The first half of this Instructable will show you how to create a carvable pattern while the second half will give tips on how to carve it into your pumpkin.
**Be sure to come back closer to Halloween to check out some more of my projects for this year.**
Step 1: Phase 1: Create your pattern
You will also need photo editing software with some basic layer and brightness/contrast controls. I will be using a trusty old version of Adobe Photoshop. Gimp and other software should work just as well.
Step 2: Brightness and Contrast
Open up your image in your photo software and copy and paste the part of the photo you want to use into a new file. Make multiple layers of this image on top of each other. You will want a minimum of 3 layers, but 5 layers will give you more choice in how your final pattern will look. Convert these layers to greyscale.
Once you have created all your layers, hide them all except for the bottom layer, and select this layer to work with. Open up the Image>Adjust>Brightness Control panel.
Turn contrast to the max of +100. Now, play around with the Brightness setting. You are looking for a basic outline of what you want to carve. Don't worry too much about details at this point. Try to get a feel for what the outside of the head, the hairline, the eyes, nose, and lips are like. Remember to keep enough black for structure. Try not to have any islands of black surrounded by white.
Repeat this step for the next layer. Try a little more or a little less brightness to see how it affects the outlines. One of these layers will become your base layer.
Step 3: Add Shadows
Turn this layer's opacity down to 40% in the layer's panel. Play around with this layer's brightness and contrast as you did before. This should give you some more refined details by blending with the lower layer and creating shaded grey areas.
After doing a couple layers of these, try to find your best combination of 2 layers. Details around the face are important for being able to recognize the face in the pumpkin, but try not to make the details so small that carving will be difficult. Large areas of gray help add detail to the final work, but it is also the most cumbersome to carve.
Step 4: Clean Up, Structure and Details
Create a new layer on top of all of your other layers. In this layer you will clean up any patches that didn't look right in the earlier versions of the pattern. Try to connect parts of the pattern that might require extra structure. A connection from the nose to lips is an example of one that often needs to be added.
If there are any other details that were missed in the first few steps, now is a good time to add them. In my case, the eye glasses did not come through from the initial layers so I had to go back and manually add them. From one of your remaining greyscale layers, copy out the area or areas of detail that need to be added, and paste them into more new layers on top of your other layers. I used a separate layer for each half of the glasses. Adjust the contrast on the layer up to 100+ and once again, play with the brightness to get the desired outline. Use the eraser tool to take away everything that you don't need so that the layers underneath show through.
Step 5: Make a Border and Finish it Up.
Inverse your selection, so that you are working with the area outside of the head only. In either a new layer, or the layer you used for detail cleanup before, use the paint bucket to black it all out. Now that you have the basic outline, go back and remove it where it isn't necessary. Remember to leave enough black and grey so that there will be a firm structure.
Step 6: Pattern Complete
Print out 2 copies: one will be used to trace the pattern, and the other will remain your trusty guide during the carving process.
Step 7: Phase 2: Carve It Out
If you decide to go with a real pumpkin, your first step is going to be to cut open the top and clean out the insides. Get all of the seeds and guts out, and scrape the walls down from the inside a bit. Feel free to take up to a third of the wall out on the side you will be carving. This will help more of the light shine through when you stick a candle or light on the inside later on. Real pumpkins have the advantage of being more authentic and to some people, more impressive. You can use regular knives to carve them, but the cheap little carving sets for jack-o-lanterns are actually a decent investment. Real pumpkins tend to dry out and shrink though, so any fine details will disappear in a day or two.
Because I like to be able to display my pumpkins for more than a couple days, and reuse some of them year after year, I have made the transition to craft pumpkins. I get mine at Michaels, but they should be available at most large craft stores during the fall season. While you are there you may also want to grab a heated knife. The hot knife will make carving much easier, and it would be almost impossible to do large areas of shading without this type of tool.
For the rest of this Instructable, I will use a craft pumpkin, but all steps should also apply in a similar manner to carving a real pumpkin.
Step 8: Get Tracing
Once it is taped down, it is time to start tracing your pattern. Using a knife or toothpick, poke holes through the paper into the surface of the pumpkin. The closer the holes, the easier it will be to stay on the right cutting path later on. Trace both the grey and the black outlines.
Once you are sure that you have traced all of the details of the pumpkin, remove the pattern.
Step 9: Cut Out the White
Remember to use your spare pattern you printed out as a guide. It should help clear up confusion where black and grey lines run close together.
Step 10: Shaving and Shading
There are 2 ways to trim out the grey regions. If the grey is along the border of what you have already cut out, you are in luck. Just make a shallow cut along the traced line, and then stick the knife in perpendicular to that cut through the hole. You can quickly remove large strips in this manner For larger areas of grey (such as my neck section.) you will need to slowly take the top layer off bit by bit. Make shallow cuts into the surface, and then at an angle, stick the knife into the pumpkin connecting with the first cut.. Don't worry too much about it being smooth just yet, just try to get all of the grey area off.
Step 11: Cleaning It Up
Step 12: Light It Up
If you did this with a real pumpkin, using 2-3 candles at once with help light up your pattern better. If you are using a fake pumpkin, candles are not an option.
There are a wide variety of pumpkin lights available. Many have options to flicker to mimic a real candle, or have colored lights for added effect. I've found that some of my favorite lights are actually little taplights that I found at a dollar store. Just remove the top cover, and press the little button to turn them on. These tend to be much brighter, so the shaded regions show up much better even with ambient light.
Hope this gives everyone a good idea on how to make there own personalize pumpkins.