This Instructable outlines the steps I used to carve a multi-pumpkin scene from Harry Potter, but using these steps you could carve any kind of pumpkins you want - though doing a whole scene looks pretty cool.
Step 1: Make Your Stencils
Once you decide what designs you want to carve (in this case, the Harry Potter scene), create your stencils. You can do this either by drawing freehand or tracing over the images, but for something so detailed I find tracing to be best. I make the stencils using an iPad (you can also use a lightbox if you have one, but most people don't and they don't come cheap).
First, block out the areas of light and dark onto the image itself. Then, install the free app filmScannerLite, which acts as a lightbox by illuminating the screen completely. Place your printed image with your lines on it and a sheet of blank paper on the iPad (I use a transparency sheet as a barrier so the pen doesn't bleed through to the iPad screen) and trace the image.
- Blank paper
- Transparency sheetPenTablet or lightbox
Step 2: Get Your Pumpkins Ready & Apply Your Stencils
Choose pumpkins that have enough space for your stencils, and look for ones that don't have too many ridges. The smoother the pumpkin, the easier it will be to carve! Wipe them off with a damp paper towel to clean off any dirt, and dry them before applying the stencils.
On each pumpkin, 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 - you may have to try a few times, but you'll get the hang of it! Once you have your transfer paper on the pumpkin, tape your stencil 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. If that's not possible (for instance, if you're doing a face and you have to fold the stencil in a way that cuts an eye in half), you can always adjust your drawing later with a pen directly on the surface of the pumpkin. 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 is a spray with pretty nasty fumes! I highly suggest spraying it outdoors, and leaving the pumpkin outside for 10-15 minutes afterwards to let the smell dissipate.
Do this for each pumpkin in your scene. Depending on how complex each image is, this could take around 30 minutes per pumpkin.
- Saral paper (I use white, though it comes in many colors)
- Fixatif spray
- Ballpoint pen
- Paper towels
Step 3: Get Your Tools Together
Now you have your stencils on the pumpkins 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 4: Block Out Areas of Dark & Light
I find it helpful to start 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.
For a multi-pumpkin scene, you could finish each pumpkin completely before starting on the next one, but I highly recommend working on each pumpkin evenly - that is, block out the light and dark areas on all pumpkins before doing any further carving. Because it will take a while to finish all of them, you don't want to leave a finished pumpkin for too long before starting the others. Pumpkins can start to deteriorate very quickly, so you want to make sure none of them rot before the scene is complete.
Step 5: Continue Carving & Hollow Out the Pumpkin
With the darkest and lightest areas blocked out on each pumpkin, continue shaving, peeling, carving, and scooping out the pumpkins layer by layer. The deeper you carve, the lighter that area will ultimately be.
Once you have a preliminary pass done on all of your pumpkins, it's time to hollow them out! 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 at least.
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.
- Knife (to cut open the pumpkin)
- Clay loop tool
- Optional: spoon
- Optional: rubber gloves (to keep your hands clean!)
Step 6: Finish Carving in the Dark
Now it's time to refine your carving. Turn off the lights or go into a dark room, and put a light inside the pumpkin. Any light will work, though the brighter the better - if you have a battery-powered lantern, a flashlight, or even a phone with the flashlight turned on, that will work perfectly. You can put your light inside a ziploc bag to keep it from getting pumpkin slime on it (especially recommended if you use your phone). In the case of a project like this Harry Potter scene, you will only need one light while you carve (unless you can somehow carve more than one pumpkin at once!) but you will need 5 lights, one for each pumpkin, in order to illuminate the final scene all together. I used two cell phones, one flashlight, one camping lantern, and one bicycle light - basically, whatever I had lying around the house.
IMPORTANT: Don't use candles! They won't give enough light, and the inside of the pumpkin will burn. With the pumpkin lit and the room darkened, you can really start to see how the pumpkin will look. Continue scraping away and adjusting until you have the levels of light and dark that you want. Remember, the deeper you carve, the more light will come through that spot.
- Carving tools from before
- Flashlights, lanterns, or phones
- Ziploc bags (optional)
Step 7: Enjoy Your Pumpkins!
When your pumpkins looks finished, step back and enjoy the results of your hard work! These Harry Potter pumpkins took about 20 hours total, but the result was worth the time and effort.
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 pumpkins intact for a week or more is to keep them in the refrigerator when they're not being displayed. For a scene like this, that means clearing out a lot of room in your fridge - which is worth it, because otherwise your pumpkins will get moldy and mushy within a few days.
Unfortunately a pumpkin won't last forever, so don't forget to take pictures. Happy halloween!