How to Paint a Pumpkin

Tips and Ideas for Painting Pumpkins

Painted pumpkins
Rita Mass/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Autumn is the time when pumpkins abound, and early October is the perfect time to think about painting decorative pumpkins that will last until Halloween and beyond. This versatile and nutritional fruit (yes, it is a fruit, and contains about a cup of seeds that are packed with vitamins and delicious when roasted and seasoned) comes in a variety of sizes and shapes and a surprising range of colors - the most common, orange (from the high proportion of carotenoids), but also white, yellow, beige, red, green, blue and even multi-striped!

(Interestingly, all of these still have orange insides.)

Pumpkins are not just for eating or for spooky Halloween faces, although they are really good for that. They are also useful for beautiful designs and decorations throughout the season and offer all sorts of learning opportunities based on what you choose to paint. You and your children or students can easily transform pumpkins into a work of art that, when treated with a multi-purpose sealer or varnish, can last several months. 

Whereas we typically paint on a rectangular flat surface, pumpkin painting gives you a chance to experiment with painting on something that is to be seen in the round, more like a three-dimensional sculpture. Like the shaped canvases of the 1960s that broke the confines of the edges and planes of two-dimensional painting, pumpkin painting offers a chance to explore new ways to be creative.

How to Select and Prepare Your Pumpkin:

  1.  Make sure to select a pumpkin that is ripe. The rind should be firm and hard and should not puncture when you push your thumbnail into it. The pumpkin should sound hollow when you tap it.
  1. Check that the pumpkin does not have any rotting areas, blemishes, or soft spots which would indicate that the pumpkin tissues have been damaged. Bumps and hard "pimples" particular to some varieties are okay, though, and could be incorporated into a painting.
  2.  Make sure the pumpkin has a strong stem and is not leaking sap. Pumpkins without a stem can collect water in the depression left behind and lead to rotting. (This is also why you shouldn't carry a pumpkin by its stem.)
  1. Make sure the pumpkin sits flat the way you want it and doesn't roll.
  2.  Choose a pumpkin that is the right size and shape for your project.
  3.  Choose a pumpkin that is the right color for your project. While you can paint over the whole pumpkin, a white pumpkin works best if you're using light color paint and aren't planning to paint the whole pumpkin. You should still put a clear sealer on before you paint, though. (see step #9)
  4.  Wash the pumpkin with a solution consisting of one tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water. This helps to remove bacteria and delay rotting, or use Clorox Cleanup with bleach. You can also wipe off the pumpkin with a clorox wipe or baby wipe, or wash gently with soap and water and a wash cloth. Then dry thoroughly.
  5.  Cure the pumpkin in a greenhouse or sunny window if you pick it from a field and have the time. It takes about two weeks to cure it so that it fully matures and hardens. 
  6. Seal the pumpkin with an aerosol or brush sealant before painting. (A brush sealant such as Liquitex Medium and Varnish (Buy from Amazon) is better for your lungs and the environment). This will not only help preserve the pumpkin longer but will give you a good surface to paint on. Add sealant again at the end when you are done painting. This helps to protect your painting and to preserve the pumpkin.
  1. It's best to keep the pumpkin in relatively cool temperatures (50-60 degrees) and out of direct sunlight, since sunlight will hasten the rotting process. Pumpkins also don't like being colder than 50 degrees and can become mushy in a deep freeze.
  2. Keep your pumpkin dry. If you have it outside, bring it in if it rains.  

Some Ideas for What to Paint on Your Pumpkin:

  • A portrait of a famous person
  • A self-portrait 
  • All the people in your family (one face per pumpkin)
  • Animal faces
  • Disguise the pumpkin by painting it as other fruits. Make it look like an apple or a pear.
  • Famous portrait paintings, such as Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, or Van Gogh's self-portraits, or Edvard Munch's The Scream
  • An abstract expressionist painting
  • A theme, such as outer space or the night sky
  • Patterns, as basic or as intricate as you want: stripes, polka dots, chevron (zig-zag lines). Read about pattern in The 7 Principles of Art and Design.

Materials and Paints for Painting Your Pumpkin:

  • Newspaper for keeping the area clean
  • Rags for cleanup and wiping off mistakes
  • Containers of water for cleaning and wetting brushes
  • Brushes of all sizes; stencil brush for stenciling
  • Soft drawing pencil for sketching out your design and laying it out on the pumpkin
  • Acrylic paint - fluid or heavy-bodied, depending on whether you are doing drip painting from a squeeze bottle, using a brush, or stenciling
  • Acrylic paint markers
  • Saral Transfer Paper for transferring drawing or stencil onto pumpkin
  • Sealant and varnish, such as Liquitex Professional Gloss Varnish (Buy from Amazon)
  • Painter's tape for laying out designs
  • Polka dot Foam Daubers (Buy from Amazon)
  • Scissors for cutting out designs`
  • Sharpies for drawing your design on a pumpkin
  • Re-positional adhesive, for stencils or pattern shapes
  • Sticky notes for cutting different re-positionable shapes
  • Stencils. The same stencils that you might use for carving you can also use for painting.  Go here for free printable pumpkin stencils

You can also use fake pumpkins available at various craft stores instead of real pumpkins and keep your handiwork forever!

Further Reading and Viewing

Pumpkin Painting (video)

Painting Pumpkins/Nightmare Before Christmas (video)

The Art of Painting Pumpkins, Alisa Burke

The Many Colors of Pumpkins, Kate Smith

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RESOURCES

University of Illinois Extension, Pumpkins and More, http://extension.illinois.edu/pumpkins/history.cfm

Vanheems, Benedict, Curing Pumpkins and Winter Squash, http://www.growveg.com/growblogpost.aspx?id=263, Oct. 12, 2012

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Marder, Lisa. "How to Paint a Pumpkin." ThoughtCo, Jun. 8, 2017, thoughtco.com/how-to-paint-a-pumpkin-2577364. Marder, Lisa. (2017, June 8). How to Paint a Pumpkin. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-paint-a-pumpkin-2577364 Marder, Lisa. "How to Paint a Pumpkin." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/how-to-paint-a-pumpkin-2577364 (accessed November 21, 2017).