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How to Paint a Pumpkin

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Painting Pumpkins

Painting a pumpkin is very effective, whether you choose a relatively easy design that resembles a carved pumpkin (left) or something more complicated (right).

Photo © MaryAnn Heeb
Painting a pumpkin is fun whatever age you are! A painted pumpkin also won't shrivel or rot as fast as a carved one and doesn't involve any sharp knives.
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Variable

Here's How:

  1. Don't rush your choice of pumpkin. Look for one that's a nice shape, without too many lumps or bumps because this makes painting trickier. (Unless it's a bump that's nose-shaped and can be incorporated into your design). Check the pumpkin for cuts, wormholes, or soft spots or blemishes that may rot, and that the stem is firm. Check the pumpkin is flat enough on the bottom to sit upright.
  2. Give your pumpkin a wash to remove any dirt or dust. The easiest is to use a damp cloth or wet-wipe, or with a hosepipe on the lawn. Don't scrub with a hard brush as you risk damaging the skin. Wipe with a dry cloth or paper towel, or leave to air dry.
  3. Painting on a layer of sealer or varnish is optional, though it will help the paint to stick. (It's also said to slow down the evaporation of moisture from the pumpkin helping it to last longer, but really, painted pumpkins are temporary artworks.) Any type of general purpose sealer or acrylic medium ought to be okay, but if in doubt do a small test on the bottom of your pumpkin first.
  4. Decide whether you want to use the natural color of your pumpkin or whether you want to paint it all over with a color. Paint this in stages so you don't end up either holding the pumpkin until it's dry or having the wet paint on the bottom stick to something. Select a color that suits what you're going to paint. For example a sickly green-gray for a witch's face, or white for a ghost.
  5. Acrylic paints (whether craft or artist's acrylics) work best, but if you've only poster paints or kids' paints do a test to see how they stick before getting the family involved. You likely will find the latter come off if it rains, if the pumpkin is handled too much or with wet hands but is otherwise okay.

    You could use permanent felt-tip marker instead of paint, but be careful not to get it on your clothes while you're doing it. Another option is to stick on shapes of colored paper.
  6. Paint your design exactly as you would on any other surface; the only difference is that you're painting on a large vegetable. If you're not confident, start by outlining the design before you start painting or using a stencil. Keep a damp cloth to hand to wipe off any mistakes.

    Remember to paint "around the corners" not just on the bit of the pumpkin closest to you. Step away from it to get a distant view, and walk around to see what it looks like from the sides and back.
  7. When you've finished, consider adding another layer of sealer or varnish to protect your painted pumpkin. A spray-on varnish makes this final stage easy, but remember you don't want to inhale any of it so read the instructions on the can and do it outside if possible.

Tips:

  1. Consider painting two faces on the pumpkin, on opposite sides, such as a friendly and a spooky face. If you celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving, you could paint something suitable for each and turn the pumpkin around once Halloween has past.
  2. Keep your painted pumpkin out of direct sunshine and heat as much as possible to extend its life.
  3. Embellish your painted pumpkin by sticking on some fake hair, or adding a hat.
  4. If you think what you've done is a total disaster, wipe off what you can, leave the rest to dry, then paint the pumpkin all over and start again.
  5. Always remember, it's your pumpkin so you can decide just how you want to paint it. It's amazing how people will start offering advice when they see you painting.

What You Need

  • Paint
  • Pumpkin
  • Brush / small sponge
  • Sealer / varnish

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