Pumpkin 2012

For pumpkin carving tips, go to the bottom of the page!

I wasn’t going to carve any pumpkins this year. The last few years I’ve gone seriously over the top and spent a week doing carvings in preparation for Halloween, each year putting so much strain on my hands that it takes a few weeks for them to get back to some semblance of normality, and probably doing some long-term harm in the process.

This year my health took a bit of a nosedive and I decided that it would be immensely unwise to do any kind of carving, given that holding any of the tools or knives would be a very hamfisted event involving a lot of injuries. But, well.. I couldn’t help myself.

Halloween is a kind of art explosion for me, getting out a lot of creativity and having the chance to focus on one thing for a while, something I struggle with most of the time. Seeing pumpkins everywhere, I gave in.

My husband ended up travelling about 20 miles in order to find somewhere that still had some pumpkins in stock, but he found one eventually. He decided it would probably be a good thing for me to do so didn’t mind putting the effort in

I sat on the sofa with my hand wrapped around a sharpie for a few hours, doodling away to try and come up with a design. I ended up sticking to the same sort of theme I do most years, kind of tiki/abstract/aztec face.

I did the carving before hollowing it out in order to save me the stench of pumpkin guts, a smell which instantly makes me feel as though my dinner is about to re-emerge.

Rather than carving right through to the inside of the pumpkin, I use V-shaped cuts, taking chunks out here and there, and then scrape down the cuts with wax carving tools to get more light to come through if it needs it.

With several hours of trying to hold fiddly knives and tools, lots of breaks, painkillers, and 4 dislocated joints (I got them all back in eventually.. Although it took a while for 2 of them) I’d finally finished the carving itself and so braved the smell and gutted it ready to put a candle in.

So here it is, this year’s pumpkin carving escapades.

The above are pictures taken during the evening, hence the flash and rather rubbish quality when it comes to seeing the detail, so this afternoon I took a couple of photos in daylight so that you can see the full detail. It also gives you an idea of how the V-shaped carving technique works, cutting bits and pieces out here and there.

Tips on pumpkin carving:

Draw your design on using something like a sharpie. Biro and similar can rub off very easily as you’re carving. Any lines that are left on the pumpkin can be cleared off afterwards with a rough cloth and baby oil.

If you hollow the pumpkin before doing your carving it’s ideal to leave it somewhere cool and fill it with water for 24 hours beforehand. The pumpkin will absorb some of the water, making it slightly more dense. Adding a little bleach to the water also helps keep mould away. It’ll keep the pumpkin looking good for longer.

Rather than do the traditional ‘carve right through’ method, or scraping the skin off to let light through (which is cheating, if you ask me), get a fine blade like a craft knife or scalpel. Do cuts at an angle, taking V-shaped chunks of flesh out of it. You can make these deep so that they go right through (or almost right through), or you can do shallow cuts and hollow the gap out further afterwards. By doing this you don’t have to worry as much about stability as the flesh that’s left around the cuts will hold the design together better. You can also go for much more complex designs without compromising the stability too much, it can make the pumpkin last longer as it’s held together better than it would if huge chunks were removed.

If you go for the V-shaped carving method and don’t think enough light is coming through, get a strong spoon and dig the area you want to thin out gently from the inside, behind that part of the design. Make sure you hold the area you’re scraping out on the outside, it’ll prevent the design being damaged. Keep checking as you’re scraping to ensure that the design can cope with being thinned.
Although this method helps keep the pumpkin strong it can still be quite fragile. The more you scrape out on the inside, the less time your pumpkin will last. The designs can collapse quite easily when it begins to rot if you thin it too much.

If you don’t want to scrape the inside out further, you can also take something like a wax carving kit (which is what I use) and gently dig out the areas that are too thick. Many of the tools you can get in those kits are great for this, ideal for the picking and scraping that you may want to do. By scraping at the areas you’ll be letting more light get through. Be careful and keep stability in mind, look at the areas around where you’re digging out and make sure it will all remain connected by the pumpkin’s flesh.

If you’re using an LED light in the pumpkin instead of a candle, rubbing a bit of vaseline on the carved out design will help to keep the pumpkin fresh for longer, holding the pumpkins moisture into those areas. The LED thing is important, don’t use a candle if you’re doing this – Your safety is more important than a pumpkin lasting longer.