You Too Can Carve a Masterpiece to WOW Your Family and Friends
Ever dream of being Michelangelo, Rembrandt, or Picasso, able to create beautiful works of art that others adore? With 'gray-scale' pumpkin carving your moment has arrived! ANYONE can do this pumpkin art - all you need is a pumpkin, a pattern, some tools, a bit of patience, and time.
Here I'll show you step-by-step how to create pumpkin art that will make you the talk of your family and friends. Maybe even your neighborhood and town? You can chose from a wide selection carving patterns I have generated over the years (as of mid-Oct 2017 the count stand at 229 tried and tested patterns) by clicking the button below, request a custom-generated pattern, or I'll show you how to create your own.
Once you've selected a pattern simply follow the directions below to start your artistic Curcurbit adventure.
How to Carve Your Own Gray-Scale Masterpiece
Starting the Process
I start by cutting the top out and using the scoop from the "Pumpkin Masters" kit to 'gut' the pumpkin and 'thin' the wall where the image will go. I have found that the best carvings are achieved when the pumpkin wall is no more than 1.5" thick - although how you light the finished product will allow you much play with wall thickness. BUT, take care not to thin too much; it is better to be too thick than too thin - we'll come back to this shortly.
A little known/used tip: Don't cut your lid out in a perfect circle, make a notch in one area so that the lid has 'sidedness' and will not simple fall into the center of the pumpkin with time. If you plan to replace the lid once you light your finished product, make a 'chimney' (hole) in the lid to allow good flow of oxygen. If you make your notch as a 'positive notch' - the notch is 'added' to the lid rather than taken out of the lid - this is a good place for the 'chimney.'
OK, I've 'Gutted' My Pumpkin and Chosen My Pattern, How Do I Get the Pattern On the Pumpkin?
I have found that the simplest way to get a pattern on the pumpkin is to lay the pattern over a piece of carbon paper on the spot you want the carving to occur and then trace the image on the pumpkin. The 'poke dots' off the pattern method that "Pumpkin Masters" kits suggests works well for patterns with low complexity but is way too crude for patterns like those generated here. Be forewarned however that the tracing approach I just described is far from perfect and that the waxy pumpkin skin doesn't hold the carbon well. Yet, you will get a good enough image that you can then use a ball-point pen to trace over the stenciled image (OK, maybe that this point some artistic talent is helpful, but then again "you're just a tracer" [quote adapted from the movie Chasing Amy]).
I have found that the simplest way to get the pattern on the pumpkin is to lay the pattern over a piece of carbon paper on the spot you want the carving to occur on the pumpkin and trace the image to the pumpkin. Be forewarned that this is not a perfect process and the waxy pumpkin skin doesn't hold the carbon well. Yet, you'll get a good enough image that you can then use a ball-point pen to trace over the stenciled image (OK, maybe at this point some artistic talent is helpful, but hey "You're just a tracer" [quote adapted from Chasing Amy]).
Great, I have a traced image on a pumpkin, now how do I carve the damn thing?
Gather Your Tools
This is where no new inventions are needed. You can get everything you need at Wally-world, Target, or your local hobby store. Pick up a "Pumpkin Masters" carving kit that has a scoop and small saws (not the ones for little kids but the adult ones - see pic below) - in doing this you'll also have some cool patterns of the process of using mine or making your own doesn't work out! I also have a nice sharp thin-blade knife for cutting the top off and less precision work (see pic below). Lastly, I shave off rind (gray areas on patterns) with a variety of 'hobby chisels' for wood work (see pic below). I keep a sharpening stone handy to sharpen these tools frequently during the process as they dull up quickly - so be CAREFUL (and I say this from experience of gouging myself)! I've used larger carpenter wood chisels in the past as well, but as you can imagine those are a bit cumbersome to use for precision work. Other tools I keep on hand and use frequently are razor knives (i.e., X-Acto) and wood/clay carving tools that come in hobby kits (see pic below). I find that having a variety of tools is useful because you never quite know until you're carving exactly what you need. Having said that the most common tools I use are the 'hobby chisels' and the saws from the "Pumpkin Masters" kits.
If you are working with really big curcurbits (i.e., 'Bax Max' pumpkins), which I do occasionally, the "Pumpkin Masters" saws are a bit too small (not long enough). In such cases I have resorted to using fine-toothed coping saw blades.
Initiating the Actual Carving
I start removing the rind (and partial flesh below) where the pattern is 'gray.' If you start with the 'white' areas (areas where all the pumpkin is removed) you can get into trouble because the pumpkin face where you are carving can collapse quite easily with the added pressure of rind removal. So START with the 'gray' area removal. It's rather easy to remove rind in the wrong place with complex patterns, so I've found it helpful to keep a copy of the traced pattern on hand to refer to as I remove 'gray' areas.
After removing the rind of the 'gray' areas, but BEFORE removing 'white' areas, you should light your pumpkin to assess if there is good enough contrast between 'black' (where no pumpkin is removed) and 'gray' areas. I have used many methods to 'light' my pumpkins: Tea candles work well but you'll typically need several for each pumpkin and of course they don't last long. Alternatively, you can use a cheap shop light fixture (see pic below) and florescent/incandescent bulbs of different wattage to give nice uniform lighting. In this latter case I simply affix the light to the top of the pumpkin instead of replacing the lid.
This is where the wall thickness comes in - too thick and you lose contrast, too thin and you also lose contrast. But again too thick initially is better because you can further thin the wall; but you can add back to a too thin wall! Achieving the most contrast across the three tones is the goal of these gray-tone carvings so this really is the most critical stage for artistic nuance.
Many have asked if it might be even better for the final carving to be 'multi-toned' by trying to achieve different depths with the 'gray' areas? The short answer is not really. The first problem is that it is hard to achieve precise depths that are different with the tools I have suggested. One can do it with an adjustable-depth Dremel but this is a whole other world of carving. In my experience removing rind without being too careful how much flesh you also take gives the carving a very organic property that results in a perfect balance of depths to actually create a 'multi-tone' image from a three-tone pattern. So don't sweat the depth thing!
Once you are happy with the contrast between the 'black' and 'gray' areas it's time to remove the 'white' areas. BE CAREFUL, the more complex the pattern the more care it takes removing all the flesh in the 'white' areas. You need to take care to be gentle in your sawing and poking so as not to remove portions you don't wish to remove. Have fun and take your time - it's not a race. My carvings typically take me ~2-4 hrs from very beginning (pumpkin gutting).
WARNING: Don't be surprised when you finish the carving process if the unlit pumpkin looks like s**t...go to a dark space and light it - it will blow your mind how incredible it looks.