Okay! So I'm Interested! How Do I Do This Thing?
So you've read about what pumpkin sculture is and the story of how I got started and you've even seen some pumpkin sculpture and you're saying, "This is cool! I gotta do me some of these!" but you might be having some doubts. The biggest doubt is whether or not you've got the stuff to do this.
Got What It Takes?
First of all you're interested and you're reading this. That's always an excellent start. Like anything else in life, if it's worth doing a little bit, it's worth doing a lot. Be prepared to do some work, but have fun doing it.
Next, are you patient? Pumpkin sculpture is not a fast process, not to do it well anyways. If you are not patient, then this is not the hobby for you. You will be frustrated by even the simplest of patterns and take ill-considered shortcuts all the time ruining your pattern, or worse yet, making the face of your pumpkin fall in. It's not pretty. I've seen it. Take up race car driving instead.
Finally you need to be confident. Being scared of messing up is okay as it will add a little spice and excitement to the job and increase your satisfaction when you are done. But if you don't believe you can do something you will likely fail. If you don't think you can do a pattern, choose something simpler, carve it and use the success of doing that to build your confidence and carry you to more complex patterns. I do love that, "OMG I did it!" buzz at the end of a sculpture. As a warning: don't waste too much time staring at your lit masterpiece in a darkened room. Keep it to an hour, okay?
Starting Your World-Reknowned Career As a Pumpkin Sculptor
So where do you start? You'll need a pattern (or two), some tools and a pumpkin. Let's start with the pattern and the tools.
If you're just starting out I highly recommend anything by Pumpkin Masters. Their basic package comes with a small collection of patterns and simple tools to start with. USE THESE TOOLS. The basic tools are usually some sort of a poking device and a pumpkin saw. These tools are typically made of plastic and blunt edged metal that will cut pumpkin flesh but not human flesh. This is especially important if you are working with children.
What tools shouldn't you use? Don't use anything sharp. I do. I'm cautious and I still get a lot of little cuts. So don't use x-acto blades or anything like that until you have some experience under your belt and NEVER with children.
Also, never use any high speed power tools. Pumpkin flesh is very soft and power tools are meant to work with metal and wood. I know someone who though it would be cool to use a Dremel tool to carve his pumpkin a few years ago. It was weeks before that room stopped smelling like pumpkin and he's still finding dried bits of pumpkin. Be warned!
Now you need to pick a pattern. Which one should you pick? Make it a combination of something cool that you really want to see on a pumpkin and something that doesn't intimidate you with it's complexity. No photographs on pumpkins your first year. Build up your carving skills first.
Oh, and it should say on your pattern that you have permission to photocopy the pattern for personal use. Do it! Keep your original in the book and hack up a copy. You can also refer to the original while carving.
Picking the Precisely Perfect Pumpkin
What goes into picking the perfect pumpkin from the pristine pumpkin patch? Quantity and quality do. More precisely, the size of the pumpkin and its suitability to be sculpted play crucial roles in your decision.
They say size matters. It choosing your perfect pumpkin, bigger is not always better. The largest pattern you're likely to have in your hot little hands will be on a standard sheet of paper (8.5X11 or A4). The carving surface of your pumpkin should match the size of the image to be carved onto it. The pumpkin should never dwarf the image to be sculpted into it or else the pumpkin becomes the focus of the exercise. However, if your pumpkin is too small, your carving will wrap around the pumpkin instead of being strictly on the front. Not only will your carving lose its effect by requiring the viewer to move to see it all, but it's likely that your image will be imperfectly transposed onto the surface (try to wrap a piece of paper around a ball). Match the intended size of your image to the carving surface of the pumpkin.
You must also assure the quality of your pumpkin. The best surface on which to sculpt is one that is mostly flat as I've already mentioned. Be sure that the carving surface is mostly free of blemishes and inspect the entire surface of the pumpkin to be certain that it is completely free of bruises (discolored soft spots that not resist pressure on them as the rest of the surface does). Take your time to do this inspection and ignore the glances from other shoppers who will walk in after you, pick a pumpkin and leave. This is art, damnit!
