pumpkin sculpting masters!

sculpted Halloween pumpkin montage
In the montage above, Ray Villafane sculpted the werewolf on the left while Andy Gertler and Sue Beatrice sculpted “Chef Frankenbunny.” I sculpted “The Horror” with Ray’s posable pumpkin arms and Ray sculpted the grim Viking pumpkin.

If your group of Facebook friends is anything like mine, you see A LOT of amazing pumpkins this time of year. I feel lucky to count several master pumpkin sculptors amongst my Facebook friends. Just as fortunately, these master artists are happy to share their knowledge, techniques, and photos. You’re a beneficiary as well, since I can pass some of that along here.

cyclops sculpted pumpkin by Ray Villafane
a happy/creepy cyclops from Ray Villafane’s Villafane Studios

master pumpkin sculptors

You may have heard of one or more of these artists, since they’ve all shown up on TV, in newspapers, and all over the web, of course. I’m talking about Ray Villafane, Sue Beatrice, and Andy Gertler. All three are accomplished artists in a variety of media, but come October, all their attention turns to pumpkins. Sue and Andy are often working on projects together as part of Pumpkin Sculpt USA. Sue also works with Ray Villafane’s Villafane Studios. As part of Villafane Studios, Ray, Sue, and other talented artists such as Andy Bergholtz and Chris Vierra tackle groundbreaking pumpkin projects, frequently with monstrous, record-breaking pumpkins.

monster jack-o-lantern pumpkin by Ray Villafane
This pumpkin that Ray carved is much more in the vein of the traditional Jack-o-lantern…except for the part where he used a 1000 lb. monster pumpkin!

Both Sue and Andy credit Ray for “creating this new artform and continually raising the bar.” However, Andy and Sue bring a lot to the table as they tend to carve way outside the pumpkin, sculpting things that you really had no idea could be made from pumpkins. Ray, on the other hand, seems to like to concentrate on amazing pumpkin faces. But he has also created crazy life-size zombies from supersize pumpkins (spilling guts and all!).

Ray shares his pumpkin sculpting knowledge far and wide and is very open with what he knows. To a questioner about some of his pumpkin “secrets,” Ray replies “I hold no secrets. If I know something unique or special it is in my genetic make up to make it available to everyone. I don't understand the mentality that hoards ideas out of fear of competition.” To this end, Ray has put together pumpkin sculpting tutorial videos as well as specialized tool sets and pumpkin add-ons such as awesomely posable arms and legs. And then there are the pop-in eyes that can make even a novice appear a pumpkin master.

pumpkin elephant by Sue Beatrice, Andy Gertler, JL Cook, and Julia Jankowski
Sue and Andy, along with JL Cook and Julia Jankowski, sculpted this baby elephant to raise awareness of the pachyderms’ plight.

Chef Frankenbunny pumpkin scuplture by Sue Beatrice and Andy Gertler
Chef Frankenbunny has never seen a carrot that he doesn’t like…to cook and eat!

Thanks to Ray, Sue, and Andy, pumpkin sculpting has become something that I genuinely enjoy. Unfortunately, I have not gotten a chance to do very much of it this year. I’ve so far only been able to sculpt one pumpkin. However, that one turned out pretty well, as it took first place at a pumpkin sculpting contest and got me some tickets to the Voodoo Festival in New Orleans. So, if I’m going to carve just one pumpkin, then that’s not a bad way to go. But I’m planning to buy a few to work on in November and December, as time permits.

'Who farted?' sculpted pumpkin for a contest
“Who farted?” (for a pumpkin carving contest)

learning to sculpt pumpkins

I’ve added a few of my pumpkin works to this entry. The point of putting my pumpkin artworks alongside the gourd-eous works of these master artists is two-fold. One, you can see that you don’t have to be ridiculously talented to create impressive pumpkins. And two, you can see that I’ve learned quite a bit from them, particularly from Ray and his video tutorials, despite not spending that much time on it. I’ve been around Garde Manger chefs most of my ice sculpting career, but I’ve never tried to pick up any vegetable or fruit carving techniques from them. Everything I’ve needed, I’ve gotten from Ray. Well, except for the pumpkins and some clay tools from a Michael’s crafts store. (But I’m about to upgrade my toolset with Ray’s premium set; gotta have those!)

'Racial Tension' sculpted pumpkins
My first shot at pumpkin sculpting: “Racial Tension” Who knew that orange and white pumpkins don’t just get along!? I found out the hard way that the orange pumpkin wasn’t quite thick enough for me to sculpt decent eyes for him.

'Cannibal Horror Show' pumpkin display by Dawson List
my best pumpkins, titled “Cannibal”

some pumpkin sculpting tips

  1. You generally want very thick pumpkins for sculpting, so try to choose ones that are heavy for their size.
  2. If you’re sculpting a face, try to choose pumpkins that are a bit flattened on one side (because they’re were lying on that side while they grew). Where the flatness ends, there will be a ridge. That ridge should be the centerline of your pumpkin’s face as you’ll probably want the nose to extend out as far as possible, y’know, so it will look as realistic as you can make it.
  3. Get some good tools. I am ordering a set of the premium sculpting tools from Villafane Studios. They are essentially clay sculpting tools that have been tweaked a bit for better pumpkin performance. They have a cheaper set too.
  4. There’s often no need to hollow out the pumpkins when you’re going to sculpt them, so you can skip that messy chore. On the downside, there are no pumpkin seeds for toasting.
There are a lot more tips and info that I could add here, but this will have to do for now…

not just for Halloween

Pumpkin sculpting doesn’t have to be limited to just Halloween. Clean, uncut pumpkins will hold up for quite a while. Believe it or not, I had one last until August. I never got around to carving it, unfortunately; I kept putting it off. I don’t suggest trying to set a pumpkin longevity record though; in the August case, it didn’t end well.

Santa Claus pumpkin by Sue Beatrice
Sue’s Santa pumpkin blurs the line between my favorite holidays.

By the way, I’m not quite done with his entry, so come back and see if I’ve managed to finish it off. I’m hoping to add more before the weekend. I’d write it all now, but I have some Halloween ice to carve!

more Halloween related entries

evil eye ice sculpture design preview    skull and crossbones ice luge design preview    flying bat sculpture design preview
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