Jack-O-Lantern Creativity, Davis Style

I am an old school pumpkin carver (see photo at left). If my great-great-grandparents in the old country didn’t use a tool (crayon, paring knife, apple corer, toothpicks to repair teeth you accidentally cut out) on their spooky gourds, then I don’t want to hurt myself on anything more elaborate either.

But that leaves out a mass of really creative ideas and techniques. I am in awe of projects like the “Star Wars” Death Star pumpkin to the right and the Michael Jackson “Thriller” interpretation below. I mean, WOW!

(I just like having all ten fingers in good working order even more.)

With UC Davis being the home of some of the best artistic departments in the country, we are surrounded by pumpkin awesomeness this time of year. It might seem like an impossible dream for the rest of us to create one of these works of art, but with a few tips, you can do it, too.

Regardless of how fancy you decide to get, the getting-started basics are the same. Rinse the mud off your pumpkin, carve a slightly angled-in hole around the stem, remove goop and assign a hapless bystander to remove and rinse off the seeds for later baking, and scrape the insides clean.

If you want to start off your decorating dreams of grandeur slowly, you can buy stencil kits at a lot of local places: drug stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc. will all have them on their shelves this time of year. They will guide you through the ins and outs of applying witches and ghosts to your jack-o-lantern face.

(Hint – you may want to invest in a few extra “practice” pumpkins to ensure your end result is the one you want to share with the neighbors.)

Once you’re ready to carve your own original design, you should read these tips from Pumpkin Masters¬†and National Geographic. If you’re planning to use a template, check out these suggestions from HGTV. Some people use power tools. We don’t recommend that. (Remember what we said about usable digits?) There is an art and a science to carving someone’s portrait in pumpkin.

Once you’re satisfied with the results, we recommend using a battery operated light inside the pumpkin to illuminate it. You can even buy models that flicker like real flames. We used real candles last year and it was so breezy that half of them blew out. (There’s something to be said for new school.)

Turn off the lights, cue the spooky music, break out the candy, and you’re good to go.