I wanted to show how I make stencils for my pumpkins each year. You can take any picture and turn it into a stencil. Now, your carving skills...
Step 1: Find an Image
Since we will have a pumpkin theme of "The Nightmare Before Christmas", I chose to show you how to make Sally into a pumpkin. There are free photo editing software options out there, I happen to have an old, outdated version of Ashampoo Photo Commander Free installed. It is not nearly as helpful as PhotoShop, but with that software and MS Paint, I can get some pretty good stencils created.
So pick your image, doesn't matter what it is. We will get into some of the rules you need to follow as we go through the steps.
Step 2: Lose the Color
I find that making the image grayscaled, it makes life easier. This is a simple option that most free photo editing software have. Either grayscale, or if that is not available, sepia. Once you have that done, you have a better idea of what you are working with.
Step 3: What to Cut?
So, because Sally's hair is dark, it would lose its shape if we just cut out her face, it would essentially be a floating face with no hair or head to let you know what you were looking at. To counteract this, I usually put the subject in a frame. In this case, it is simply an oval, I make sure to attach it to the image in more that one place, because it would be terrible if you didn't attach it at the top of her head and it toppled over, into the pumpkin, after all your hard work to carve it. Save the heartache, and attach it to as many points as possible. If you are doing a full figure, try to keep your frame touching the head, the feet, and at least one arm. Trees should have many branches touching the frame. If you are doing something that is lighter around the edges, you do not need to put a frame around it. Jack Skellington, for example, has no hair, so he would not necessarily need to have a frame added to his portrait.
If you are unsure, try it. The photo editing software should have a simple round or square frame you can apply, and see what it does.
Step 4: Time to Move to Paint
Once you have your frame where you like it, its time to move to MS Paint. I fill in all of the stuff outside of the frame with black. This should give you an idea of what the pumpkin will look like once you carve it out. Make sure its to your liking, as it is not fun to spend the time making the stencil and finding you do not like it.
Step 5: Starting With Black
I start to go over the dark and black lines with the Paint. Use the bendy lines, the straight lines, the pens, whatever works best for you. Its going to look awful to start with and you are going to be second guessing yourself. You need to understand that everything you make or leave black is going to be left alone on your pumpkin. you are going to need to determine if there are places where black is floating in white (like Sally's eyes). If there are places like that, where the black is floating, you are going to have to make some additional connections, because you cannot leave uncut pumpkin inside of cut out pumpkin areas, it just doesn't work.
Step 6: Black Is All Done
Yes, sometimes you look at it and say "that will never work", and you have to make some adjustments. For the most part, though, I have found that this process works pretty well. You should have a good idea of what you are going to make white (cut out completely), black (left alone), and what will eventually be grey on your template (shaded - where the skin is shaved down, but not cut all the way through).
Step 7: Add the White
It's time to decide where you are going to be cutting out the full amount of pumpkin. I knew that I could not make her eyes completely white, as the eyeballs would not have any place to attach, so I left some of the areas grey. Its time to decide how much or how little you want to be cut all the way through. With the picture being grayscale, you should be able to add some white, add a little more, etc. Note that the stitches next to Sally's mouth are not done with the black lines here. I originally was going to leave them gray, but as I worked the white in on the right side of her face, I realized the left side would be totally gray, so the stitches could not be gray...
Step 8: Making Adjustments
So I went back with the black and added the stitches in black. now when this gets carved, both sides of her face will look even. Black and white are done, now for a little color.
Step 9: I Know, It's Red
I tried a lot of different colors for the "shaded" areas before deciding this red worked best. I spent a lot of time filling in these areas with gray, only to have to go back, after I inverted the colors (that's the next step), and have to fill in the gray again, because it doesn't invert well. The red inverts very well. OK, so any place that we need to shade, or fill in, we use the red. This is going to be the last chance to find any places where black or red are floating in white. Notice the stitches at the bottom of Sally's neck, These are not floating, they are connected to the frame. White can, and should float in the other colors, but it is the only one that can. If you squint and try to make this picture look a bit out of focus, you should get an idea of what the pumpkin is going to look like.
Step 10: Inverting and "Wow That's Blue!"
So, now its time to go back into that photo editing software and choose to invert. If your software doesn't have this feature, get another. It is the only absolutely necessary step. So, now that I have inverted, there is some minor clean up needed, but this image is basically what you will print out (using black and white, no need to waste the colored ink). I tend to take this picture back to Paint and use the eraser function to clean up those places that are gray/dirty looking.
Step 11: Clean and Ready to Go
Once you print this, you are done. I recommend printing 2 copies, so you can use one as reference. I use an exacto knife to go over every line, then I start on the smallest things first. Remember, now you are going to be cutting out the black areas now that you have inverted the image. shade the gray areas. Leave the white areas alone.
Step 12: Some Additional Stencils
Just so you know this does work, I have included some other stencils that we will be using this year. Remember when I said I don't always add the frame, you can see in these examples that they do not have a frame. I did have some issues with Oogie Boogie because there was no frame. See at the bottom, between his legs, there is a lot of white there, without the black line, that detail, as well as other details would be lost. This one might, in fact, get a frame before all is said and done...
Step 13: Final One
I included the original image on this one, but this was before I discovered the red worked really well. So I had to go over this twice, once to fill in the gray once again.