The Art and Science of Pumpkin Carving
My mom was the artist in the family and she and my dad had a team approach to pumpkin carving. He would handle the major hollowing out and she would do the faces. I first carved my own pumpkins when I went off to college and decided it was sort of hard and messy. But by the time I was in graduate school and living in an apartment and wanting to put a pumpkin in my window several floors up in a city, they had invented the new, modern tools which cut pumpkins easily and don't slice fingers at all. I was back in the pumpkin game!
Carving pumpkins does take a little bit of practice but you'll be surprised how quickly it's easy to get more skilled. I find those three for $10 pumpkin deals right at the end of October are great for my pumpkin crafting. I like to do one design that's pretty much fun and easy to get warmed up again after a year of not carving pumpkins, and then I tackle something more ambitious, with the third pumpkin on standby in case I mess up. If I am successful with that year's new pumpkin experiment, then I carve something else into the third one.
Here are my best tips and tricks for expanding your skills in the art of pumpkin crafting! Remember to start simple and work up to the fancier stuff. It might only take a pumpkin or two before you are ready to do that really cool design you saw on the Internet...
Picking A Pumpkin
matching the pumpkin to your design
The first part of the pumpkin crafting process is to pick a design and then find the right pumpkin. Or vice versa. Either way you need to match up these two things. If your design is short and wide, you'll want your pumpkin to be the same shape. Tall designs need even taller pumpkins so that you don't wind up carving too close to the bottom part as it curves down.
Think about what your pumpkin design will look like just sitting in the daylight too. Designs with ghosts or skeletons might look really good carved into a white pumpkin. Or maybe what you have mind needs one of those warty, goblin pumpkins to really look good during the day. Would a flatter side make carving your design easier? Do you need a good stem on top for a handle or to add to the design?
Having The Right Tools
Make sure you get all your tools together BEFORE you start carving because finding out you need something when you're up to your wrists in pumpkin guts is annoying. You'll want spare knives/blades (in case one breaks), plenty of newspaper or a drop cloth, your best grubbies (this is a messy business), a big bowl to hold seeds and pulp (or a compost bucket) and some really good tunes because it takes a while to carve a pumpkin.
A "pricker" for transferring your design to the pumpkin, a cutting knife and a scoop are all you need to get started with carving pumpkins.
Carving Jack Skellington - fun and easy to do, especially on a white pumpkin!Click thumbnail to view full-size
More Serious Pumpkin Tools - for when you're really ready to go
If you have more than one pumpkin to carve, or if you have advanced to where you are starting to get more fancy and more detailed with your designs, it's probably time to invest in some more serious pumpkin tools. Powered cutters will speed the whole thing up, and finer blades will allow for more intricate cutting and peeling.
This kit includes a power saw, extra blades, detailing tools, stencils and helpful instructions. Plus a box to store everything.
Looking for a really wild design?
If you would like some guidance, and you are looking to show up the neighbors in the pumpkin department, this fun book will help you really ratchet up your pumpkin carving skills.
Tips and Tricks for Two-Tone Pumpkins - it's easy to get fancy with your pumpkin crafts
If you decide to get started with cutting two-tone pumpkins (where part is fully cut out and part is just peeled skin) it's best if you start out with a couple of easy designs before you move on to complex scenes and portraits. This allows you to learn how to incorporate the two methods and how to pick better pumpkins to get the effect you want.
My first two-tone was an owl against a moon. Nice and simple. This had a minimum of cutting and a lot of peeling. The trick to peeling and making the light orange really show up is to scrape the inside of the pumpkin thinner behind where the skin has come off on the outside. This makes it easier for the light to shine through. I took this one outside with a candle inside and checked it a few times, bringing it back inside to scrape out more pumpkin wall before I got the moon to look as bright as I wanted. I also had to check the eyes a few times and make then a bit larger so that they would show up very brightly.
See How The Pros Do It - extreme pumpkin carving
Did you know there are people who make their living by being pumpkin carving experts? It turns out there are some of them out there, and some do it just seasonally and a few are so devoted that they work on their skills and ideas year-round! Here is some video inspiration and advanced tricks and tips.
Cutting A Fancier Two-Tone Pumpkin - it's not too hard to make up your own designClick thumbnail to view full-size
Tell Us Below...
What are you planning to carve this year? How did it work out? Did you have any challenges? How did you work them out? Or do you need some pumpkin crafting advice? Share your Halloween pumpkin stories!