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Make a Bas-Relief Pumpkin for Halloween

Updated on October 28, 2013

If you’re looking for a more creative or artistic way to carve your Halloween pumpkin this year, bas-relief carving might be the solution. Bas-relief carving employs a different technique than traditionally used; rather than cutting entire pieces out of the pumpkin in order carve out a face or shape, the skin of the pumpkin is carved down to the pith or core. This technique allows for a little more detail than most people can manage with traditional carving, and allows for more intricate designs. Check out some of these pumpkins:

Find a pumpkin that has an even and relatively smooth surface, to make drawing and carving easier.
Find a pumpkin that has an even and relatively smooth surface, to make drawing and carving easier.

If you’re interested in bas-relief carving but have never done it before, you’ll be happy to know it’s relatively simple. You can carve your pumpkin in a few easy steps.

1. Choose a pumpkin.

When choosing a pumpkin for carving, try to find one that has a broad, fairly even surface on at least one side. This will make it easier to sketch out and carve your design. If you’re lucky enough to find one that’s fairly round and smooth all the way around, you can experiment with a design that wraps around the entire pumpkin.

2. Cut open and clean out your pumpkin.

When cutting out the lid of your pumpkin, be sure to cut at an angle. This will ensure that the lid doesn’t fall through into your pumpkin once it’s replaced later. You can use a serrated pumpkin carving knife with a dull tip for safety, but if you don’t have one any good, sharp knife will do. Just be careful to keep your hands safely out of the way of slips!

When pulling the seeds and “innards” out of your pumpkin, try to scrape it as clean as possible. Use a spoon to get the last bits off the inside core. If this stage grosses you out a bit, you can wear latex gloves.

To cut down on waste—and for a bonus—try keeping the seeds from the pumpkin and roasting them to use as a snack later on. (See recipe at end).

What will your carved pumpkin look like this year?

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3. Draw your design.

Sketch your intended design on your pumpkin using a pencil. When you’ve finished, go back over it with pen or permanent marker so that it’s easier to follow when you’re carving. One good idea in this stage is to use different colored pens when tracing, since you will be cutting out some pieces of your design while leaving others intact for a silhouette effect. Try using one color to outline the pieces you will carve out and another for the pieces that will remain, in order to avoid mistakes.

An Exacto knife works better for this step than a traditional knife. Start by carefully peeling away just the top layer of skin from the areas you want to carve out. Once this is done and you’re happy with the look of your design, keep carving away layer by layer until you get closer to the core. Be careful not to cut all the way through. To add dimension to your design, experiment with carving down to different layers in different parts of your design. Carving deeper will allow more light to shine through, so you can try this on the parts that you want to really stand out, and carve less deeply for smaller details.

The first stage of carving will look a little messy. If you're nervous about cutting through as you go deeper, try using a spoon instead of a knife.
The first stage of carving will look a little messy. If you're nervous about cutting through as you go deeper, try using a spoon instead of a knife.

5. Clean up and light.

Use rubbing alcohol to remove any trace of your pen marks from your pumpkin and to help you wipe away residue from your carving. All that’s left is to fit your pumpkin with a candle and light it for Halloween night!

Sometimes the pumpkin’s core is a little too thick for candlelight to shine through strongly. If this is the case with your pumpkin, try a small LED light instead.
Sometimes the pumpkin’s core is a little too thick for candlelight to shine through strongly. If this is the case with your pumpkin, try a small LED light instead.

For Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Separate the seeds from the rest of the pumpkin's "innards." Stick in a colander and rinse clean. Pat dry.
  2. Spread seeds out evenly on a non-stick baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and roast at 325 degrees F for 20-25 minutes, stirring halfway through.

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    • Saffron23 profile image
      Author

      Saffron23 3 years ago from New Mexico

      I'm glad you found it helpful! It can definitely be an intimidating technique at the start, but once you try it's often easier than you expect and allows for a lot more experimentation.

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 3 years ago from sunny Florida

      This is an art I have admired but never attempted as truthfully I had no idea how to begin. But your helpful step by step technique makes it sound like something I can try. Thanks.