One of my favorite things to do for Halloween is carve pumpkins. Here are a few tips:
* Carved pumpkins only last a few days before they shrivel up and mold, so try to wait until a day or two before you do your carving. If your pumpkin does start to shrivel, try soaking it in a large sink or bathtub to revive it.
* Choose a pattern. Even if you’re a beginner and expect to do no more than triangle eyes and a zig-zag mouth, you can still find simple patterns that have interesting Jack-O-Lantern expressions. You can find Pumpkin Masters books of patterns and tool kits at most grocery and drug stores or Wal-Mart. I’m a big fan of Zombie Pumpkins. The designs may be intimidating at first, but they’re well worth the efffort! You can search online for all kinds of patterns, including simple family friendly patterns or fun fall designs from Martha Stewart. You can even try out other creative ideas to decorate your pumpkins.
* Choose pumpkins to match your patterns or design choice(s). Is your design round or elongated? Make sure you find a pumpkin that is the right size and that the flatter part of the pumpkin faces slightly upward when it is sitting on the ground. Deep ridges in the pumpkin will interfere with detail in your pattern, so keep it smooth. If you’re doing a simple Jack-O-Lantern face, it’s not as important. Don’t forget, you can also use a scanner or photocopier to shrink or enlarge your pattern.
* Make sure you have a large working space, plenty of newspaper to cover your surface, and a plastic bag to hold all the pumpkin guts. Allow plenty of time. Some carvings can take up to an hour or two to complete.
* Carve your top at an angle so your lid doesn’t fall through. I often carve an asymetrical diamond shape at a 45 degree cut to help keep it in place.
* Scoop out the guts well. Use a scraping tool that comes in a carving kit. Make sure to leave a flat bottom so your light source will have a sturdy place to sit. Big secret: scrape extra from the inside of the wall that are you are going to carve. You don’t want it to be weak, but a thinner wall will be easier to carve the intricate details, and those details will show through better when your creation is lit.
* Clean the seeds and find a great recipe online to roast them!
* Line your printed pattern on your pumpkin, and tape it down. You can cut slices into the corners of the pattern to help it lie flat on the pumpkin surface.
* If your tool kit doesn’t come with a poker, you can use a toothpick for this next step. Poke holes about a couple millimeters apart along the lines of your pattern. They don’t have to be deep, just enough to perforate your design into the pumpkin.
* Work from the center out to the edges, and carve the smaller details first and then carve the bigger parts. Using the small carving saws in a kit is key. You can’t carve details with a kitchen knife. Be careful, and saw back and forth around the pattern. I’ve heard stories about people trying to use drills and Dremel tools to carve pumpkins without much luck. A drill is great if you want perfect circles, such as in this Jason Voorhees hockey mask, but I hear those tools don’t help as much as you might imagine. I think the kit tools work very well.
* Light your Jack-O-Lantern! I prefer the classic look of a candle burning inside my pumpkin carvings, but if you want to take a safer route, consider lights that are specially made for pumpkins. I’ve tried dollar store glow sticks in the past, but they didn’t illuminate my pumpkins as well as I had hoped. Maybe a better brand would work. Do keep in mind where your pumpkin will be displayed, and prevent fire hazards by keeping a candle lit Jack away from kids trick-or-treating in their long costumes. If you’re having a party and can’t keep an eye on your pumpkins at all times, you might want to go the light route instead of using a candle.
To take a photo of your carvings, do not use the “auto” setting on your camera. You want to avoid using your flash so that your pumpkin will illuminate the way it does in the dark. You’ll need a tripod or a flat sturdy surface to hold your camera. Read your camera’s manual for using the settings, and expect a long shutter speed.