SIOUX CITY | Brenda Schoenherr-Thelen is affectionately known as the "pumpkin lady."
The 53-year-old Sioux City woman has been painting pumpkins since she was a teenager.
"I've just always thought it was fun to treat them as a canvas," Schoenherr-Thelen said as she surveyed her round works of art resting on her dining room table.
Every fall, Schoenherr-Thelen paints more than 100 pumpkins. Witches, Count Dracula and other scary faces are popular requests among clients. But she said they've asked to have everything from Lady Gaga to wildlife to their childhood homes painted on a pumpkin.
"People call for special order ones and I've displayed them at the Sioux City Art Center because I work there," she said. "Now I'm getting hit up for baby shower pumpkins and wedding pumpkins."
With the Iowa Caucuses just around the corner and both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates crisscrossing the state en masse, Schoenherr-Thelen is paying homage to the political process, depicting frontrunners Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the smooth, deep orange squashes that she purchases from a local farmer who runs a stand on Hamilton Boulevard.
A large bi-partisan pumpkin turned on its side features the shapes of an elephant and donkey, the symbols of the Republican and Democratic parties. The animals are covered in stars and stripes.
Hillary Clinton flexes her muscles a la Rosie the Riveter on a round, medium-sized pumpkin. Schoenherr-Thelen said she placed a cloth in Clinton's hand so she could wipe her now infamous email server clean. A smiling portrait of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders graces another pumpkin. His white hair is wild like that of a mad scientist.
Schoenherr-Thelen said faces are the hardest to paint. She scours Internet search engines and magazines for photos of public figures and pop culture icons.
"It's challenging, but it's fun," she said.
She starts painting sometime in July, beginning with artificial pumpkins.
Real-estate mogul and presidential hopeful Donald Trump posing as Frankenstein graces one of Schoenherr-Thelen's artificial pumpkin alongside "Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon as Count Dracula and his announcer Steve Higgins as a green sea monster.
DO IT YOURSELF
Schoenherr-Thelen said you should have an idea of what you want to paint before picking out a pumpkin. A smooth surface on the front of a real pumpkin, she said, is best.
She recommends cleaning the surface of the pumpkin with water mixed with a little bit of bleach to remove bacteria so the pumpkin lasts longer.
Schoenherr-Thelen applies a white gesso base with a brush to create a silhouette. Then she applies acrylic paints, which can be purchased at local craft stores, in layers.
"Acrylic paint is forgiving. If you make a mistake you can paint right over the top of it," she said.
If you want to draw your image on the pumpkin in pencil before painting, Schoenherr-Thelen said that's OK, as long as it doesn't show through the paint.
"You start with white and then you do a base of the flesh tone," she said. "Then lightly, with a pencil, draw out the features. If you can get the eyes and mouth, you've got it."
From then on, Schoenherr-Thelen said you can apply whatever color paint you want, working in whatever direction you want. Just make sure the paint is dry before adding another layer on top of it. Schoenherr-Thelen even paints the pumpkin's stem.
"The stems are just as fun to paint as the rest of the pumpkin," she said.
When the pumpkin is completely dry, spray it with a clear coat acrylic spray to protect it.