Welcome to Jack-O'-Lanterns 203: Intro To Advanced Pumpkin Carving, also known as my first Instructable. Have you ever been interested in creating more intricate patterns but don't know where to begin? Then this class is perfect for you! I'll guide you through the process of picking a pumpkin, making a pattern, carving it out, and lighting it up. By the end of this Instructable you'll have your own masterpiece to be proud of, and you'll be the envy of all the trick-or-treaters on your block.
I tend to do multiple pumpkins of a similar theme on Halloween. Last year I carved three jack-o'-lanterns related to Back to the Future to celebrate Marty McFly's triumphant journey through time. This year, with the election so close at hand, I decided to carve both of the 2016 presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The rest of this Instructable will follow the steps I took to carve Hillary, but they are universal to anything you may chose to carve.
And now, let's get started.
Step 1: Pick Yo' Pumpkin
It probably comes as no surprise that the first step when it comes to creating a great jack-o'-lantern is picking a suitable pumpkin. There's a number of factors to consider, including size, shape, color, and weight. Size and shape will largely be determined by what it is you're planning to carve, so having an idea in mind before you pick your pumpkin will help in the selection process. I've also found that heavier pumpkins tend to be healthier pumpkins, but that may just be luck of the draw. You'll also want to choose a pumpkin with a flat bottom, ample face, and relatively flat surface.
As for myself, I personally like picking pumpkins fresh from a local farm, literally cutting them straight off the vine. For starters, you know you're getting the freshest pumpkin possible if you pick it yourself. I've found them to be generally healthier and to last significantly longer, even after carving; heck, I've had carved pumpkins last as long as two weeks. In addition to this, you know you're supporting your local farmer. Doesn't get much better than that.
Once you get your pumpkin home, make sure to wash it down and trim the stem. Keep it in a cool and dry place until it's time to carve, and make sure no pesky rodents get to it; the last thing you want is a jack-o'-lantern with a bunch of bite marks in it!
Step 2: A Peculiar Pattern...
The next step involves finding and/or creating your pattern. If you already have a pattern, you can skip over this step and keep on moving. If not, read on...
First off you need to pick a picture to turn into a pattern. I simply use Google and download the highest resolution version of the image I'm interested in as possible. I recommend selecting a picture with a fair amount of contrast, as this is what will show through in the final pattern: the light and shadows.
Second, you'll need to import the image into a photo manipulation application or program. As for myself, I use Gimp as it is both powerful and free, but I'm sure there are literally dozens of alternatives out there (including Photoshop!).
Next you will need to duplicate the image as a second layer. You're going to want to lower the opacity of the topmost layer to exactly 50%.
Desaturate both of the layers. Easy enough.
Now you're going to need to increase the contrast of both layers as high as humanly possible; this creates the sharp edges that you'll need to form the outline of the pattern. In addition to this you need to adjust the brightness of both of your layers; this creates the final black, grey, and white image that forms the basis of your pattern. I wish I could say I have found a perfect equation to do this perfectly, but honestly this part is largely trial and error. You'll want to adjust it just enough so that the details show through while the overall image remains sharp, clear, and recognizable.
Finally, once you have perfected you image to your satisfaction, you can go ahead and print it off. It's ready to tape onto your pumpkin!
Step 3: Tools of the Trade
We should probably talk about the tools you're going to need before we actually start carving. My main arsenal consists of exactly five tools:
1.) Serrated Kitchen Knife - This will be used to cut out the base of the pumpkin.
2.) Pumpkin Scoop - This will be used to gut your pumpkin. You can use I spoon, but I like how efficient the pumpkin scoops are, and you can get them dirt cheap everywhere around Halloween.
3.) X-ACTO Knife - This one's the biggie; if you have nothing else, you need an X-ACTO knife. This is used from everything from outlining your pattern to carving out sections. Make sure you use a new blade!
4.) Large Ribbon Tool - Used for skinning large sections of your pumpkin. Can be found in the clay section of most major art stores.
5.) Small Ribbon Tool - Used for skinning small sections of your pumpkin (no surprise there). Just like the large ribbon tool, this can be found in the clay section of most major art stores.
Step 4: Kill It!
We finally get to cut into the pumpkin! The first thing you want to do is cut out the base; just make a circle around the bottom of the pumpkin with your serrated kitchen knife and pop it out.
