It’s that time of year again where all our social media feeds get spammed with fall oranges, yellows, pumpkins and Halloween decor. For those of us down here in the Southern hemisphere, we’re already well on our way into Summer, but that doesn’t stop us from celebrating! (It’s a craze that’s slowly growing here in SA and I’m really amped that it is because it means I get to write blog entries like this.)
Instagram is a great platform for amazing pumpkin designs and creations, but it also creates massive FOMO.
2017 will be the third year I am carving pumpkins. Taking the experience I’ve gained, and having to substitute the fancy pumpkin carving kits seen overseas with local knives and utensils, I’ve put together a little guide for you to join in on the Instagram trend and impress your friends.
Chani’s Beginners Guide to Carving Pumpkins
Naturally, before you begin, you’re going to need a pumpkin!
They come in all shapes and sizes, and some have more marks, bumps and “warts” than others. These can all be used to your advantage when deciding on a design to carve into your newly purchased orange baby.
Available at most local supermarkets and veggie stores, they range between R40 and R70 (from what I’ve seen).
Step 1: Choosing Your Design
Remeber to take the pumpkin shape and size into consideration, as well as your knife and pumpkin carving skill level. Carving a pumpkin is easy, but the skin can be tough to cut through if you’re not careful. For this How-To, I’ve chosen a simple recreation of Jack Skellington, from The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Step 2: The Tools You’ll Need
Over the past three years, I have narrowed down my utensils used to what you see in the photo above. (I am super envious of the fancy pumpkin carving kits found overseas, and have bribed a good friend of mine currently in London to bring a set back for me).
You will need
Pumpkin (this one goes without saying)
Bowl (for putting in all the pumpkin guts and chunks you’re going to be removing)
Big knife (I alternate between the bread and steak knives depending on if I need more control when carving or cutting out big portions of the skin)
Spoon (I also alternate between the two sizes depending on how much control I need. Bug spoon to take the initial guts out, small spoon for finer detail)
Small knife (For finer detail and carving the face)
A sharpie (Any felt-tip marker that will easily wipe off if you need to either redraw your design or remove it once you’re done)
Candle & matches (To light up your pumpkin later, matches not pictured above but you do still need them. Cause fire.)
Dish cloth (I use a damp and dry one to wipe my hands, the pumpkin and the surface I’m working on)
Your pumpkin design (Or if you’re feeling confident you can freehand the design too!)
Step 3: Hollowing out the Insides
You’re going to want to start by outlining where you want the “roof” of your pumpkin to be. Keep in mind you need it to be big enough to get your hands and spoons inside it to hollow it out. I’ve chosen a circle but many prefer to cut out star shapes since straight lines are easier to follow than rounded ones.
Inch your way around the outline once with your initial carving line, keeping your knife at a slight angle to help it stay on like a lid rather than fall through once you’ve finished carving. If you’re planning on using the jack-o-lantern for long periods of time, and not just for the sake of a YouTube video (guilty), add a small “chimney” at the top of your pumpkin to allow the heat to escape. (Cut a small triangle out of the circle)
Once you’ve cut through the top, pull your lid off by the stalk and shave off the excess pumpkin guts.
Now it’s time for the fun part (not really).
Step 3.1: Removing the Pumpkin Guts
Hollow out the insides as best you can with your spoon(s). I find cutting up the insides with one of the smaller knives helps this process. Feel free to tip your pumpkin on its side to reach the upper angles of pumpkin guts too. Don’t be afraid to use your hand to remove some of it. Yes, it feels gross, and yes, you have to do this at least once to say you’ve carved a pumpkin properly. Have your damp cloth or a running tap nearby to wash off any nasty pumpkin guts from your hands before continuing.
Once your pumpkin is hollowed out as best you can wipe it down before moving on to the next step. Usually, I leave some of the hollowing out for later when the face is carved in for easier access to certain places.
Step 4: Giving your pumpkin a face
Keep in mind the angle that you will be looking at your pumpkin from so you don’t draw your face too high up or too low down.
This part is very self-explanatory, but a tip I can give for drawing the mouth is to mark it out with a single line first, then adding the upper and lower lines to carve along to make sure your pumpkin smile isn’t crooked.
Step 5: Cutting Out the Face
As long as you’re careful while working with the knives, this step should be the most fun.
Some helpful tips
Other than just “following along the lines” here are some tips;
– Use your knife to make score marks along the design lines before committing to a cut.
– Any accidental outside-the-lines cuts can always be incorporated into the design
– Keep in mind any hairline cuts will show up with the candlelight inside the pumpkin in the dark
– Start with the eyes so that if they end up being bigger or off centre from where they started, you can adjust your design accordingly
– Once your facial features have been removed, thin down the inside of the pumpkin around the features for a more hollow look
– Be careful when working around carved out areas, the pumpkin walls around that area are weakened and could break easier now
– Turn your pumpkin upsidedown to work on the mouth if you prefer. For the shown example, I cut the bottom lip out this way, and the top lip was done the right way up
– If your design consists of teeth like the example, cut out the mouth first, then go back and cut out each of the squares above and below the mouth
Step 6: Final Touches
Once all the facial features have been carved out, feel free to go back and tweak any of them or hollow out your pumpkin more. I usually find it easier to get the last stragglers out now since the pumpkin has had a chance to dry out a little.
They look much prettier at night with their candles in, so don’t be too hard on yourself with what it looks like in the daylight!
Step 7: Jack-O-Lantern Mode Enabled
Add your candle, light it and let the Instagramming begin!
I will be doing a more advanced guide over on my YouTube Channel this week, as well as my most challenging carve yet – A Slime from Slime Rancher. You can watch it here:
*Please note no pumpkin was wasted in the making of this blog post. Once all photos were taken, the pumpkin was chopped up, cooked and served for dinner that evening.