Figuring out the design and layout on your gourd can be one of the most challenging aspects of the whole creation process. You probably have ideas swirling around in your head (and they always look great there!) or maybe you’ve seen other gourds and thought you might like to implement a couple of their design elements into your own design. Great! But how do you make it all come together on a gourd? That can be really tricky. I’ve heard other people say they just sit down and sketch a design onto their gourd and go from there. They are lucky. It’s not that easy for me although I admit I have a done that a few times but it was just a simple design with a few curvy lines. Ninety percent of my gourd designs are mulled around, sketched on paper, slept on, and pondered sometimes for weeks. Design possibilities are infinite so how do you even know where to begin?
To make life easier and to prevent myself from just sitting and staring at my gourds, I made a list of everything that appealed to me in other people’s art, in my own art and in life in general. The list included things like: flowers, butterflies, curvy, flowing lines, bright colors, filigree, tall and elegant shapes, sparkles and lots of detail. Nearly every single gourd that I have completed has incorporated several of the elements from my original list. I saved that list and every time I get stuck, I refer back to it to remember what I like. That may sound silly. But it’s easy to get sucked into creating a design that is popular or one that has elements that people ooh and ahh over even though it may not be one that you really like. It’s very important to me that I like the design otherwise I won’t put the effort into it that I should. Some people do custom designs for customers or friends and they are very good at it. They thrive on that. I just find it hard to create a design that is in some other person’s head and not my own. So I stick to creating my own designs and only designs that I am passionate about.
Using my long list of design elements that I like, I start to piece together individual elements until they all start to gel and do a few simple sketches in a notebook. I have lots of design books and gourd books and crafty books. The one I have used the most to find design elements is called “Glass Painter’s Motif Library” by Alan Gear and Barry Freestone. I got that book about 15 years ago and still love it. I have gone through its’ 512 pages many times and have dozens of book marks on the pages that have a flower or insect or curvy line or anything else that appeals to me. I use those ideas to help piece together my gourd designs. A butterfly here, a floral sprig there, maybe an added dragonfly.
If I have a tall gourd, I will want a tall design like a sunflower or an egret. If I have a short wide gourd, I will want an element that is wide such as a short bushy flower or maybe a bird on a tree branch. Once I have the gourd chosen and the design element (let’s say it’s a sunflower for this example), I photocopy or sketch the flower, sizing it so it looks good and fits the gourd. You will want to leave some blank space on both the bottom and top of the gourd. For example, if you have a gourd that is 12 inches tall, make your sunflower about 9 or 10 inches tall. When it looks good, transfer the design onto your gourd.
There are various methods of transferring designs. See my blog on “Design Transfer onto Gourds” for more information on that topic.
Sit back and look at your gourd. Does it need more? Does it need a textured background surrounding your sunflower? Can it stand alone without any additional embellishment? Does the design need to cover the back and sides also? Do you just want the design on the front? Based on my list of favorite things, I tend to add curvy lines around the flower or design element. Inside those curvy lines I usually incorporate filigree or some other texture. I think it helps accentuate the design and looks more finished. I nearly always make those curvy lines ¼ inch wide so I can later add gold leaf. That’s because I love sparkly gold leaf (it’s on my list). I either make my curvy lines roughly following the shape of the flower or make a wide sort of circular curve that has a swoosh either at the side or near the bottom. Once I have that figured out, I need to figure out how I want to cut the gourd top opening. I like to make that more interesting than just a straight cut across the top, so again I sketch a line that roughly follows the design and adds some interest. Once again, sit back and look at it.
If you are happy with it, go over your lines with a pencil and define your elements and make sure it all works together. Go ahead and make notes on the gourd with your pencil. I usually write on it which areas will be filigree, which will be gold leaf, colors, etc. If you have a floral sprig, where does the stem end? Does it just stop on the front of your gourd? Or does it flow and blend into the border or opening of the gourd? It doesn’t have to be realistic, it just needs to look good and make you happy.
One thing that is sometimes hard for artists is to know when to stop. It’s so easy to want to add a little something extra here and there. That can be okay, in limited amounts. More is not always better. A design that’s too busy may end up looking cluttered and messy. Keep it simple so the focus will be on your main design element. Once you are completely happy with your design, you are ready to start wood burning.
Have you made your list of favorite design elements?