All posts by Liz Bradley

Advanced Pumpkin Carving Techniques

Tired of seeing the same old carvings on every jack o’lantern you see? Are you obsessed with carving all things gourd and always looking for a way to bring your passion from “craft” to “work of art”?

Or perhaps you just a spare gourd, some cool tools, and a few extra hours on your hands.

This year, forget the triangle eyes and pointy, crooked teeth – a jack o’ lantern can be so much more. Here’s the scoop on how to carve up something spectacular this Halloween.

It’s Easier Than You May Think

Beginning carvers generally only see two options when it comes to carving a pumpkin. We can see the orange of the pumpkin’s skin, or we can see a candle through holes in the skin.

But we really do have more options than that. Peel away a pumpkin’s skin without cutting all the way through the flesh and get a buttery yellow, for example. Or if you’re really determined, scrape away only part of the orange, leaving a lighter orange that can be used for shadowing, and presto – you’ve got three cool colors from one great gourd.

With these new options we can start to create some really unique Jack O’ Lanterns. So if you’ve got the time and the inclination, pull up a pumpkin and come carve wtih us.

Step One: Pick the Perfect Pumpkin

In order to choose the right pumpkin, think about what kind of design you want to do and how intricate it will be. (HINT: Pumpkin stencil books can offer awesome selections.)

Your image choice can determine such things as the size of the pumpkin, the overall shape -for example, tall and somewhat flat on one side for a creepy hanging spider –  and even whether or not it has a stem.

Now that you’ve narrowed down the size and shape, try to find a pumpkin that’s smooth on the side you’ll be carving on – a little scarring on areas that won’t show is totally fine.

Most pumpkins have ridges running from top to bottom, and that’s okay. But do try to find one with the least amount of scratches and scars. This will give you the best, easiest surface to carve no matter what your finished design will be.

If you want a pumpkin with minimum, shallow vertical ridges, go for a bigger one, as these tend to smooth out as they grow.

Step Two: Prepping Steps

Once you’ve found your perfect pumpkin, it’s time to prepare it for carving.

NOTE: Even if you only plan to carve on the surface of your pumpkin (rather than cutting all the way through the skin), you should prepare it the same way you would a normal jack o’lantern, as this will help you protect it from rotting.

Using a pumpkin knife from a carving kit or a small, hand-held jigsaw (these are safest and cut most easily), cut a circular hole around the stem and pop the top off. You may want to leave a little “lip” or a slightly oblong shape so you can easily see how to set the top back down on the pumpkin once it’s carved.

Scoop out all the seeds and save for roasting (yummy!). Scrape the insides to get rid of as much pulp as possible; bugs and bacteria love this goo the most, so keep it to a minimum if you can.

pumpkin-carving01

Prepare Your Image

lon_chaneyYou can put pretty much anything on your pumpkin. One of my favorite things to carve is something iconic from a classic horror film. For this tutorial I chose a picture of Lon Chaney from the lost silent film, London After Midnight. .

When choosing your image, pick something that’s easily recognizable. If it’s a photo with a background, it’s probably best to omit the background and just focus on the characters or main subject so you don’t distract they eye with unnecessary detail.

It’s best to find a picture with a lot of contrast – extreme darks and extreme lights working together well. If your design is in color, you will have to change it to grayscale. All photo editing programs can do this, as can oldschool photocopying if you prefer.

Once your pic is in black and white in your editing program, it’s wise to turn up the contrast. This will make the blacks blacker and the whites whiter. This simple step will help simplify the image so you don’t have too much detail to worry about.

lon_chaney_photoshop

Print the Page and Puncture Your Pumpkin

Print your image out on a piece of paper. You may have to play with your settings to get it to the right size to fit your pumpkin.

Once you have the image printed, position it over the best side of your pumpkin and decide exactly where you want it to go.

Next, use a few pins, needles, or thumb tacks to stick the photo in place.

With another pin (I suggest push pins, as they are easiest to hold) trace every line of your photo by poking holes along the line into the pumpkin. Any line you want to make note of should be perforated this way. This may take a while, but you’ll see that the outcome is worth it.

Hand getting tired? Take a break once in a while to munch some pumpkin seeds or candy corn. Whatever you need to do to keep the momentum, don’t skip this important step; it will determine exactly how you carve your cool image.

When you’ve perforated the entire image, and while the lines are still fresh in your mind, remove the paper and connect the dots by slicing with a craft knife or box cutters. Keep the slices as straight as possible. They do not have to be too deep, but you do need to be able to use them as trustworthy guides.

pumpkin-carving02

Pick Your Pumpkin Pigments

You’re almost ready to carve, but first you need to decide which parts of the pumpkin represent white, black and gray. Once you decide, stick with your vision unless you absolutely have to change it. You might run into this problem when you get to two shapes next to each other that are similar in color, but need to be separate.

