Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Puzzling a Treasure Map. . .

My mom and I spent an hour or so at the quaint "Maryland Gourd Days" festival in mid April, and my little man tagged along.  Surprisingly, he was very good.  He loves gourds, from planting the seeds and watching them grow, to harvesting and crafting.  I am blessed with that small gift.  He also got to pick out a huge--and expensive for what it was--pine cone, curtesy of Grandmom.  But I digress.

While we were there we met Susan Nonn, the author of a new gourd book, Cut-out Gourd Techniques.  After walking around her display table, I stopped to speak with Ms. Nonn about some gourd bases she had in a basket in front of her.  She was very friendly and helpful with everything I asked.

Bug and my mom were at the opposite end of the long table, at a utility-type shelf displaying gourd products for sale.  The puzzles on the shelf had captivated my boy.  Gourd puzzles.  They were simple stacking rings, much like the classic baby toy.  Bug loved them.

Watching him take the puzzles apart and put them back together, I thought, Those are simple.  I can make that.  When my mother later bought the book with the instructions for the project printed in colorful detail on the first pages, I had the same thought again.  So, I found a suitable gourd, one whose natural blemishes would prevent it from becoming a nice bowl or other decorative piece.

In fact, the blemishes inspired more of a design than simple colored rings.  To my eye, they looked like obstacles on a pirate's treasure map.  And so the journey began.  It didn't get very far, however, before I changed the theme of the map.  Instead of pirates and a treasure of gold and jewels marked by an X, Bug's love of the Ice Age movies led to a Scrat-themed map.  (Scrat is his favorite character in the movies and short films.)  So Scrat began the map at the top of the gourd.
And followed a dotted line through obstacles to reach his ultimate treasure. . . acorns!
I started with drawing everything in pencil, then burning the path.  I didn't have my mom's awesome burner, so I had to use my craft-style burner.  It worked out, though, because the dashed line could be burned easily by placing the sharp wedge edge of the universal tip flat on the gourd surface, creating uniform lines for the length of the path.

The blemishes provided the perfect natural obstacles.

I provided the rest.  Using a colorful assortment of Sharpie markers, I brightened up the obstacles I drew on the gourd.
The next step was to draw and cut the rings around the gourd, starting at the top.  The book demonstrates with a mini jig saw, and that would have been a great time and hand saver.  But I don't have one of those wonderful tools yet, so I was forced to use an Xacto hand saw.  It worked fine, but it was a pain in the hand.  I drew all the lines first so I could wrap them around the obstacles without making the rings too thin in places.

Lesson learned:  Nothing is permanent on a gourd.

  • Sharpies will rub off with a little effort.
  • Pencil can be wiped away with water.
  • Even the heat-set ink dyes wipe off with water, though not completely.
But the poly sprays bond well and trap everything underneath, effectively protecting any other finishes.
3rd ring cut

Top cut off
2nd ring cut

4th & final ring cut
Put together with all rings cut.

The next step was to paint the inside of the gourd.  This took some time to complete since Bug was attached to the unfinished interior for some reason.  (Maybe he liked the stinky smell?)  But once he picked a color, it went pretty quick.  I used the advice of Susan Nonn, mixing the black acrylic paint with Elmer's school glue.  She recommends a 50/50 mix, but that would've use most of my small bottle of paint.  For this project I probably did about a 2:1 glue to paint ratio.  It was hard to get coverage over the porous surface, but that's the reason for mixing glue in with the paint.
Once it was dry, I broke out the Sharpies again and went back over all the drawings.  They had faded significantly with the sawing and painting.  Then I strategically held each ring, top, and bottom, and gave them a nice coating of semi-gloss poly.

Here I learned another lesson:  Sharpie ink runs under anymore than a light coating of poly spray.

If you look closely, you can see the results of this lesson on Scrat's feet.

By the time I saw the running it was too late, so I just cut my losses and dealt with it.  After all, it's for my 3 year old son.  He doesn't care, and that's assuming he'd even notice it.  (Which he hasn't.)  He was thrilled just to have a gourd puzzle all his own.
Bug with his Scrat treasure map gourd puzzle.


  1. What a fun idea! Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick