How to Carve a Pumpkin—From a Pro Sculptor

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Adrienne So

When you’re designing a pumpkin, it’s important to keep a lot of different viewpoints in mind—the shape of the pumpkin, where it will be placed, and who is carving it. For example, if you’re a parent carving a pumpkin with a 3- to 5-year-old, you might not want to dictate a design at all. Just put down some newspaper, hand them a safe tool, and let them have at it.

Whatever they come up with will be much more creative, and much more fun, than forcing your small child to watch you painstakingly draw and cut out a silhouette of a cat on a broomstick. Will it be a tree? Will it be a ghost with chickenpox? “Whatever they create, you celebrate,” Hardin said.

But if you have bigger plans (and yes, more fine motor control), the next step is to consider where the pumpkin will be. If it’s going to be on a stoop by your door, orient the design closer to the top of the pumpkin, where people are actually going to be able to see it.

If you have an enormous pumpkin, keep in mind that for some reason, everyone kicks them! “If someone kicks it, then your new artist, who has worked so hard to create a beautiful pumpkin, will go inside the house to get a meat cleaver,” Hardin said. Secure your squash with a sign or another obstacle (and hide the sharp objects in your home).

Another trick Hardin suggests is to place the pumpkin in a yard or garden to watch it change as it starts to decompose. “If you do a face, they start to grow little beards, they start to distort in on themselves,” Hardin said. “But you don’t want it in your home. When they go to juice, they go to juice very quickly, and there’s a lot of juice in these guys.” If it decomposes in your yard, the pumpkin carcass can go towards fertilizing your garden or straight into the compost.

Lighting That Lantern

Courtesy of Terri Hardin

Let’s get one thing straight: Nothing is more annoying than seeing the light source inside the pumpkin. Luckily, there are ways to get around this. For example, rather than cutting all the way through the wall, you can use a sculpting tool to thin it. This lets light shine through and will give your pumpkin interesting dimensionality.

“It glows in orange or red, so it plays with color as well,” Hardin noted.

Battery-operated or rechargeable lights now come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. There’s no need to use candles to light a pumpkin, especially if you’re planning on putting them outside or in a place where they can be easily kicked over.

Finally, once you’ve put all this work into creating the perfect pumpkin, you want to preserve it for as long as possible. If your pumpkin is small enough, you can keep it in the fridge at night. But if you’re keeping it outside, you can spritz it with different solutions. Hardin likes to use a 50/50 solution of bleach and water. “It’s like rocket fuel,” Hardin said. “Nothing’s getting through.”

If you prefer less harsh solutions, mixing an 80/20 solution of water and vinegar (80 percent water, 20 percent vinegar) will work, and may smell a little more funky. But even with rigorous maintenance, it’s a pumpkin and won’t last forever! So enjoy it while it lasts, then let it go.


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