Reggie Eakin
Georgia Gourd
Artist and Teacher

Gourd Dyes and Finishes

When I teach gourd burning or carving classes, we normally apply colors to the gourd.  I prefer to use transparent colors that allow the natural markings of the gourd to show through. 

For chip carving, I use leather dyes.  For power carving and wood (gourd)-burned gourds I use ink dyes or acrylic dye.  Leather dyes are not very fade resistant, but they spread easily into the carved out sections of a gouged (chip-carved) gourd.   

I use water based ink dyes in my power carving classes because they are easy to transport, do not spill easily, clean up easily, and do not streak.   They also do an excellent job of coloring the gourd.  Stewart Superior makes the water based ink dyes that are sold under the "Memories" and 'GourdMaster" brand names. 

After 40 students handle the bottles you cannot read the paper label, so I've started putting clear tape over the "color" on the label.   

How to Apply:

For large areas with no detail, you can use a piece of felt.  Microbrushes or cotton applicators can be used for detail areas.   For details - heat set it so you don't smear it and then work in patches until the entire area is done.  For small gourds I cover the whole gourd before I set the dye with a heat embossing tool.  You can layer to deepen the color as well as blend colors while wet.

Apply two drops to a small piece of felt - add ink as needed.  (MORE is not BETTER - LESS is BEST!)  Spread the dye on the gourd surface in a circular motion until the color is even.  If you put too much ink on the gourd use a tissue to carefully wipe off the excess.  The water based dye must be heat set with an embossing tool (sold by Habor Freight, Art supply stores in the scrapbook sections and many on-line suppliers).

If the gourd is very dry or porous , it will take more ink and it might not turn out well.   You can add finishing wax  like Minwax to the ink or lightly rub some wax into a dry gourd then apply the ink.   (Do not try this with Alcohol inks.)

You should know about several other products to restore the gourd's surface: GourdMaster™- Gourd WaxGourdMaster™ Formula 49, and Maria's  Art Grade Paste Wax

Everyone has a favorite coloring method and product that suits them best and you can find their comments on the internet.  The 'Gourd Enthusiasts" site is a good place to read opinions about a variety of subjects including ink dyes. 

Alcohol inks are made by Jacuqard ( "Pinata Colors") and Adirondack.  I use these dyes on my own work,  but do not use them in my classes.   For pearl or special effects I like the alcohol inks, but I don't use that kind of finish often.  We will talk about alcohol and acrylic dyes in a later article.
There are a lot of applicators available.

99% of the time I use a cut piece of felt at JoAnns and  Q-tips for make-up .  I bought them at a CVS.   300 for $2.19

Here are some applicators that I've bought.

You will need a microbrush for extreme details
Water based ink dyes are made by Stewart Superior Crafting for stamp pads.  Maria Dellos pioneered the use of water based ink dyes for gourds.  

Memory inks are semi-transparent, non-toxic, water based, fade-resistant, and will not streak like leather dye.  One 1/2 oz bottle will cover about 100 gourds five to six inched.  One tiny drop will cover a large area -
less is best.

All of the sites listed below have great advice on using these products.  I've purchased from all four of these suppliers and they are excellent.  I've been happy with their service. 

Maria Dellos Art Creations sells Memory Ink and teaches the use of  these products.  Her website offers many  teaching tutorials in the techniques category.  She has written books and appeared in many videos on the internet teaching how to use and apply the inks.

Nedra Denison (Sawdust Connection aka sells a broad line of gourd related products including Memory Inks.  Her site has articles and free online tutorials.  Nedra is a vendor at many gourd shows west of the Mississippi.  

Blue Whale Arts
is a full line gourd craft supplier who sells Memory Inks
and is a vendor at many of the East Coast Gourd Shows. 

Wellburn Gourds
sells the Steward inks under their brand name GourdMaster.  Wellburn has different colors from the Memory Ink colors.  You need to look at the Wellburn and Memory Charts to find the exact color that you want. 

The two brands mix and blend together with no problems.
My favorite Memory color is Artprint Brown, and my favorite GourdMaster color is Rich Maghogany.  Both have a reddish brown color that I like to use with black pine-needle coiling.

There are others who sell water based ink dyes, but I do not know them.

If you have a comment or recommendation about the use of  these inks. let me know at

I want to thank Maria and Nedra for their help and permission to use their pictures. 

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