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2021 Halloween Pumpkin Carving

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

2021.10.31 - I love carving pumpkins during Halloween, but since my son was born, I just haven't had the time or energy to make it happen. It has a lot to do with the fact that I am of the opinion that if I am going to spend time doing something, I want to be proud of the result and hopefully have learned something along the way. This is still the case, but this year I tried to convince myself that doing something is better than doing nothing at all, so I chose something easy that I knew my son would enjoy.

From top left to bottom right: 2010 Invader Zim, 2014 RWBY, 2015 Jack Skellington, 2017 NASA

I enjoy Halloween pumpkin carving, but I have to admit it didn't become a thing in my adult life until a group of friends decided to have pumpkin carving parties while watching Halloween movies. We couldn't do it every year, but before having our first kid we were reasonably consistent. On the years we had time for it, I tried to increase the difficulty of each subsequent design as I gained more confidence with this strange, ephemeral medium. Of course, this consistency ended once parenthood and a global pandemic recalibrated our priorities. After a 3-year hiatus, this year I decided that even if I didn't have time to keep progressing, I would compromise by at least doing something simple to avoid artistic atrophy.

Right now my son is obsessed with Totoro, and it is also one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films, so I decided to make a simple version of Totoro in front of the moon using a shallow relief. The first step was to find an image, so I went with the version of Totoro standing in the rain with Satsuki (prior to gaining an umbrella, but minus the leaf for simplicity). I used a 4H pencil to sketch out the basic form at the scale I needed to fill the open space on the pumpkin. Once I was happy with the general drawing, I used a traditional HB mechanical pencil to hard-line a copy of the drawing to something I could easily use as a stencil.

The difficult step is getting the drawing from the page to the curved surface of the pumpkin. I find that cutting down the page to the image helps so it can lay a little flatter, but there is always distortion (you may notice that Totoro is a little trimmer on the pumpkin than I drew him on a flat surface). I then used a razor blade to cut the lines from the interior details moving outward.

Back when I was doing some woodworking in college, I purchased a very cheap set of wood chisels from a discount store. They were pretty terrible when used on wood, and never kept a sharp edge, but they were all I had for many years. After I finally purchased some quality chisels for woodworking, this old set was relegated to art projects and they have proven to be very useful. I generally use a large "V" chisel to carve in the lines/edges, and a large rounded gouge to clean out material. I also have a few small carving tools which help with the small details. Over time, I have found that keeping the gouge's cuts in the same direction looks much better than random cuts.

After getting Totoro carved out, I made the moon behind him by free-handing a circle with the V-chisel, and then cutting in with the gouge about 1/4 inch. I had considered carving the broad details of the moon into it by varying the surface thickness, but the dwindling light and my increasingly impatient son (who was ready for his first real trick-or-treat outing) reminded me to keep it simple. I also wanted to do more fine-tuning and clean up, but by the time I had the broad strokes completed, the sun was setting and it was time to get outside to hand out candy.

Part of the reason that I like cutting a shallow relief instead of cutting all the way through the pumpkin is that it can be enjoyed both during the day and at night. I also like that it tends to last longer. When I placed one of my camping lights on the inside (I don't like to use candles because they just destroy the pumpkin faster and are too dim), I noticed that the wall of the pumpkin behind the carving was still a bit too thick. I considered cutting deeper across the entire exterior, but that would have taken a long time. Instead, I grabbed a kitchen scraper and scraped across the inside of the pumpkin with my hand opposing on the exterior so I could feel if I was scraping too far. It worked really well, though I didn't have the time to make it completely uniform.

In the end, it was nice to draw and carve again, and I was very happy to see that my drawing and carving skills hadn't atrophied completely over the past 4 years. I am extremely thankful that my wife was willing to wrangle the boy while I was having fun. Hopefully, I can keep doing these sorts of things in the future so I can build new skills, instead of just trying not to lose old ones.

Happy Halloween!

© 2017-2021 Shaun C Tarpley Photography

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