How to Sculpt a Pumpkin

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So for the last few years I’ve been watching Halloween Wars on the Food Network. It combines two of my favorite hobbies which is cooking and art. One of the things they do that I’ve been wanting to try for years is pumpkin sculpting. Pumpkin sculpting is much different than carving. Pumpkin carving conjures up images of the traditional toothy grinned pumpkins that you would see on anyone’s door stop. Pumpkin sculpting however is a completely different animal.

As I’ve stated before I’ve never had formal art training, my parents were artists and I guess I just come by it naturally. I’ve always wanted to learn how to sculpt. I watch shows like Face Off and I’m completely amazed by the artistic talents the contestants have when it comes to sculpting. However, on the show Halloween Wars they’ve recently had a fantastic artist who sculpts pumpkins and gourds. Ray Villafane was an art teacher for a high school for a number of years until he decided to go full time with his sculpting talents. After looking through his portfolio I got inspired to try my hand at this and since pumpkins are plentiful at the moment what better time than this to try? I went out and bought a few pumpkins and some carving supplies and sat down to try my hand at this.

If you would like to try, here are the things you might need:


1.) You will need a pumpkin (obviously): You don’t need to choose a big one, but I wouldn’t choose one of the miniature pumpkins either. I believe the one I chose is called a sugar baby.  I cut a hole in the bottom to gut it so that I could keep the stem attached. Also it’s easier to illuminate the pumpkin using Christmas lights if you have them fed through the bottom where you can easily have the cord coming from the bottom rather than the top.

2.) Knives: I used the bigger knife to cut a hole in the bottom, and the smaller paring knife for the larger detailed pieces.

3.) Sculpting / Carving Tools: This can be a little hard to find. I actually bought my set at Michaels arts and crafts store in the clay section. It’s a little weird though because a pumpkins texture is a cross between clay and wood. You’re definitely going to want a set that has a “ribbon” tool. This tool will make it very easy to smooth out the carved lines and create flat surfaces.

4.) Potato Peeler: This makes taking that top hard layer of the pumpkin off. It will cut your carving time in half!

5.) A Bowl for the Seeds: One of the rewards of gutting a pumpkin would be baking the seeds. Now this post isn’t really about baking pumpkin seeds but I’ll give you quick instructions on how.

6.) A Surface Covering: This craft can get messy so it’s good to have something covering the surface. For this I used an open paper bag.

So first before you start anything, you want to gut your pumpkin. As stated above, I cut from the bottom so that it’s a bit easier to light. If you remove the seeds mix them with a about 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and bake for around 40 minutes at 300 degrees.

pumpkin2In traditional pumpkin carving you usually sketch out what you want to cut. This is a bit more difficult to do with pumpkin sculpting since there are so many layers and things to take into consideration. I found that it was best to take a moment to really look at the pumpkin and consider what kind of face would fit the pumpkin, rather than making the pumpkin fit the face. Once you have an idea, pick up your potato peeler and take off that first thick dark orange layer.

Once that top layer is gone, take your paring knife and lightly sketch out what you think the face should look like. If you aren’t going to be sculpting the eyes, then make sure you cut them out before you start doing and real detailed cutting.



After you kind of sketch it out with your paring knife, start carving out the features. This is easier said than done; I’ll be honest. I have issues drawing noses and I had a lot of trouble sculpting a nose. I actually found this You Tube video to be extremely helpful. Even though the face wasn’t exactly like how I was doing mine it helped show me how to shape certain parts like the nose or cheeks. Once you have your sketch done, it’s a matter of removing layers. This was a little weird though because I’ve played with clay before and for me it’s about adding clay to create the things you want to see. With pumpkin sculpting it’s really about taking away. Another thing I’m honestly still getting used to is the depth of the pumpkin skin. It’s okay to dig deep for deep lines and creases.


 The old saying “If at first you don’t succeed- try, try again” applies here. Truthfully my first attempt at pumpkin sculpting was really bad. This pumpkin was actually my second attempt, so perhaps it was just a matter of getting used to the tools and seeing how they work. Understand that this is something that will take practice. But first and foremost, it should be fun. If you find yourself getting frustrated, take a break, let your eyes rest, look at some guides online to help, and then come back and try again. I’ve also found that when dealing with cheeks or wrinkles that it helps to smile or make the face you’re going for in a mirror. For the wrinkles, try cutting a small “v” and then rounding the edges out so it’s not so “carved” looking. In the end here’s how my pumpkin turned out. It’s a far cry from Mr. Villafane’s pumpkins, but I think it looks happy enough. 🙂

Oh and as an extra tip, I loved how this guy turned out so much I decided to keep him in my house….BIG MISTAKE….Pumpkins are wild creatures and thus enjoy being outside in the open air. Poor Bob as I so affectionately named him decided to grow a goatee of mold about four days into his stay. I didn’t take a picture of this, as it was just too disturbing and my heart was just too broken. Please enjoy these beautiful pictures in loving memory of Bob. *sniffle* He’s….just so…happy…..T_T.

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In Loving Memory of Bob as he inspired its design. 🙁

-Heather Astaneh