Operation: Something To Crow About

Ever have one of those days when you look back and wonder how you got everything done on the must do list?  How about two days in a row of that?  Three?  Well, I can honestly say the last FOUR days have been one for the ages.  It is fairly late on Sunday and about the first time I’ve been able to sit for a few minutes not to mention reliving my college years sleep cycle.  I’ll leave out the details for now since the last four days have been filled with upcoming blog topics, but for a short summary the real journey began after work on Thursday with hauling water and working on decorations.  Friday morning began with decorations and doing my best to get stuff ready for Saturday without tiring myself too much and avoiding injury at all cost.  Friday night was spent running a half marathon in a cemetery (until midnight)  followed by Saturday morning early rise to spend ALL day setting up the haunted trail for the cookout that night.  Up early again to haul everything back out of the woods during the day and then finding out Project Auuuunnold was going to go into a new phase tomorrow morning requiring me to spend all night prepping for that.  Of course, a big thanks goes to Linda as well otherwise this would have been pretty much a non-starter.  The good news is it’s done and there’s plenty of time for sleep and recovery!

Since Halloween is officially coming up later this week, figured I’d pay tribute to one of my favorite past times – that’s right, the annual pumpkin carving (and the images were already processed which helps out when trying to get a quick post out).  Thought you might be interested in the process I use for my pumpkin carvings.  I tried to take a number of pictures during the process to help show the different stages.  In fact, there are so many pictures in this post I’ll likely let them do the talking and go light on the text. … and we’re off..

The first step in the process is to figure out the theme.  Every once in awhile I have a subject already picked out, but more often it is usually a night spent parading through pages after pages of Google Images.  This process can get a little dark and be warned you might stumble upon some images that just might be emotionally scarring.  Search terms such as demon, haunted, warlock, devil, gothic, horror, vampire and … ummm yea, I’ve taken “terror” off my search list for obvious reasons.  Each one of those words will produce a very healthy (err. better word..  large) collection of images.  Your goal is to find one with a lot of contrast that works in a 3 color palette.  I usually download a number of images and then proceed to do test palette reductions to see which one works the best.

This year’s winner was…

I actually found it under the gothic category.  As a big fan of The Crow this seemed like a perfect fit.  Before going further, always heed any copyright issues.  The site AllBackgrounds.com listed these images as free but just in case, all rights to this images remain with the original owner – my use is personal only and no revenue is generated off the resultant pattern or carved pumpkin.  With that out of the way, the next phase is to convert the image down to a 3 color palette.  This takes a lot of trial and error and recommend only reducing the colors a little at a time to make sure the conversion thresholds work with the image you are trying to produce.  Paint Shop Pro is my go to tool due to the relatively simple menus (still using version 7 before they went off and tried to compete with Adobe).  Save often and be prepared to backtrack if you lose a feature.  The following shot was pretty far along in the reduction process.  Notice how crisp the lines ended up (thanks to  some quick zooming in and pixel correcting where necessary) which is perfect for the end pattern which maintains the desired effect.

At this point I start the more creative aspect of the project.  Basically you have to zoom in and hand correct any dithering that still remains and add any “pumpkin nuances” that are required.  These little features are needed to generate a pattern that can actually be carved and once cut will help extend the life of the end product.  I am absolutely fed up with all the sites on the internet offering up free patterns that DO NOT WORK!   These fakes are easily noticed once you know what to look for ..and/or if you’ve blown a few pumpkins like I have in the past.  Look for areas that are not cut out – if you see a cut that make their way all the way around it .. bad pattern!  Trust me, you will start noticing the fakes now – they are generally produced on a graphics program, converted to the proper colors and slapped up on the website as a freebie patter (really irks me).  Do you notice any of the features I added below….

Hit the Jump to see how the pattern turns out!

They are primarily in the eye liners – without shifting the pattern a bit and getting the the extra reinforcement from the pumpkin edges, the carved pumpkin would be too fragile and not likely to survive a year’s storage.  Just a few tweaks that are not likely to be noticed by anyone but go a long way in building quite a pumpkin collection.   Once you have the pattern looking the way you want, it is time to invert it – you could keep it the way it is, but why waste the ink.

It always shocks me how different the negative version looks.  This is the view I carve so a final validation is given to make sure I didn’t  miss anything and more importantly ensure I have something I’ll be able to carve.    One feature on this  was concerning me  – the cheek bone had some large cutouts on it that produced a very small strip between them.  Again with the longevity aspect, but in addition cuts that close together are prone for a hand slip.   Luckily, the fix was pretty easy and simply removing it still kept the overall appearance of the image.

There you have it.. the final pattern.  If you are not sure how it will look or need a reference while you are carving, simply change the three colors in the palette to black, an orange and then a bright yellow to mimic a finished lit pumpkin.

Feel free to flip back to the starting image.  Some of the detail was removed, but I think it turned out well – pretty soon you’ll be ditching those boring store bought images and creating your own works of art.

