Tips & Tricks for Foam Pumpkin Carving

Every Halloween I enjoy pulling out my collection of faux Pumpkins as they each have quite the unique history. Don’t be scared, they look more difficult than they really are. There is no limit to what you can put on your pumpkin so let me guide you with some of my tips and tricks for foam pumpkin carving.

In 2016 I won second prize in Halloween Contest for this zippered Pumpkin. The prize was a great Pumpking Carving Dremel just made for this task. Thank you so much!

The Basic Concept of Foam Carving:

The way that carving a foam pumpkin works is about density and light. Once you realize that the thinnest is the lightest and the uncut is the darkest you can plan the different depth levels for the various darknesses that are called values (artist term). Any image can work as long as it has a range of values.

Digital image editing software can help with getting the images ready for the pumpkin. Here is a sample:

Ok, so I may not be that scary looking, but it’s a starting point. I can edit out anything that I don’t want.

Change the image to ‘grayscale’ and adjust the image using the ‘Brightness & Contrast’ controls until it has a good range of light and dark.

The Range of Values:

Modern software is so amazing these days! There is a control that allows you to break any image into simple areas of flat ‘values’. That is called ‘posterization’ (Image > Adjustments > Posterize)

Choose about 4 – 8. I used 6 and that gave me a good number to work with since one is white and one is black. Feel free to make any other digital changes or just go with what the image is.

Transfer to the Pumpkin:

The most difficult part for most is to get the image onto the Pumpkin. Being an illustrator I have used many methods to transfer images but many are very labour intensive. This method is very easy and requires no drawing.

Print the posterized image on some thin tracing paper. Size it to keep the height to about 2/3 of the pumpkin. Water down some basic PVA school glue (water-soluable) and attach the print as flat as possible to the pumpkin. It will have some wrinkles but that will not be a problem. Make sure though that it is completely dry before carving.

The Carving Tip:

The Pumpkin Dremel comes with this bur type tip or you can buy some for your regular Dremel. It works effortlessly but will create a lot of dust so have a vacuum very very close by and wear a dust mask. I also love my Dremel Flex Shaft attachment to make holding much easier on the hands for detailed work.

Carving out the levels:

Make sure to have an extra paper print of the posterized design to refer to in case you are not sure of where you are. Take your time and work one ‘value’ at a time.

The ‘black’ areas will have no carving. The next darkest will have minimal carving, the next lighter will have a bit more etc… You can always carve deeper but not replace, so go slow. I like to ‘outline’ the area and then carve the depth in it. Have a little light near by to see how it looks.

Any area that is really bright white can be carved completely through to be a hole. Just be aware that you will need ‘attachment’ pieces to make it not fall apart. I prefer to keep the ‘holes’ to a minimum.

The thin paper print will carve away with the pumpkin skin. The Pumpkins I used from Michael’s were about 3/8″ thick walls. To get a sense of the thickness you can cut the hole in the bottom or back for the bulb first.

It will look a little strange when not lit. Notice the deeper areas in my cheeks, that will be the lightest parts.

Clean off the Paper:

Once you have it all cut you can easily wet and soften the glue so that the paper will slide and rinse off. Use a soft cloth to wipe any pieces off. The foam will not be damaged by water.

Glow your Art:

To light the pumpkin do not use a candle. There are battery LED lights as well as the little bulbs that clip into the bottom. I prefer the LED since they do not have any heat.

Other Cutting Method:

If you are not wanting a detailed image type of pumpkin then there is also another option. Using a ‘Hot Knife’ makes cutting the foam pumpkin as easy as cutting butter.

I absolutely love my Versa Tool! It has so many attachments but one is a knife blade which makes such easy smooth cuts into plastic and foam with no pressure at all. I have also used it on my Easter eggs as well and am amazed each time I use it.

Cut simple shapes or letters into the Pumpkin and the edges are flawless. You may also print your designs and attach in the same method as above if you prefer. Imagine all the beautiful Fonts that you could use! I feel another tutorial coming on…

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    1. Thank you Barb for all your tutorials you share. I try a lot of them and get super results. Can’t wait for your next inspiration!