How to transfer a photo to a gourd for wood burning

Transferring the outline of an owl from a color photograph to a gourd for wood burning.

After several years of burning animals and scenes on gourds I have a simple way of transferring the picture to the gourd.  This technique can be used with any design you may want to put on a gourd.

These instructions show how I transferred the outline of the owl from a photo however I have used this technique with a sketch I have drawn in my sketch book.

For a while, owls have been in my head as something I wanted to burn on a gourd. When friend and photographer Geoff Smith photographed an owl at a park in Huntington Beach CA and posted it on Facebook, I knew this was the owl I was waiting for.  It was beautiful and since I needed a photo to work from I asked Geoff’s permission to use his photo for my next pyrography project.

Gourd Art- Pyrography - Owl

Here you can see the photo compared to the burned picture.

I thought I would share you with you my process to transfer a color photo to a gourd.

1. Start by making your color photo into a black and white photo. I like to adjust the contrast and balance to bring out more of the values.  My program of choice is Photoshop but just about every photo editing program will allow you to strip out color and adjust contrast and balance.

2, Try to judge the actual size you will need. Print it up at the final size. This may take several attempts to get it right!

Start by turning the color photo into black and white

Start by turning the color photo into black and white


3. Cut a piece of “Press ‘n’ Seal” and place it onto the black and white copy. Smooth it down so it sticks to the picture.

Update. I have since learned that “Press ‘n’ Seal”, is toxic when burned on. Even though I wear a respirator and have a fan blowing the smoke away from me, I am pretty protective of my body and will no longer use it. I am using graphic paper now and hand sketching to transfer my image.  

4. Using a very fine tip permanent marker, draw your outline on to the plastic. When doing this, try to only draw the lines you need to guide you later, after you remove the plastic wrap. As you can see from the photo, I only outlined the actual owl body, his eyes, beak and a few feathers. I refer to these as my “registration” lines and allows me to get all the necessary elements in the right place to start with.

Using Glad Press 'n Seal transfer outline

Using Glad “Press ‘n Seal” transfer outline using a fine marker

5. Remove the plastic wrap from the picture and cut around it so that you don’t have a lot of excess plastic.

The transferred picture

This is the what the transfer looks like after removing it from the photo.

6. Position the wrap on the gourd until you like the way it looks by stretching and sticking it to the gourd. You can remove and reposition the wrap until you get it perfect. If you find areas where the plastic wrap just won’t touch the gourd, cut it as I did in the picture below.  You can pencil in the line if you need to, You may also need to fold the wrap to get it to fit better,

Position the transfer onto the gourd

Position the transfer onto the gourd

The picture below shows where I drew in a pencil line to extend a cut line as well as where I had to fold the wrap to make it fit better. 

Cut and fold to make the wrap fit the shape of the gourd

Cut and fold to make the wrap fit the shape of the gourd

7. Start burning your outline… yes, right through the plastic wrap!!   Be sure to check to make sure you are actually making a mark.  The plastic will shrink up and away from your tip when the heat hits it.

Start burning your picture onto the gourd

When you first start burning check to make sure its making a mark

8. Continue to lightly burn all the outlines. When finished remove the plastic wrap

Pyrographed outline

Here is my finished burned outline.

9.  Because oils come out of the gourd skin when you burn on it, it is a good idea to clean it off using a solvent before painting so that you can be sure all the paint will stick and any pencil lines you may have drawn will be removed.

Owl On Gourd

I am not finished with the whole gourd at this point but here is my finished owl.


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Lets start at the beginning- Cleaning Gourds

Cleaning Gourds

Before you can even think about what you want to do with your gourd you will need to clean them up. Since they come from mother earth herself, they are usually covered in dirt and sometimes mold and other yucky things.

Stack of Dirty Gourds

Stack of Dirty Gourds just waiting to be cleaned

As you can see these 5 gourds, having just come home with me, are not the prettiest. I found a local grower and these were the toss away from last years crops that I got for $1.00 each. Whoppee!! (Spell Check this is not a real word… in my world it is!)

After digging around a huge container behind an old barn, knee high in weeds, I found these 5 gems which I chose for their shapes. I saw bowls in them. However they are in desperate need of cleaning.

So let’s get going on cleaning gourds.

Cleaning the outside shell does not necessarily have to be difficult but it can be quite labor intensive and it can be pretty messy.