This is why it is wise to carve from the outside, toward the center. This will help you coordinate and will leave more possibilities to switch if you later find you need to.

I decided that for my picture, the black of Mr. Chaney’s hat, hair and coat would be represented by the solid orange of the pumpkin skin. That means that the black lines of his face must also be solid orange.

I chose not to carve all the way through my pumpkin, but instead to use the white “meat” of the pumpkin for the color of my creepy subject’s skin and the whites of his eyes and teeth. I also knew that for subtler shadows (gray) I could gently scrape only the very top of the orange skin away and leave a light orange.

You may choose to do it the way I did, or you may have a different vision for your project. Use your creativity to find neat way to incorporate the black of cutting all the way into the pumpkin flesh to the other side. Do whatever you think is best for your design – remember, you’re the artist!

Pare and Peel Your Pumpkin’s Pelt

It’s finally time to carve your pumpkin! After all this preparation you must be dying to get started, right? But first – safety tips! You’ll want to wind up with an awesome carving AND all 10 fingers.

  • Children should not carve pumpkins without adult supervision, even if they’re using safety tools.
  • Cut away from yourself, not toward. If you need the blade at a different angle, just rotate the pumpkin.
  • Go SLOWLY. If you can’t seem to quite cut through, use SMALL sawing motions as you go along your lines. Don’t jab and yank at your blade. Trust us on this.

Now that that’s out of the way…

pumpkin-carving03For this tutorial, I started from the outside of my image and worked inward. The first thing I did was make a little halo around the outside of my image in white. I did this by stripping away the orange flesh all the way around to distinguish the black hat, hair and coat from the rest of the pumpkin.

Then I moved in for the details. And you thought the perforating dealio was hard work! This will probably actually feel more like whittling than carving. Just relax, take your time and have fun!

TIP: When carving details, slice down at an angle toward the part you are cutting out. If there is a piece of skin you need to keep, always push the blade away from it, or you weaken it underneath and risk loosing the detail. That’s how I lost the right side of Lon Chaney’s lower lip, for reference.

blade on pumpkin

The hardest part of my design was probably the teeth because they were so close together. It was hard to take pieces out without damaging the others. So as you can see, even we old pros (or so we like to think of ourselves!) have our challenges. Remember – go slowly!

As I continued with my design I found places where I wanted to leave a shadow. In these cases, before cutting all the skin away, I lightly scraped only the top. The main sections where I used this technique were along the length of Mr. Chaney’s nose and on his jaw, near his mouth. I felt this would give more depth and realism to his face, even though I did not follow the shadows in the picture exactly.

pumpkin-carving04 pumpkin-carving05

For a finishing touch, you can scoop out most of the flesh on the inside to make the wall very thin. Then put a candle inside and you’ll get a nice glow through the flesh. Just leave the top open so oxygen can get in.

When you are all done, sit back and admire your work. Looks pretty awesome, doesn’t it?

If it’s not perfect, don’t worry – neither was mine! Nothing can ever be perfect. But if you did something that’s totally you, it’s sure to turn a few heads – and we think you’re going to even impress yourself.

To help your pumpkin last longer, cover the inside and outside with vegetable oil or Vaseline (warning: flammable) and consider keeping it in the fridge until the big day.

Congratulations! You are an advanced pumpkin carver!

pumpkin-carving-finished

Make Your Own Slow Cooker Fog Machine

 

Looking to scare up some foggy fun this Halloween? Here’s how to do it – the easy way!

You will need:

  • A slow-cooker
  • Dry Ice
  • A hammer
  • A plastic cauldron or other prop container
  • Heavy-duty gloves

The method:

It’s easy to make fog just by dropping dry ice in warm water. The problem is that dry ice is so cold, it actually starts to freeze the water around it, which squelches the fog effect pretty quickly.

So how do you keep the water warm for hours? A slow cooker, of course!

  • First, fill your cooker about halfway with water and turn it on high.
  • Next, break up your dry ice into manageable chunks. You can get this stuff at your local grocery store – just ask the checker to have someone get it for you. You will need gloves – never ever touch dry ice with your bare hands. It is so cold, it will burn you.
  • Now pick up your hammer to take out your frustrations on the dry ice.

slow-cooker-fog03 slow-cooker-fog04

  • When you have some manageable chunks, carefully drop them in and watch the fog bubble up. Because your home made fog machine works so well, it will gobble up dry ice fairly quickly, so be ready with more chunks.

slow-cooker-fog05 slow-cooker-fog06

What you do with your fog machine is up to you. I suggest putting it in a cauldron or a pumpkin with holes in it for the fog to flow out.

This is low-floating fog, so if you want fog to flow out the top of a pumpkin, don’t put any holes in the bottom or it will all go that way. Small, single-serving slow cookers can fit in most pumpkins and can be purchased for less than $15 at many retailers.

