Pumpkin carving is a great way to create a piece of art. The problem is, your artwork is completely gone after just a few days. There is however a simple solution… the faux pumpkin.
Faux pumpkins last forever and afford you the opportunity to spread out your carving time if needed.
Step 1: Selecting Your Faux Pumpkin
Finding a faux pumpkin can be a challenge. They are generally available in craft stores starting at the end of September (I have found them at Michaels, Hobby Lobby and Joann’s Fabric). There are two kinds of faux pumpkins I have come across, the generic craft pumpkin and the Funkin. The craft pumpkins look like an idealized pumpkin. They are a little thin for carving but will work. Then there are the Funkins. Funkins are molded from real pumpkins and so they retain the imperfections of the original. The foam is thicker and the paint job they get is a little more realistic.
Funkins are my faux pumpkin of choice but they cost about twice as much as a generic craft pumpkin and are a little more difficult to find. I also like to buy Funkins the day after Halloween for a significant discount and store them for the following year.
Step 2: Figure Out What Youâre Carving
The biggest challenge is figuring out what you’re going to carve. You can really choose anything: a family portrait, a painting, a picture of your favorite character or a scene from a movie. Your options are limitless. There are however, a few things to look for that will make your life a lot easier when it comes to carving.
- The image needs to fit on your pumpkin. If you selected a tall and thin pumpkin, you’re going to want to find a tall and thin subject.
- The more contrast in the picture the better. Look for highlights and shadows on your subject. (This may be easier if you import the image into your picture editor of choice and make it gray scale)
- Look for potentially floating pieces. Are there any dark spots surrounded by white. You’re going to be carving out those white spots and there will be nothing for the dark spot to be connected to.
- Choose something that is in your skill level. This is not always easy to tell before you make the pattern but keep in mind that an animated character (like Nemo) has fewer details and colors than a picture of a crowd.
Got your image selected? All right. Lets turn it into a pattern.
Step 3: Making Your Pattern
Once you know what you’re carving, you need to translate it into a pattern. For this you have several options. You can draw it, you can use a program like paint, or if your fortunate enough to have access to Photoshop you can use that.
I have used paint and Photoshop and this Instructable will cover the Photoshop method but know that you don’t need Photoshop to make a cool pattern.
- Import your image into Photoshop and scale it to fit on your pumpkin. A good rule of thumb is four inches shorter than your pumpkin and two thirds as wide. (Image -> Image Size and adjusting the inches under “Document Size”)
- Convert your image to gray scale. (Image -> Mode -> Grayscale)
- Remove the background or unnecessary part of your subject. (I use a combination of the Magic Wand Tool, the Polygonal Lasso Tool and the Eraser tool)
- Adjust the levels to boost the contrast. (Image -> Adjustments -> Levels, then adjust the three sliders until the image starts to lose detail and look more like an old black and white picture.) For me this was moving the left and right sliders inward and moving the center slider to the right.
- Turn the image into a cut out. (Filter -> Artistic -> Cutout) Here you can adjust the number of levels and the edge simplicity. The more levels the more difficult the carving will be and the higher edge simplicity the easier it will be. I prefer to keep the levels between three and six and the simplicity at two or three. Adjust these settings until you are happy with your image.
- If your image has lots of fine detail in it you will want to run it through the cutout filter again. Keep the number of levels the same but play with the simplicity. You can repeat this as many times as you need to until the edges are smoother.
- Look for any dark areas surrounded by your lightest color. Is there anything you can attach these to? If so use the Paint Brush Tool to add it. If not you may want to think about using a different pattern. If you are set on this pattern just realize that you will lose that detail.
- Create a new layer and add it behind your subject layer. Use the Paint Bucket tool to paint it the color of your darkest color.
- Print out your pattern.
Ok, the pattern is finished. Let’s put it on the pumpkin and get carving.
Step 4: Applying the Pattern and Carving
The first thing I do when applying a pattern is to cut out around the edge of the subject leaving a half-inch strip. This will give you a place to tape it to the pumpkin. Next hold your pattern up to your pumpkin and move it around until you find a place where it fits well. Now you can tape it on. I typically start taping at the top and work my way down molding the pattern to the pumpkin as I go. It will not be perfect but we can adjust for that while carving.
Once it is secured you are ready to start carving. You are going to need a place that you don’t mind getting dirty, a comfortable chair, electricity and I would recommend either a TV or an iPod because this is going to take a while.
Once you have your carving area setup you’ll need to get your tools together. I use a kitchen knife, an x-acto knife and a rotary dremel. For the dremel heads, I use a 1/16th in. Engraving Cutter (109), a 1/32nd in. Engraving Cutter (105), a 1/16th in. straight engraving cutter (113) and a ¼ in. Structure Tooth Tungsten Carbide Cutter (9931).
Now to carving. On a real pumpkin you would need to gut it before you began carving but fake pumpkins have no guts so we can skip this step although you may want to cut a decent size hole in the back to get a feeling for the thickness of your pumpkin. Typically to transfer your pattern you would take something sharp and outline all the lines on your pattern with a bunch of dots, cover those dots in flour and see your pattern. The holes in foam pumpkins close up before the flour can get in so we will be leaving the pattern on our pumpkin while we carve.
First we will cut out the white areas (or whichever shade of grey is lightest in your pattern). To do this run your x-acto knife along the edges of your white areas. If your pumpkin isn’t very thick you may cut all the way through. If not, once you have carved around all the white areas, take your pattern off the pumpkin and start hollowing out these areas with your dremel using one of the rounded engraving heads.
Once all of the cut through areas are carved out, reapply the pattern to the pumpkin using the holes in the pattern and the holes in the pumpkin to line it up. Then, start on your next layer. You will continue carving like this throughout all the layers of your pattern making sure that as each layer gets slightly darker, it also gets slightly shallower.
Things to watch out for:
- Darker areas surrounded by lighter areas. You will need to outline these darker areas before you cut down into the lighter areas.
- Don’t let yourself get tired. When you get tired mistakes happen. I take a break about every hour when I’m working to make sure that I don’t end up with any unintentional holes. It’s also a good idea not to sit for ten hours straight.
Typically it takes me ten to thirteen hours to finish one of these pumpkins. Obviously the more difficult the pattern the longer it takes.
I have attached a time lapse of my carving process.
Step 5: Lighting Your Pumpkin
Foam pumpkins don’t get along with open flames. You’ll need to light your new carving with electricity. Many craft stores sell battery powered tea lights, which work but don’t put out enough light for detailed pumpkins. I use an incandescent light bulb between 30 and 100 watts depending on the thickness of the pumpkin.
You can purchase an outlet-to-socket light plug for a couple bucks at a hardware store. Then, in the hole you previously carved to measure the depth of the foam, cut a smaller hole to match the socket. This will suspend your light so that it can’t touch the inside of your pumpkin and melt it. If you have lots of completely cut through areas you may want to put a paper towel inside your pumpkin between the cut out areas and the bulb. This will defuse the light and make it so you can’t see the light bulb. Just make sure the paper towel isn’t touching the light bulb!
Step 6: Set Your Pumpkin Up for the World to See
Now all you need to do is set your pumpkin up, plug it in, step back and enjoy!
You now have a work of art that won’t spoil. Now all you have to worry about is where you’re going to store it until next year.