Gallery: How to Carve a Pumpkin like a Pro

Pumpkin carving. Ain't no shame in tracing the classic triangle eyes and snaggly-tooth mouth. But if you're looking for a more advanced, knock-your-neighbors'-socks-off-o'-lantern, here is a step-by-step guide to carving more detailed designs, with examples at the end to inspire you. With some X-acto knives, drawing markers, and your new skills, you'll be able to whittle away at that gourd like a pro.

  • Tools of the Trade

    Some of the most useful carving tools may already be lying around your house. The Maniacs' favorites include a sturdy paring knife, a scraper (we use metal spoons from the dollar store with handles removed as well as standard pumpkin carving kit scoops), X-acto knives, linoleum cutters (used in printmaking), small sculpting ribbons, and fine line drawing markers.

    Also important: plenty of caffeine and a stack of good horror movies to keep everyone in the spirit.

  • Transferring a Design

    transferring design

    We use thin waterproof fine line markers (sometimes called artist pens) to sketch our design right onto the pumpkin. These great waterproof pens wash right off the pumpkins skin when we are ready to remove our drawings. Just to be safe though, we recommend using a color that will hide easily, like red or brown. Do not use a black Sharpie!

    Alternatively, you can print out your design and transfer it by pinning it to the pumpkin, then using a wooden skewer or pounce wheel to trace the lines onto the flesh behind it. Remove the paper pattern, and connect the dots with your marker.

  • Getting Started

    getting started
    Jessica Leibowitz

    Now its time to open up your pumpkin. Use your knife to cut a hole large enough that your hand can comfortably get in and move around. Be sure to make your cuts at an angle towards the center stem to create a shelf for the lid to sit on. With your lid removed, you can start pulling out the stringy, goopy stuff (save your seeds for roasting). Now take your scraping/scooping tool and start to work around the inside of your pumpkin. Use a little elbow grease so that you clean out any leftover mushy, stringy stuff, as well as thin the walls of your pumpkin to a point where they can be easily carved—about an inch or so.

  • Carving Time

    Carving time

    Using different sizes of x-acto blades, and different shapes of linoleum cutters we carefully carve out our designs. To get the effects of shading and value differences, you need to carve to different depths in the pumpkins walls.

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  • Start from the center of the design

    Start from center of design

    And with the most delicate parts first, then work your way around finishing with the larger areas. Then decide if there are areas you would like to carve or scrape deeper into. Finally, pick out which areas (if any) would look best carved all the way through. Areas like eyes or teeth look great fully removed or carved through.

  • Check Your Progress as You Go

    Check your progress as you go

    By dimming the lights and shining through the pumpkin with a flashlight. This'll give you a much better idea of what needs to be shaded or thinned than just looking at the front in the light.

  • Preserving Your Pumpkin

    Preserving your pumpkin

    Unfortunately, you can't do it. It is a piece of fruit after all and is destined for the compost heap. There are luckily a few things that we can do to extend the lives of our Maniac Pumpkins.

    Mist the cut surfaces with diluted lemon juice to fight oxidation and mold.

    Spray a very light coat of vegetable oil spray on the cut surfaces to seal in moisture.

    Store in a cool space, wrapped in plastic when not on display.

    If your pumpkin is shriveling after some days, you can perk it back up by submerging it in an ice bath for at least a few hours (try the bathtub or a cooler). After the bath, dry the pumpkin out with a towel and re-coat with vegetable oil spray.

  • Light'er Up!

    Light the pumpkin up

    If using candles to light your pumpkin you should "carve through" more of your design. You will also need to provide a smoke hole (or leave the lid ajar) if using candles. We light up all our lanterns with electric lighting by pulling out some tools and wiring each one up like a lamp. It is way brighter and looks amazing, but that's a different lesson altogether.

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  • The Spotted Pigkin

    Decorated pumpkin

    And now it's time to for the Maniac Pumpkin Carvers to show off! Here are some projects they worked on this year. These are for April Bloomfield's two NYC restaurants, The Spotted Pig and The Breslin.

  • Taste of Greenmarket

    Decorated pumpkin

    For New York's farmers' market network, the Greenmarket

  • Grow NYC

    Decorated pumpkin

    Grow NYC is a non-profit that provides New Yorkers with access to healthy, fresh, and local food, maintains community gardens, and runs environmental education programs for young people.

  • Frankenstein

    Decorated pumpkin
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  • King Kong

    Decorated pumpkin
  • Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are

    Decorated pumpkin