Carving pumpkins at Halloween is an annual event for many, and can be highly anticipated. Choosing the perfect design can be just as much fun as the actual process of carving. Recent years have seen the rise of "3D pumpkins" or "sculpts". The following is a step by step guide to help in creating one of your own.
The sculpting process can be a lengthy one, depending on your experience, with the design in this guide having taken around 7 hours to complete. Admittedly, I may not be very fast, but expect to be spending a few hours on your 3D pumpkin.
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Step 1: Choosing Your Pumpkin
The best pumpkins for carving will be hard, with no soft spots, and heavy for their size. Try to get a nice big one. More than likely they will have a thicker wall, which means more depth for digging, resulting in a better 3D look. The pumpkin in this guide was roughly 16 inches tall, not including the stem.
Step 2: Tools Required
1 - primary carving tools - Not your basic variety. These are designed to perform and endure the stress imposed by pumpkin sculpting. The set used here can be purchased from Villafane Studios. Throw in an inexpensive carving saw if you plan on opening up for internal lighting.
2 - spray bottle - used to keep the pumpkin moist as you go.
3 - soft brush - used for wiping off bits.
4 - scrub pad - secret weapon for smoothing out the surface.
* others items of use: scissors, garbage bags, plastic wrap.
Step 3: Find a Design, Create One of Your Own ... or Wing It!
Creativity is key with a good pumpkin design. This guide used a famous animated character as inspiration. Keeping copyright and brand interests in mind, I will keep the name a secret, and let you determine who it may be.
Step 4: Scrape Off the Skin
The first step into the actual carve is to remove the skin and expose the flesh. Use the big loop tool and scrape over the surface until you reveal enough area for your design. Be prepared for the skin to fly everywhere! Wear goggles if necessary.
Step 5: Block Out the Eyes and Nose
Once the skin is off, and perhaps swept up, it's time to dig in. Block out the eye and brow line, as well as the general nose shape. Use the big loop tool and make broad strokes at this initial stage. It can also be useful to outline the jaw to keep an overall reference of shape.
Step 6: Further Define the Nose
To make the nose look like it is sticking out of the pumpkin, we need to dig around it. Pushing features back will bring others forward. Leave the tip of the nose alone, and dig in and around the bridge, between the eyes, and the outer shape of the nostrils.
Step 7: Spray to Keep Moist
To help keep the pumpkin moist, use the spray bottle to mist water on the exposed flesh. This will make the sculpting/scraping easier to handle.
Step 8: Shape the Eyes
This design needs the eyes to really bulge out, which means getting them nice and round. Rather than eyeballing it (pun intended) use a small plastic cup just the right size as a guide. This is a good time to dig the inner and outer corners of the eye region.
Step 9: Rough in the Mouth
With such an expressive look to this design, getting the proper mouth shape can be tricky. Use the small loop tool and sharp knife to refine the boundaries in and around the lips.
Step 10: Refine the Eyes
A proper sized ball, in this case a lacrosse ball, can be used to help visualize the spherical shape of the eyeball. The broad loop tool is great for achieving the overall shape. Using the smaller loop tools and the small sharp knife, cut finer lines to add contrast in areas and detail features such as eye lids and wrinkles. This will help things to really pop!
Another tip is to use the scrub pad to smooth out features like the eyeball. This can make a big difference in the overall look and finish of the surface.
Step 11: Finer Details
Eye brows, wrinkles, the nose wart and nostrils can be defined using the small loop tool and knife. Dig slightly deeper in areas to allow shadows to help define shape, such as the corners of the eyes and mouth.
Step 12: Keep It Clean
Throughout the process small fleshy bits will stick to the surface and get stuck in small spaces. Use the soft hand brush to wipe them away.
Step 13: Mouth Hole
Time to cut out the mouth. This is left toward the end for a few of reasons. One, to help keep stability with a closed surface. Two, an attempt to prohibit drying out. Three, the farther in we dig, the thinner the flesh gets and the weaker it becomes, which meant a better chance of breaking it while moving around if it were open.
Step 14: Pupils
The last detailing step is to cut in the pupils. To help keep the nice small round shape I used a scrap piece of pipe I had laying around to press in a guide shape. The sharp knife and small loop tool can be used to cut out the different layers of the pupil.
Step 15: Tidy Up Time
Sculpting a pumpkin is a lot messier than your traditional carve. The constant scraping of layer after thin layer can send pumpkin flying all over. Take breaks now and then throughout the process to wipe up your floor in advance of the shavings drying down and getting trampled.
Step 16: Take Photos Now!
Once carved these things dry out fast, so make sure to take lots of photos. Right now! Have fun with your lighting and posing with props.
Step 17: Bonus Photos!
If you love your pumpkin enough and want to immortalize the sculpt, check out one of the many online services to convert your photos into a 3D printable object. These services have their own instructions, but most involve using photos taken from multiple angles all around your subject. Be sure keep the pumpkin stationary, in a place where you can move around it with your camera. Consistent lighting and lens are best, and also lay down some sticky notes, each with a basic shape drawing (square, triangle, etc). This can help the software better interpolate the images.
Step 18: Storage
If you carve in advance of when you will be displaying your creation, be sure to prep and store it properly. First off, give it a good spray down. There are a few different opinions on what works best to preserve moisture and delay the onset of mold. Liquids such as lemon juice, vinegar, or a bleach/water mix are commonly used. Next, wrap it up. Plastic food wrap first, then into a big garbage bag tied tightly. Finally, store it in a cool place out of the sun. If you have room, stash it in the refrigerator until the big day.
Step 19: Final Thoughts... and a Timelapse Video!
Messy and time consuming are two accurate descriptions for 3D pumpkin carving.
Fun and creative are better!
Enjoy the process and keep powering through it. The first stages can be slow to reveal what may be in your head, but when you hit that point where it really starts to show, you'll know. And that can give a fresh surge of energy to complete your creation!
While sculpting I had my camera setup for time lapse capture. This video was taken over 7 hours with one photo taken once every ten seconds. Enjoy!
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