No matter how old you are, carving a pumpkin makes you feel like a kid again! Plus, it gives you a chance to get creative and show your artistic side.
“Anyone can do this, and not all pumpkins have to be works of art,” says expert sculptor Marc Evan, co-founder of Maniac Pumpkin Carvers in New York City. “Just have fun with it and play with the design. The pumpkin carving is meant to be enjoyed in the moment. The results are fleeting, like a bouquet that lasts only a short time.
(Of course you can make yours last a bit longer with these tips on how to keep a pumpkin from rotting! )
Here is a step by step guide on how to carve a pumpkin that will make you proud:
Pick the perfect pumpkin.
Almost any type of pumpkin or squash will do, but if you want to sculpt the iconic pumpkin style, go for an orange pumpkin for its classic appearance. If not, choose the shape or type that’s right for you, but be sure to look for pumpkins without cuts or mushy areas.
“Make sure the stem is green, which indicates a fresh pumpkin,” says Evan. If you choose one with soft spots or a dry, brittle stem, your pumpkin is past its prime and won’t last long. There may also be rot inside once you open it.
Clean up your pumpkin and prepare the work area.
Wash your pumpkin with plain soap and water; a bleach bath is not necessary and can even start to degrade the structure of the pumpkin, Evan explains. Clear your table so you have room to work, and keep plenty of rags or paper towels nearby to mop up the mess.
Line up your tools.
Surprisingly, Evan says the best tools to use for pumpkin lanterns are the inexpensive pumpkin carving sets you see sold everywhere in the fall.
“The small, serrated saws are great for cutting the rinds because they flex a bit, and the rounded orange plastic spoon is perfect for removing the insides of the pumpkin,” he says.
In a pinch, a paring knife and large serving spoon should also work. And if you are willing to experiment a bit, a linoleum cutter or a loop of ribbon clay, which is used for sculpting, will allow you to remove the skin for a translucent effect or to change the depth to which you can make cuts. It’s a fun and easy way to create detail without sculpting!
Cut out a cover.
For the classic jack o’lantern, cut a cover off the top. But if you’re doing a more intricate design, you might want to carve out a window in the back instead.
“It’s more aesthetic for complex designs and the light doesn’t come through the top, distracting the eye,” says Evan. But avoid cutting out the bottom as the pumpkin will only run juice all over your table.
Although many people like a zigzag or round cover, Evans suggests creating a hexagonal shape, which makes it easier to put on the cover. While cutting, do not cut vertically; tilt the knife slightly inward toward the center of the pumpkin to create a small “shelf” for the lid to sit on. Also, wiggle the knife around the corners of the lid a bit to make sure the cut is clean.
Scoop and scratch.
Now it’s time to get all the goop out of there. “If it has a very thick rind, trim the inside a bit so you can cut it more easily,” says Evan. Aim for about an inch thick. Make sure to remove every stringy, slippery piece, then rinse and dry the outside.
Draw your design on paper.
This step allows you to visualize what the finished product will look like. Try sketching out decorative or floral designs, as not all pumpkins have to be spooky! Then, mark the design directly on the dry pumpkin with a ballpoint pen, which works best because the final product is easy to clean with a scouring sponge. Now you are ready to sculpt! Just be sure to dry your hands and tools frequently so the knife doesn’t slip.
Add a light.
Once you have completed your masterpiece, install a battery powered LED light inside your pumpkin. Sure, you can use a votive candle or a tea light candle, but an LED is very bright, safer, and more durable, Evan says.
Enjoy your pumpkin while it lasts.
Here’s the sad truth: your pumpkin won’t last forever.
“No matter what you do, it will rot eventually,” says Evans. “We have experimented with different sprays and solutions to make them last, but the results are always unpredictable. At the most, you are going to enjoy a few days a week from your carved pumpkin. “
Your best bet is to sculpt just a day or two before Halloween, then keep it in a cool (but not freezing) place. If you’re really attached to your pumpkin, wrap it in plastic and refrigerate it every night or try giving it an ice-water bath to revive it. Don’t forget to take plenty of photos to always remember this year’s masterpiece!