Skull-A-Day 4.0 - Tutorial - #21 Pumpkin Skull

You all probably know by now how much I love Dia de los Muertos, but in case you don't, I'll fill you in. I'm not of Hispanic decent, but I love the meaning behind this holiday. Showing this level of respect and honor for out deceases relatives is not something that I was raised to do, but I feel I must, because with out them, I wouldn't be here. Whether I knew all of them or not, I'm fortunate that they helped form the person I am today. For this particular design, I chose a sugar skull design for the skull and decorated the remaining area of the pumpkin with flowers reminiscent of Dia de los Muertos shrines.

As far as the carving style goes, this is a surface carving. That means that I didn't cut the top off and gut the pumpkin before carving. The inside is intact and only the outside skin is carved. I'm hoping this lessens the likelihood of it rotting quickly. If it doesn't, I'm not going to be grumpy about it, because I know once I damage the skin, the decaying process will start. Pumpkin left unpunctured and sat in a dry place, like a covered porch, will last for a few months. I love to leave my uncarved ones out through November, because they are still great Fall decorations.

Lets get to the tutorial...

  • A large pumpkin - I used a large one, but for surface carving, you could use any size. Remember, the larger the pumpkin, the more surface you have available to carve designs into. If you choose a small one, try unusual colored pumpkins and squashes like white, yellow and green. I currently have a variety of uncarved "baby" pumpkins and squashes decorating my front porch.
  • A pencil - This is to draw out your design. It might not leave any color, but it will leave an indention, which is a nice guide for carving. If you want, you can use a black fine tip sharpie, but make sure when you are carving, that you carve away all of the black markings.
  • Wood carving tools set - These aren't very expensive and of course can be used for actual wood carving too. They come in a variety of blade sizes and shapes, which makes carving nice. I think of them as the people that do papel picado think of their chisels, you look at your blade and your design, then figure out which blade will best fit your design
  • Paper towels - For cleaning off your pumpkin, blades and hands while working
  • A bowl - For putting your pumpkin skin peelings


1) Use a few wet paper towels to wash off any dirt on the pumpkin. Use a dry one to dry the pumpkin off.

2) I tend to sit my pumpkin on my lap, but if working on a table works better for you, feel free to do so. Regardless of the surface you choose, cover it with paper towels. I had a large one spread across my lap...more like stomach to catch any pumpkin juice an peelings.

3) On the pumpkin, use the pencil to draw out your design. You are making firm lines in the pumpkin. Be careful, because pumpkins are slick.

4) Look at the carving tools. With the small angled blade, carefully trace all the lines you drew. The pumpkin might start oozing pumpkin juice. This is sticky, so have your paper towels handy.

5) For the petals around the eyes, the nose and the eyes you will use the small U blade to scoop out the flesh. Go slow and be careful to stay inside the cut lines...this applies to all of the cutting. Put your peelings in your bowl, for easy disposal. You want to make sure you cut away the hard skin in the area you are working on. You should leave the lighter flesh exposed, so there is a good contrast in the skin and flesh colors. Mine had a thin green under layer, so I cut that away too.

6) For the dots use the small, medium or large U blade (depending on how large you want your dots) and twist it around the edge of the circles. This will also release the flesh under the circle. Don't push the tool in too far, or you will reach the inside and that is what we're trying to avoid cutting.

7) For the outlines and teeth, using the angled blade again, cut about 1/8 inch away from the 1st set of lines. Using the smallest U blade, carve between the two lines. The sides of the blade should follow the cuts.

You might not be able to see my pencil marks on the left eye, but you can see what I've cut.

Oozing pumpkin juice. This turned into a stiff gel as it dried.
8) Using these same cutting techniques, cut out the rest of your design. Like always, feel free to play with the blades to create different shapes and textures on the pumpkin. I learn more through experimentation than following the rules.

Finished pumpkin. The sides have stylized flowers and pollen.

Now we all know that once you carve a pumpkin, it will start to decay faster than if left uncarved. Granted I did a surface carving, but the fact remains the same, the moment I cut into the pumpkin, even just the surface, the decaying process starts. The guy at Extreme Pumpkins wanted to know how to preserve his pumpkins for a long time, so he did The Great Pumpkin Preservation Study.

Other Things

While I was looking for information on how to color pumpkin flesh (which I didn't find), I found this tutorial on dyeing pumpkin seeds and Indian corn for making jewelry. I've made a necklace out of dried gourd seeds and brass beads, which I still have intact 13 years later. I didn't dye my seeds, but gourd seeds I used are dark, so I don't think it would have taken dye if I had tried. This is something you can do with kids. You could probably try to use natural dyes like juices, crushed leaves, crushed flowers, tea, coffee and nuts, but food coloring is a faster option.

Because lately my posts end with me thinking about pumpkin foods, I will leave you with this list my friends and I made of our favorite pumpkin foods and drinks...mmmm pumpkin! I'm going to conclude this project with a pumpkin cupcake left over from last week's project. Yes, they are still yummy and edible.


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