Sinister snaggletoothed sentinels, most jack-o'-lanterns flaunt the traditional features of ample curves, a rich candlelit glow, and kitschy gruesomeness. Beyond providing decoration and atmospheric light, however, carved pumpkins don't make themselves very useful. They just sit on their windowsills and grimace at passersby. Why can't they help out more around the house?
They can. Think of that orange squash as not only an ornament but an artist's tool, and you can have your lantern and use it to make fantastical block prints, too. For carving and inking designs in relief, pumpkins, it turns out, work as well as potatoes, wood, or linoleum -- materials long used to make prints on paper or fabric. You begin by carving pumpkins. You can create designs yourself, or download our templates.
Our crafts department's signature style of carving pumpkins in relief -- thinning the flesh so the design stands out clearly -- makes for dramatic jack-o'-lanterns and good printing tools. Then they put those pumpkins to work. To transfer the images, coat the designs in ink and stamp them onto gauze for curtains, paper bags for luminarias, trick-or-treat sacks for collecting bounty, or favor bags for a party. Whatever projects you prefer, you'll end up with a houseful of harmonious decorations -- not to mention jack-o'-lanterns, the memory of which will haunt the neighbors long after October 31.
Tools and Materials
Template, transparent or masking tape, lino ink, paintbrush, brayer, fine-tip linoleum-cutting (lino) tool, wide-tip lino tool, awl
With the proper tools (available at art-supply stores), carving a pumpkin for printing is as easy as painting by numbers. First draw a template, or download ours. Enlarge to desired size. Cut a hole in bottom of pumpkin and scrape out flesh (thin wall behind design to about 1/2 inch thick so light shines through).
1. Tape template onto pumpkin. Use an awl to punch holes along design. Remove template; keep it nearby to refer to while carving.
2. With a fine-tip lino tool, carve outline and interior features of image, exposing but not cutting all the way through the flesh. Draw a frame around design with a pen.
3. Using a wide-tip lino tool, carve away rind inside frame and around design, cutting 1/4 inch deep so printing area is in clear relief. Rub petroleum jelly on exposed flesh to repel ink drips and to slow decay (if ink does stray, cut away stain).
4. Coat brayer with lino ink; carefully roll onto design. Use a paintbrush to fill in missed areas.
Use this printing method for any paper item. Japanese rice paper picks up ink especially well and produces prints that look aged.
1. Press a piece of paper against inked image, using your fingers to make sure paper touches all inked areas. (Rice paper is very thin, so you will see the image form as you work.)
2. Peel away paper gently; let dry. Touch up print with paintbrush, if desired. For more prints, repeat, reinking each time.
3. For our framed silhouettes, cut images into circles and affix to card stock with glue stick. Run a black streamer through a sewing machine's ruffler foot. Glue to the front edge of the image.
This is as straightforward as printing on paper, but fabric is limper and requires careful handling.
1. Lay top of cloth against inked pumpkin; rub until design appears on cloth.
2. Carefully remove cloth. Wait a few minutes to let the ink set; then repeat across the width of the curtain. Bats are nice for this project because the prints line up so the animals all appear to be hanging from one branch.
3. When dry, fold top edge of muslin over, and sew a channel to fit your curtain rod. Hang the curtain so that the printed side faces the room.