Following is my Instructable on how I carved (and, though extremely difficult, how YOU could carve) my 2015 pumpkin "Sauron, The Dark Lord".
Remember, this is EXTREMELY challenging, but I always like to post an instructable to show people each year how I did it. Enjoy!
Step 1: Tools/Supplies
The only tools used are pictured.
Tools include: Serrated pumpkin carving knives (from those kits you can by ANYwhere around Halloween) X-acto knife with various, interchangeable blades Large spoon or pumpkin kit scoop to empty out the pumpkin innards Ball point pen or fine-tipped Sharpie (Sharpies can get annoying as the wet pumpkin can make drawing a pain) Light bulb and free hanging plug and socket
Step 2: Choose a Subject
Each year I try and choose a subject that interests me. I always try to go more challenging than the previous year as well. You should look for an image with strong lighting as this adds contrast. The more contrast to the image, the easier it tends to translate to the pumpkin. Having some really good highlights helps to add real punch to the finished product.
This year I chose Sauron from The Lord of the Rings. This image is from a promotional still of a statue created by Weta Collectibles. I thought his stance was menacing and very strong, and the his glowing ring made a perfect focal point for the carving. He otherwise doesn't have any lights on him as my pumpkins in years past have, so I decided I would also add a background in to really add some visual punch. Image credit to Weta Collectibles, found on Google using keyword: Sauron.
Step 3: Draw Your Pattern
I essentially take the image chosen and begin drawing a rough outline of the pattern. It is during the pattern drawing step that you must choose what detail stays and what goes. This image had a TON of detail that I wanted to keep intact, but there was no way I would get every last line and shadow.
Many people will take their desired image into photoshop and up the contrast and run it through a 3 or 4 step greyscale feature. First of all, I don't know how to use photoshop! Second of all, I feel doing this tends to rob the image of many details, and often times washes out some areas while making other areas unnecessarily dark. By hand drawing the image you can really choose exactly how the pattern will look to you and what exact details stay and go. Another suggestion is to trace your image. Don't be afraid to trace! This is easiest to do if you have a laptop, but you can place tracing paper over your screen, up the brightness of your screen, and then lightly trace over your desired image. BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR SCREEN if you decide to do this. I free draw my patterns but tracing is a much simpler way to achieve a very close to source final pattern. When it comes to color coding, I use a tiered system of greys and white. In the pattern drawing white areas will have the pumpkin skin and most of the pumpkin flesh removed, while successively darker greys are then used to denote taking less pumpkin flesh and/or skin. Because there were no major areas where pumpkin flesh was completely removed, these areas were not color coded into the pattern.
Step 4: Tape the Pattern to the Pumpkin
It is now time to tape the pattern to the pumpkin. This part is tricky, as you need to "mold" the flat pattern around the round pumpkin. The best way to accomplish this is to cut the pattern at strategic points so the paper can be folded and spread in various directions to get the pattern as flat to the pumpkin as possible.
First I generally tape the pattern to the pumpkin at the top. I then make cuts and folds as mentioned before into the non-essential areas of the pattern (i.e. blank white areas, spaces between extremities, fingers, portions of armor, etc.). You can see a relatively large cut made around the armor spike on his left shoulder, along with a large fold into the blank white space to the left of his head (there is a large piece of brown tape over that fold to hold it in place).
Step 5: Transfer the Pattern to the Pumpkin
To transfer the pattern I employ a deceptively simple technique. I simply use a ballpoint pen and trace over every line of the pattern. Once finished I remove the pattern and the indentations of the pen can be seen relatively clearly on the surface of the pumpkin.
Step 6: Trace Over the Indentations From Step 5
Once the pattern has been fully traced over, the paper is removed. I then simply use a ballpoint pen to trace over all the previously made indentations.
KEEP THE PATTERN!!! Though you will have traced over EVERYTHING, it can get confusing as to what line is what, so you should always keep your patterns so you can refer back to them as you trace. This helps me keep track of exactly what I am drawing so the transferred image retains all the detail of the original pattern.
Step 7: Carving Time: Multi-depth Carving
A few notes on multi-depth carving:
The layering is the key to the entire look of these pumpkins. In order to achieve a "shaded" look, as if in a photo or drawing, you have to know how the light works. Obviously, when all the pumpkin skin is left on, very little light makes its way through the pumpkin, so these areas will be dark. Shave off JUST the skin, and a little more light shows through, so this area will now be a bit brighter/lighter. There you go, two different shades from a pumpkin! Go a step further and shave off the skin and some pumpkin flesh... now you have an even lighter color showing through. Go yet further than that, and carve ALL the pumpkin away... now you have the brightest shade of them all! The brief description above gets you 4 different shades, all with a very simple (but, I understand, hard to fine tune) technique. You can then take that idea and go far beyond just 4 basic depths. Doing so allows you to achieve results as you see in my pumpkins each year.