The next step is to get that image transferred onto the pumpkin.  Now, for years I always carved real pumpkins and then sat there frustrated as it decayed.  If you don’t mind dropping a few bucks pick up a foam pumpkin instead.  $15 if you get them at places like Jeffery Alan’s during their after Halloween sales  – full price is waaayyy to expensive in my opinion.  They carve almost as easy as real pumpkins and will be around for many Halloween’s to come (probably was wondering why I was alluding to “storing” the pumpkin earlier).  Pick your preferred way to transfer the stencil over.  I tape it on and take a ball point pen to trace over it with heavy pressure – this usually makes a nice indentation you can outline once you take the pattern off.  This pumpkin had tough skin which forced me to put the pattern back on with the large cuts taken out.

Now with defined outlines I can go back in and freehand some of the lines that didn’t come out clear enough.  I’ve tried carbon paper but that ends up getting the pumpkin all inked up – you can wash real pumpkins to clear that up, but the plastic ones do not clean up that well.

Required for foam pumpkins, but recommended for real ones as well, I use a Dremel to complete the cuts.  There is a straight cutter you get at Sears that works really well for full cuts and the standard engraving balls work well for the midcuts.  For convenience I use a pencil attachment and literally hang it from the rafters to keep from kinking it.

Everything is ready now. Make sure you print out a copy of the pattern in order to refer to it while carving and  ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GLASS.  It is not worth damaging your eyesight for a pumpkin.  It is up to you if you want to wear a mask – I try to keep the dust down, but the foam will get a little messy when doing the midcuts.

With cutter in hand I attack all the small cutouts first.  Once those are done I move on to the larger sections and will even do those in smaller chunks if I am afraid it will be too heavy and damage a non-carved area.  Oh, by the way, you do not need to cut the top on foam pumpkins – they are already hollowed which gets rid of that whole gunky part.  If you are carving on a real one, make sure you get the inside all nice and clean and recommend shaving off the edges to a uniform thickness (about 1/2″  to 1/4″ works well).  Here is the results after the full cuts were complete.

This is followed by the midcuts.  Remember that color between the white and the black.. well that represents a cut that only go halfway through the pumpkin.  That is the reason you get three colors and not just the more traditional two.  Midcuts are the messy part and the one that a mask might come in handy.  This requires a steady hand and a good depth awareness.  You want the midcuts to be the same thickness – thick enough to hold shape, but not too thick as to not allow some light through.  Trial and error is the rule here – small carvings at a time and just scrape the surface off with the engraving ball bits.  Bigger the ball the easier the removal, but you need to be able to get into tight places so be prepared to switch bits if needed.  Here it is in all its dusty goodness – note, this is also where I continually have to refer back to the pattern to know what I’m supposed to leave and what to shave.

After this part is done, you need cut out a small hole for the light if you are using a fake pumpkin – In the early years I used to put the hole in the bottom mimicking the real pumpkin placement – this is dumb and apparently it took me several years to learn that – put it on the side of the pumpkin slightly off from head on to the carving.  You do not want to see the light bulb itself, but by putting it on the side the pumpkin will sit nice and flat.  This year’s pumpkin is the first one in my collection that received a prop! … and also the first that I had to cut with reading glasses on.  Don’t worry if the image seems strange – remember it is a negative image of the graphic you made the pattern from.

Now just add some internal light and presto…

I use the small light bulbs that are used for Dept 56 houses – they are small, bright and have clips on them which work well to hold them in place.  Now let’s turn the lights done a little further…

and finally.. total darkness.  If you took your time and stayed true to the image it should look almost exactly like computer version.

I was pretty happy with how this one turned out.  Of course, it isn’t Halloween unless you get to carve a LOT of pumpkins.  Here is Brandon with a few of his friends.

Those are the foam pumpkins you can get at the Dollar Store – definitely not as nice as the more expensive foam pumpkins, but they only cost $1 and work well enough with the Dremel you can knock out a bunch of them pretty quick.  I freehand all of these little ones and use them as trail markers on our haunted trail.  a 30 cent tea light attached to the bottom and you have yourself a neat little decoration that will leave quite the impression.

Not bad for two nights of work (one for Brandon and one for the other 16).  Note, in this shot the exposure is so long you can actually see the seams in the fake pumpkin – those were problematic this time because those are thicker areas and you have to spend extra time on the midcuts to make sure enough light makes it through.

Time for some badly needed rest – hope you enjoyed and good luck in your future carvings.

2 thoughts on “Operation: Something To Crow About”

  1. Cool!! How come you haven’t made a pumpkin from my face? Oh, wait, it would scare the kids on your trail, never mind.

    I like the little pumpkins, too. How about a Hall of Presidents?



  2. Hey, that might be a good idea for the scary part of the trail – definitely not something for the less scary fork – Since you are coming next year, maybe I’ll Dremel one up in your honor!

    Well, I would consider doing that if one president didn’t completely disgust me – hate to waste time staring at a liberal socialist, although I could surround it with the titles of all the scandals to give that truly scary feel. By the way, I wonder how many people will go costumed as the Condescending HHS Website Lady next year?


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