When Boise Weekly got local artist Brandy Davis on the phone, she was pushing a shopping cart full of pumpkins to her car--props intended not for her porch, but for a carving demonstration on a local news segment. While most Boiseans probably know Davis for her Native American portraits painted on feathers that often take home awards at the Western Idaho Fair, during the Halloween season she steps from her job as a freelance artist and full-time mom into another role: professional pumpkin carver.
This year, that skill and a well-placed application landed her a spot on season eight of The Food Network's Halloween Wars, a competition show that pits teams of three (one pumpkin carver, one cake master and one sugar artist) against each other in timed challenges to create intricate, terrifying displays with themes like "The Boogeyman's Worst Nightmare" and "Clowns vs. Zombies." Brandy's team, Team Tricked-Out-Treats, and others have already competed for four weeks leading up to the show's finale Sunday, Oct. 28.
For people who haven't seen Halloween Wars, can you walk me through what it's like? I understand there are two different challenges each week.
You do the Small Scare, which is 45 minutes, and you have that [time] only, which is insanely difficult because to build these huge pieces in 45 minutes is next to impossible, but they do it. So that's the first one and those are judged, and then the winner of that challenge gets to have extra help in the next challenge, which is so handy, because you want as many hands on board as you can get. So when the Spine Chiller comes, that's the main challenge. I want to say we had 8 hours to finish our pieces, and that time just flies by.
How did you get started pumpkin carving?
So this is back in 2012, there was an online worldwide pumpkin carving contest ... I just wanted to enter and see if I could win, and part of me knew that I could if I just kept going. Sure enough, I think I entered in three or four pumpkins—and they were only like the second, third and fourth pumpkins I'd ever carved in my life—and after about a month, I think it was like October, maybe it was the 31st, they announced the winner. And there were some fantastic, fantastic entries, I mean I was in awe of the stuff that was coming in [from] top-of-the-line artists. But I entered in a 3D pumpkin carving of The Grinch and it actually won the whole contest, and I was so excited! That kind of kicked things off for me.
When you're not on TV, how do you put your pumpkin carving skills to work in Boise?
Here in Boise I've been contacted by Linder Farms [and] The Farmstead. They would have me go out and carve pumpkins as a live demonstration, and I've carved for the Village at Meridian when they have events there for Halloween. I just sit and I carve live and I set up pumpkin displays, and it's really neat. It attracts a huge crowd because most people have never seen that kind of pumpkin carving before.
And what kind is that? I assume you're doing something a lot more complicated than what the rest of us do in our kitchens before Halloween.
These are so far from that. I guess the thing that I can liken it to the most is, have you ever seen subtractive wood carving, when they kind of chip away at it and reveal a face? This is very similar. You just remove the rind of the pumpkin, and we use clay sculpting tools and pottery tools and we just scrape away until we start seeing the face that we want, until it's done. And that can be anywhere between five to...gosh, I've spent 10 or 11 hours on one.
Can you describe one of the displays you made for Halloween Wars?
We had to come up with something the Boogeyman would be afraid of, which is kind of hard because you're thinking, "Well, everyone's afraid of the Boogeyman," so you have to put yourself in his shoes and think, "Hmm, what would he be afraid of?" So we're thinking, why does the Boogeyman go out and scare kids at night? And well, we're like, "Oh, idea, maybe he has someone else to answer to. Maybe he doesn't even like scaring kids. Maybe he's just collecting them to pay a ransom to this snake that comes and visits him every so often." So we decided to make a really ferocious-looking, two-headed snake that he'd be offering this little bag of children to.
Have you had any challenges with things falling apart? Anything unexpected?
Everything on that show is unexpected. You think you go in prepared, but you have to understand that when you get on there, pretty much everything that can go wrong will probably go wrong ... But that's what I love about it, that's part of the challenge—to fix it and make it work.
One last note: I noticed looking at the teams that you're the only woman featured as a pumpkin carver. Is carving a male-dominated field?
It is. As a matter of fact, when I got there, the judges even acknowledged that. So one of the things that didn't air but that when I was there, Shinmin [Li], who's the female judge on that show, she really complimented me on my ability, especially as a female pumpkin carver ... She was very impressed with it, and did comment that it's a highly male-dominated industry. And I didn't think about it until after, but I'm like, you know what, it really is. I only know of myself and two other pretty good female pumpkin carvers, and the rest are men. We hold our own though. We can do anything they can do.