Step 8: Carving Time: Carving Techniques
All carving, even on a pumpkin as large as this one was, is done using an X-Acto knife and a few basic serrated carving knives. There are a couple of basic carving techniques that I use to accomplish all the results you see in this pumpkin.
Use the serrated knife to cut full thickness pieces: The serrated knives are ONLY used to cut all the way through the pumpkin to allow the maximum amount of light through.
Step 9: Carving Techniques: Fine Detail Carving
Use the sharp-tipped X-acto blades for fine details: The sharp tipped X-acto blades are used to carve ALL details of the pumpkin. This blade allows for the most amount of control to achieve the fine details needed.
The blade is used to cut into the desired depth around the previously drawn lines. Once the detail is cut, the blade is then turned on its side and used to pop the previously cut piece out of pumpkin.
Step 10: Carving Techniques: Planing With the Flat Blade
Use the flat-tipped X-acto knife to "plane" away pieces of the pumpkin. This is done at various depths, allowing more or less light through depending on if more or less pumpkin flesh is taken.
As mentioned in the previous step, the fine blades can be used to pop smaller pieces of finely carved detail out of the pumpkin. However, for larger areas (such as the large pieces of armor plating on Sauron's chest/abdomen) it is much easier to use the larger, flat blade to plane pieces of pumpkin away. As a reminder, this should only be done AFTER you have carved the outlines of the pieces you tend to plane away using the fine tipped blades. If you don't carve around the outlines first, the pumpkin pieces will not be removed neatly and you will have a messy or ruined image.
Step 11: Carving Order
For an image like this, in what order you carve is something to be aware of, though the exact order is not absolute or set in stone. Because of the fine details, you really don't want to have to touch much of what you previously carved, as you may knock pieces loose or smash a portion of your image that you worked very hard on!
This pumpkin was carved more or less from head to toe, left to right. So I began with Sauron's head, and then moved to his right hand (the image's left) and then moved from left to right across the pumpkin. The background was added in last.
Step 12: Carving Order: Sauron's Head
Sauron's head is relatively straight forever. There are a lot of straight lines in his helmet due to all the spikes of his armor. There is a lot of detail around the eyes so be careful and patient. Only a select few areas are carved through the entire way. The areas carved through are mostly along the sides of his large helmet spikes, as well as the center of his forehead.
Step 13: Carving Order: Sauron's Hand, Gauntlet, and Arm
Sauron's hand, gauntlet, and arm are by far the most detailed and difficult area of the entire carving. Again, move slowly. In general, with very detailed areas like this, I recommend carving the deepest portions first, followed by each successively shallower layer. This tends to help avoid damage to previously carved portions of the pumpkin.
For this area specifically I carved his first few fingers, then moved to his hand, then finished his fingers and arm moving in a left to right direction. This portion of the carving utilizes a lot of the principles discussed previously in the "Carving techniques: fine detail carving".
A very important detail of the carving is done in the hand, that being The One Ring! This is one of the other few areas that is carved all the way through. I thought the bright light of his ring on his made made for a good focal point of the carving.
Step 14: Carving Order: Sauron's Chest Armor
Sauron's chest armor is done last. This is a generally quicker area to carve. There are multiple areas where large portions of skin and flesh can be removed in relatively quick fashion using the "Carving techniques: planing with the flat blade".
There are some areas of detailed carving to be aware of as well, mostly around the neck and neck armor. Some of the deeper portions of the armor are carved all the way through with a serrated blade to allow a little extra light through. In these areas I was not worried about physically removing any pumpkin pieces, rather using the blade just thinned out the pumpkin in these areas enough to allow additional light through for good highlights.
Step 15: Carving Order: Adding in the Background
From the very beginning I decided a background was going to really add a nice visual touch to this carving. I decided to add in the Tower of Sauron with the Eye of Sauron to highlight the physical representation of Sauron himself.
To do the background first draw the silhouette of the tower to Suaron's right (the left side of the pattern). Once drawn on use the x-acto to carve around the silhouette through the skin. This is done so the pumpkin skin will come away cleanly as the background is carved out. A serrated blade can then be used to carve the rough shape of an eye. The Eye of Sauron does not need to be particularly detailed since is is really supposed to just be in the background.
A pumpkin grinding tool is then used to quickly shave pumpkin in a random pattern to break up the solid areas behind Sauron. In general I was trying for a look of a hazy, cloudy sky in the background.
Step 16: Proper Lighting
Plain old candles will just NOT be enough to light a pumpkin like this properly. To light my pumpkins I simply use CFL bulbs (those curly-q light bulbs that have replaced old incandescents) attached to a socket and a click wheel switch. You can either cut a hole in the back of the pumpkin, or simply stick the light in through the top hole. I simply stuck a light inside the hole on the top, then replaced the lid I made to hold the light suspended in the air.
Step 17: Turn Off the Lights and Enjoy!
Once done, your only job is to enjoy what you've created. Happy Halloween!