Pumpkin Carving - A Day By Pictorial Guide

What's really involved with carving a complex pumpkin? Read on and find out!


Kill Shakespeare Issue 1 TemplateFirst we need a pattern. For this carving we are using the pattern for Issue number one of Kill Shakespeare (Visit http://killshakespeare.com).

Gathering Tools Next you need to gather the tools you will need to do the carving. First get two printouts of the pattern you will be carving. Two because you will virtually destroy one in transferring the pattern onto the pumpkin so you will need a second copy for reference. You will also require all of your sharp carving tools. My favourites are a sharp Xacto blade, a pumpkin saw for artificial pumpkins, two wood carving tools for scraping (one with an angled edge that comes to a point for fine work and a straight edge for digging out larger areas) and a push pin for pattern transfer. I've also included a pair of scissors for trimming the pattern and some tape for attaching the pattern to the pumpkin.

Attached TemplateNow use the scissors to trim white space from the edge of the pattern. It doesn't have to be right to the edge of the design, just trim enough to know where there are gaps at the edge. Now hold it onto the pumpkin and press it flat to the skin. Note where the paper starts to fold due to the curvature of the pumpkin and decide where you can afford to lose bits of the pattern, usually where there is no detail, and cut a line into the pattern as far as you dare in these places. Attach the pattern to the pumpkin at the top and bottom of the pattern using the tape, being careful that the pattern is not crooked. Now move carefully around the outside of the pattern taping it down so that it is flat, cutting more with the scissors where neccessary. This will not eliminate all of the puckering, but it will help. Without doing this you may lose something vital from the pattern later, so make all those decisions now while you have the control over what to keep.


Transferring the PatternNow it is time to transfer the pattern. Take the pushpin shown in the group of tools and slowly and gently poke holes through the pattern. It's not exciting but trust me when I tell you that taking your time and doing a thorough job now will save you oodles of frustration later. Also with complex patterns like this is SO easy to miss small but extremely important parts of your pattern, so take your time and pay attention.

Here are some rules of thumb for deciding where to poke your holes. First I like to keep the holes really tight together. When you are dealing with a lot of little details it is easy for the holes in the pumpkin to cease describing an image and start looking like just a lot of little holes on a pumpkin. Don't take shortcuts! On the other hand, too close together can damage the pattern before you are finished transferring it. I tend to position my marks inside the black and grey areas and outside of the white ones. Where black and grey meet I put the marks on the line. Remember the white sections represent parts of the pumpkin you won't be cutting out or removing, so the thicker you can make it while maintaining the integrity of the pattern the better. These sections will also lend strength to your final product and since some patterns produce beautiful but fragile results, this is very important.

Is this the only way to transfer a pattern? No. I just think it is the best. I've heard of people using transfer paper and carbon paper. For me transfer paper is a problem because it requires heat to implement and that could damage a foam pumpkin. Also, it is even harder to manage the folds in the pattern caused by the curvature of the pumpkin and the transferred pattern can peel off easily, especially when doing complex work. Carbon paper requires you to trace the pattern to transfer it. It is harder to notice if you've missed anything until you've removed the pattern, and then it is too late. It is also too easy to remove the pattern from the pumpkin.

You can see the results of the pattern transfer above.


The Carving Begins!When I start carving a pattern on a pumpkin I usually begin with small carve throughs and scraping. I leave the large carve throughs for last because carving great big gaping holes in your pumpkin quickly destabilizes it and results in it becoming harder to do delicate work. On simple to moderately complex patterns this can be completed in a few hours. For complex patterns like this one, the process can take days. Patience is key for this kind of work!

The most complex part of this pattern is the quill. The feather was difficult to convert to a believable representation in a pattern and the result was a LOT of little detail. Transferring sufficient detail was challenging and now I am faced with the daunting task of carving it...so I did a little work on it then chickened out and carved out the logo portion of the pattern. Doing this does little to destabilize the pumpkin and boosted my confidence by showing me what an awesome carving this will be. Challenges are a wonderful and necessary part of your development as a pumpkin carver, however it is easy to become discouraged when mistakes or fear of making mistakes looms in front of you. Don't sweat the mistakes. Learn from them. And remember that most people viewing your masterpiece won't notice the mistake until you dejectedly point it out to them. Fear of making the mistake is worse. When faced with a difficult challenge in a pattern carve everything else you can first. Build the confidence, then tackle the problem area very slowly. Use small tools and don't rush it. Mistakes come eaily when you are in a hurry. However if you make a mistake despite your best efforts, let me suggest that glue works beautifully, especially on the artificial pumpkins!


