Pumpkins freshly sheared from the vine sit awaiting the harvest. Some stand tall, casting ominous shadows on the sun-baked earth. Others lay low, their orange flesh creeping through the dirt.
Every gourd has its own haunting charm.
As Roger Pope peruses the ripe pumpkin patch, he looks for something that jumps out at him: a face.
For the past six years, Roger has been a professional pumpkin carver. When it comes to picking the right pumpkin for his next sculpture, it is all about inspiration.
“I am looking at the pumpkins in the pumpkin patch and I’ll see a face or a little character,” Roger says. “It is kind of like the pumpkin is telling me what it wants to be.”
Roger grew up in Dallas, Oregon, and has always been drawn to visual arts. He studied visual communications at The Art Institute of Seattle.
“I’ve been doing graphic design my entire life,” Roger says. “I’ve had some other odd jobs here and there, but every time I try to get away from graphic design, it draws me back.”
One unexpected twist in Roger’s career was his budding interest in pumpkin sculpting. From carving with his kids to watching “Halloween Wars” on Food Network, Roger’s curiosity for this art form grew.
In 2013, Dutch Bros Coffee in Dallas, Oregon, announced a pumpkin carving contest. Roger created a zippered head exposing a brain. He attached a pump to a Dutch Bros travel cup and had coffee flowing out of it. He called it “Coffee on the Brain.” Roger’s caffeinated creation won.
“It’s one of my favorite pumpkins I’ve ever made,” Roger says.
After that, was working on a project for Arlie Hills Farm and they asked if he knew of a carver for live pumpkin demonstrations at the farm.
Roger took the job.
After the first year, demand for Roger’s carving demonstrations grew. That is when he officially became a professional pumpkin carver.
Three years ago, Roger moved to Boardman, Oregon. He is the graphics and media producer for the Hermiston School District. Roger has continued his carving demonstrations at local spots, including Echo Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, and Bellinger Farms in Hermiston, Oregon.
Roger’s sculptures are freehand. He first scrapes away the outer flesh. Then he carves the nose, cheeks, eyes and mouth. Guests ask questions as they watch Roger’s creations come to life.
It takes him six to 10 hours to create two sculptures.
“I am really an exhibitionist,” Roger says. “When guests start to realize the magic of what is going on, they get excited.”
Roger’s carvings range from haunting to humorous. Some have big goofy grins and overgrown teeth. Others have stitched mouths and fierce expressions.
“At the end of the day, it is all about having fun, so there are no rules,” says Roger. n
Q&A: PUMPKIN CARVING TIPS
Looking to up your pumpkin carving game this season? Use Roger Pope’s tips to bring your front porch to life with hauntingly hollowed or whimsically treated pumpkin creations.
For Roger, there are three types of pumpkin carvings you can choose to do: A traditional carving of cutting out shapes to create a face or design; creating a silhouette pumpkin by scraping down the skin and illuminating it with an interior light; or making a 3D sculpted pumpkin by scraping away the skin and leaving the inside of the pumpkin intact.
What type of pumpkin should you choose?
When you’re at the pumpkin patch or store, look for a healthy pumpkin with a big hearty stem.
When it comes to shape or size, Roger says choose what inspires you.
For carving faces, Roger looks at the flattened part of the pumpkin. At this spot, there will be a point that has formed, or an apex.
“When you carve a face in the pumpkin, you are carving at the apex,” he says. “That is where you want to carve your nose and face because it is the thickest part of the pumpkin.”
If you want to try something other than a pumpkin, pick up a blue hubbard squash.
“The outer skin is a mint green, and the interior is a very dark green,” Roger says. “As you scrape away, it leaves this black line around the outer edge. The deeper you get, the more yellow it gets.”
What types of tools should you use?
Grabbing steak knives or scrounging up last year’s pumpkin carving kit is a start, but Roger has another inexpensive option to try. He uses clay sculpting tools, which can be found at local arts and crafts supply stores.
Clay tools come in a wide variety. Roger recommends a large scraping tool, a couple of curved tools and a smaller triangular-shaped tool for details. When he carves, he also has an X-Acto knife and a metal straw to carve out pupils.
How do you keep your carving station clean?
Cleaning out the inside of a pumpkin is messy work you don’t necessarily have to do. For 3D sculpted pumpkins, Roger leaves the pumpkin whole.
To keep his sculpture tidy and to remove small fragments, Roger keeps a moist towel, spray bottle and toothbrush on hand.
How can you make your pumpkin carving last longer?
Pumpkin carving is a temporary art form. It could last weeks or days. Roger recommends soaking the pumpkin in a tub of water after carving to allow it to re-hydrate, like the stems of flowers.
You also can spray the pumpkin with a solution of bleach and water. This will change the color of the flesh of the pumpkin to white, which may be a cool effect.
How can you keep practicing year-round?
Roger says spaghetti squash and potatoes are a great for practice.