You may be wondering why we're cutting out the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top. I'll give you three good reasons: First, cutting out the bottom allows you to create a solid and flat base in case the pumpkin you chose happens to be a little wobbly. Second, cutting out the bottom of your pumpkin allows you to easily place your jack-o'-lantern over your light source like a lampshade. This is particularly helpful if you are using a hardwired electric light source, as you will not have to worry about creating a hole in the back to run out the cable. Finally, cutting out the top of the pumpkin always leads to an ugly and distracting light leak coming through the cuts you made. It's an aesthetic thing, but it really does bug me...
Step 5: No Guts, No Glory
Grab your pumpkin scoop or spoon and start scraping the heck out of the inside of your pumpkin. This is arguably the easiest step of the entire process, but does take a little bit of elbow grease. You're going to want the walls of your pumpkin to be approximately 1"-3/4" thick. I recommend you keep your light source handy and check your pumpkin occasionally as you go; you want the entire pumpkin to be evenly illuminated.
Step 6: Steady As She Goes
Now you're going to tape your pattern onto your pumpkin and begin the actual carving process. You're going to do this by tracing along the white edges of your pattern with your X-ACTO knife. It's a slow process, I won't kid you, but this is where the magic starts. Try to keep your cuts at an even depth; this isn't make or break, but will lead to a final jack-o'-lantern with a more consistent face.
Pro Tip: As you cut different sections, tape them back up. This will allow you to see where you've already sliced while simultaneously keep the pattern intact so that you can refer to it later for reference.
Step 7: Nice Slice
In the last step we traced out the pattern onto the pumpkin. In this step, we begin removing the face of the pumpkin by slicing along the initial outline.
Slice at a 45º degree angle to your original outline on the inside of the white sections. When in doubt as to which section is which, refer to your original pattern; this is your best bet to ensure you're slicing on the right side of the line.
Once you've done all of your slicing, throw your pumpkin over your light source. Your pattern will start to show through, and you deserve getting to see some progress after all of the hard work you've put in so far!
Two Pro Tips: 1.) Keep a strong light source nearby as your outline may be hard to see. The Hillary pumpkin ended up being pretty easy in this regard, but I had a lot less luck with Trump... 2.) Go slow! This is the moment where it's very easy to make simple but drastic mistakes. Take your time and pay close attention, it will be worth it in the end.
Step 8: There's More Than One Way to Skin A... Pumpkin?
Now that you have sliced out your outline, you can begin skinning your white sections with your small and large ribbon tools. You may find it easier in some of the more intricate sections to use your X-ACTO knife to remove the skin; there's no right or wrong way, do whatever works for you.
Step 9: Paint It Black
You're almost there! In fact, in terms of carving, you're now completely done! What next, you ask? Well, you took care of all of the white sections of your pattern, but what about the black sections? That's what we're here to tackle.
And the answer is mighty simple: you're simply going to use a black Sharpie marker to draw in the black sections onto the face of the jack-o'-lantern. Why Sharpie instead of something like black paint? Simple: it works, and it's darn easy. I haven't had any issues with it smudging, but on the flip side of that equation you can wipe it away with a bit of elbow grease if you make a serious mistake. Take your time and refer constantly to your original pattern. In this step, your pattern is really your best friend, and you're going to need it to transfer over all of the details of your image accurately.
Pro Tip: Keep a couple of Sharpies on hand as they tend to stop working on the pumpkin face after a while. Switching them out may be the answer to your prayers.
Step 10: It's Alive! It's Alive!!
Congratulations! You have successfully completed your jack-o'-lantern and it is now ready to display on your front step to be admired by eager tick-or-treaters like the masterpiece it is.
A note on lighting your pumpkin: I personally use an electric light source, namely a lightbulb fixture I created a few years ago that plugs into a standard outlet. Showing the process by which this was made seemed to be a little out of the scope of this Instructable, but it's pretty simple to throw together if you are interested. I've found that electric light is the best way to go for three reasons: 1.) Candles aren't bright enough to shine through the uncarved sections of your pumpkin. Kinda defeats the purpose of carving in the first place. 2.) Candles almost inevitably won't stay lit once you place a pumpkin over them. With traditional carving it isn't a problem because oxygen can easily get in, but this style of carving tends to suffocate the flame. 3.) If you're smart and buy florescent bulbs, they won't get hot enough to roast your pumpkin from the inside out like a traditional candle will inevitably do. This also has the added benefit of extending the life of your jack-o'-lantern significantly.
Hopefully this Instructable was educational and gave you some ideas for your next great jack-o'-lantern. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me, and in the meantime, happy hauntings!