How to Paint on a Pumpkin

Cute Little Pumpkins / Getty Images

Pumpkins are not just for roasting seeds or for carving spooky Halloween faces, although they are really good for that. Autumn is also the perfect time to think about painting decorative pumpkins that will last until Halloween and beyond. 

This versatile and nutritious fruit comes in a variety of sizes and shapes and a surprising range of colors. The most common is orange, from the high proportion of carotenoids, but pumpkins can also be white, yellow, beige, red, green, blue, and even striped. (Interestingly, all of these still have orange insides.)

You and your children or students can easily transform pumpkins into works of art that, when treated with a multipurpose sealer or varnish, can last several months. 

Whereas artists typically paint on a rectangular, flat surface, pumpkin painting gives you a chance to experiment with a surface that is more like a sculpture. Like the shaped canvases of the 1960s that broke the confines of the edges and planes of two-dimensional painting, working on a pumpkin offers a chance to explore new ways to be creative. You can also use fake pumpkins available at various craft stores instead of real pumpkins and keep your handiwork forever.

How to Select and Prepare Your Pumpkin

  1. Select a ripe pumpkin that is the right size and shape for your project. 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.
  2. Choose a pumpkin that is the right color for your project. Although you can paint over the whole pumpkin, a white pumpkin works best if you're using light paint and aren't planning to paint the whole pumpkin. You should still put a clear sealer on before you paint, though. (See step No. 8.)
  3. Check for any rotting areas, blemishes, or soft spots, signs that indicate damaged pumpkin tissue. Bumps and hard "pimples" particular to some varieties are OK, though, and could be incorporated into your painting.
  4. Check that the stem is strong and does not leak sap. Pumpkins without a stem can collect water in the depression left behind, which leads to rotting.
  5. Make sure the pumpkin sits flat and doesn't roll.
  6.  Wash the pumpkin with a solution consisting of 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 gallon of water or use Clorox Cleanup with bleach. This helps to remove bacteria and delay rotting. You can also wipe off the pumpkin with a Clorox wipe or baby wipe or wash it gently with soap and water and a washcloth. Then dry thoroughly.
  7. Cure the pumpkin in a greenhouse, porch step, 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. 
  8. 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 than a spray version.) 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.
  9. It's best to keep the pumpkin in relatively cool temperatures (50–60 degrees) and out of direct sunlight after curing, to prevent rot. Pumpkins don't like being colder than 50 degrees and can become mushy in a deep freeze.
  10. Keep your pumpkin dry. If you have it outside, bring it in if it rains. 

What to Paint?

Need some ideas on what to paint? Start here:

Materials Needed

This project is one where you'll want to be able to spread out and be able to create a mess. Assemble the following supplies:

  • 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, including a 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 a drawing onto the 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 the pumpkin
  • Repositional adhesive, for stencils or pattern shapes
  • Sticky notes for cutting different repositionable shapes
  • Stencils. The same stencils that you might use for carving you can also use for painting.