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Pumpkin Crafting

Updated on September 8, 2014

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...

A drunken pumpkin, the morning after Halloween...
A drunken pumpkin, the morning after Halloween... | Source

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.

Paper Magic Group Killer Pumpkins Carving Kit
Paper Magic Group Killer Pumpkins Carving Kit

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
This is the Jack pattern, taped to a white pumpkin and all ready to start.Using a pricking tool or wheel, you transfer the design to the pumpkin by poking all over the pattern.  HOLLOW OUT THE PUMPKIN AFTER DOING THIS STEP.Now that the pumpkin is hollowed out, you punch some holes so that you have a place to start cutting.Here is Jack right after he's been all cut out.Here's Jack sitting on the porch, outside and ready to go.Jack, lit at night!
This is the Jack pattern, taped to a white pumpkin and all ready to start.
This is the Jack pattern, taped to a white pumpkin and all ready to start. | Source
Using a pricking tool or wheel, you transfer the design to the pumpkin by poking all over the pattern.  HOLLOW OUT THE PUMPKIN AFTER DOING THIS STEP.
Using a pricking tool or wheel, you transfer the design to the pumpkin by poking all over the pattern. HOLLOW OUT THE PUMPKIN AFTER DOING THIS STEP. | Source
Now that the pumpkin is hollowed out, you punch some holes so that you have a place to start cutting.
Now that the pumpkin is hollowed out, you punch some holes so that you have a place to start cutting. | Source
Here is Jack right after he's been all cut out.
Here is Jack right after he's been all cut out. | Source
Here's Jack sitting on the porch, outside and ready to go.
Here's Jack sitting on the porch, outside and ready to go. | Source
Jack, lit at night!
Jack, lit at night! | Source

More Serious Pumpkin Tools - for when you're really ready to go

The Perfect Pumpkin Power Tool Box
The Perfect Pumpkin Power Tool Box

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?

Extreme Pumpkin Carving: 20 Amazing designs from Frightful to Fabulous
Extreme Pumpkin Carving: 20 Amazing designs from Frightful to Fabulous

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

Owl pumpkin, carved by Rae
Owl pumpkin, carved by Rae | Source

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 design

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The design taped to the pumpkin to start.Transferring the design to the pumpkin.Marking the part to be fully cut out with a marker so it can be easily recognized from the part to just be peeled.Cutting out the parts to be removed.Peeling the skin from the parts to be left see-thru.The finished two-tone pumpkin.  Part of the design will be soft orange and part will be bright.
The design taped to the pumpkin to start.
The design taped to the pumpkin to start. | Source
Transferring the design to the pumpkin.
Transferring the design to the pumpkin. | Source
Marking the part to be fully cut out with a marker so it can be easily recognized from the part to just be peeled.
Marking the part to be fully cut out with a marker so it can be easily recognized from the part to just be peeled. | Source
Cutting out the parts to be removed.
Cutting out the parts to be removed. | Source
Peeling the skin from the parts to be left see-thru.
Peeling the skin from the parts to be left see-thru. | Source
The finished two-tone pumpkin.  Part of the design will be soft orange and part will be bright.
The finished two-tone pumpkin. Part of the design will be soft orange and part will be bright. | Source

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!

What Did You Carve? - share your pumpkin stories!

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    • Elyn MacInnis profile image

      Elyn MacInnis 

      6 years ago from Shanghai, China

      I always used a big ugly knife with a thick blade and cut out the traditional triangle eyes, nose, and mouth with teeth. This year I will be in the US, so I will try finding a carving set, and with your inspiration I will see what I can do - thanks! Sprinkled with squidangel dust...

    • schwarz profile imageAUTHOR

      Rae Schwarz 

      6 years ago from Seattle, WA

      @Mary Stephenson: My whole point is that you can totally carve pumpkins now without so much as a paper cut.

    • Mary Stephenson profile image

      Mary Stephenson 

      6 years ago from California

      Haven't tried it in years, but with all the crafting tools to do it with now I would not even attempt it without them. No point in slicing a finger or two in the name of art!

    • Dressage Husband profile image

      Stephen J Parkin 

      6 years ago from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada

      I have carved cats, witches and spooky faces, the best was a black cat silhouette.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 

      6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      You've inspired me!

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