Sculpting Little Pumpkins

Materials:

  • Sculpey or oven-bake clay (I like Super Sculpey but any polymer oven-bake clay will do)

  • An aluminum disposable pie plate (or a baking sheet lined with tinfoil. You don't want the clay on a food surface)

  • Sculpting tools or equivalent (I've used bamboo/skewer sticks, a butter knife, a thin paintbrush handle, straightened coat hanger wire - essentially anything rigid, relatively thin, with a small end)

  • Cotton swab & 90% or higher Rubbing Alcohol (optional)

  • Acrylic paint & brushes

  • Container/cup of water to clean your brushes & a paper towel to dry your brush

  • Varnish (optional)

Part 1: Rolling & Creasing

A) Roll the Super Sculpey (polymer clay) between the palms of your hands into little balls the size of a large marble or small meatball, about an inch big. Note: to make larger pumpkins, roll tinfoil into a ball and coat the tinfoil with Sculpey. 

 

As Sculpey warms up from the heat of your hands, it gets soft and the ball will dent with the slightest pressure. This can make it difficult to keep any desired details. To give them time to cool, I roll out a number of little balls all at once. You can  put them in the fridge for a while to cool off and harden.

 

B) Pumpkin creases. You can use any tool to do this (a butter knife, a thin wooden shish kabob skewer, a pen lid...anything thin and solid). I make an indented line around the ball, full circle, connecting back to front to form a ring (visually, the crease divides the ball into two equal halves). Starting from any point on the first ring, I make a second ring around the ball once more, so I've gone from two to four equal sections.

 

You can see how it looks in the picture of the two pumpkin bases (the one on the left shows the pumpkin split into four sections using two rings).

 

Repeat this process two more times, splitting the sections.

Part 2: Faces & Stems

First, a chat about sculpting tools. You don't need to buy tools, but they do come in handy. The one on the far left has a simple sharp point. I might use this for tiny holes or to shape the inside of a small area that's been carved.

 

The one in the middle is my favourite. It's a miniature steel version of the many 'doll eyes' tools for sculpting. On either end is a tiny steel ball (one side bigger than the other). It's great for pressing circles into the clay. If you gently work it in a circular motion, you can create interesting eye socket/mouth shapes. You'll need to experiment with it on your own.

 

The one on the right has two blades on either end. One is flat, the other is curved. I use this one for straight lines (like triangle eyes) and to secure bits of clay to a sculpture. More on that further down.

A) Sculpting the faces. You don't have to remove the clay from the shapes you're creating for the facial features. Instead, you can simply press into the ball. You may need to go back and fix some of the creases for the pumpkin sections but that's ok.

Holding the ball between your index finger on the top and your thumb below, give the ball a gentle squeeze. This creates a more natural pumpkin shape. You can do this before you sculpt the face if you prefer. I like the effect of doing it afterward.

B) The stem. Take a little bit of clay and roll it between your fingers until you make a thin little worm. Cut the worm into short pieces (your stems).

Place a stem onto the top of the pumpkin, using enough pressure so the stem will stay in place if you let go.

Place a stem onto the top of the pumpkin, using enough pressure so the stem will stay in place if you let go.

Using something with a flat edge, gently press the bottom edges of the stem into the top of the pumpkin so they join together, smoothing the clay as you go. 

You can also take a moment to scratch some fine vertical lines for texture into the stem for a 'wood grain' effect.

Part 3: Smoothing, Baking, Painting

Optional step: 

You can't see them, but somewhere on that pumpkin are your fingerprints (unless you wore surgical gloves while sculpting). They may show themselves when you start to paint. So how do you get rid of them? Isopropanol (99% rubbing alcohol).

 

Pour a tiny bit of alcohol (you won't need more than a teaspoon) into a container. Using a Q-tip, you are going to swab the entire surface of the pumpkin. I start with the face. This way, I can pick up the pumpkin and angle it as needed. The alcohol will soften the edges of the carvings. It also assists in removing any 'crumbs'.

Don't let the alcohol pool in the crevices. It might eat away more than you want it to.

 

DO NOT touch the pumpkin with your bare hands once you've moistened the sides with alcohol. If you didn't have fingerprints before, you most certainly have left them now.

A) Baking. Transfer the pumpkins (if I've used alcohol, I use the Q-tip and a spatula to move them) to a pie plate or tinfoil-lined baking sheet. The instructions on the back of the Sculpey box tell you to bake the sculpture at 275 F (times vary depending on size). The problem with this is at that temperature, the Sculpey releases unhealthy and unpleasant fumes. Also, smaller, delicate pieces are more at risk of burning. To avoid this, lower the temperature and increase the baking time. I bake my pumpkins at 200 F for an hour and a half on the middle rack.

When the timer goes, simply turn off the oven but leave the pumpkins inside as they cool.

 

B) Painting. You should wait a few hours before you paint them (ideally, wait until the next day). This will allow your pumpkins to cool completely and set.

 

I like to give my pumpkins a complete coat of black acrylic. Once dry, I add orange for the flesh (letting the black in the creases show through), and dry-brush some brown on the stem (again, lightly dragging the brush over the woodgrain lines so the black shows through.

C) Varnish (optional but recommended). Once your pumpkin is completely dry, coat with an acrylic varnish.