/or the space for it. A couple years ago, I saw this Moroccan lamp on Pinterest and later saw a sea anemone light and then I saw a gourd luminary, which looked so beautifully artistic. I instantly searched them on Etsy, only to be disappointed by prices upwards of $150 a piece, which was out of budget. And that brings us to this instructable. In the spirit of spooky season and the upcoming holiday season, I thought I’d make a gourd luminary to bring warm light to my house. I’d love to share my process with you!
One of the things that is so amazing about gourd luminaries is that they’re so customizable. You can hang them, you can have them as a desktop lamp, or a standing lamp; you can use different color bulbs and bulbs of different lumens; you can use different gourd shapes; you can put beads in the holes on your gourd, or even cut colored glass to put in each of the holes (like a Tiffany lamp); you can glue Japanese rice paper on the inside; you can sew in between the holes to make string art; you can stain them; you can paint them—there is no end to the variations of gourd luminaries you can create, and that’s exactly why you should make this.
- Lamp base
- Dry Gourd (any kind would work but try cannonball gourds, or bottle gourds)
- Heatless (or minimal heat) lightbulb (bonus points for color)***
- Varnish (just use mod podge* or something like that)
- Wood stain or leather dye (optional)
- Paint (optional)
- Beads (optional)
- A glue to hold your beads in place, or jewelry wire (1mm recommended) (optional)
You’re also going to want an pointy thing with which to poke holes in your gourd. I used a metal burnishing awl, since you can make many different sized holes with one tool. You’ll want a craft knife**, like an X-Acto, but it doesn’t have to be brand name. You will want a pencil to trace your designs onto the gourd, glovesto protect yourself from the stain, if you choose to use it, paper towels to remove dirt, and stain, and a jewelers hacksaw**, to finely saw the top off the gourd (if you choose).
Some optional, but helpful additions are a mat over which to cut (It makes cleaning up gourd shavings and innards much easier if you can just pick up something to dump in the wastebasket), a long brush, like a bottle cleaner (helps you clean out the inside), and a dust pan and brush to pick up pieces.
The most essential thing to have is an open mind. When cutting delicate designs into the gourd, things can go awry and you’ll end up with too big a hole, or the wrong shape. More than a few times during my first gourd carving, I was so exasperated I wanted to quit. Here’s the thing, though. There was nothing wrong with my gourd. All the flaws in my design were because of my rigid expectations and perfectionism. I didn’t think that the broken piece could become a new shape, I was focusing on the brokenness. No one I know sees my gourd and notices the small problems I see. No one says, “Hey did you mean to do that or is that tiny circle at the top supposed to be a triangle?” They all say it looks great. No one will see your gourd and say, “oh that’s lame.” And if someone is rude enough to do so, they’re lame.
*also, no sponsorship anywhere in this whole thing, the brand names are just the things I like best
**I feel like it goes without saying, but knives are sharp, please use them with caution.
***DO NOT USE YOUR GOURD LUMINARY WITH AN OPEN FLAME. It is dry organic material and will probably light your house on fire. Use common sense.
Step 1: Prepare Your Gourd
So in order for this entire project to work, you need a completely dry gourd. You can dry them yourself, which means you needed to start 3 or 4 months ago, or you can do what I did and buy them. I picked mine up at a farmers market near my place of residence, but there are online purchasing options available, if that works better for you. Additionally, if you buy a gourd that is “craft ready” or “cleaned” you can skip this step altogether.
Most of the gourds are not much to look at when you first get them. Mine was covered in dirt. The most important thing to look for in a dry gourd (in my limited experience) is a gourd with a diameter that will fit your mode of lighting. It is also important to find one that is without mold and soft spots in its shell. Okay, now we can start.
In order to remove the dirt, I used a dry paper towel, to dust most of it off. Then I took a craft knife and scraped all the outer skin off. I had to apply some pressure to the blade in order to get the outer skin to peel, flake, or curl off. I would say there is a Goldilocks zone in between “not peeling the skin off” and “cutting into the gourd”, which is different for every gourd, so just be aware of that. I would not recommend using coarse grit sandpaper for this, as it can add some undesirable texture.
