02 November, 2009

4 Years of Pumpkin Carving

I don't remember what sort of jack-o-lanterns I carved prior to three years ago, or even if I bothered to carve one. Sure, I carved as a kid, but that was a long time ago. While I was away at school, I doubt I carved any, since I was absorbed in my studies during Halloween, and away from the family atmosphere that promotes such activities as pumpkin carving (as opposed to horror movie watching, which I do regardless of atmosphere - and, in fact, year-round). But I have records of the jack-o-lanterns I've carved in the previous three years, plus this most recent one.

My approach to pumpkin carving is to create a design that is simple, with few cuts, but has a distinct and decidedly creepy look (i.e., no incredibly generic triangle-eyed square-toothed grins). Basically, I'm not an expert pumpkin carver, I'm just a guy with a knife - so it's gotta be something simple or else I'm likely to screw it up, but on the other hand, I care enough about it that I want it to be something memorable. And though this isn't a steadfast rule, I generally go for faces, rather than symbols or something else, as that's just the traditional approach.

Here you can see my jack-o-lantern from Halloween 2006. It was inspired by the "character" of The Engineer (specifically, this image - warning: grotesque imagery) from the first Hellraiser movie. I had just seen the movie for the first time that October, and was quite enamored with it. I tried my best translating The Engineer to pumpkin form, and I think it was a good idea, and I'm glad I tried it, but I believe the overall result was less than absolutely spectacular. If anything, the problem here was that the source design was just too complex.

In 2007, I went a bit simpler. Although this design was not based on anything specific, to my recollection, I must have still had the Hellraiser aesthetic on my mind, as that's what the stitched eyes remind me of. I really like that detail, though. It was tricky to pull off, carving it, but I feel the effect was worth the effort. For the mouth I just wanted to radiate a feeling of torment, screaming - this jack-o-lantern was meant to clearly be in a lot of pain. This is not a monster pumpkin you are to be frightened of, but a victim whose pain you empathize with. Unless the torture is self-inflicted!

My 2008 jack-o-lantern appears to be a variation on the previous year's design. I was definitely going for a 'blob monster' kind of feel with this one. Maybe some kind of a swamp thing. I have to admit I like how it turned out, and I think the 'blob' effect works well. Carving that mouth was a little tricky, though - you have to be careful not to be too rough or cut the 'slime trails' too thin or you might lose one. I also shaved the surface of them back a bit to give them a slight recessed look, so that the mouth looked like one entity and not three separate, adjacent openings.

And we come to this year's jack-o-lantern. I had two ideas to choose from, based on two movies in my mindset this year. I had recently seen Paranormal Activity, which I was rather impressed (read: scared shirtless) by, and I was (and, at this moment, am still) anticipating The Fourth Kind, which hits this weekend. The former is about a ghost haunting, and the latter, alien abduction - two forms of fright that are the most successful at still scaring me even as an adult. Since the demon/ghost in Paranormal Activity is invisible, as ghosts usually tend to be, the decision was pretty much made for me. :p

So I decided to do an alien face, which may not be the most original idea, but how many extraterrestrial jack-o-lanterns do you actually see? Anyway, I don't recall ever having done it before, so I was excited to give it a try. And I really like the result. I must admit, the pumpkin I had at my disposal was just about perfect, being more of the tall rather than plump variety. Carving the design was pretty straightforward, the only challenge being the tiny nostrils. In order to allow enough light to come through so that they are not ignored, you have to carve at a widening angle as you go back, like an archer's window in a medieval castle turret. But, especially with such a small hole on the outside surface, it's tricky to carve back without inadvertently widening the hole. You have to be very careful.

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