Carve the Ultimate Halloween Pumpkin and Outdo All Your Neighbors
Carve the Ultimate Halloween Pumpkin and Outdo All Your Neighbors
The idea of the Jack-o’-lantern stems back to the ancient pagan tradition of placing a lit candle inside real skulls during Samhain, the day of the dead.
Since then, the traditional Halloween pumpkin has become a staple of the holiday, grinning up at passersby and getting people into the spooky season mood. Whether you’re planning a party or you just want to delight trick-or-treaters on Halloween, it all begins with the Jack-o’-lantern.
If you want to outdo all your neighbors on the block, start with these tips on choosing the perfect pumpkin and carving the coolest designs.
Choosing the Pumpkin
Creating a unique and eye-catching Jack-o’-lantern all begins with the pumpkin selection. We recommend visiting the pumpkin patch not only for the experience but so you can find a pumpkin that’s the perfect size, shape, and color.
The type of pumpkin you choose is up to you, but we’ll cover a few tips to make the carving process easier.
If you want to go traditional, find a pumpkin with a deep orange color. Make sure it’s ripe, but check the bottom to ensure it’s not mushy. You want the bottom to be flat, so your pumpkin will sit nicely on your porch or stairs.
Tap on your pumpkin to make sure it’s ripe. It should sound hollow.
Look the pumpkin over for any scars or cuts. If you want to reduce rotting as much as possible, you can wash the outside with one part bleach and nine parts water. You want to store your pumpkin in a cool, dry place, but make sure it’s not freezing.
The stem should also be firm and secure. Try to choose a green stem if you can.
Pro tip: Never pick up a pumpkin from the stem, as it can break! Not only does this ruin the look of the pumpkin, but it can also decay faster. Instead, pick it up from the bottom.
Shape and Color
Some people prefer short, round pumpkins, while others like tall, oval-shaped ones. If you want the best visual effect, try to get a selection of different sizes and shapes.
Odd numbers, such as groups of three, look the best. The rule of odd numbers is a key part of the design, as it looks more natural to the eye.
If you want to add more visual interest to your Halloween decor, consider picking up pumpkins in different colors. There are white, red, and even blue pumpkins.
When to Carve a Pumpkin
You should pick your pumpkin within a week of when you plan to sit down and carve it. The best time to carve the pumpkin is around three days before Halloween or whenever you plan to celebrate. Some people choose to celebrate the holiday on the weekend before Halloween if it falls on a weekday.
How long the pumpkin holds up depends on the weather. In warm weather, it might only last a week before beginning to rot. In cooler temperatures, they can last longer.
Store pumpkins that you plan to carve out of direct sunlight in a cool, dry location such as a cellar. The ideal storage temperature is about 55°F.
Choosing a Design
Now comes the fun part—choosing a design! You have a ton of options at this stage. You can go traditional, spooky, creative, or cute.
It’s best to have a general theme if you plan to create a cohesive look. For instance, you could do all scary designs and carve famous monsters and scary faces onto your pumpkin.
Here are a few ideas.
Honoring the Origins of Halloween
As we mentioned, Halloween comes from Samhain, a pagan religious festival. Samhain (pronounced SAH-win) welcomes the harvest and is also the period when barriers between the physical world and the spiritual one would break down.
This period allowed interaction between humans and the dead.
In the Middle Ages, carved turnips known as Jack-o’-lanterns started to appear. Jack-o’-lanterns all started with an Irish myth about Stingy Jack, who invited the Devil to have a drink with him but didn’t want to pay. Jack convinced the Devil to turn into a coin to pay for their drinks.
When the Devil did so, Jack kept the coin and put it next to a silver cross to trap him. When Jack eventually freed him, he struck a bargain to prevent the Devil from taking his soul but continued to trick him in various clever and dastardly ways.
When Jack died, neither God nor the Devil wanted his soul, so Jack was left to wander the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack carved a turnip and placed the coal there, and became known as Jack of the Lantern or Jack O’Lantern.
Although people originally carved faces into turnips or potatoes, we now use pumpkins.
If you want to honor these origins of the holiday, you can try carving some scary faces onto your pumpkin, or even try carving Jack himself!
Classic Scary Designs
If your goal is to create the spookiest pumpkins you can imagine, there are some great design ideas you can use. Give these ideas a shot to make the best Halloween pumpkins on the block.
Horror movie monsters:
- Frankenstein’s Monster
- Headless Horseman
- Michael Myers
- Freddy Krueger
- Jason Voorhees
- Hannibal Lecter
You can also go with scary faces. Scary faces take the happy, smiling pumpkin look and make it spooky again. Designs often feature narrowed eyes and a wide grin with sharp teeth.
If the cute, traditional pumpkins are more your style, you can try some of these designs. They’re family-friendly and great for little kids.
- Smiling Jack-o’-lantern
- Goofy pumpkin faces
Words and Phrases
If you want to do a trio of pumpkins or even several scattered outside, you might want to mix it up. Adding pumpkins with words and phrases is a great way to stick with a theme while still having enough ideas.
