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Pumpkin Carving 101

Fall is upon us and soon people will be flocking to pumpkin patches all across America. If you're a fan of pumpkin carving, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better "Van Gogh of the gourd" than Hugh McMahon.

McMahon displayed a few pumpkins he has recently carved as well as a watermelon (his other medium) carved in the image of Dave Price.

McMahon's carving repertoire includes portraits of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barbara Walters, Alice Cooper and Conan O'Brien, and his creations have appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Although he specializes in celebrity portraiture, McMahon has also transformed his watermelons into elaborate floral and garden centerpieces including spectacular orchids, lotus flowers, butterflies, and members of the animal kingdom such as elephants.

The following are McMahon's tips:

Pumpkin preparation and cleaning:

  • When selecting pumpkins, lighter colored ones carve easier as they are softer. But they do not last as long.
  • Pick a pumpkin with a nice stem and a carvable face.
  • Clean the pumpkins off outside by washing off with plain water and a sponge. Allow to dry.
  • Keep the pumpkin outside, or in a cool place, until you are ready to carve it.
  • Cut open the top of the pumpkin and clean out the inside seeds and and guts (many call them Pumpkin Brains). Be careful not to pull hard on the stem as it breaks easily.

    Tip: When cleaning the inside of your Jack O'Lanterns, scrape the inside wall to an inch thick. This will make carving a lot easier.
    Set the seed aside for cooking pumpkin seed snacks

Safety tips:
  • Here are some simple tips, which will help to make your pumpkin carving and display safe:
  • Do not let a young child use a knife.
  • Always point knives away from you.
  • Keep your free hand away from the direction of the knife.
  • Use slicing motions and never force the knife.

    When using candles to light your Jack O'Lantern, do not leave it unattended.


    • Select your design. Draw a picture of what you want the pumpkin to look like. Even a toddler can draw a pumpkin, and it always comes out just the way he or she wanted it.
    • A pumpkin-carving knife is the recommended tool. It is designed for carving pumpkins, and is less likely to cause injury.
    • For younger children, keep the design simple The fewer curves, angles, and cuts, the better the result.
    • Once you have mastered carving a pumpkin, you can graduate to a pumpkin-carving design, or create your own. There are a wide variety of designs and are limited only by your imagination.

    Buy or make your own:

    • Pick one that is sized for your pumpkin. Enlarge or shrink it on a copier if need be.
    • Transfer the design to the pumpkin. You can trace it with a small knife, a nail, a marker or a pencil.
    • Slowly begin to cut out the pattern.
    • Slow is the operative word, as a mistake in carving can alter or ruin the outcome.
    • Nowadays, most people get popular carving kits with easy to use saws and patterns. Now you can get those carving kits delivered to your door in time for Halloween at a delivered price lower than you can find in the stores. Buy carving kits and supplies now at the lowest prices anywhere.
    Ideas and Tips:
  • Use an ice-cream scoop to clean out your pumpkin instead of bending your kitchen spoons.
  • For a unique Jack O'Lantern, add a little glow in the dark makeup, or fake blood.
  • Insert a bowl into a carved pumpkin and add dry ice and warm water to create an extra spooky, smoke-filled Jack O'Lantern.

    Making your pumpkin last: Apply a light coating of petroleum jelly on the cuts. It will seal the wound, and the pumpkin will last longer. After carving, place the pumpkin in a cool, dark place. It will spoil quickly if left at room temperature and will attract fruit flies.

    Did you know? You can usually revive shriveled pumpkins by soaking them in a bucket of water.

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