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April 27, 2015

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Tips and photo inspiration for your pumpkin-carving adventure


Steve Marcus

Pumpkin artist Ray Villafane works on a pumpkin sculpture during an exhibition in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. Pumpkins by Villafane and Andy Bergholtz will be displayed at Heidi Klum’s Halloween party and other Halloween events at Tao and Lavo.

Amazing Pumpkin Art by Ray Villafane

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Pumpkin Artist Ray Villafane

Pumpkin artists Ray Villafane and Andy Bergholtz pose during a pumpkin-carving exhibition in the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. The pumpkins will be displayed at Heidi Klum's Halloween party and other Halloween events at Tao and Lavo. Launch slideshow »

Pumpkins from the patch: Check.

Old newspapers spread across the kitchen table: Check.

Sharp knife: Check.

Idea of what to carve: Uh-oh.

Halloween is one of those times that everyone gets to show off their artistic skills. But how do you make your pumpkin stand out from your neighbors? Something other than the usual triangle eyes, a toothy grin and maybe a small nose.

The Sun asked pumpkin experts Ray Villafane and Andy Bergholtz that question last year while they were in town carving for Tao and Lavo nightclubs.

Villafane has been carving pumpkins for more than a decade and has worked on projects in New York City and Washington, D.C., including at the White House. He's also been on the Food Network.

Each of his pumpkins take four or five hours to create, although Villafane says he sometimes spends more than 10 hours on a project.

Bergholtz is a longtime sculptor, but Villafane persuaded him to try his hand at pumpkin carving.

“It is just sculpting in a different medium,” Bergholtz said.

“It’s not much different,” Villafane added. “There’s a small learning curve.”

So what’s the trick to sculpting a pumpkin? We asked Villafane for his top five tips:

      1. Pick the right pumpkin

      "The No. 1 most important tip, above everything else is to get a good pumpkin," Villafane said.

      He drove 11 hours each way to Northern California to hand select his pumpkins from a grower there. He picks up and inspects 20 to 30 pumpkins for every one he likes, he said.

      It has to be heavy for its size, indicating that the skin is thick. "That's very important," he said.

      2. Push the limits

      To make the image as 3D as possible, you have to carve as deep as you can, he said.

      "Use all of the material," he said.

      Even after more than 10 years of carving pumpkins, Villafane said he still sometimes goes too deep and cuts into the center, which isn't good, but it's important to push through as far as possible.

      3. Use a point of reference

      It's possible to just think of a picture and start carving, but Villafane suggests having a picture or object to use as a guide.

      While working on his third pumpkin for Tao, he had a picture of a face on his iPhone, which was sitting right next to the pumpkin and occasionally ended up with some pumpkin shavings on it.

      4. Adapt

      The artist has to be flexible as sculpting progresses, Villafane said. "It does not always go according to plan, so unless you have unlimited pumpkins and unlimited time to start over, you've got to adapt," he said.

      5. Have the right tools

      This is a bit of a shameless plug, for Villafane sells a tool kit and instructional DVD on his website.

      More importantly, he doesn't use a huge kitchen knife or anything with a serrated edge. The goal isn't to chop up the pumpkin, but to slowly whittle away the skin.

      He recommends using tools with fine points, like an X-acto knife and a paring knife, and various sizes of clay ribbon loops.

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