AB: I actually did try carving a Santa Claus pumpkin last year that gave me a really hard time—I didn't even finish it. Something about carving that much hair and beard in pumpkin just was not working for me, and the pumpkin I used was a bit old and dry which only made it more difficult. I think I'll take another stab at St. Nick this December, hopefully with better results!
GL: Does your team collaborate artistically on pumpkin sculptures? How does that process work?
AB: Ray and I often collaborate on pumpkins, although it's more of a creative-input process than a physical collaboration. Ray is my favorite source to bounce ideas off of because he is simply the Jedi Master of this craft and is overflowing with brilliant ideas. We are about to take the concept of pumpkin collaboration to a whole new level, though: On October 19 through 21, Ray and I will be working with two of our crew members—Trevor Grove and Chris Vierra—to create a life-size zombie pumpkin at the New York Botanical Garden. We will have all hands on deck, with multiple artists carving and creating one collective piece. I believe this is the first time we've ever enlisted multiple artists on the same pumpkin sculpture, and I'm very excited about it! Trevor and Chris are incredible additions to the team and it's going to be a blast.
GL: Where do you get your ideas?
RV: I usually work from a picture in my head, although sometimes I gather some references that are good to have on hand. I rarely have a strong plan that I follow through with—I'm not organized enough for that. When I was teacher, I was the one who was always borrowing pencils from the kids because I didn't have any. But in some ways I think not being too organized about it helps me come up with ideas.
GL: What's the pumpkin carving you've done that you're proudest of?
AB: That's a tough question, but I think the pumpkin I'm most fond of is also the most modest one I ever carved. I was packing up from a carving appearance I had just finished in Jackson, Michigan, when a little boy walked up to me with a softball-size pumpkin he'd gotten that day at the festival. He asked if I could carve Iron Man for him—how could I resist? I unpacked my tools and carved him a little Iron Man pumpkin. It was small, quick, and I don't even have a picture of it, but it made that little boy's day!
GL: What artists and artworks inspire you? Anyone you'd like to do a pumpkin homage to?
RV: My main goal with each pumpkin is, to me, I want the pumpkin to come alive. I want it to tell a story—even a little story, even if it just has a little twist to it. I want the pumpkin to feel alive, which is one of the reasons I often do faces. If Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz had stumbled across a pumpkin patch, the type of pumpkin that she would have encountered, that's the kind of pumpkin I want to carve.
AB: I'm sounding like a broken record, but my partner Ray Villafane has by far been my biggest inspiration where pumpkin carving is concerned. He thinks so far outside the box sometimes, I have a hard time keeping up! Outside the world of pumpkins, I have been greatly influenced by countless artists over the years, but at the top of the list would probably be the great special-effects wizards like Stan Winston and Rick Baker. I would love to carve an homage to their work, such as Harry from Harry and the Hendersons or a dinosaur from Jurassic Park. Looks like my to-do list for 2013 is quickly filling up!