Tag Archives: Pumpkin Carving

“One Day in Pompeii” , the 2013 Panoramic Pumpkin Lantern Carving

- (click for full size) -

– (click for full size) –

This year’s pumpkin lantern is a five foot long panoramic view of the Last Day of Pompeii, carved on a 75 pound ‘Atlantic Giant’ pumpkin from our garden.

Pliny the elder was a man of science, and an historian.  He lived in Pompeii, and being a man of letters, kept a thorough diary.  When he woke, August 25th, 79AD, it was a day like any other in Pompeii.  He had a cold bath, and breakfasted on the balcony.

The panorama starts at left, in the morning, as Pompeii wakes and comes to life on its last day.

Morning in Pompeii, August 25th, 79AD.  No sign of danger, a perfectly beautiful day by all accounts.  At top here in the carving is a quote from Pliny the Elder's Diary, from later in the day.

Morning in Pompeii, August 25th, 79AD. No sign of danger, a perfectly beautiful day by all accounts. At top here in the carving is a quote from Pliny the Elder’s Diary, from later in the day.

Very quickly the world began to fall apart.  Earthquakes shook the region, twenty miles in all directions.  A strange Cloud appeared above Vesuvius (no one was aware that it was in fact a volcano).  Pliny writes:

“A cloud made of ash and dirt appears to be coming from Mount Vesuvius”. -Pliny the Elder

After the Earthquakes came the falling boulders, the size of houses, many of which were on fire as they came.  This is a detial of a flaming chunk of pumice crashing through the roof og the market building, sending roof tiles flying, structure exploding, and people scattering.

After the Earthquakes came the falling boulders, some the size of houses, and many of which were on fire as they came. This is a detail of a flaming chunk of pumice crashing through the roof of the Forum’s left market building, sending roof tiles flying, structure exploding, and people scattering.

Pliny, However, didn’t flee.  He investigated:

“The scientist in me wants to get a closer look. Having my boat made ready”. -Pliny the Elder

Same View, with the Room Lights On

Same View, with the Room Lights On

Fleeing Residents of Pompeii (Enlarged Detail)

Fleeing Residents of Pompeii (Enlarged Detail)

At the center of the Pompeii Forum stood the Temple of Jupiter, anchoring the space, and standing literally under and in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

The Quote on the Pumpkin, from Pliny’s Diary later in the day, reads:

“Buildings have come loose from their foundations.

…sheets of flame engulf Vesuvius,

and rocks consumed by fire are falling everywhere around us”

The Temple of Jupiter, in the center of the Forum of Pompeii, with Mount Vesuvius Looming in the Background

The Temple of Jupiter, anchoring the center of the Forum of Pompeii, and with Mount Vesuvius Looming in the Background

In the center, an abandoned merchant’s cart, a statue falling from the tri-part archway beyond, and people crawling to shelter in the Temple,  suffocating from the fumes and ash.  At right is another market building, with fallen columns in the foreground, the building itself collapsing from an aftershock, columns caught mid-collapse, and the roof coming down.

“Walking through town. We can see broad sheets of flames rising from Pompeii.”  -Pliny the Elder

A View of the Temple of Jupiter and Vesuvius, with the Room Lights On

A View of the Temple of Jupiter and Vesuvius, with the Room Lights On

A Closer View of the Market Building's Collapsing Structure and Columns, which are Becoming Buried Under Ash

A Closer View of the Market Building’s Collapsing Structure and Columns, which are Becoming Buried Under Ash as the Day (and Pompeii) Comes to a Close

Pliny the Elder had no exit strategy.  In fact, instead of escaping, he went back.  He even went to bed, rising again in the middle of the night in a belated attempt to flee.  He and his group tying pillows over their heads and heading to the shore.

“Tying pillows to our heads with cloth and heading for the shore.    Rocks are falling everywhere around us. Our only possible escape is by boat.” -Pliny the Elder

End of the Day, and of Pompeii

End of the Day, and of Pompeii

The last detail here is of a buried Pompeii, the ash burying a portico remnant to its waist, with burnt tree trunks smoking ruins at left in the distance, and a cooling rivulet of lava coming toward us.

The Same Detail, with Room Lights On

The Same Detail, with Room Lights On

Pliny did not survive.  His last entries to the diary:

“The air is thick with ash.” and ” Breathing now impossible” -Pliny the Elder

Before doing the actual carving, I mocked-up a cartoon from a bunch of collaged elements and overpaint.  I use it as a rough guide, and rather than try to meticulously transfer it, I instead freehand the rough outline onto the pumpkin in water soluble ink.  It washes off later, and the freehanding allows me to change and shift things in the composition to suit the defects of the pumpkin.

