Today in my inbox pops Pinterest’s daily email, this time featuring Pumpkin Carving! I must admit it was impressive the creativity that goes in to creating these little works of art. I was impressed. I am even more amazed at the sometimes air defying and humongous works of sculpture created by the pumpkin artists on Food Network’s Halloween Wars. They are full on three dimensional sculptures that when combined with cake and candy turn into masterful vignettes designed to put the scare in you.
As much as I amazed and fascinated by their skill, I find myself saying, “That’s great but what about us Joe Blows who are pretty much skilled at the traditional triangle eye and jagged mouth pumpkin carving?” Well, I found a Joe and asked him.
Joe, my husband, that is. I admit I am a little biased but when it comes to seeing more than a pumpkin in a pumpkin, he’s my guy. Plus, what he does, while definitely creative and often out of the box, are things that those of us who are not sculptures of Halloween Wars caliber can do too! So I pinned him down and quizzed him about pumpkins. Here’s what he shared:
1. How do you pick a pumpkin? Do you have a design in mind before you pick the pumpkin or does the pumpkin dictate the design? What about shape?
The pumpkin can be the catalyst. I can see a stem and think that would make a cool nose. Or the warts on the pumpkin can inspire. If I’m doing a traditional pumpkin, I look for a pumpkin when on the ground that is level, with a slightly bowed front on one side that is fairly flat for the face and has a slight lean upward so the face is clearly visible (when carved).
It depends on what I am carving it for. When I’m carving for a contest, then I try to create something unique that you don’t expect with pumpkin carving. I’ve done a crocodile, a snowman, a fruit basket, a jack-n-the-box, and a hot air balloon. If I’m doing traditional carving, then it kind of depends on the mood I am in and what the pumpkin is saying to me. You know, it can be spooky or it can be fun and cute and silly. Ultimately I let the pumpkin speak to me.
First, I don’t draw my design on the pumpkin before prepping unless it is in permanent marker. Otherwise, by the time I’m done and have cleaned up the pumpkin, the design is gone. I start by cutting the top out. I make sure to do this at an inward angle of about 45-60 degrees so that the lid doesn’t slip through. Next, I clean the top and the inside getting all the guts and seeds out of it. If I have a thicker walled pumpkin, I will thin out the side I’m carving by scrapping more of the wall.
However, you have to be careful. Thinner pumpkin walls means its easier to cut but it also makes it easier to break. I then clean up the pumpkin dying him off and then I draw on my design in a non-permanent pen. (I know I used to make little guide holes along my design and then clean the face before I started cutting.) You can do that too. Either way, the next step is cutting.
Really, really sharp knives are good but not necessarily safe for using with kids. The kits that you can find a drug stores, markets and similar are great for cutting and are not as traditionally sharp so kids are less likely to get hurt.
If you want more light to shine through, make your normal cut, say on a traditional square eye, you will find that the eye socket tapers inward (where the edges of the triangle get closer to each other). Then go back, from behind, and slowly and carefully carve the opposite angle in the socket from the back/inside of the pumpkin. The wider the hole, the more light gets in. I don’t do it but you can also scrap the skin off which leaves the pumpkin transparent in those areas.
I like to use parts of the pumpkin I discarded as additional parts of the pumpkin. For example the waste of an eye can be turned into an ear. It makes the pumpkin 3D. I also like to use the stem in creative ways, like making it my nose and turning the pumpkin on the side. If you want a more grouse feel to a pumpkin, carve it early and by Halloween it will have start to rot and get more knarly with “moldy” gray patches. You can also use the pumpkin seeds and guts like vomit.
I find that square teeth convey a more goofy feel to a pumpkin while pointed teeth feel more scary. They don’t have to be symmetrical either. They can be more of centered and that gives them an even more unique look. Its also about what is the main part you want to see, the day pumpkin or the night glowing face. Its not so much about the size of the pumpkin but rather the size of the face that shows up at night. I personally prefer traditional candles to LED candles. The scent is better, especially if it lightly flicks the top and you get a mild roasted pumpkin smell. The flicker of the light is better.
Have fun and listen to the pumpkin. Keep your seeds and make roasted salted FRESH pumpkin seeds!
Thank you to my husband. I appreciate him sharing his thoughts and tips here. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next! All the carved pumpkins featured are his own design and carving. I personally think he does awesome work!!!