Making a Paper Mache Pumpkin

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I needed a large pumpkin prop for a magic performance. The pumpkin had to be lightweight and strong, and it had to be possible to cut open the pumpkin and remove things from it as part of the performance. Although there are a variety of plastic pumpkins on the market for Halloween, they look just like plastic pumpkins! Their shape is always perfect, and even the largest of them is a bit too small for what I had in mind.

I wanted a really big pumpkin that had all the irregularity and charm of the real thing. The first step was to go to a farmer's market and get a really good one. The pumpkin that I got was about 45 pounds. It was important to bond to the pumpkin, because I was going to be spending a lot of time with it!

I decided to make a paper mache pumpkin by modeling over the surface. I have not had much luck with conventional paper mache, but there is a wonderful variation using a compound called Sculpt or Coat. This is a water-based compound that dries into a strong but somewhat flexible coating. You can apply it to cloth, paper, or other fiber, or mix in sand, bark, or other materials to create surface textures.

I put a rim of plastic modeling clay around the pumpkin from top to bottom, running along the "ribs" to completely circle the pumpkin. The idea was to place this rim where it would divide the pumpkin roughly in half, as if I were making a two-piece mold, which is in essence what I was doing.

I then coated the pumpkin with a thin coat of Vaseline, then tore up a lot of newspaper into strips about 1" x 4" (tear, don't cut). I coated dry strips of newpaper with a generous amount of Sculpt or Coat and started laying them over the surface of one half of the pumpkin, bringing the strips up onto (but not over) the modeling clay divider. After the first layer was dry (half a day), I did a second and third layer, letting it dry each time. When this is done, I removed the modeling clay, and coated the "flash" that was up over the clay ridge with Vaseline. Then I covered the other half of the pumpkin with three layers of paper mache. The photos below show this.

Pumpkin Pumpkin Pumpkin
Modeling clay as a divider Half done Clay removed, completely covered

I didn't cover the part of the pumpkin near the stem with paper mache in this step. I decided to make the top section separately. There is an indentation at both the top and bottom of a pumpkin, and I was concerned that it would be difficult to release the two halves if both of these undercuts were covered. This also made it easier to attach the two halves together, as you will see.

When the paper mache covering was dry, I carefully removed the paper mache shells by running a finger along the seam, then slowly working the paper mache shells off the pumpkin. I trimmed off the flash and cleaned off as much Vaseline as I could. At this point, the shells were still somewhat flexible, so to improve the strength I attached ribs of corrugated cardboard to the inside of the pumpkin with duct tape, then covered the reinforced interior with two layers of paper mache. That greatly added to the strength of the shells.

Shells removed
Flash trimmed, shells reinforced with cardboard and duct tape

I taped the two halves together with a few strips of duct tape, then used paper mache over the seam to attach the two halves together, removing the duct tape strips as I reached them. When this was dry, I reached through the hole in the top to cover the seam on the inside with paper mache. I added a second and third layer to the outside seam.

Almost a pumpkin now!

Read more on the next page.