How to Layout your Gourd Design (#1 in series)

This is the first in a series of step-by-step tutorials on creating a beautiful piece of gourd art. The cover photo for this blog is similar to the gourd we will be creating. This gourd features a tall sunflower on one side, a few tulips on the opposite side and butterflies, dragonflies and a bee in between. We will have some gold borders defining each area and some greenery meandering through the butterfly and dragonfly sections. The background of the butterfly/dragonfly sections will be filigree and stipple texture. Follow along as we create this gourd from start to finish.

Tall hourglass shaped gourd
Gourd with hourglass shape about 12 inches tall

For this project we need a rather tall gourd with an hourglass shape. This particular gourd is 12 inches tall. I found a design for a sunflower and tulips that are tall and slender. Normally I would size the design two to three inches smaller than the height of the gourd. But since this gourd has a curvy shape, it will actually allow for a design nearly the same height of the gourd. I sized the flowers on the copy machine so they are about 11 inches tall. Tape the flower designs onto the gourd to make sure they fit right and look good. Keep in mind that the narrow part of the gourd will need to mesh with a narrow section of the flower design.

Slender designs for tall gourd
Tall, slender designs for tall gourd

At the base of the gourd, there will be a section without any design elements. Basically, no one will be able to see anything here, so no need to include anything. I will define this section by drawing a line about 1 ½  inches high all the way around the gourd. How in the world do you draw a straight line all the way around the bottom of the gourd? There are fancy tools you can use, but I use the easy method. Stack up some books to the height you want to draw the line (1 ½  inches). Grab a pencil and holding it firmly with one hand while it lays on the books, hold your gourd next to it and slowly spin the gourd around until your line goes all the way around.

Hold pencil and spin gourd
Spin gourd while firmly holding pencil on books
Pencil on books to mark gourd
Lay pencil on books stacked to the desired height

Now it is time to transfer the sunflower and tulips onto the gourd on opposite sides. There are various methods of transferring a design onto a gourd. See my “How to Transfer Design onto Gourd” blog here. I have tried several methods but have finally settled on copying my designs onto a special type of sticky-back plastic (click here to learn more). Then I can position the design right onto the gourd and wood burn right through it. So easy!

Curvy lines surround the gourd design
Curvy lines border the gourd design

Next, I sketch a line roughly following the shape of the flowers and also following the curve of the gourd. The line wraps around the top of the flower and forms an hourglass shape similar to the gourd shape. I use ¼ inch wide masking tape (purchased at a craft or hardware store) to follow that line I just sketched. I also lay a strip of tape around the line encircling the bottom the gourd that we did in the first step.

You should have some blank space on the sides of the gourd between the sunflower and tulips. This is where we will put some butterflies and dragonflies and the bee. Find a few butterfly and dragonfly designs that you like, maybe about 2-3 inches wide. Freely place two or three on each side; either butterflies on one side and dragonflies on the other or mix and match, as you wish. When you are happy with them, free hand draw some meandering grass or greenery winding its’ way up to near the top of the gourd. I like to have the grass overlap the borders or insects sometimes.

Butterflies and bee on gourd side sections
Position butterflies, grass and bee on gourd side sections

Now we need to divide up these side sections by drawing a couple wavy lines across. This will allow us to use filigree in one or two sections and another texture in the other section. I separate these sections with another ¼ inch wide border. Draw another curved line at the top of these side sections which we will integrate into the opening at the top of the gourd.

Sit back and look closely at the entire design all around the gourd. Make sure your flower stems and grass blades are at least 1/8 inch wide as we will be carving around some of them. Get out your ¼ inch wide masking tape and start sticking it along all the section borders. Remember to have some of the design elements go over and under the borders.

When you are completely satisfied, it is time to start the wood burning process. How is your gourd looking so far?


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