How to Carve a Photo of Your Dog or Cat Onto a Pumpkin



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mazel and marshall pumpkin

Carving your dog or cat's face onto a pumpkin is a super fun way to get the whole family involved in the festivities.

First, we'll go over how to make your pet's pumpkin stencil and then we'll get our hands dirty, open the pumpkins up and start the carving.

This photo is of my cat, Mazel, standing next to the pumpkin I made of our Frenchie, Marshall, last year. This year, it's Mazel's turn!

Please note: This is for all artistic levels and ages (as long as the pumpkin cutting and poking tools you're using are family-friendly). In fact, I am someone who is not what you would call "artistically inclined". Thanks to Bob Ross, I know that there are no mistakes, only happy accidents, so even if the finished product doesn't look exactly as you expected, it's Halloween — everything is supposed to be a little "off"! (I'm saying this ahead of time but, please keep this in mind when you see my finished product).

What You'll Need to Make Stencil

  • Photo of your pet(s)
    • Best results will be from images with high contrast of lights and darks
  • A photo editing program like Photoshop (which I'll be using), but you can also use Gimp for free
    • You'll need to manipulate the photo to make it easier to see the dark and light parts on the pumpkin. You'll also want the dark areas attached to each other so that you aren't trying to have parts of their face floating in space (it won't work)

mazel pumpkin stencil beforeI decided to use this photo of my kitty, Mazel. He makes a really good subject, not just because he is incredibly handsome, but he's also naturally high-contrast.

I really want the main attraction of the pumpkin to be Mazel's face, and since my pumpkin's main focal surface area is about 6" x 6", I cropped the photo to 6" x 4".

To manipulate the image, first convert your color photo to grayscale. (Photoshop: Image > Mode > Grayscale)

Now it's time to boost the contrast. (Photoshop: Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast)

how to make pumpkin stencil contrast

You may need to do repeat this step multiple times — whatever makes it easiest for you to be able to distinguish light from dark.

pumpkin pet stencil contrast 2
If you're using Photoshop, you can also use the Dodge tool to lighten areas throughout the image. I used it around Mazel's eyes and his cute little nose. If you couldn't have guessed already, whiskers are really tricky. So, to make things easier, I drew over Mazel's face and exaggerated a few of his whiskers, and made his nose and mouth a little more full to complete the template.

Mazel finished template
Now it's time to print your stencil and get it on your pumpkin.

Prepping Your Pumpkin for Carving

You probably can use any pumpkin, but I like to go easy on myself by using a gourd with a relatively smooth and large surface area and as few blemishes or ridges as possible — at least where I'll be carving.

Note: You can also use reusable foam pumpkins from your local craft store to keep your designs around year after year!

  • Wipe down your pumpkin with an anti-bacterial wipe to keep away any bacteria that could cause early rotting

  • Cut a "back door" in the back of the pumpkin instead of taking the stem off the top

    • Pumpkin carving experts say that instead of cutting from the top where the stem gives nutrition to the pumpkin after it has been picked, you should cut and clean from the back of the pumpkin. This not only keeps the pumpkin alive for longer, but it also makes for easier access to your light source.

This was my first time cutting a back door and I found it to be a little more difficult to clean inside, but next time I'll try creating a bigger entryway since it will be patched up either way. It was really easy to put the tea light candles in and would be even better for anyone using a corded light source.

carve back door into pumpkin

Get Your Pumpkin Carving Tools Ready

  • Your handy dandy stencil cut out

  • A serrated knife, pumpkin carving kit knives and scooper if you have one, otherwise an Exacto knife

  • Tape to hold your stencil

  • Push pins, safety pin, toothpicks, or the plastic punch tool from your pumpkin carving kit (the toothpicks also come in handy if you accidentally cut off something that was supposed to stay on...I might know from experience)

  • Newspaper to put underneath your work area so you can get as messy as you need

Here's the set of pumpkin carving tools I ended up using (I haven't use every tool yet, but when I feel more comfortable trying fancy things, perhaps I will)

pumpkin carving kit

Put the stencil on your pumpkin using your tape and have it lay as flat as possible. We're keeping things simple around here but your image may have more gray than mine, and if you're a pro or feel like challenging yourself, go ahead and try some shading!

trace stencil and cut away what isnt needed

Use your push pin, safety pin, or toothpicks to punch out little holes to trace the black parts of your image. The closer the holes are, the easier it will be for you to follow the tracing to cut later on.

Once you've got your outlines traced, you can remove the stencil and start cutting!

poke stencil to trace onto pumpkin

Keep a picture of your stencil handy so you remember what to cut and what to keep. I had to cut a bit of an extra outline around Mazel's head so that it would show up on the pumpkin.

Here's what the carved finished product looks like before lighting (and this was very scary for me because I totally thought I ruined it)

carved pumpkin before lighting

But once it was lit, I thought it looked pretty cute!

finished mazel pumpkin

UPDATE: Here is my Marshall pumpkin! What I learned this time, is that you can have more detail without taking out too much of the pumpkin!

I think the important thing is making distinctive lines as thick as you need them to be to let light shine through, but not take out too much or disconnect things so as to take out a chunk of the pumpkin (which I did to Mazel's, and still ended up doing to Marshall's). My wife helped me with visualizing things though, and created a stencil for me out of Marshall's picture. She also add some white out to make it so that I wouldn't carve too much.

making french bulldog stencil

I still managed to carve a little too much, but I'm really happy with the results!

how to carve a french bulldog pumpkin

how to carve a photo of your pet onto a pumpkin

Do you have any tips for doing things even more easily? Want to show us your finished masterpiece? Leave a note in the comments below, or send us an email with a picture of your pumpkin, we'd love to see it!