The Carving ContinuesOkay here comes the feather together with some more extreme scraping. As I've already mentioned: a LOT of detail. There were some sections where, despite my best earlier efforts, the nature of the pattern was obscured and all I was seeing was a lot of little dots. Pattern in one hand and XActo knife in the other, I took a deep breath and tried matching up dots with pattern based on proximity to parts of the pattern I could identify. Sometimes all you have is your best guess. And sometimes it becomes art as you try to cut what you see. This is your chance to make the pattern your own. Remember, it's tiny and only you will know.

The Lit Product - Day 4 I couldn't wait any longer. I had to see it lit up. I cut a small hole in the top, put in the light and snapped the picture. The light bleeds a little much in the picture. Trust me the pumpkin looks better in person!

This brings up the debate among carvers as to where to cut open your pumpkin. The prevailing wisdom is to cut open the bottom. On my artificial pumpkins I cut open the top. Why? Cutting open the bottom of a pumpkin is an excellent idea when you are using real candles. I don't want to reach down into a pumpkin with one or more lit candles at the bottom. No hand-burning for me. But you can't use real candles with foam pumpkins. Flammable and toxic! You use artificial tea lights. So for safety it doesn't matter where you open up your 'kin. Personally I feel that a hole on the top is less disruptive than one on the bottom. Your opinion may differ.


The Carving Drags OnThe fifth day! Wow! This one is complicated! I'd venture to say the most complicated I've yet tackled. It's a good thing that I like to challenge myself! This pattern has a good deal of scraping which takes time to do right. It also hits me with the challenge of the lit pumpkin not looking right because I haven't carved out the BIG carve throughs. I'm tempted to do so but I know from experience that it would damage the structural integrity of the pumpkin making the details nearly impossible to carve. So why light it up before it is done? Good question.

The best reason I can offer you is that a lit pumpkin gives you a different perspective on the progress of your carving than the non-lit one would. You have the mockup picture so you know roughly what it should look like, but only as a lit jack o'lantern. So lighting it up early should let you catch flaws in your carving early and give you the chance to touch them up. To be honest, I can't wait to see the finished product! It's a thrill that never gets old. However carving is a test of patience, so lighting it up early relieves that tension.

The Carving Drags On - Lit UpThis is the first day that the final product is visible. The quill is entirely carved and so it most of the hand. At long last the end is in sight. Sorry about the quality of the picture, but I had to take the picture during the day on a darkened stairway and my hand was not steady enough.


Done At Last!This is the sixth day. The fourth straight day of carving. Okay, to be fair, a day of carving amounts to two or three hours per day at the most, with maybe an extra hour or two thrown in on weekends, but still four days of carving is a lot for me. There is artificial pumpkin dust and little bits of pumpkin everywhere. I've tried to contain it but I have not been entirely successful. However today is the last day. You look at yesterday's pictures and it still looks like a long way to go, however, there is only a little bit of scraping left, and the rest is cut through work, which, though delicate, also goes a lot faster.

So when you get to the carve through part, please do take your time. With each cut your pumpkin will become that much weaker. You may have to alternate between the Xacto blade and the pumpkin saw. The saw is great for sharp corners and fine detail. The blade requires less pressure to cut. Also, the saw will not easily poke through the surface of the pumpkin. You may also need to support your work with your other hand from the inside of the pumpkin. PLEASE DO NOT CUT YOURSELF!!! If you are finding that in the process of cutting out a particularly large piece the surface of the pumpkin is becoming too unstable, you might wish to cut a bit on both sides of the cut-out prolonging the stability for as long as possible. Also keep a bottle of hobby glue handy. You might accidently cut off or pull off small pieces.

Done At Last!

And there it is. All done and it takes a good picture too.