Fall is officially here and, with it comes everything pumpkin. We're not here to introduce pumpkin-spiced chicken wings—not yet anyway. Instead, we want to help you make the best of a Halloween tradition. While it may seem like a straightforward task, pumpkin carving has come a long way.
Clean Before You Carve
First things first. No matter which way you choose to get crafty with your pumpkin, you'll need to hollow it out. To do this, lay out newspaper or flattened cardboard boxes to serve as a surface on which to carve and to catch the pumpkin mess. A carving tool is another must-have. While a serrated knife from your kitchen will work, the best tool for carving is one with serrations on both sides (like the ones you can find in pumpkin-carving kits) or you could try a laminate cutting tool. You want to be able to cut a wide round hole into the top (or bottom, or back) smoothly.
Once you've carved a hole and accessed the insides, it's time to scoop out the guts. For that, you'll need a long-handled metal scooping spoon. Or, if you don't mind getting messy, you can use a regular tablespoon and reach your hand down into the pumpkin to scoop out the seeds and membranes. Remember to save the seeds and rinse them off for roasting!
Select your Skill Level
There's something to be said about that typical jack-o'-lantern grin glowing down at you from atop a porch railing. When you think of fall, pumpkins, and Halloween, this image is no doubt the first one to pop into your mind. This method remains the easiest way to carve a pumpkin and can be completed in five simple steps.
- Once you've hollowed out your pumpkin completely, simply sketch the eyes and mouth on the front of your pumpkin with a dry-erase marker or a grease pencil.
- Then using a sharp, serrated knife, carve out the sections that you want to remove from the pumpkin.
- Pop the pieces you've cut through inward, so you can pull them out the main opening easily.
- Place a candle or other light inside to illuminate the face in the dark.
- See how it’s lit and then use your knife to clean up your lines.
If you want to get a little fancier with your pumpkin, there are plenty of ways to sculpt a scene that goes beyond the typical jack-o'-lantern. For instance, consider carving the buffalo from your favorite restaurant. To create this more intricate design, follow the steps below.
- Print your design and trace it onto your pumpkin.
- Follow one of two options to transfer your design to your pumpkin: You can turn the paper over and use a pencil to scribble over the lines of the design. Tape the paper to your pumpkin, then trace the image onto the pumpkin with a ballpoint pen. The pressure from the pen will cause the pencil to transfer onto the pumpkin. Another option is to tape the design to the pumpkin and then repeatedly poke small holes through the outline of your design. You can do this with a nail or other sharp, pointed object.
- Use a pumpkin carving tools or serrated knives to carve the design into your pumpkin. Start carving out the smallest elements first, then move up in size.
- Pull out the unwanted pieces and light up your pumpkin.
- Step back and admire all your hard work.
Carving in relief is a great way to make your carving skills shine. This means that you scrape away the pumpkin's outer skin without piercing through the pumpkin entirely. To showcase your design, you can either carve right into the skin so that a light source illuminates it, or you can make the image in silhouette. To make a relief carving, try the process below.
- Search for a pattern online and transfer it to your pumpkin for easier carving.
- Use etching tools or linoleum cutters (the kind used in print and stamp making) to carve out your design. These make easier work of the shallow cuts required and therefore are the perfect tools for lightly skimming off the surface of the pumpkin. They also help to vary the size, shape, and width of the section you're carving.
- Once your sculpture is complete, it's time to make it glow. You may find a single candle won't be bright enough to shine through the skin to light up your design. In that case, try multiple candles or an LED light.
The idea of carving scary faces into gourds to scare away evil spirits originated in a centuries-old Irish folktale about a man named "Stingy Jack." As the tale goes, he was forced to use a hollowed-out turnip with a glowing ember inside (given to him by the devil, no less) to light his way out of the darkness of hell. Because of this story, Irish and Scottish people then made their own "Jack's lanterns" out of hollowed-out turnips and potatoes, bringing this tradition with them when they immigrated to the United States, adopting pumpkins as the perfect medium in which to carve ghoulish faces.
While there's nothing wrong with carving this typical and time-honored Jack-o'-lantern grin into an otherwise ordinary pumpkin, why stop there?