Try to get all the outer skin off, but there might be some missed spots. You can spend as long or as short as you would like on this phase, depending on how particular you are. It took me a couple hours to complete mine. There will still be some natural discolorations on the shell, and some of this is just from the pattern of colors the gourd once had, and some of these are from small nicks the gourd healed while it was on the vine. Most of these you won’t be able to remove, but that’s alright.
Step 2: Cut Hole, and Clean Out
At this point, you will have to cut your first hole in the gourd. This hole will help you clean it out, and be where you put your bulb in. If you plan to cut a hole in the top part, go to part 1A. If you plan to cut your hole in the bottom, or on the side, go to part 1B.
1A. I cut the top off of my gourd using a jewelers hacksaw. Its best to use a pencil to draw a guide-line before you start sawing, in order to make your cut straight. I found it easiest to have someone else hold the gourd to stabilize it as I worked. I didn’t want to crack the gourd, or compromise its structure, so every time I felt my saw get stuck, I would carefully re-set it, and pull back and forth. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the gourd with the saw, just pull it back and forth, untill you’ve made it all the way through. Then use heavy grit sandpaper to make smooth down any rough spots.
1B. For cutting a hole in the bottom, first draw a circle on the bottom with a compass. Then use a craft knife, first cutting a triangle (approx. 1 cm by 1 cm) inside the circle you drew. Cut from one of the triangles points, to the circle, then cut out the circle, stopping if you have to, to take out a partial piece from the circle. Once you have the hole completely carved out, you can use some sandpaper to smooth the edge down.
The next step is the same for both. You have to make sure your lightbulb fits in your gourd hole. Following that, use a semi-stiff bristle brush, like a bottle cleaner, and scrape all the inside stuff out. You’ll end up with a bunch of seeds and dried gourd fruit. Once the inside is cleared out to your liking, you can move onto Step 3.
Step 3: Design and Carve
Once your gourd is cleaned, it’s ready for your creative genius. You can either draw your whole design on ahead of time, draw while you go, or you can skip it altogether. I chose the “draw as you go”. Next, it’s all about lots of precise cuts with the craft knife and holes of various sizes with the awl. Sometimes I found it easier to make a “pilot” triangle with the knife and then widen it with the awl. At this point and forward, you don’t want to get your gourd too damp, as it absorbs water and your hole shapes may warp. Two other helpful things to note—if it looks like the piece between two holes will break if you widen one of them, it probably will, and when cutting out intricate designs, try to anticipate where the shape could break, and be especially careful, or change your design.
Once you’re happy with your design, we can head down to Step 4! I’m so excited!
Step 4: DECORATIONS!!!
This is the step when you get to expand your creativity even more, and incorporate other mediums into your gourd art lamp. Here’s the order I would go in for each of these optional additions:
- If you want to stain, dye, or paint it, I would do this first. Follow the directions on the dye or stain closely, because each one is different. If you are painting, make sure it’s a paint that will stick to the gourd without chipping or peeling right off.
- If you have beads that you want to glue in the different holes, now’s the time to do so. I have never tried it, but you could also wire wrap some of the beads throughout your design instead of using glue or epoxy. There are special beads without holes out there, and they can be purchased online for this very thing, if you decide that’s something you want.
- Wait to sew or glue Japanese rice paper until the after the last step, if that is what you have decided.
- Make sure your epoxy, glue, stain, paint, or dye has cured then it’s on to the next step!!
Step 5: Varnish and Finish
This is as straightforward as it sounds. Simply coat the outside of your carved and decorated gourd with mod podge (or something ^_^) and let it cure. Then you put your gourd on the light (I’ve included some of my examples) and enjoy it. I really hope this instructable has been as wonderful as I imaged. Please, ask whatever questions you’d like below, and I will try to answer as best I can with what I know. I’m certainly not an expert, but what little experience I have, I’d like to share. Make sure to upload pictures here if you decide to make one for yourself!
Participated in the
Hand Tools Only Challenge
2 years ago
Cool lighting effect!