Please remember not to touch the dry ice, and please crack a window if you run it inside. The dry ice produces a lot of carbon dioxide, which can push out the oxygen in a room and give you a headache. And the best reminder of all is to have fun!

slow-cooker-fog-final

Two-Way Mirrors: A Haunted House Must-Have

 

You’ve seen them in haunted houses – eerie mirrors that seem to be haunted with some terrifying, ghostly presence. Just how do they do that?

As they say in show biz, it’s all done with mirrors! Also known as a a transparent mirror, a two-way mirror is a piece of glass that’s been treated so that one person can see out, but a person on the other side can’t see in. It’s a traditional trick for haunted houses everywhere.

Placed between a darkened room a lighted room, a two-way mirror allows a person in the darkened room to see through the glass, but the individual in the lighted room sees only his or her own reflection – eerie!

You may know of this type of mirror from crime shows. And yes, they’re actually used for that purpose. Here, though, we’ll show you how the mirror becomes transparent to produce ghostly images that are PERFECT for your haunt.

Read on to make a spooky two-way mirror of your own

But First…Here’s How You’ll Use It

If you’ve ever gone through Disney’s Haunted Mansion and been amazed by the hitchhiking ghosts that seem to sit beside your reflection, you’ve seen a two-way mirror at its fullest spooky potential.

You can create a similar effect in our own haunted houses without too much effort. The mirror does most of the work for you!

haunted-mirrorJust set your mirror into a false wall in your haunted house and place something spooky behind it. Then find a way to click on the lights at just the right moment for the maximum scare effect.

Depending on the size of your mirror and what you have available, you can hide a person in a costume, an animatronic or just a scary portrait behind your mirror.

Your victim will walk down the hall and at first see only hisreflection. Then, when the time comes, light up your ghostly apparition and let the mirror do its work. Your “victim” will suddenly see what is behind the mirror. Eek!

We find that strobe lights work well for lighting up your apparition – some of them can be set to timers, and others have foot controls. For smaller mirrors, a flashlight under your chin is the simplest and most effective method for getting that traditional scary face.

Let’s Get Started

It’s fairly easy to buy a haunted mirror online, and it’s not too expensive. If you don’t have much time on your hands before Halloween, go ahead and go that route. But if you’re feeling creative, here’s how to craft your own totally awesome two-way haunted mirror.

You will need:

If you plan on putting a person behind your mirror, you should choose a larger-sized picture frame. You may want to use a poster frame, but the thicker the frame, the better.

If you can find a large antique-looking frame (try a second-hand shop or check around at garage sales), that would be ideal. A neat idea is to paint your frame black or crack the paint to make it look distressed. Just don’t damage the frame so much that you can’t get the glass back in!

After removing the glass from your frame, you will apply the privacy film to one side. Follow the directions in the package to apply the film to your glass. See our video below for a tutorial. It’s easier to attach the film to a loose piece of glass than a window because there’s no measuring involved. Just lay your glass on top of the film and cut around the edges.

Make sure you cut the film so that you have an extra inch on all sides. Next, you may want to ask a friend for help, as it’s easy to crease the film or get it stuck to itself when you work alone. Apply the film and squeegee it as flat as possible, removing any bubbles. When you trim the excess film off the edges, it doesn’t have to be perfect, as the edges will be hidden beneath the frame. You may want to hold the squeegee on the edge of the glass when you pull the excess away, as it tends to stick and pull up what you’ve already squeegeed down.

After you’ve trimmed and dried the film, place the glass back into the fame with the film facing forward.

Installing your Haunted Mirror

False walls are the key to a great haunted house. Monsters can hide behind them and spooky hands can reach out from them to grab (and terrify) haunt visitors.

To hang your mirror, you will need to cut a hole in one of your false walls. The hole should be smaller than the outside of your frame, but larger than the visible glass so you can hide the seam of the wall behind the frame.

Your guests should not be able to tell there is anything strange about the wall. It’s such a great effect!

Ghostly images

If you want to get really advanced (or just don’t want to sit around behind a wall for hours) you can put a TV or computer screen behind a small mirror and loop a spooky video on it. You can make your own video if you like – It should be black most of the time to allow for the appearance of a normal mirror. Then create bright, ghostly images that emerge from the blackness. Do this by simply moving into a beam of light (flashlight under the chin works) and make a scary face! You don’t have to limit yourself to just faces – get creative, you can put anything behind your mirror!

After your get your video up on the screen, you will want to turn the contrast way down because even when the screen is black it can emit a glow that will alert your guests that something’s up. You may also need to cover the sides of your screen with black cloth or paper (paint it black if you have an old spare) and make sure all lights on the knobs and power button are hidden and won’t glow through. Then push the screen up behind the mirror and let it work its magic!