Half-Size Mock-Up of the Concept Art for the Carving (click for enlarged view)

Half-Size Mock-Up of the Concept Art for the Carving (click for enlarged view)

As has become obvious, the stitching together of the panorama is clunky at best, and it’s very difficult to capture what it really feels to move around the pumpkin viewing the entire scene.  In “real-life”, the coloration is less contrasty, and has a great deal more depth.  Here’s a link to a movie, which approximates the experience as best it can…  “One Day in Pompeii”, on youtube

Thanks for playing along, and Happy Halloween!  -Jeff (and Pliny)

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“The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse 1810” …2010 Pumpkin Carving

Pumpkin Carving copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse

This year’s pumpkin started with an idea to play off a basic human fear: the vastness of the open ocean. What could feel more overwhelming than being in the middle of the Pacific, in a small boat, at night?

Pumpkin Carving copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

...a bit further around to the right, and we can see the tall-masted Whaling Ship 'Recompynse', in full sail, under attack from other 'ships', or flying saucers.

It plays off the idea of “aliens”.  On the rear of the pumpkin is a pair of whales, escaping the whalers (men in ships) who are themselves being attacked by ships from another world. Exactly who are the aliens here?  Just as a whale is plucked and taken from its habitat, so are the men being harvested.  A little recompense being paid by the men of the Recompynse.

The center of the composition is a longboat, being lifted into the mothership by a tractor beam, men falling or hanging by ropes as the longboat levitates into oblivion.

Copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

The men of Longboat No.1 are lifted to their demise, into a flying ship they could not begin to fathom. One man hangs by a rope, a man outside the tractor beam is falling, and one at top is soon to be the first to meet his fate.

I think I enjoy most the man at the front of the longboat, rowing frantically in vain.  The highlights that define his back and hands are nothing more than a few rounded gouges in the pumpkin. This part of the image was inspired by the fantastic image from the label on a bottle of Maudite…

pumpkin carving copyright Jeff Stikeman

The men of The Whaler Recompynse, in longboat No.2, watch helplessly, transfixed and in fear, as their comrades are raised from the water, never to be seen again. They know now perhaps how the whale feels when one of its own is taken from the water, from close beside it, by men in ships from another world.

My favorite part about this detail is the hat of the man standing at far right, and the way the tractor beam glows, with the glare from the beam partly covering the waves in front of the boat.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

A pair of whales escaping their attackers. At left, the tail of a diving humpback. At right, between two clouds, is the spout and arcing back of a humpback rising for a breath, before diving again in the escape.

This year it was a full panorama around the pumpkin. Impossible for me to stitch together even a few decent images, so it must be shown in feeble detail shots.  I have made a test image here> Whaler Recompynse in 360° (which will open a flash-based movie in another page) where you can click and drag all the way around, rotating the pumpkin as you like.  You can also tilt it downward to see the top, and rotate that as well. It is as close as I can get to capturing the effect, although the lighting in person is much subtler, and the detail reads far better. (Right now the file has a ‘trial’ watermark on it.  If you think the interaction is any good, I might buy a full copy and re-do it.  Let me know what you think)

A hand-held movie, with appropriately cheesy Halloween Sound effects, is here > The Whaler Recompynse

For me, this isn’t “carving” in the sense of sculpture.  I have seen (and am in awe of) the fantastically expert carvings of Ray Villafane, whose pumpkins are I think undeniably the best carved pumpkin sculptures ever done.  But for me this is less about  sculpture than it is about using the pumpkin as a 2D lantern, with effects from light and dark and shading, made by carving the image to differing depths.  The deeper you go, the brighter it gets.  It’s a physical negative in a sense.

copyright Jeff Stikeman 2010

"The Last Voyage of the Whaler Recompynse, 1810" ...the obligatory "room lights on" photograph.

