Introduction: "Pennywise... the Dancing Clown!" an Instructable on How to Carve a Pumpkin That Replicates the Look of a Shaded Drawing.
The following as an Instructable on how I (and though very difficult how YOU could, too) can carve a pumpkin with a life like image that replicates that of a shaded drawing. In this Instructable I will illustrate this with my 2020 pumpkin carving... "Pennywise... the dancing clown!"
This Instructable will cover the techniques I use to carve the ultra detailed pumpkins I post every year. You can apply these techniques to any specific picture you like to get pumpkins similar to mine. Remember, this is EXTREMELY challenging, but I always like to post an Instructable to show people each year how I did it. I have embedded a time-lapse video of the ENTIRE process (except pattern drawing), so feel free to watch that as well. However the Instructable covers the details of how I go about doing what I do. Enjoy!
Step 1: Tools and Supplies
Many people are surprised to find out that the supplies needed for this sort of carve are simple and minimal.
- X-acto knife with interchangeable blades. Surprising to most this is the most useful and used tool for the entire carve. It is used to do everything from details cuts to shaving away for shading techniques.
- Serrated pumpkin carving blade/knife. This isn't used much, but for any areas that need to be cut all the way through, this is the tool for the job. Larger versions can also be used to open the top of the pumpkin.
- Large spoon or scoop. This is simple...to empty out the insides!
- Ball point pen or fine-tipped Sharpie for drawing the image onto the pumpkin
- Light bulb(s) and free hanging plug and socket(s)
- Paper (if you make a pattern first that is then traced onto the pumpkin)
- Clear packing tape (to attach a paper pattern if that is what you've chosen to use)
- Tracer projector (if you want assistance with direct image drawing on the pumpkin)
Step 2: Choose a Subject/image
Each year I try and choose a subject that interests me. I always try to go more challenging than the previous year as well. You should look for an image with strong lighting as this adds contrast. The more contrast to the image, the easier it tends to translate to the pumpkin. Having some really good highlights helps to add real punch to the finished product.
This year I chose a screen capture from the film IT. It showcases Pennywise and his creepy face and recognizable lazy eye. There is wonderful light and shadow detail highlighting the amazing character design and features. There are no actual lights in this image, which can sometimes lead to a "flatter" looking final image but there are ways around that as I will showcase a little later.
Image crest: Warner Brothers, found via Google Search of "Pennywise"
Step 3: Draw Your Pattern/image
Now this step can vary wildly based on how you choose to go about pattern creation. You can draw your pattern first onto paper attach it then transfer it to the pumpkin. You could print an image out directly and apply it to the pumpkin after. Or you could draw directly onto the pumpkin itself.
I have found for these specific types of highly detailed carves, that it is much easier to draw the pattern DIRECTLY on the pumpkin. That being the case I will cover that method here and how I go about doing it.
Side note: Above I have also pictured the technique I used to use. Previously I would draw my pattern, then tape it to the pumpkin. I would then use a ball point pen and trace very firmly over the pumpkin, which would leave indents in the flesh as pictured. I then took a sharpie and RETRACED the indents so I could not see the image on the pumpkin. This works well for less complicated patterns but gets a bit too "busy" for more detailed images.
Step 4: Drawing Your Pattern/image Onto the Pumpkin
A few years ago I decided to try using a small art projector to project the image onto the pumpkin so I could get an idea of where best to place it given the shape and size of the pumpkin for that given year. I soon realized I could use the projector for more than just figuring out the best LOCATION for the image, and additionally I could use it to TRACE the pattern on.
So set up your pumpkin and then the projector. Find the best location for your image based on the shape and size of the pumpkin. Once you have location figured out then you can trace the image.
HOWEVER< be aware the projector is really only good for general shapes and outlines. Although it does focus reasonably well the image is still quite unclear up close. That being the case I use the projector to get the outline of the overall image large blocks and shapes, etc. In the case of Pennywise I could use it to really map out the major wrinkles and folds of his face his clothing, etc.
Once the main outline and main lines/shapes are traced, you can then refer back to your original image (in my case I had the image on a laptop where I could zoom in and out on any area I needed to) and fill in all the details.
Step 5: Carving Time: Multi-depth Carving
The layering is the key to the entire look of these pumpkins. In order to achieve a "shaded" look, as if in a photo or drawing, you have to know how the light works when travelling through the pumpkin flesh.
Obviously, when all the pumpkin skin is left on, very little light makes its way through the pumpkin, so these areas will be dark. Shave off JUST the skin, and a little more light shows through, so this area will now be a bit brighter/lighter. There you go, two different shades from a pumpkin! Go a step further and shave off the skin and some pumpkin flesh... now you have an even lighter color showing through. Go yet further than that, and carve ALL the pumpkin away... now you have the brightest shade of them all!