Here is what you will need:
A stack of dirty gourds. – If you have a bunch of gourds to clean I do recommend that you clean as much as your water source will allow you. Just do it and get it all over with. Expect to spend several hours and get the chore done. Then you can get on with the fun stuff.
A large (5 gallon bucket) container, sink or tub you can fill with water and leave alone for a few hours. I have a utility sink in my studio but I have been known to clean gourds in my kitchen sink.
Rubber gloves if you get your nails done. I don’t do nails so I don’t bother with gloves.
Bleach – Adding just a touch of this to your water will help kill any mold
Dawn detergent– Dawn does just about everything, doesn’t it. I find that it really helps to soften the debris making it easier to remove
Metal Scouring pad – Copper or stainless you get at the grocery store. Even one of those green
A non-serrated knife
Old towels
Place your gourds in the bucket, tub or container. Fill it with water, warm water works a little better if you can do that, a little Dawn and a little bleach.


Place Gourds in a water container

Place your gourds in a sink, tub or bucket where you can submerge them in water.

Gourds do tend to float so you should weight it down with something wet. That is what the towel is for. Get the towel sopping wet and lay it on top of the gourds. This helps weight the gourds down as well as keep the surface wet.

Weight Gourds down with a wet towel

Weight Gourds down with a wet towel

With the scouring pad, start to rub off the debris. On many gourds you will find a waxy outer skin that may take a little elbow grease to get off but definitely get it off or paints won’t stick!

Scouring Pads

These are the type of scouring pads I use.

If you find that the waxy skin is fighting you, wrap the gourd up in the wet towel and put it inside a plastic trash bag. Leave them in their overnight. The non-serrated knife can be used to scrape off the really tough ones.
Eventually you will get the gourd clean. Some take loots of scrubbing and some clean up right away.

Those are the ones I love.

In the past I have bought my gourds already cleaned because they do a much better job than me but here lately I have been finding local gourd growers that don’t clean them and I love to support local.
Happy Gourding Ya’ll.

As always please feel free to leave comments. I have found that there are many ways to accomplish the same goals and we can all learn together. These steps are my steps but if you have a technique that you like please please please let us know by leaving a comment below.

And of course, please share this post on all your social networks!!


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My Gourd Garden – my first attempt at growing gourd plants

This year my grand experiment is growing gourd plants

When I began gourding I lived way up high in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. Our average winter lasted October through the end of May. We even have had snow on Memorial day once and I think that was the day that finally got me thinking about moving!!

Gourds need a long growing season

Growing gourds in my garden

We just put in the railroad ties that will make up my gourd garden

Because gourds need a long growing season, from 110 – 130 days to mature, planting a gourd garden in the mountains would have been doomed from the get go. Fortunately I lived within a two hour drive to the Welburn Gourd Farm so I always had plenty of gourds to work with. Even if I ordered them online shipping was reasonable because they did not have far too travel.

Now that I am in Oklahoma I don’t seem to have as much choice, if any, to buy gourds of the same high quality. I love the super thickness of the Welburn Gourds because you can carve to your hearts content. I will buy another box, I have too because I am almost out.

Gourd Seedlings

These gourd seeding are growing rapidly now.

So, this year, as I opened my last few Welburn Gourds I saved the seeds. Of course I neglected to label them so I have no idea what I will be getting. But it is all for fun right now anyway.

My dear hubby picked up four railroad ties for my garden area which I dumped a good 20 bags of topsoil into.

I started my seeds about two months ago by laying them between two sheets of wet paper towels. Eventually I figured out that I needed to make it dark so I put a regular towel over it to not only keep the light out but keep the moisture in. After several weeks only one row of seeds had sprouted, which was pretty disappointing, but hey…. at least something was alive!

I took all the seeds, sprouted and not sprouted, and planted them, with the help of Suzie, my cocker spaniel!

Today some of my gourds are growing like gang busters, some did not even try to grow and one poor batch I only got one tiny little seedling.  In the row that did not grow I ended up planting peppers, okra and zucchini. What the heck, right!! I had the space.

They are rather close together, closer than recommended but I am learning. They say they do not like their roots disturbed so I will leave them alone until it comes time to pollinate and then I will help them along.  I am a Good Gourd mother!!

So lets see what will happen now! We have had plenty of rain and sunshine. They should do beautifully if i remember to water them. If I forget, my hubby usually takes pity on the poor dry things and waters for me!!


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