How to buy, prep, carve, preserve your pumpkin
Think you know the latest tricks for carving a creepy pumpkin? The pros continue to push the barriers.
A handful of people become professional pumpkin carvers each fall, specializing in fantastical designs. Among them are Alex Wer, a self-styled “Pumpkin Geek,” who lives near Sacramento, Calif.; Scott Cummins, a Perryton, Texas, middle-school art teacher; and Marc Evan and Chris Soria, the Maniac Pumpkin Carvers of New York.
Wer does his carving between insurance sales and an evening package-delivery route. He works with the fake, foam pumpkins sold at craft stores, so his intricate work has longevity. Evan and Soria drop their jobs as illustrators for a few months to carve pumpkins for festivals, parties and individual clients. The long hours leave the two childhood friends battling sore wrists and aching backs by late November.
“It’s a labor of love,” says Evan, who also carves pumpkins on the Food Network’s “Halloween Wars” this season. “Pumpkin carving is definitely not the easiest way to make money. It’s not a ‘get rich quick’ scheme.”
For inspiration, scroll through these carvers’ websites — The Pumpkin Geek, Pumpkin Gutter and Maniac Pumpkin Carvers. Or check out the creepy, three-dimensional portraits at Villafane Studios.
Here are some of their tips of the trade:
Choose your pumpkin wisely
c “You want to have a stem, and you want it to be a healthy stem because that stem is still providing nutrients for the pumpkin,” says Soria.
c Don’t cut into your pumpkin around that perfect stem. Instead, access the pumpkin from its backside to help preserve freshness. Cutting out a stem cap weakens the jack-o’-lantern, says Evan. And hiding the opening in the back gives the pumpkin more visual punch.
c “It’s aesthetically more pleasing seeing the glow from (only) the design, not creeping out from where we might have cut the hole at the top,” says Evan.
Preparing your pumpkin
c Before carving a face, scrape and clean the inside of the pumpkin. The cleaner you get it, the longer it will last.
c “I always tell people, ‘Gut it out twice as much as you think you need to,’” says Wer. “It should be very dry inside.”
c Folks, there are two kinds of pumpkin carve: the lighted jack-o’-lantern face and the 3-D sculpture, in which a pumpkin is treated like a block of wood — only stinky and less permanent. The Maniac team carves both styles. Cummins carves in creepy 3-D. The tools are the same, but they’re used in different ways.
c Take either carve up a notch by adding depth and texture. Wer carves up to five layers in his faux pumpkins to get a mix of light and shadow for a photorealistic quality.
c Learn shading by scraping part of your design into the gourd.
c “It just creates this new layer and this multilevel depth,” says Wer.
Need more help? Visit pumpkin-carving tutorials, such as those posted by The Pumpkin Lady, on YouTube.
More about tools
c The Maniac team favors tools from the kitchen or garage, primarily paring knives, graters and saws. They tout linoleum cutters and sculpting tools.
c Linoleum cutters have several gouge tips. Evan likes the V-gouge for making precise cuts, whether shallow or deep. Ceramists’ sculpting tools are metal loops on a stick — in various shapes and sizes — that can be purchased at art supply and craft stores. They slice smoothly through pumpkin rind.
c Those cheap pumpkin-carving kits? All four of our expert carvers love them.
c The Maniac team uses the orange plastic scoop to clean out hundreds of pumpkins — fast. Cummins uses the scoop too, and praises the kit’s flimsy, serrated blade.
c “Don’t underestimate that little saw,” Cummins says. “Sometimes there is a need to cut slowly and deliberately, and that is when the little saw is indispensable.”
c Once a pumpkin is carved, it begins to deteriorate.
c “You will certainly notice a difference in 24 hours,” says Cummins in his online tutorial.
c Says Evan: “You can’t preserve a pumpkin. We recommend ‘delay’ tactics.”
c When a jack-o’-lantern is not on display, Wer says, give it a bath. He has had as many as eight pumpkins bobbing overnight in his bathtub.
c Preserve cut edges with a lemon juice-water mixture, says the Maniac team, then seal them with vegetable oil or petroleum jelly. Store your carving in the refrigerator or wrap it in plastic wrap and store in a cool place.
c And quick, take a photo. It’s the “best and most essential way to preserve your creation,” says Cummins.