Arizona Gourds
May updates from the desert southwest...
Welcome to the May issue of the Arizona Gourds newsletter! 

UpdateGourd Classes

Upcoming events:  I'll be teaching classes at the Leiser Festival, May 17th & 18th, and at the Welburn Gourds Festival from June 18th through the 21st.    All of those classes filled very quickly, but there is still a last opportuntity to take a class from me in Southern California!  On June 16th I will be teaching the "Buffalo Robe" and the "Faux Basketry" classes in Costa Mesa, CA in conjuntion with the Orange County gourd patch.  If you are interested or want to register, please visit the OC Gourd Patch webpage(I probably won't be returning to teach in California for the next few years, so hope to see you at these classes.)

My Florida Gourd Seminar classes are now posted! These are special Pre-Retreat Power Carving workshops on September 17th and 18th, that I'll be conducting prior to the Florida Gourd Retreat.  I'll also be teaching shorter classes at the weekend Retreat, those should be posted by May 1st as well.   Please visit the Florida Gourd Society page for more information.  Also, look for details in upcoming newsletters - I'll be teaching at the Texas Gourd Festival in October.

*To get notice of classes as soon as they are posted, please add your name to my classes updates
email list.  People on this list will get the news first and have the best opportunity to select the
dates and classes they prefer.
May Feature:  Tips and Tools for Cutting Gourds

If you are new to gourds, cutting the gourd open for the first time is a little bit intimidating.  Most people try to cut the gourds open with the tools they have on hand - which can range from using xacto knives, saw bits in Dremel tools, broken hacksaw and coping saw blades or woodburning through the gourd.  After the first few "incidents" which might include cuts, burns and blisters, most people get frustrated and look for a better tool.

If money is a concern, there are certainly some simple and inexpensive tools you can use.  The first thing you might try are keyhole saw blades that are made to fit into a large hobby knife handle.  These blades are usually available at hobby stores and cost about a dollar per blade.  Some ceramics stores sell a similar small saw that is mounted in a small wooden handle.  These greenware saws are usually only a few dollars.

One of the simplest ways to create a nice opening is by using hole saws. Hole saws fit into an regular drill
and were designed to cut nice round holes for doorknobs.  I use these saws often - they cut fast and the drill
bit in the center will guide the saw so you will make a perfect opening every time. The drilling is easy to do
if you sit with a piece of grippy shelf liner in your lap.  Hold the gourd firmly in your lap with one hand and
drill with the other hand.  Rock the tool gently as you work so the saw blade won't bind while cutting.

Another alternative that you might already have on hand is a full sized jigsaw.  I use a full sized jigsaw when
I am cutting really thick gourds or when I want to cut a gourd open really fast and I don't care too much
about how accurate I make the cut.  A drawback with the larger saw is that you can't do fine cutting like
you can get with mini saws that have tiny saw blades.  You'll just have to choose if you want to do the
cutting fast, or if you want to do really intricate cutting.  You can't really do both.

If you've been around gourds for a while, you will eventually decide you want to purchase a mini sized jigsaw.  For the first year, I cut all of my gourd with a homemade saw made from a coping saw blade with a duct tape handle.  When I finally purchased a mini saw I was amazed at how much more FUN I had with gourds!  Having the right tool for intricate cutting operations really makes the job so much easier that I decided my saw was well worth every penny I had spent.  There are several different models available, and each saw has advantages and disadvantages.  It helps to ask other saw owners for their opinion or try them out at a gourd show before you buy.

OK, now you have your saw and you are ready to go.  Make a starter hole with by either wiggling a sharp xacto blade through the gourd or by drilling a small hole.  Insert the saw blade fully into the gourd so the saw is well seated before turning on the power.  (You should also let the saw come to a full stop before removing the saw from the gourd.)  Don't try to cut around sharp corners in one pass if you can avoid it.  Make two separate cuts so you are cutting into a corner from one side, then remove the saw and cut into the corner from the opposite side. It takes longer but this will give you the sharpest corners and a more accurate cut.   If you prefer, you can make small cuts into the waste area (the part being cut away) to give you more manuvering room in corners so you can complete the cut without removing the saw from the gourd..

Are you having trouble with broken saw blades?  The trick with any tool is using it so the tool does the work.  Don't push the saw too hard, slow down and let the blade do the cutting.  Too much forward pressure reduces the life of the blade.   Another thing that breaks blades is letting the foot plate or ball rise up off of the gourd while you are cutting.  If I'm using a saw with a foot plate, I use my other hand to hold the plate down firmly while I'm cutting - so I actually have two hands on the saw.  Sounds awkward, but if you are sitting with the gourd in your lap it's actually very easy.  If you have a saw with a ball foot, keep a bit of downward pressure on the saw so the saw doesn't rise up off the gourd surface.  Saws with a ball foot work better for cutting into tight areas like the necks of bottle gourds.

