If you search through the #pumpkin hashtag on Instagram long enough, you’ll notice some recurring themes. The most popular pumpkins are the traditional Jack o’ Lantern, Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas, the cannibal pumpkin eating a smaller pumpkin, the classic seed-vomiting pumpkin and, this year, a blue-painted Cookie Monster hoovering cookies into his mouth.
But you won’t see any of those pumpkins here. Instead, we sought out pumpkins with true originality and stunning execution. (Ours, of course, counts–check out the Alfred Hitchcock pumpkin in slide #1.) The qualifications for our other 14 most creative pumpkins included:
- Relevance: Images had to have a level of cultural significance to a large audience.
- Originality: So many of the pumpkins, while amazing, were nearly exactly the same. In order to be chosen, pumpkins had to be unique. In the case of Princess Elsa from Frozen, there were many many of these designs, but the one produced by Kimberly Sugar was extremely well executed.
- Authenticity: There were a huge number of great designs that stood out, but many were regrams from other artists, or were just swiped from the Internet. In order to make the list, we had to be certain beyond a reasonable doubt that the work was unique to the person who posted it.
Want to up your own pumpkin game to Michelangelo levels? There are more than a few ways to make a bad-ass pumpkin, but the biggest factors come down to your pumpkin quality, your imagination, and your skill level. If you’re using a stencil from a cheap pumpkin-carving kit, you’ve already lost as far as imagination goes, but maybe, deity willing, you can still make your pumpkin shine. Whether you carve, paint, collage, or mix-media your pumpkin, there are a few tricks I picked up while making Fast Company’s Hitchcock pumpkin that can help you get the most out of it.
First off, don’t just pick out any old pumpkin. You don’t want to try to create a masterpiece out of a soft, oozing rot-ball. When selecting a pumpkin, look for a one with a firm stem that’s still attached. If the pumpkin was healthy when it was picked, it can last 8-12 weeks. Once you carve it, it should hold up for another 5-10 days.
Next, clean all that dirt and grime and the ooze from diseased pumpkins off your beautiful one. Cut off the top with a serrated knife and hollow it out with an ice-cream scooper or large metal spoon.
When it comes to your image, if you’re using a stencil for your pumpkin, you’re a disgrace. (Kidding!) But it can be more difficult than it sounds.
I tried a stencil for our Alfred Hitchcock pumpkin, but because the pumpkin was as round as Hitchcock’s famous waistline, the paper didn’t lay well, even when I cut it to lay flat against the gourd. Finding a pumpkin with a smoother, flat surface would help. If you’re having trouble taping a stencil to the pumpkin, another way around this is to wet the stencil paper, place it on the desired location, and wrap it with plastic wrap several times (tape won’t stick to wet paper). You can also use a projector if you happen to have one handy.
Next, “trace” the stencil by using a small nail, toothpick, or other pointy device of your choosing to poke through the paper, plastic wrap, and into the pumpkin following the perimeter of the stencil. You can even put flour in the holes to make it easier to see the trace marks.
I didn’t have plastic wrap, so I decided to do it by hand. I used gauche and watercolor pencils, which I don’t recommend unless you’re planning on cutting into the pumpkin (my original intention) and want to easily wipe away your marks. Otherwise, a Sharpie is fine. If you want to just paint your pumpkin, then you should first use a sealer so the paint will adhere better to the surface, and then use acrylic paint.
When creating a standard 2-D image, the small serrated knives found in cheap cutting kits work fairly well, but you can also use more robust paring knives that are less prone to breaking.
If you’re approaching master class pumpkin-carving levels and you want to utilize multiple levels of opacity and textures to capture new depths, check out some of pumpkin-carving legend Ray Villafane’s techniques during an appearance with Martha Stewart:
Others use Dremel power tools, rasps, and wood-carving chisels to create their designs. The tools, really, should be determined by your design.
As with any work of art, the best way to create something remarkable is to gain experience with the tools and medium so you can learn to push the process further. Whether you use a stencil, freehand an image, or just start carving away, the more you play and practice, the better your anything will be.