Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Harry Potter Pumpkins (and how to make your own)

Yeah I know I haven't been posting in a long time, and I should let you know right away that that's not likely to change.  Nonetheless, I love carving pumpkins, and given the amount of work I put into them (including creating patterns from actual pictures, applying my patterns to the pumpkins, gutting the pumpkins, and then actually carving them) I wanted to share them with a wider audience.  I'm actually pleased with how they turned out, having learned some way to improve on last year's small issues.

Image description: group shot of four Harry Potter-themed pumpkins, lit with candles.  From left to right: Harry, Ron, Voldemort, Hermione.

More pictures below the fold
Image description: Carved pumpkin of Harry's face, left side lit, right side in shadow, lit with candle. 
Image description: Carved pumpkin of Ron's face, lit with candle.
Image description: Carved pumpkin of Hermione's face in profile, lit with candle.
Image description: Voldemort as captured on pumpkin flesh, right hand extended outward, left hand holding wand, lit by candle.
These collectively took about 12 hours of work.  I had already chosen my pictures for the patterns and had them printed, but I used a pencil to circle areas I would cut out, and to shade in areas to indicate where I would use the knife to dig out shaded areas.  The most difficult was Voldemort's pattern, and that was only made more difficult because of the extra thick skin of the pumpkin assigned to him (lesson quickly learned).  Harry was probably the second-most difficult because of his glasses.  It was hard sliding the knife to shade around the frame without damaging it.

Tips on making your own

Basically, you can make a pattern out of any photo, but some are more easily translated into pumpkin patterns than others.  When I was searching for pictures to base my patterns on I looked for images that had significant lighted areas and dark areas.  Images that are too light won't work so well.  

Here's the image I finally chose for Harry:

Poster from HP6 of Harry Potter
I then copied the image of the poster into a word document, made it as large as I could (which involved some tweaking of the margins), then changed the picture to grayscale.  To get the varied tones I needed I played around with the contrast and brightness to get this:

Image description: Poster of HP6 with Harry cropped and changed to grayscale
Each pattern ended up with a different combination of brightness vs. contrast, so it's more of an "I'll know it when I see it" type thing.  Basically the goal is to get three shades: black (which will be pieces not cut out), white (pieces to cut out so the light shines through), and gray (which will be areas shaded by scraping the skin of the pumpkin).  

Once I printed them off, I used a pencil to outline the white areas, and to fill in the gray areas.  I used the white only as a highlight--if it looked like it could be either-or, I opted for the gray shade.  Sadly, I did not scan the final pattern so you could see the penciled areas, but you can probably figure out what is what from the carving.

Transferring the patterns then was simple, which involved the poke method most pattern books tell you.  After I had dotted the pattern, I took a permanent marker to connect the dots, using my pattern as a guide since these can look a little complicated in dot form.  For the gray areas, I filled them in with my marker so I would know to scrape them entirely, and to keep them separated from the white areas.  

Next, I gutted and scraped each pumpkin, scraping the pattern wall to about one inch thickness (I actually went a little thin with a couple of the pumpkins, since it's hard to be exact).  For the carving, you have to scrape out the gray areas first, otherwise the whole thing will collapse if you do it after cutting out the white.  I've found nothing compares to a paring knife in this step, as it has a good size and shape for sliding along the border lines and then leveraging pieces out.  I would press the knife along the lines, and slowly pry little chunks out, careful not to destroy the areas bordering it.  I went about 1/4 deep, maybe a bit more.  Depending on the thickness of your wall, it doesn't take much to get the shading right.  And since I used a knife, it's not really uniform, which actually helps give it texture.  Only after I removed all the shaded areas did I use my carving saw (which I got in a kit--I just give away the book that comes with it) to remove the white pieces.  Since my walls were a little thin, I had to be extra careful with this step, and found that carving out the sides attached to gray parts first helped a lot, since the motion of the saw would have snapped these thinned out areas.  

When I was done, I sprayed all of my pumpkins with a weak bleach-water solution, which I've read helps preservation.  This is the first year I've done it though, so we will see how effective it is.  I carved these only last night, so hopefully they will make it through the week.  Right now I'm keeping them indoors since we're experiencing some heavy windstorms.  

Overall, what I've noticed is that even when I've created a pattern of someone's face, and marked it up accordingly, it stops looking like a face--but don't worry.  Even though it looks strange, or looks like something is just not right, usually it will turn out fine once lit up.  There were a couple of times when I thought I should change something as I was carving it, but I recommend not doing that, especially if you've created a pattern with an exact picture.  Sometimes the patterns don't come together at all until you light the pumpkin up and get the full effect.

Don't be intimidated by the time, either--it only took me 12 hours because I was weird and wanted to do four, and really the most time-consuming thing was gutting and scraping the insides, especially since I had to sort and bake the seeds of four pumpkins (and the pumpkin I used for Harry is twice the size of the others).  But the actual carving and scraping of the patterns didn't take all that long for each one.  I don't have an exact time on that, since I was baking batches of seeds, and was watching a couple of movies while carving, but once the pattern is on there with everything marked accordingly, all you have to do is follow it exactly.

Hopefully this helps.  If you have any questions about carving and need more tips, feel free to leave a comment or email me.


Nicole said...

Those are AMAZING!!! Thank you for sharing!

FilthyGrandeur said...

thank you! i'm really happy with how they turned out.

TAb said...

These are truly fantastic! Thank you for the carving info.

Anonymous said...

Why no more posting?

Daniel Waters said...

Hehe, you are as much of a dork as I am!

FilthyGrandeur said...

i certainly try. i'm already thinking about what i'll carve this year.

Manybos said...

These are some amazing Pumpkins!

Brandon said...

Cool blog, I subscribed. Would you mind following mine too?

Lola X said...

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Lola x

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