And one final tip - Don't forget to wear your dust mask when you cut gourds.  The dust and mold are bad for your lungs!
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Featured Gourd of the Month:
Swimming Upstream
(Oil Candle Gourd)

Last year, I created a large gourd with a variety of carved textures and handcarved gourd trout  (see small inset photo.)   Here is a smaller version - this small cannonball gourd is an oil candle but it includes some of the decorative aspects of my larger gourd including patina effects, pebble inlay and carved gourd fish. 

(Oil candle inserts are available on the Kits and Supplies page if you want to make your own project. These small oil candle gourds sell very quickly at art shows!
Featured Books of the Month:

*Do you have a tip or tutorial we can feature here?  Please contact me.
Search Now:
Use this Amazon link to find all kinds of books and other products.
Drawing and Painting Animals and Keys to Painting: Fur & Feathers are lovely books that have both beautiful artwork and some great instructional material.  Great inspirations and ideas for when you are interested in using wildlife in your gourd creations.

Animal is a reference book published under the auspices of the Smithsonian Institution.  It has received great reviews for its photography and contains biological information about each species as well.

Relief Carving: Wood Spirits - Based on her previously released titles, Lora Irish's new book should contain plenty of clearly illustrated and useful carving information.  (Her Wildlife Carving in Relief  book is one of the best basic relief carving books around!)
*Be sure to visit all these different book pages shown at right to see some of the many other titles that are available. Click on each topic to see a variety of suggested books about each subject.
Previous Newsletters:
Note:   It is important that you add to your "safe senders" list, as many emails bounce each month due to spam blockers. 

If your email address changes, just sign up again with your new address - no need to email me the change, as I purge non-working addresses monthly.
Gourds Southwest Gourd Techniques & Projects from Simple to Sophisticated
by Bonnie Gibson

All photos and designs copyright © 2008 Bonnie Gibson and may not be used without express written permission.
May is the time of year the Post Office adjusts their rates for shipping.  This year they have kept up with the current trend, and shipping prices will increase on May 12th.  For once, I can understand the adjustment as fuel prices continue to climb steadily.  Because of the increase, I may have to adjust the automated shipping prices slightly for those that use the paypal shopping cart on the Arizona Gourds website.   Want to save on shipping?  Be sure to place your orders no later than May 10th.

Notice: This month, I will be away teaching classes and attending the Leiser Festival in northern California, and will also  spend a few days visiting family in that area.  I will be away from May 11th to the 24th and will not be shipping during this time.  All orders placed while I am away will be held until my return.  If you are attending the Leiser festival , be sure to stop by to say hello - my husband Ev will have a tableful of supplies and tools for sale at my class location.
Reader's Mailbag

This issue introduces a new feature, the Reader's Mailbag.  In this column, I will answer one or more reader's questions that may also be interesting to other gourd crafters.

Cedar Wallace of Canada recently wrote for more information on using oil paints on gourds:
"I recently received your pattern packet on masks on gourds...thanks, it is good. You mention oil paint on gourds as being particularly lightfast. I would love to do this but am quite naive about oil painting. Any time I have tried I have brushed it on and seem to get streaks. I would like to dilute it with something and wipe a thin coat on, but what do I use, does it absorb into the gourd, and would it chip off if knocked? You do such beautiful work and am wondering if you could assist me in this problem.   cheers, cedar"

Hi Cedar,

I use "Liquin" brand painting medium with regular tube oil paints.  Liquin doesn't dry as fast as turpentine, so you have more time to move the paint around.  However, it does dry the paint faster than using oils by themselves.  A little goes a long  way; just dab some of the medium into a small amount of paint and mix until the paint has a slightly thinner consistency.

It isn't necessary to pretreat the gourd by sanding or using gesso.  I usually paint the whole gourd, then use a soft rag to blend or spread the paint as needed. Most applications are thin enough to allow the gourd markings to appear through the paint.  I often finish by spattering the gourd with oils mixed with turpentine.  That gives the overall paint job a richer, less flat appearance.  Use an old toothbrush for the splattering, and pick a color similar to the base coat. 

You can scratch the paint off if the gourd is mishandled, as few finishes will actually penetrate the hard gourd skin.  This usually isn't a problem, but if someone bangs the gourd against a sharp object it can scratch any kind of paint.  Oils rarely chip off, although I have seen that happen with thick layers of acrylics.  (That's almost always because the gourd has been abused, not from an inherent problem with the paint.)

