I've always loved tarot card imagery - they're great graphic illustrations and they make great pumpkin carvings! The Waite-Smith tarot deck is the classic set that most people are familiar with, and I decided to put one on a pumpkin for Halloween. Here's a step-by-step overview of the process.
Step 1: Pick a Card
Pamela Colman Smith illustrated the Waite-Smith tarot deck, and it's hard to choose just one of her designs. For this pumpkin I went with The Tower, which I think has a spooky quality that's appropriate for Halloween.
Step 2: Pick a Pumpkin
Choose a pumpkin that has enough space for your image, and look for one that doesn't have too many ridges, bumps, or irregularities. The smoother the pumpkin, the easier it will be to carve. Wipe it off with a damp paper towel to clean off any dirt, and dry it before applying the stencil.
Step 3: Apply Your Stencil
First, tape Saral transfer paper over the area you plan to carve. Saral paper is an easy way to get your stencil onto the pumpkin quickly and cleanly, and it's generally available in most art supply stores. Because the pumpkin is convex, you will have to fold creases into the paper to get it to lay as flat as possible.
Once you have your transfer paper on the pumpkin, tape your tarot card on top of it. Again, you'll have to fold creases into the paper; try to make the folds where they don't interfere too much with the drawing. With the Saral paper and stencil in place, trace over the lines with a ballpoint pen.
Remove the paper and spray the pumpkin with fixatif (also easily found in an art supply store); this will keep the stencil from rubbing off while you carve. IMPORTANT: fixatif gives off pretty noxious fumes! Spray it outdoors, and leave the pumpkin outside for 10-15 minutes afterwards to let the smell dissipate.
- Saral paper (I use white, though it comes in many colors)
- Fixatif spray
- Ballpoint pen
Step 4: Get Your Tools Ready
Now you have your stencil on the pumpkin and it's time to carve! The tools you use are entirely up to you, and I've added various tools to my kit over the years. However, I'd say the essentials are a linoleum cutter, large and small potter's loop tools, and a permanent marker. Other tools I use are an x-acto knife, wax carving tools (similar to dental tools), and various needles.
Step 5: Block Out Darkest & Lightest Areas
I find it helpful to start a pumpkin carving by blocking out the lightest and darkest areas. Use your permanent marker to shade in the darkest areas, and start using your linoleum cutter to peel a layer of skin from the lightest areas.
In this case, there's a lot of black. Use your marker to color in the black parts of the design. The lightest elements are the tower, the clouds, and the lightning bolt; use the linoleum cutter to peel a layer of skin off of those areas.
- Linoleum cutter
- X-acto knife
- Any additional carving tools
- Paper towel (to absorb the moisture that comes out of the cut pumpkin)
- Rubber gloves (optional, but it keeps your hands from getting covered in marker & pumpkin juice!)
Step 6: Keep Carving!
When you're doing a tarot card from the Waite-Smith deck, you will realistically only be dealing with a small handful of tones. Decide which colors will be the lighter and darker tones - in this instance, the red of the man's robe and the woman's shoes looks darker than blue robe, for example. The deeper you carve into the pumpkin, the lighter that area will be, so carve different areas to different depths according to the tone you want to achieve.
In this pumpkin, the deepest areas were the tower, clouds, lightning bolt, parts of the flames, the crown, and the light spots, as well as the area around the text. After that were the skin tones, then the blue robe, then the red robe and shoes, and finally the darker parts of the flame - which I left intact, those areas are uncut skin, but also not as dark as the areas colored by the marker.
Step 7: Hollow Out Your Pumpkin
This is a crucial step, and if it's done well it will make the rest of your job MUCH easier. I recommend cutting a hole in the back of the pumpkin, NOT around the stem. A pumpkin stem is full of nutrients, and leaving it in place will extend the life of your pumpkin by several days. Use a spoon and your hands to pull out the seeds and pulp. Once the inside of the pumpkin is relatively clean, use your large clay loop tool to start scraping out the meat of the pumpkin behind the stencil (using the clay tool will be much quicker than using a spoon). I suggest scraping away at the pumpkin until it's just about 1/4 inch to 1/8 inch thick. The more you scoop out on the inside, the less you will have to carve on the outside. For this pumpkin, I scraped out only the space behind the image itself - you can see in the photo just how much of the pumpkin wall was removed behind the image, it goes pretty deep.
- Potter's loop tool
- Rubber gloves (highly recommended!)
Step 8: Refine Your Carving in the Dark
Now that your pumpkin is hollow, go into a dark room and put a light inside the pumpkin (I like to use a small battery-powered camping lantern) and see how the image looks. You'll likely need to continue to carve away at the various areas to achieve consistent tones. You'll also need to re-apply the permanent marker, which tends to rub off as you've been carving.
Step 9: Enjoy Your Pumpkin!
When your pumpkin looks finished, step back, and enjoy the result of your hard work!
Unfortunately a pumpkin won't last forever, so don't forget to take pictures. Various websites have suggestions for prolonging the life of a pumpkin - I've heard about lemon juice, vinegar, vaseline, plastic wrap . . . however, none of those have worked well for me. I find that the best way to keep your pumpkin intact for a week or more is to keep it in the refrigerator when it's not being displayed. Otherwise, it will rot in a few days. Happy Halloween!