The brief description above gets you 4 different shades, all with a very simple (but, I understand, hard to fine tune) technique. You can then take that idea and go far beyond just 4 basic depths. Doing so allows you to achieve results as you see in my pumpkins each year.
Step 6: Carving Techniques
All carving, even on a pumpkin as large as this one was, is done using an X-Acto knife and a few basic serrated carving knives. There are a couple of basic carving techniques that I use to accomplish all the results you see in this pumpkin including small clay sculpting tools.
Step 7: Carving Techniques: Fine Detail Carving
Use the sharp-tipped X-acto blades for fine details: The sharp tipped X-acto blades are used to carve ALL details of the pumpkin. This blade allows for the most amount of control to achieve the fine details needed.
The blade is used to cut into the desired depth around the previously drawn lines. Once the detail is cut, the blade is then turned on its side and used to pop the previously cut piece out of pumpkin.
The fine detail blade is extremely important even in areas that aren't small and fine. Using the blade to first cut the outline of even larger areas will help to maintain a very clean look and avoid messy muddled areas in the finished pumpkin.
Step 8: Carving Techniques: Planing With the Flat Blade
Use the flat-tipped X-acto knife to "plane" away pieces of the pumpkin. This is done at various depths, allowing more or less light through depending on if more or less pumpkin flesh is taken. In general the larger, flat blade is going to be best for large areas of the image where pumpkin flesh needs to be removed in "bulk". For example in the larger areas of Pennywise's clothing folds on both the left and right sides.
As mentioned in the previous step, the fine blades can be used to pop smaller pieces of finely carved detail out of the pumpkin. However, for larger areas it is much easier to use the larger, flat blade to plane pieces of pumpkin away. As a reminder, this should only be done AFTER you have carved the outlines of the pieces you tend to plane away using the fine tipped blades. If you don't carve around the outlines first, the pumpkin pieces will not be removed neatly and you will have a messy or ruined image.
Step 9: Carving Techniques: Sideways Scraping Using the Fine Blades
This technique is relatively inexact so shouldn't be used for details that need hard line precision. In general I tend to use this technique for two main purposes; hair and shading.
Hair: In the image above you can see how when I scrape sideways I get relatively linear lines that should break the skin of the pumpkin just enough to let light through. This tends to work very well for hair as you see on the left and right sides of Pennywise's head.
Shading: This is probably the thing that surprises people the most but that tiny x-acto blade turned sideways is the tool I use to accomplish the very nuanced shading that ends up replicating a drawing so well. After cutting my various depths for the main blocks of light or dark I then turn the blade sideways and evenly scrape away pumpkin gradually (i.e. from a shallower depth to a deeper depth) to smooth the transition between one depth and another.
Hopefully you can see in the second image, taken from an extreme sideways angle te various depths and transitions between deeper and shallower areas.
Step 10: A Word on Carving Order
For an image like this, in what order you carve is something to be aware of, though the exact order is not absolute or set in stone. Because of the fine details, you really don't want to have to touch much of what you previously carved, as you may knock pieces loose or smash a portion of your image that you worked very hard on!
Because I am right handed this pumpkin was carved more or less from top left to bottom right, with a little bt of exception. I began with Pennywise's eyes. Now, top left to bottom right would mean starting with the top of his head. However I felt it important to get the MAIN feature of him just right FIRST, so I started with the eyes/face. I then worked on his head then his body from left to right and I finished with his hair left to right.
Step 11: Lighting
Plain old candles will just NOT be enough to light a pumpkin like this properly. To light my pumpkins I simply use CFL bulbs (those curly-q light bulbs that have replaced old incandescent bulbs) attached to a socket and a click wheel switch. You can either cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin, or simply stick the light in through the top hole. I simply stuck a light inside the hole on the top, then replaced the lid I made to hold the light suspended in the air.
This pumpkin was so large two light bulbs were used to light it!
Step 12: What Does This Look Like for the Grand Reveal??
I am including this only to show what these pumpkins look like in a well lit room versus in the dark.
Now, my carvings are ALL done with pitch black darkness in mind as it allows for the most nuanced ligthing to show up through the pumpkin. However I think it's just kind of cool to see what these look like well lit, so here ya go!
It is also this sort of image that I use to try and help prove to people that I am NOT faking these every year which I do get accused of. It's also why I started making videos of the carves as well.
Step 13: Turn Off the Lights and Enjoy!
Participated in the