For instance, you could have a pumpkin that says “Happy Halloween,” “Boo,” or “Trick or Treat.”
If you want to be funny, you could have your pumpkin say, “Wi-Fi is down” or “Student loans.”
When it comes to pumpkin carving, you’re only limited by your ideas. If none of the above designs appeals to you, then you can always create one of your own!
A popular choice is to carve characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas, such as Jack and Sally. You could also carve a pumpkin vomiting his guts or do a galaxy pumpkin filled with constellations.
Here are some tips for thinking outside the box.
Find Inspiration on Pinterest
While you can always Google pumpkin designs or look up ideas in magazines, the easiest method and the largest selection is probably on Pinterest.
Simply search for cool or unique pumpkin designs. Scroll through and save some that you like.
This is an excellent way to gain inspiration from other Halloween enthusiasts. You can find a lot of ideas here that you may never have thought of on your own. Sometimes, you can even find printouts and patterns so you can use them yourself.
If you can’t find a printout, you can make your own.
Making a Template
You don’t have to use a template to carve your pumpkin, but you’ll get better results if you do. A template can help you ensure the design looks even and avoid any mistakes. After all, if you chop off too much of your pumpkin, you can’t fix it!
You can find many free printable templates online, but if you want to get really creative, you can make your own.
You’ll need the following tools:
- Photo editing software (optional but useful)
- Photo you want
Let’s say you want to carve a skull. Find a picture online that you like and open it up in a photo editing program. Paint the section you want to carve out in a solid color like black or dark gray. Select and erase the background, and export the image as a PNG.
Open the image in a program like Word to print it out. You can now use your template!
If you don’t have photo editing software, you can also draw a design on a piece of paper.
Carving the Pumpkin
When you sit down to carve the pumpkin, you’ll need a few tools. Gather the following:
- Newspaper or a plastic tablecloth
- Antibacterial wipe (optional)
- Pumpkin carving tools (poker, serrated knife or saw, scooper)
- Pattern (if applicable)
- Old CD (optional)
- Push pins or tape
Wipe down the pumpkin with an antibacterial cloth to clean it. This also protects the pumpkin from any rot-inducing bacteria.
Pro tip: The stem continues to supply the pumpkin with nutrients even after it’s removed from the vine. Cutting a hole in the top of the pumpkin cuts it off from receiving those key nutrients. Instead, cut a small door in the back, which helps keep the pumpkin fresh longer and also makes it easier to light.
Use a serrated knife to cut a small door in the back of the pumpkin. An old CD works great for scooping out the inside and removing the guts.
If you don’t want to use a CD, you can use a pumpkin scooper. The pumpkin should be about an inch thick all the way around.
Using a Template
Pin your pattern to the top of your pumpkin with push pins. You can also use tape. Smooth the pattern down as much as possible.
Poke holes through the pattern along the lines you plan to cut. Holes should be roughly 1/8th inch apart.
If your pattern is particularly complicated, this can take a while. Make sure you’re in a comfortable position and play some Halloween music while you complete the process. Take your time, as you want to ensure you don’t miss any parts of the pattern.
Remove the template. You can use flour or chalk dust to make the holes easier to see, but it’s optional.
Push a nail through the pumpkin in places where you plan to start carving. This makes it easier to get the saw in there.
Using your saw or serrated knife, start cutting along the dotted lines. This is the trickiest part of the process, so take your time.
Never force the saw, or you can ruin the design. Instead, apply light pressure and move back and forth. Remove the saw and reinsert it to make sharp corners.
To remove pieces, push them gently from inside. You can cut larger sections into smaller pieces to make them easier to remove.
Adding Light to Your Halloween Pumpkin
Traditionally, people use candles inside the pumpkin to light it up. However, candles need frequent replacing and may tip over. Candles are also not as safe, especially in windy conditions.
The upside to candles is that they provide a lovely eerie glow and a warm flickering light.
Flameless candles are another option and great for using your pumpkins outside on windy nights. These lights use batteries, but they may not be as bright as a candle.
If you want to create a cool or eerie effect, consider using glowsticks to light the pumpkin. You can choose classic Halloween colors such as orange, red, or purple, or go for a different look by choosing blue, green, etc.
The downside to glow sticks is that their vivid light fades after a few hours.
LED lights might be the best way to light your pumpkin. You can choose any size and color, making them as bright as you want. You can light the pumpkin with either a battery-powered LED light or a corded light.
Adding Smoke Effects
Are you looking for a way to really wow your friends, family, and neighbors?
One of the latest and coolest trends is using colored smoke effects inside your pumpkin to create a creepy and magical look. Use Halloween smoke grenades inside your carved pumpkins at your next Halloween party to really wow your guests. They also make for fantastic photos!
You can choose a smoke bomb in a variety of colors, such as black, orange, yellow, purple, or green.
This Is Halloween
This spooky season, impress everyone in your neighborhood with an amazing Halloween pumpkin display. Use these tips to make the most of your decorating and get ready for those trick-or-treaters!
For more tips on making the most of your Halloween and other holidays, read some of our other content. From food to fashion, we cover it all.