With Halloween rolling around, you don’t have to be an artist – or even think you’re extra creative – to feel the pull of the pumpkin. The pumpkin reminds us of our childhood, of times when the whole family gave their best. We knew our pumpkins would rot if they weren’t perfect and that would be the end of the embarrassment. And that’s true today, my friends. Pumpkins are still rotting. So take the chance!
Last year I sculpted some puppy pumpkins and sent the photos to the editor. So I was invited to write this piece. Even if you think you are not an artist, I recommend you give this a try. Why? Because Bark and his readers inspired me to even start pumpkin carving.
My technique is to remove the skin and shape the flesh of the pumpkin, varying the wall thickness to create the design. When you step into the cavity of the pumpkin, you have a dark pumpkin with a blazing hot yellow color inside when it is lit. However, if you don’t cut all the way through, you can create a lot of layers of paint.
• Find a photo or snap a snapshot of the dog you want to sculpt, either in front of you or in a side view. Print it out on a sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper for reference.
• Open the pumpkin. Use a sturdy knife (with a 6- or 7-inch blade) just like you would for a traditional pumpkin. Create an opening at the top large enough to put your hand in. To make sure the lid doesn’t fall in, turn the knife so that the tip is toward the handle and the handle toward you. This creates a shelf on which the lid can rest. Work carefully until the lid is free, then lift it out.
(As a reminder, don’t put your free or pumpkin-like hand in front of the blade when cutting.) Clean your pumpkin.
How to make your own dog lantern
You can find step-by-step instructions here
1. Take the large loop tool, hold it flat against the pumpkin, and lift the handle so the tool is at an angle. Drag the tool over the pumpkin as if you were peeling a potato. don’t dig too hard. The deep orange skin comes off like wood shavings. Just scrape off the area you plan to use for your design. (There’s no need to scrape off all of the pumpkin unless you want to.)
2. Next, take the little triangle mini-ribbon tool and draw your dog in the area you scraped cleanly. Use most of the scraped off space. To draw, hold the tool perpendicular to the pumpkin and gently touch it on the surface. Tilt it like a pencil and gently drag it over the light meat (be careful not to press too hard as this tool is fragile). If done correctly, a small pumpkin ribbon will come off. Do the best you can – remember, it’s just a pumpkin.
3. Use the square end of the depth tool to draw the outline of your dog (the line between the dog and the background). Again, place this tool perpendicular to the pumpkin surface and hold it by your drawn line. Dig in a little (about 1/8 of an inch) to widen the outline and make it stand out further. Do this all around, which will make the dog pop out of the background a little. Then repeat this step again until the depth is just over 1/4 inch. (If the wall of your pumpkin is thinner than 1 1/2 inches, just take the first eighth off; you can always dig deeper later.)
4. Take the large loop tool and insert the tip into the groove you just created. Lean the tool so that it bites into the outside edge of the groove and carefully cut off that outline, making this groove a little wider. Now your dog is really sitting forward.
At this point, it’s time to think about which part of your design you want to be darker (make the pumpkin wall thicker) and which part you want to shine brighter (thin out the pumpkin wall). For example, if you want your dog’s eyes to glow, carve very close to the pumpkin cave and even punch through completely.
5. Carve away the area around your dog a little. Then shape the ear. The pumpkin shown in the photos has its ear folded so that the top is closer to the viewer and the ear flap is cut back a bit to make it look like it is further away. First, use the Depth Tool as described in Step 3. Just dig yourself in a little. Then, as in step 4, use the larger loop tool to cut away the outside edge of the groove. Once you’ve removed it, you can soften the look by carefully cutting away the remaining hard edge at an angle.
Check the pumpkin wall. If there is still enough thickness, you can make the groove a little deeper, which will make the ear stand out more. After you have outlined the ears, do the forehead, cheeks, eyes and muzzle. If your dog’s mouth is open or has a ball in it, outline and shape the ball, tongue, and lower jaw. Repeat these steps to edit the rest of the design.
6. Use the mini-ribbon tools to create the fur and add a little bit of detail to the detail. Experiment with these tools to see which one gives the best result. In this example, the dog’s hair was created using the triangle miniband tool.
Once you are done sculpting your dog, you can sculpt a crescent moon over your shoulder (or any other design detail that appeals to you). To do this, just draw the shape, outline and go through the steps again.
Many of my students have built in battery-operated lights Within carve the pumpkin and so to speak in the light. If you light your pumpkin and feel like it’s too dark, just carve some back. Take the loop tool and carefully scrape some pumpkin out of the cavity. Be careful and go slowly. Make a few scratches, then check your progress with the light.
So these are the basic steps: trace with the depth tool, feather, or remove the outside edge and gently smooth it with the large loop tool. Repeat this process. Keep in mind that whatever you cut away will thin the gourd wall, making that area lighter when the gourd is lit.
Here are my final words on the subject. You are you, so you will shape like you, not me or any other artist. That makes art, art. Remember, you don’t have to do a dog portrait – this is Halloween and you can do a vampire dog or whatever you want. Relax and don’t give up! When the big night rolls around, light the inside of the pumpkin. (If it’s a giant, like the ones I use a lot, a battery powered camping lantern works fine. For a classic size pumpkin, try tea lights, a votive candle, or a glow light to activate it.) Then, step back and admire your craft!