Short on space this Halloween? Here is a tiny Jack-O-Lantern to sit on your desk or your bookshelf or in your miniature Halloween room box. You can even put a light in it for some mini spooky fun.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
Poly clay - There are a number of different brands available. I mainly use Sculpey as it's convenient to buy and comes in a large range of colours. You will need some orange and brown.
Foil - to temporarily make up the bulk of the pumpkin.
Modeling tools - These can be as fancy or as plain as you like. I use a variety of items including dental tools and cake decorating tools. Depending on what I am making, sometimes my main sculpting tool is a humble toothpick!
Tile - makes a good work area plus it doubles as a cooking platform. It's not absolutely necessary, you could use a plastic mat to work on and just place some foil over a baking tray to cook on.
Cutting tool - For a nice clean cut, my personal choice is a scalpel, but a fine knife or razor blade is quite acceptable.
Tweezers - used to remove the foil after cooking.
Oven - Ideally you would have a separate oven just for cooking poly clay, and for many years I had a small toaster oven for that purpose, but now I just use my normal oven. I just make sure to leave the door open when I'm finished to let any fumes escape before I use it to cook food.
Optional - instead of carving your pumpkin before baking, you can opt to use a Dremel or similar tool and carve the features once the clay has hardened, personally, I prefer to carve first and bake second.
Step 2: The Basic Pumpkin
Cut a piece of orange poly clay roughly the size of your foil ball or a little bit bigger. Knead the clay to condition it. Once workable, roll it into a ball and then flatten to a disc about 4.5 cm across.
Place foil ball on disc and bring clay up around the ball. Gently work edges of clay to meet and join. Gently squash top and bottom toward each other to form a slightly squat ball. Smooth out surface. The shape does not have to be a perfect sphere, in fact being a bit lopsided will make it look more natural.
Step 3: Adding Detail to the Pumpkin
OK, so you have an orange ball, lets make it look a bit more like a pumpkin.
Make an indent in the top and bottom of the pumpkin. For this, I use a cake decorating tool.
Next take a skewer or similar shaped tool and holding the pumpkin and starting at the top, make a line from the one indentation to the other. The best way to do this is not to drag the point of the skewer down the side, but rather rock the skewer so that the side of it pushes into the pumpkin. Continue to do this around the pumpkin to form segments.
Now lets put a face on it.
Pick your carving tool! For this bit, skewers and toothpicks work well or fine dental tools. The choice really depends on what you are comfortable with and how you want it to look in the end. Experimenting is a good idea to get a feel for how things work and if you don't like the result, just roll the clay smooth and start again - this is one reason I like to carve and then bake!
Holding the pumpkin gently in one hand, use your tool of choice and carefully carve out the facial features of your Jack-O-Lantern. Make sure you carve deep enough so you can see the foil ball. When you have finished carving, you may want to redefine the segment lines before continuing. To do this, just get your skewer and go over any lines that need redoing.
At this point you will need to decide where you are placing a hole in your Jack-O-Lantern. If you are going to make it so the top will lift off like a lid, continue on to the next step. You may want the top to be intact, in that case you need to make a hole in the base of the pumpkin now. If you are unsure where you want the hole, have a look at the last step where I'll give you some ideas on using your mini Jack-O-Lantern.
To make a hole in the bottom, turn your pumpkin over and using a knife or similar tool, remove a small circle of clay to expose the foil.
Step 4: Finishing the Pumpkin Before Baking
Depending on how you want the finished pumpkin to look, you can either follow the next step or skip it. I like to have them to look like the lid will lift off even if it doesn't so I score around the top of the pumpkin where the top will lift off. This does not need to go all the way through the clay, if fact if it's just for looks you don't want it to go through.
Look over your pumpkin and smooth out any obvious finger prints or imperfections and place on a tile ready to bake.
Preheat oven to temperature suggested for the brand of poly clay you use and bake for the recommended time. Sculpey recommends you bake at 130 degrees Celsius for 15 minutes per 6mm thickness.
Step 5: Finishing After Baking
When cooled, remove the foil from inside the pumpkin. This is easiest done with a pair of tweezers.
Clean up the openings with your scalpel (if it will fit) or sculpting tools or even a needle file. Put the lid back in place (the segment lines will help in fitting it right) and there you have a miniature Jack-O-Lantern.
Keep reading for some ideas for lighting and using your new Halloween item.
Step 6: Lighting and Ideas for Using Your Mini Jack-O-Lantern
What to do with this little guy? Well if like me, you love dollhouse miniatures, then you will probably have a room box or scene just waiting to be decorated for Halloween. If you have a bottom opening, you could use it as a pencil topper - Actually, to make a really good pencil topper, I would suggest following these instructions, but using eraser clay. Eraser clay is like normal poly clay, but when it's cooked it turns out soft like an eraser.
You could make a whole stack of pumpkins and string them all together with lights to make Halloween fairy lights.
Put one on a chain for a necklace.
If you can make two pumpkins that are very similar, you could make them into a pair of earrings. If you are really adventurous (and I want to try this) you could buy a pair of those light up earrings that appear in dollar shops around Christmas and Halloween, take the tiny light works out and put them in your pumpkin earrings!
Lighting up your Jack-O-Lantern
Previously, I used to use the little seed bulbs you buy at electronics stores, but I've recently started using LEDs instead. If you choose to use an LED, I would recommend a yellow one as they give a softer light then the white ones and make it look more like candle light. A trick the guy in the electronics store gave me was to use a fine sandpaper and lightly buff around the LED, that makes the light radiate out the sides more than just out the top of the bulb.
Working with miniatures, the main problem is size when it comes to powering lights. I like to use small battery units. I used to use battery packs that take 2 AA batteries and have a sliding on/off switch. These are OK, if you don't mind having the wires going from your Light to the battery pack. You can lengthen the wires to suit so you can hide the battery pack out of sight.
Recently, I've started using button cell batteries as they are more compact and can sometime be incorporated into your light (eg make a hollow stack of books to place your pumpkin on top of and put the battery pack inside the books) My local electronics store only has one variety of these battery holders that don't have an on/off switch, so to turn the light off, you need to remove the battery which is quite awkward. You can however buy some online (or at you local shop if you're lucky) which have a little on/off push button switch.
Edit Oct 10th 2011 - Just went into Big W and they have started putting Christmas things on the shelf. I picked up a string of 20 LED's with a battery pack (with on/off switch) for $2. The LED's are white, but they also had them in red, blue and multi-coloured. The white ones would be good to make a string of Halloween fairy lights. Just make the pumpkins without the stalk and cut a small opening in the top to remove the foil and later glue the lights in place.
So there you have it.. go forth and sculpt some miniature Jack-O-Lanterns.