As we all perhaps enjoyed when children,  when you turn out the lights and add a candle inside, it should be transformed from one thing into another.  The pumpkins I do tend to look very strange when the room lights are up.  We take one to a party every year where they set the pumpkins  in a corner of the room which is fully lit, for a pumpkin carving contest.  You can’t look at this in a room with lights on and find anything to recommend it. With lights on it looks like a hideous blob of pale orange, incomplete and half done.  I always feel foolish putting it on the table with the others because frankly no one can tell what the heck it’s supposed to be, and no amount of my explaining will do the trick…  I shudder, too, when people try to take a photo, because if the flash goes off, you see none of the lantern effect.  And if there’s no flash, you get a blurry orange smudge.  But that’s exactly what I like about it all.  It can’t really be captured well.  Just like the sand arches, it’s not meant to last, and it really is meant to be seen in person.  It’s fleeting fun.

Here’s last year’s pumpkin, too.  Frankenstein’s Lab

Hope you had a great Halloween.

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2009 Jack-o-Lantern: Proposed New Laboratory for Dr. Frankenstein; Interior

Frankensteins_Lab_2009_JSArchArt-blog

The Laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein; JS 2009

I guess a  jack-o-lantern or carved pumpkin can be architecturally “on-topic”, I mean, if it’s an interior perspective, right?

Let’s call this one a rendering of a “Proposed Laboratory Renovation for Dr. Frankenstein, by Ivo Shandor, Architect”.  That way I get to write off the cost of the pumpkin. (…bonus points if you can tell me who Ivo Shandor was without googling).

Carved this pumpkin last night, from about 8pm ’til 2 in the morning.  Started from a sketch I’d made in photoshop from some pasted-up reference images, after watching the 1931 film starring Karloff.  A couple of the images I used as inspiration were stills from the various “Frankenstein” movies, and I modified that idea enough to make something I thought might work as a back-lit carving.

The scene is taken a moment or two just before the doctor raises his monster to the open skylight above, where the electrical storm can bring him to life. The lab didn’t really look like this in the film so much, I had to make most of this up. It’s an idealized version of the scene as I thought I remembered it.  When I watched the film again, I was amazed to see how brief the whole scene is, and how spare and small the lab was.

Believe it or not, my favorite part is actually the big round flask of unknown liquid off to the right.  It was the last thing I carved, and could have gone horribly wrong. There’s no undo button with these things.  I had no idea how to make it read like glass and semi-transparent liquid, and had my fingers crossed when I lit the pumpkin at the end.  Small triumphs, I guess….

I carve them with the light on.  I used to keep a small lamp next to me as I did it, and would shut out the lights putting the lamp inside it to check the lighting, but now I just carve the whole thing by feel.  When I have it carved to the depth that I think works, I go in with a scraper and thin the walls behind the image.  After that, I light it up. The fun in doing these is not knowing whether or not you have it right until lighting it at the very end.

Here’s a shot of it with the lights on, which is how it looks when I’m working on it..

Frankensteins_Lab_2009_lights on_blog

A shot of the pumpkin with the lights on.

Like this, with the room lights on, the pumpkins usually gives no hint of what the image is until it’s lit. I tend to carve the front to the depth required for highlights, which means the brightest parts when lit are usually the darkest and deepest when the room lights are on. Essentially a bas relief in negative.

Concept Sketch

Concept Cartoon for the Carving

This is the thumbnail sketch I did, cobbled together from chunks of photographs, movie stills, etc. I overpainted this in photoshop, printed it out, and roughly drew the scene in water-resistant ink right onto the pumpkin, adjusting for the curve of the pumpkin and any ribs or grooves in the surface.

I don’t have a shot of the thing in-progress, but here’s a typical set-up (see below, from the 2007 Pumpkin). I usually carve these during the marathon Red Sox/Yankees post-season games (which often run 4-1/2 hours), but this year the Sox tanked it, so I had to settle for a Tivo’d run of MythBusters and Alton Brown… such is life (Go Phillies!).

carving set up

The Typical pumpkin carving set up. Rough-sketched pumpkin, sheets of reference images (including my cartoon sketch), and a set of linoleum cutters for the carving.

The pumpkin above was from 2007.  Here are a couple more shots of it. It started out to be Dracula’s Castle, but end up being the Castle of the Wicked Witch.

witch 2007

The Castle of the Wicked Witch; JS 2007

…and a shot of it with lights on.

witch lights on SMALL

The Castle of the Wicked Witch, with room lights on...

I’ve had more than a few folks tell me I should carve these into the urethane pumpkins that are now available, so that they will last from year to year.  I dunno…  Sandcastles fall, pumpkins rot.  Nothing lasts forever.  Much of the excitement the kids get out of this is knowing it won’t be around for more than a few days.  When it’s gone, it’s gone. …’til next year, I guess.

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