What, in the name of all that is round and orange, are you going to carve? Here’s a question for you. Are you a sculptor or do you have any experience with this type of art? If not, pumpkin rind is not the most forgiving medium to start with. Don’t panic, you don’t have to enroll in a class or anything. But can I make a suggestion? Don’t bite off more than you can chew.…and I’m not talking about eating pumpkin although a small portion of raw pumpkin rind can be very filling. I’ve been an art teacher for a number of years now and I’ve learned that success encourages learning and progress. Give yourself a chance for success by avoiding too big a challenge your first time out. Even if you have sculpted other mediums, pumpkin is…well…different. Its firm but fragile. It varies from pumpkin to pumpkin. The texture will try to work against you. It’s wet at first and begins changing as soon as you start carving. If you spend too long on a pumpkin, you’ll notice the consistency you were becoming accustomed to begins to deteriorate.
Pumpkin carving is a subtractive technique. That means you take away from the original form to make your art. The most common comparison would be stone or wood carving. Once you remove the rind, there’s no putting it back. You are also limited by the thickness of the rind. You may go too deep and then what?
Traditional carving can make use of patterns, stencils and drawing directly on the orange skin. This won’t help you when your removing the skin entirely. You can draw a sketch or have an idea in mind before you start…But be flexible. Allow your first carvings to go their own way a bit. You’ll be gaining experience and skills as you proceed.
I’ve carved hundreds of pumpkins and, truly, I have never ruined one. From the beginning of a carving, I’m allowing for adjustments as I discover the characteristics of each pumpkin. This frame of mind will increase your chances for success.
So. What to carve? Something hyper-realistic or simple? Be honest with yourself and choose. Not sure you’re ready for a portrait of John Wayne? Maybe a tiki face? They are of endless variety, simple in design (they’re primitive carvings after all), recognizable without needing to be a likeness….They are also pretty fun to do. Google tiki and totem images. Not interested? Any type of stylized face will do. By this, I mean a face that is cartoony or abstract rather than realistic. If you’re ready, realistic is always impressive. A bigger challenge may be to do a likeness…carving a specific person’s face. Keep in mind that even an accurate depiction could fall short of your expectations when rendered in translucent pumpkin rind. You will find yourself adapting your subject into a form of relief carving. A relief carving is a sculpture that is much shallower than life but can be realistic. A common example is the portrait of Washington on a quarter.
For this tutorial, I’ll include examples of several types of subject matter but will be approached with the assumption that we are carving a face. One can’t say too much about the benefit of reference material. Tacking up a picture to look at will help at much as anything I can tell you. One of my favorite things to do is to set up a mirror in front of me while I carve. One can make infinite interesting faces in their reflection to use as source material. It’s not that you’re doing a self portrait…You’re studying the way the face moves in expressive ways. For this approach, I recommend carving with the door locked.
Take the skin off first using a large ribbon tool. One with a flat edge on top will work best. It may take a few tries to get the right angle and the right force and speed down, but this is generally a fast and easy step. Have a bucket or trashcan ready to catch all the shredded pumpkin. I like to cover the table surface with tarp or plastic so clean up is easier. You can also expect a lap full of wet shreds. Do you have an apron you could put on? If not, lay a towel across your lap.