BERLIN — What started out as an alternate way of carving pumpkins for his children’s class projects has turned into a cottage industry for carver Kenny Bliss.
When he began carving pumpkins professionally, he was working at the Dough Roller in Ocean City and convinced his bosses to commission one from him. The project took off after that.
In the intervening decade, Bliss has become one of the most sought after pumpkin artists in the area, keeping busy for the better part of each fall as a continually increasing number of businesses and residents commission pumpkins of all kinds.
As the hobby became a business, Bliss worked to make sure he had a reliable supply of superior pumpkins. He contracted with a farm in Powellville to provide him with pumpkins that had just the right skin texture.
That connection has helped to protect Bliss from worrying about supply issues and fluctuations in demand or the combination of the two that has put a bit of a crimp in pumpkin availability around the country.
Smitty McGee’s was among Bliss’ first major customers, often ordering five or more pumpkins each year. The restaurant and bar used to have a spokesmodel each year who posed with a motorcycle to be photographed for an annual T-shirt and various promotions.
Bliss reproduced those photographs on the pumpkins down to the motorcycle’s bolts, making his creations so memorable that there were several attempts by overenthusiastic patrons to grab them and head for the door.
Although none of the thefts were ever successful, that someone would attempt to steal a carved pumpkin says a great deal about how eye-catching they can be, and that is the draw for most businesses.
Just as important as their aesthetic quality is the fact that they can be used well through the Halloween season, often lasting through Thanksgiving and occasionally into the new year. Bliss’ secret for pumpkin longevity has to do with a combination of his carving method and the topcoat that protects the pumpkins from decomposition.
Working freehand is always an option and something of which he is capable but the most effective way to carve the pumpkin perfectly is to work from a pattern. His method is to adhere a company logo or a provided photo — he’s done both a David Letterman and a Julia Roberts from printed photos — to the pumpkin and make the lightest cut along the lines.
Once he has the paper completely sketched onto the pumpkin, Bliss goes to work with X-ACTO knives to get the various textures the piece requires. The depth of each of the cuts can only be measured in millimeters. A gouge much deeper could curtail the shelf life significantly.
With the cuts made to his satisfaction, Bliss begins hand-painting the piece, reproducing whichever colors were commissioned or using his own artistic skills depending upon the client’s wishes. After the finishing coats are dry, the pumpkin is ready for delivery.
To see creations by Bliss, visit his Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/createearlybliss to commission a pumpkin call 443-365-0716.