"Daddy, we should make a pumpkin with a face like this!"
And with that, my four-year-old son squinched his face up into a snarl. I quickly took a picture on my phone, and thought, "why not?" It turned out much better than I expected, so I wanted to share it! Now you can put your favorite face or expression on a jack-o-lantern too!
Step 1: Choose and Prepare Your Picture
The first 2 images show my first experiment. For this tutorial, I've taken a new picture so that I can walk you through the process from beginning to end.
When you take your picture, try to ensure that you have even lighting. The high spots on the face should be bright, and the low spots, (like the eyes, any wrinkles or folds, etc), should be dark. This helps a lot in the carving process.
Import the picture into your editing software of choice. You'll need to convert the photo to grayscale (AKA black and white), and then adjust the contrast so that you get a good range of light to dark. Then I used the "Cut Out" filter in photoshop (under "Artistic") to reduce the image to 4 -6 levels of gray. This will give you some great guides for carving.
Step 2: Preppin' Your Punkin
I like to do my pumpkin work in a big plastic storage box. (The one's used for storing stuff under a bed are just about perfect.) That way I can carve just about anywhere in the house without making a mess.
And my favorite pumpkin carving tool? A jigsaw. it will make short work of any cutting that you need to do! As always, wear your safety glasses, and be sure that you know how to safely operate any and all tools you use to carve your pumpkin!
If you choose to use a jigsaw, set the blade-speed pretty slow. Or you can use short pulses on the saw to work your way through the cut. A pumpkin is no match for a jigsaw, so you don't have to go crazy. Just take it slow and steady to keep control of your cuts.
After you have carved out your lid and removed the pumpkin's innards, you can proceed to creating your portrait.
Step 3: Place Your Picture
If you haven't already, print your edited photo. 8.5x11 paper should be large enough for the job. Make sure that your photo is large enough on the page - so that It will be large enough on your pumpkin. Choose your paper size based off of how large your pumpkin is and how large you want the face to be on the surface of the pumpkin.
Then cut out the head of your portrait and give it a coat of your preferred adhesive. I used (and highly recommend) 3M's Super 77 spray. But you could also use a light coat of rubber cement, or another adhesive you like. The key is this: you want the picture to stay put on your pumpkin while you're carving it, and you want to be able to peel it off when you're done.
NOTE: There will be some wrinkles - but don't panic - they're not gonna ruin it for ya.
Step 4: Let the Carving Begin!
Using your carving tool of choice, fully cut out all of the black areas into the inside of the pumpkin.
Go slow at this step if you're using a jigsaw! Pumpkin bits will tend to build up around the front of the blade, making it hard to see exactly where you're cutting. Take it slow. You don't have to follow the line exactly. Get it close, and the expression will show up just fine.
Step 5: Carving: Part 2
For the next step, you will need a sharp craft knife. Make sure that you use a brand-spanky-new blade!
First, use the knife to cut out the gray areas from the picture that are 1 level lighter than the black parts that you cut out of the pumpkin in the previous steps, leaving the surface of the pumpkin showing for now.
With so much pumpkin pulp flying around, the edges of the paper around the cuts are bound to get a little soggy. Try to keep an eye out for this, and minimize it if you can. (Having a really sharp craft blade helps a bunch. A sharp blade will minimize tearing, even with soggy edges.)
After you've removed the paper you cut, carve along the edge of the paper, with your knife slanted toward the holes. You want to create a beveled edge around the holes - see the pics for an example.
Step 6: More Carving!
Now we get into the nitty-gritty of our task.
The different levels of gray are your guides for how deep to cut. Black? - cut all the way through. Not quite black, carve deep, but don't carve all the way through. As the grays get lighter, the carving depth gets more shallow. (By the way, you could also reverse this process and get a whole different look!)
I use all sorts of tools for this step, from a hooked piece of steel (1st pic), to pottery tools, vegetable peelers, whatever works.
Repeat the previous step, working from dark to light on the picture, to create your pumpkin-face.
Tip: put a bright flashlight inside your pumpkin, and leave it turned on while you carve. It will help you decide just how deep you need to carve to get the look you want.
Step 7: Finalize Your Pumpkin!
As a final step, print out a spare picture, and use it as a guide to tweak the fine details. You may find a few areas you want to carve a little deeper to get more light through.
Light up your pumpkin and take a look at it in the dark before you display it. You can always make a few more adjustments to get the look you want.