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Details of the Pumpkin Carving

by Michael Chu
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A couple weeks ago, I did a surface pumpkin carving that used the depth of the rind to control how much light was emitted. Several people e-mailed and wrote in asking for an article on how I did the pumpkin carving. I'll try to explain how I went about performing the carve (there are only a few pictures because once I started carving I didn't want to stop and wash my hands so I could use my camera).

I started by designing a stencil. You can do this by hand - just draw the picture your want to carve and scale it by using a photocopier so it is the right size for your pumpkin. I used a computer with Adobe Illustrator, which, admittedly, is overkill (although I used Illustrator 10, which is still overkill). Using Illustrator, I drew up the design and scaled it and printed onto letter size paper (8.5 x 11 in.).

I placed the stencil on the pumpkin and secured it in place with tape. Some portions of the stencil needed to be cut or torn or folded over just a bit to get it to be flush on the curved surface. Once the stencil is secured, I used a thumbtack or pushpin to punch little holes along the lines. I spaced the pushpin holes about 1/4 in. apart unless there was great detail or an intersection of lines. Then I'd add additional holes as necessary.

I removed the stencil and now I can still see the general pattern on my pumpkin because I have enough little holes to form the pattern. I saved the stencil for reference and even marked it up with notes concerning how deep to cut each region.

Using a paring knife, I connected the dots.

Now I had to shave down the pumpkin to the desired thicknesses. I used calipers to measure the thickness of the pumpkin where I had cut the top off so I could get an approximate measurement of how thick the rind was. Using that as a maximum depth, I worked out how deep I wanted each part of the design. The deeper it's cut, the lighter in color it will be when lit.

Using the calipers, I measured the needed depth on a slim screwdriver and taped off the head of the screw driver at that depth. I then plunged the screwdriver into the pumpkin along each cut line so it would be cut to the appropriate depth. If the screwdriver didn't go in easily, I took the paring knife and cut a parallel line next to the line I was trying to attack. When I cut a parallel line less than a millimeter away, it was easy to remove the sliver by tilting the blade of the knife. Then I continued to plunge the screwdriver around the perimeter of the shape I was working on. Once the perimeter depth was marked, I used the paring knife to cut from inside the region out to the sides, lifting pumpkin rind off until I achieved a somewhat uniform depth. Occasionally, I scraped with the screwdriver in harder to reach areas.

Working segment by segment (and constantly reapplying tape to the screwdriver at different depths), I managed to carve out the entire scene in a couple hours.

I then looked into how to preserve the pumpkin. With that much exposed flesh, it was sure to lose moisture and begin to wilt in no time. I had read that petroleum jelly can help seal in the moisture and protect the pumpkin, I lathered petroleum jelly over all the exposed surfaces inside and out.

Less than six days later, this is what my pumpkin looked like. The rind was so soft that when I touched it, I left finger marks in the skin of the pumpkin.

Don't leave the pumpkin out where it can be exposed to the sun. It starts to bake a bit and that softens up the pumpkin. The pumpkin also begin to rot faster and promote the growth of mold on the surface. I don't know if the petroleum jelly helped, but I do know that the sun didn't help.
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Written by Michael Chu
Published on October 22, 2004 at 12:25 PM
6 comments on Details of the Pumpkin Carving:(Post a comment)

On September 13, 2005 at 07:08 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I don't know if you've seen this site, but I enjoyed it.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:08 PM, rolandog (guest) said...
Ahh, great tips, and great link anonymous.

On September 13, 2005 at 07:09 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I cannot make out the image. What is it?

On September 13, 2005 at 07:31 PM, Michael Chu said...
Sorry, I forgot to add a link to the original article. It's a rendition of Yosemite Valley from Inspiration Point.

On October 18, 2006 at 04:44 PM, Marpenmar (guest) said...
Subject: Pumpkin
Could you not take a picture of it lit?

On October 19, 2006 at 12:41 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: Pumpkin
Marpenmar wrote:
Could you not take a picture of it lit?

There are two pictures of the design lit in the first article.

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