Submitted by: Ken Rohrer, University of Phoenix faculty
Title: Perfect Pumpkins
Grade level: Advanced high school
Time Period: About 5 - 6 hours for large pumpkins, 2 - 3 for small pumpkins
Last year (2013) we carved our first Jack-O-Lantern after watching a video on YouTube from Villafane Studios. It had never occurred to me that pumpkins made good subjects to carve. As you can see yourself by visiting the link, there are many ways of carving your pumpkin. You can carve it like a regular sculpture like the one on this page or put the traditional cut on steroids by removing layers and making intricate cuts.
Last year the sculpture appeared too flat and "wooden." However, from my experience this year I discovered that not all pumpkins are the same when it comes to carving. Last year the pumpkin was firm and was easy to carve all the way down to the deepest cut. This year when I got farther down, the pumpkin became "mushy" and was very difficult to carve and still have firm edges. I actually had to compress parts with my fingers. I later read that Ray Villafane abandons some pumpkins when he discovers they are more difficult to carve.
I was surprised to hear Ray say he sells his pumpkin sculptures for over $1,000. This is surprising because the sculptures will only last for a month at most. There are now many resources on the internet, both from Villafane and now many others. People are posting their work online on Facebook and on blogs. This should provide you with many visuals for your students. Below I'll include a few I found that were different from last year.
For a classroom of 20-30 students, you will need to get fairly small pumpkins. Another option is to have your students get them on their own so they can choose both the size and the shape. In my area, a few local growers sell small pumpkins in bulk. They cost around 40-50¢ each. You have to let them know far in advance, however. If you want large pumpkins, then you will have to pay a higher price. The cheapest large pumpkins I found in my area were at Sam's Club.
Scholastic has a page that shows how you can integrate other subject areas into your pumpkin carving. You can have students figure out the mass of the pumpkin, for example. There's even a document that explains how students can grow the pumpkins in the classroom. For some of your more inexperienced students, you may want them to design their pumpkins ahead of time by sketching them on paper.
Below is the step-by-step process on creating your pumpkin carving sculpture. Click on the images for larger views:
Above you can see the carving tools you will need for your pumpkin. The finer wire tools will be used when you put on the finishing touches. The larger scraper tool next to the sponge is what you will use on most of your sculpture. Click on all the images on this page for larger images.
This is the pumpkin I used this year. It was a larger pumpkin about 20" tall. It had a few blemishes on it but I knew I was going to carve off the front so it made no difference. This year I didn't cut off the top of the pumpkin. I won't be lighting it up because it shortened the life of my pumpkin last year.
Before you do any carving you have to prepare your "canvas" by peeling off the top orange skin of the pumpkin. Use the large scraper and work quickly.
While still using the large scraper, cut a horizontal line for the location of the eyes below the forehead brow and the outline of the nose.
The outline of the eyeballs is created and the brow refined. The outline includes the eyelids which will be carved out later. The front of the nose is not carved at all because it will be the part of the face sticking out the farthest. Everything else is created with the subtractive method.
Further refinements of the eyelids, eyeballs and a spot for the iris and pupil. The nostrils are also formed. The top of the lip is formed, making sure there is a little valley going down that will later form the top center of the lips.
The outline of the mouth is created. The cheeks are further refined as well as the center of the brow. The deepest cuts will come in the nostrils and on the inside of both eyes next to the nose. You want to cut as far as you can without cutting through to the inside.
The mouth is created by cutting a thin, deep line in the center and then flattening out the front of the lips. The sides of the mouth are deepened. I soon discover that I made the face too big and won't be able to fit the chin. I don't think this will be a problem, however.
The smallest tools are used at this point. They are used to smooth out some of the shapes and rough edges. Details around the eyes are also worked on.
I used steel wool to buff the outside of the pumpkin. This particular pumpkin had some mushy, soft spots that made it more difficult to buff.
This is the finished piece. Vaseline was rubbed on the surface of the pumpkin to preserve it a little longer. Last year's pumpkin turned black with mold in spots.
Same view of the pumpkin with the light above the pumpkin to show the shadows. I like both views the same. I think they both give different effects.
Preserving your Pumpkin Sculpture
Last year I didn't do anything to preserve my pumpkin sculpture. Four days after finishing, it was already changing colors and shape. This year I decided it was worth it to make it last longer so I put regular bleach in a spray bottle (One tablespoon of bleach per quart of water) and sprayed the area that was carved out to kill any bacteria. After the bleach was dry, I rubbed regular Vaseline into all the carved areas. Experts say your pumpkin will last longer if you keep your pumpkin out of direct sunlight and in cooler temperatures.
House of the Zombie Pumpkins - This site shows another way to carve your pumpkins. If you have your students do these, they will need to create stencils first. Some websites sell stencils.