The next steps in the gourd-to-skull-mask transformation are soaking, cleaning, and cutting. Hard shell gourds are harvested like any other vegetable, but gourds are left to dry for a year or more. During this time, the water inside a gourd leeches through its shell, which usually results in a layer of mold. The mold sounds gross, but this process can leave some fascinating mottling on the gourd's surface. In addition, gourds have a thin outer layer of skin; during the drying process, this layer often flakes off or partially flakes off. Unfortunately, the parts of this layer that don't flake off--which can have a waxy consistency--can be difficult to remove. To rid the gourd of all its ugliness, simply soak it in a tub of water. Depending on the tenacity of the gourd's outer layer, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Oh, by the way, gourds float; so when you soak them, you'll have to weight them down with something (I use a five-gallon bucket of water) to keep them immersed.
After soaking the gourd, I scrape off the mold and outer coating with an old, dull paring knife. I also use a plastic kitchen scrubber (one of those round things that looks like it's made of netting) to rub off any tough spots.
The result is a clean surface to work with. Notice the shape; I've flipped the gourd over, which is the orientation I plan on using for my masks. If you squint really hard, you can perhaps make out a stylized skull shape: wider cranium at the top, narrowing down into the jaw-area. Actually, at this point in the process, I'm thinking of creating skulls missing their lower jaws; that way the very bottom of my creepy little creations will end with the "teeth" of the top jaw. If you're not "seeing" it now, hopefully you will shortly.
Using my trusty jigsaw, I next cut the gourd. (I'll cut eye holes later in the process.) Notice the gourd's shell, which, depending on the variety, can be much thicker than this. Working with a hard shell gourd is a lot like working with wood; I use saws, drills, and a Dremel with varying cutting bits on these types of gourds. That's it for now. Stay tuned for the design process.
The (sometimes mad) ramblings of a mixed media artist.