You might also consider taking copies of your patterns with you shopping. Actually put the paper onto the surface of the pumpkin to see how well the pattern fits the pumpkin. You should get an idea pretty much right away if you have a match. If none of your patterns works with a pumpkin, don't buy it no matter how much you are attached to it!
When you've found the perfect pumpkin and have purchased it, guard it with your life. Be sure to have towels or blankets or bubble wrap in your car to keep your pumpkin from rolling around and bumping into things. Your unbruised fruit could end up getting bruised on the way home!
Get To Work Michaelangelo!
Now that you've adopted your very own first ever pumpkin sculpture raw material, it's time to get down to the real work! First, wash your acquisition. A garden hose and a clean rag will do. Pay careful attention to the face you will be carving. Dry it off and take it back into the house. Now comes the fun part!
Cut a hole into your pumpkin using your pumpkin saw. WAIT!!! First ask yourself are you planning to use real or artificial candles? Real candles produce a much better effect, but the artificial candles are easier to light on a windy day. If you are going to use real candles, consider opening up your pumpkin on the bottom to improve access to the candles, eliminate reaching past goopy pumpkin and reduce singed knuckle hairs. Otherwise a hole in the top will do just fine.
Clean out the inside of your pumpkin using the scoop provided with your carving kit or an ice cream scoop. Either will do. Set aside some of the seeds and google yourself up a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds. They'll be a great snack to enjoy later while admiring your creation.
Next, use your scoop to thin out the back of the side of the pumpkin you will be carving to a depth of about an inch. Use a pin to gauge the depth but use sparingly as even little pinholes can be seen when the pumpkin is lit up.
Tape your pattern to the surface of your pumpkin. Do your best to make your entire pattern fit the surface of the pumpkin without wrinkles happening. You can help this by trimming off parts of the paper not containing a pattern and trying to contain wrinkles to parts of the pattern where overlap can occur without affecting the integrity of the image. If none of this helps, wing it! And pick a flatter pumpkin next time! I did warn you earlier!
Now you are ready to get started! On your pattern there are a series of black shapes that define the picture you are going to carve. Take the little poker tool and make little pinpricks at the edge of the shapes through the paper and into the pumpkin. When you are done, you will have transfered the pattern from the paper onto the surfact of the pumpkin in the form of tiny little holes. Keep the holes close together; about 2-3mm apart or closer if there are a lot of fine detail.
Yes, you're right. It's pretty tedious. And your hand might cramp. Your fingers might deform into the shape of the tool. I've developed calluses on my fingertips!
Is there a better way? I've heard of people swearing by carbon paper or transfer paper but I'm not comfortable with anything that might rub off or smudge. I've though about using a light projector to shine the picture onto the pumpkin, but it would be hard to see what I've pinned out already, plus you could ruin your pattern if your pumpkin gets moved somewhere in the middle of pinning. Nope, I'm satisfied with my current method. Let me know if you come up with something better!
Done yet? You are! Good. After you've taken a second or third check to be sure you haven't missed anything, gently remove the paper. It's probably a mess. The holes you've put in it will have weaked it combined juice from the pumpkin soaking into the paper will make it flimsy. It might just come off in pieces. So be it! That's why you didn't use the original!
Take a look at the pattern on the pumpkin. If you are having trouble seeing it, get yourself a handful of flour and rub in over the surface of the pumpkin. It should get into all the little holes and create a lot of little white dots. Now you should see your pattern. Compare it to the original and see all the spots you missed. Whoops! Try and add them in by hand.
Now you are finally ready to begin carving. Keep a small bowl of flour handy in case you need to refresh your pattern. Now pick the smallest feature in your pattern and cut it out using your pumpkin saw. Why not the biggest feature? Because that would weaken the surface of the pumpkin and make it harder to carve the smaller features. Finish with the big features. Remember when I mentioned that patience was important? The image will appear soon enough.
Finished? Good. Put in your candles and light it up! Not too exciting? That's okay. If it's nighttime, turn out the lights. Otherwise, take the lit pumpkin to some dark part of your home.
There! Isn't that cool? It will look awesome on Hallowe'en night too!