It's been awhile since I've carved a pumpkin. I rarely get a trick-or-treater and my son is well passed the age. I don't usually get in the Halloween spirit until the evening of the 31st. By that time it's a little late. So when I went grocery shopping a few days ago and paused out front to pick out a pumpkin, I was as surprised as anyone. What isn't surprising is that after I got it home, I decided a regular jack-o-lantern wasn't going to cut it if I was wielding the knife. After all, what's worth doing is worth overdoing... or at least that's what the little voices in my head are always telling me.
"So let's try our hand at 3D pumpkin carving," they say. "Today. Right here in this Pumkin carv'ible."
Like always, I listen.
Let's do this.
Note: I am not a professional anything, let alone a professional carver. I just do stuff. I didn't have the "right" tools or any instruction. Point is, I encourage you to just jump in and make stuff. With the tools you have, and with the stuff that comes out of your head. You know how to do more than you think. Even if it doesn't turn out like your original vision, I bet you can make something awesome. And I think you should.
Step 1: Gather Tools
So, I didn't have any special carving/sculpting tools, per se, so I just thought about what I'd be doing: removing and shaping material. With that in mind, I went browsing through my house and shop. Here's what I ended up with:
- Hobby knife (X-Acto type)
- A few implements from an old manicure set
- Folding knife
- Utility blade (sans holder)
- Teaspoon and dinner spoon (I sharpened the edges with a bench grinder)
- Grout tool (not pictured)
- Black Stabilo pencil (marks on any surface, even wet pumpkin)
Step 2: Prep, Layout, and Rough in
Using the sharpened dinner (larger) spoon, scrape off the skin where you'll be carving the face. Rough sketch major facial features (brow, eyes, nose, mouth) with the Stabilo pencil. Don't worry about super accurate or realistic layout. This is a pumpkin. I keep forgetting that and try to make it look like an actual human face.
Start by removing a horizontal strip of pumpkin across the eye area. The top edge will be the brow line. Now remove another strip, the width of the bottom of nose. The top edge of this groove will be the bottom of the nose. Now remove material in a triangular shape between the brow line and the ends of the nose line to form the basic nose shape. Remove pumpkin at an angle between tip of nose and eye line. By this point you should be seeing a basic face take shape.
From there, rough in eyes, mouth, chin, etc.
Step 3: Add Detail and Finish
Add details using your manicure tools. If you need a face reference, keep a mirror handy. Study your own from different angles.
Okay, a couple of detail notes. First, 3D pumpkin carving is a subtractive art. Once the material is gone, it's gone. Forever. So remove only small amounts of material at a time until you get the Also, if you break through the pumpkin into the core (where the seeds and goo live), even a little bit, the pumpkin flesh around the break will turn into brown mush, collapse, and DIE. Like immediately.
I did not know this going in. I quickly found out when I ever so carefully/purposefully probed to the core at the eye corners, just to see how much flesh I had to work with. When I did this, my realistic(ish) pumpkin sculpture's eyes started caving.
Or is it?
If I've learned one thing from years of making, it's that projects don't always end at the projected "end". After I killed the eyes, I came to my senses and realized I needed a scary pumpkin. So I cut out the eyes. Then I altered the brow line for a more sinister expression. After that, I cut out the mouth and when some gore started coming out with the mouth flesh, it was clear I had a pumpkin eating pumpkin on my hands. Stage the seeds and goo a bit and... ta-freaking-da! The end.
Using the steel wool, "polish" your sculpture a bit. The steel wool will soften any harsh carve lines and give your pumpkin a smoother appearance. Just don't go overboard with the polishing. You don't want to rub out your face's character along with the ridges.
Now stand back and admire you sculpture. You did a great job (though with your mad DIY skills I am hardly surprised).
Have a happy Halloween, and keep making awesome stuff!