Note: I'm an impatient person - so I sometimes "cheat" and further hasten the drying process when using oils.  I set my oven to the lowest temperature, (170 degrees F).  When this temperature is reached, I turn off the oven and place the gourd inside until the oven has cooled.  This additional warmth speeds things along.
Student's work - I inadvertently left out this photo from the student gallery feature last month.  This gourd was done by Sue Jackson.  She started it in one of my closed coiling classes, and then brought it back to a later class to show me the finished results.  She did a fantastic job on this piece!
What's new on the Arizona Gourds website? 
I'm pleased to add these great new carbide gourd cleaning tools to the Arizona Gourds website.  These are solid metal tools with extra tough carbide grit!.  Unlike other gourd cleaning tools, these tough carbide cleaners will last a lifetime, and will not crack, peel or wear out.   If you know how expensive even small carbide carving burs are, you'll realize that these are very reasonably priced.

Each carbide tool is mounted on a heavy duty 3/8" steel shaft.  These tools work in a regular sized drill, and work very efficiently at low speeds.   The domed head cleaner is a good general purpose shape, and is available in both medium and fine grits.  The smaller birdhouse tool is perfect for cleaning gourds with very small openings, and works great on gourds with necks or in hard to reach areas.  It is also available in medium and fine grits.

These cleaners can be ordered on the TOOLS page.  Also available on the same page, you'll find new Brad Point Drill Bit sets.

Fine Grit Mushroom Cleaner
Medium Grit Mushroom Cleaner
Medium Grit Birdhouse/Neck Cleaner
Also available in Fine Grit (not shown)

Brad Point drill bits were designed for woodworkers and are fantastic for drilling into gourds.  Unlike the common twist drill sets, these burs have a sharp spike that seats the point firmly into wood or gourds, eliminating the need to pre-punch centers. No more bits "skittering" around on the gourd surface and misdrilled holes!

Made from high speed steel, the set includes 7 piece bit sizes -  1/8, 3/16, 1/4, 5/16, 3/8, 7/16, and 1/2 inch.

Coming Soon:  Black color -  Makin's Clay
The best airdry clay for maskmaking.  It works great for adding feathers quickly and allows you to position the feathers easily.  Unlike Model Magic, this product will dry hard, not spongy.  Watch for the announcement on the home page.

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Student's work - Priscilla Neagles did this lovely gourd after taking the faux basketry and filigree classes. How-To DVD Rental
Instructional Video Rentals
I have recently stumbled upon a very interesting resource called "SmartFlix".  This company is similar to the more familiar "Netflix" company in that it rents videos that are sent in prepaid return mailers.  However, this company differs in that it specializes in how-to videos.  There are many times that I have been tempted to purchase an instructional video, but I wasn't sure if the quality would be worthy of the price or if the instructional techniques would be useful.  This rental system allows you to rent the videos for a reasonable fee and then if you really like it you can feel comfortable about purchasing your own copy.  (However, many times you are only interested watching it once, so the rental cost is much less than purchasing.)

There are a wide variety of interesting subjects available.  While there are only a few gourd titles available at this time, there are many other videos available that are useful gourd crafting skills.  Some of the subjects available are wood carving, using high speed air tools, painting techniques, glass fusing and jewelry making,  polymer clay, and many, many more.  There are literally thousands of titles available, and they even have a place that allows you to suggest new videos that you'd like to have them stock.  I have rented from this company and was very satisfied with the experience.
Click on the link above to visit SmartFlix.
Here are a few examples of videos available from SmartFlix:
(These inexpensive hole saw sets are available on the Tools page)
Arizona Gourds Customer Feedback:
Hi Bonnie,  Your service is fantastic. I am so excited and can't wait to get started. This is the second time I have ordered the Patinas and I love them. The turquoise, I love, too! I'm like a kid at Christmas. And, thank you for the free bits. You are truly a fabulous gourd person. 
Sandra -  Duluth, Georgia
In last month's newsletter, I mentioned that my resolution for the month was to finish a gourd project - one that I would do just for fun.  (I've been so busy the last year that I haven't had much time for my own gourd work!)  I did complete a gourd and had a lot of fun doing it too, so my resolution was a success. 

Here is a closeup photo of one section of the gourd.  The subject of this gourd is burrowing owls, an interesting desert native owl that lives in small burrows in the ground instead of nesting in a tree.  This is a very large gourd, standing about 17" tall after it was cut open.  While it wasn't really thick, it was fine for this shallow relief carving.  Here is a photo of a section of the carving before the gourd was painted.  Want to see the finished results?  Please visit the Arizona Gourds home page to see a picture of the completed gourd.

I also want to mention that I am participating in the Southwest Fine Art Gourd Show at the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, (Kerrville, Texas) which will be ongoing from May 22nd to July 6th.  This show features many great gourd artists and should be a wonderful display.  You can read more about the Kerr Art Center and the show at
Arizona Gourds Customer Feedback:
Bonnie,  I am a believer now! I picked up the Foredom for the first time this morning and was able to see the (huge) difference immediately over my wee dremel. I immediately noticed the lack of vibration and I saw immediate benefits in my art work. Precision! Thank you for your recommendations.    Susan Harkness-Williams        Sunriver, OR