(NEXSTAR) – You don’t know Jack about carving a pumpkin.
With fall officially upon us and the spooky season in full swing, it’s time to start setting up your pumpkin lanterns on the porch. But before you choose a pumpkin and start hacking, it might be wise to learn some tips from an expert to take your technique to the next level.
Marc Evan is one of the country’s premier pumpkin carvers, having co-founded Maniac Pumpkin Carvers with his friend and fellow artist Chris Soria almost 15 years ago. Since then, Evan and Soria – and their team of artists – have been tasked with creating gourd-based works of art for top clients including Disney, Marvel and the MLB to use in advertising campaigns, television shows and promotional events.
They are, as Evan puts it, “the pumpkin people”.
“Between August and Thanksgiving, we don’t do anything other than pumpkins,” Evan told Nexstar. “We have become one of the go-to sources for high-end sculptures. “
The artists at Maniac Pumpkin Carving also run seasonal workshops and in-company classes, offering advice on tools, carving, sculpting, and printmaking.
Looking to try your hand at a more advanced sculpting technique? It will take a bit of practice, of course, but Evans is willing to lend a bit of his expertise. And suggest that you remember three very important things.
# 1. You shouldn’t just choose all pumpkin
Whatever type of carving you’re planning, you’ll want to start with a healthy pumpkin. Otherwise, you risk having a rotten pumpkin on Halloween night.
“Pumpkins with intact stems are a good indicator of a fresher pumpkin,” says Evan. “If it’s greener, it’s really cool. If it’s browner or really dry, it’s an older pumpkin.
A good carving pumpkin should also be free of soft spots or bruises, which will cause it to decompose faster.
According to Evan, bigger pumpkins also have a thicker skin, which means they’re better for carving or carving flesh at different depths, without actually penetrating all the way to the center.
“And don’t pick up the pumpkin by the stem,” Evan adds. “It’s not meant to support the weight of the pumpkin and it can crack quite easily… With the stem still in place, [the pumpkin] always attracts moisture, nutrients. We find that they last longer.
# 2. You must enter with a plan
“Don’t just try to figure it out with a knife in your hand,” Evan cautions. “Even if you are making a classic pumpkin lantern, you want to draw the shapes that you are going to create ahead of time.”
You can always opt for a stencil, Evan says, although he rarely uses them outside of his beginner classes. “We draw the design, on paper or digitally, and then we draw it on the pumpkin.”
Even if you only plan to cut out eyes, a mouth and a nose, “you should sketch,” Evan said. Otherwise, you might end up with a lopsided and off-center design.
This step is doubly important with more complex designs. After all, not everyone wants a traditional pumpkin lantern for Halloween.
“You can find inspiration [for elaborate ideas] anywhere… Thinking creatively is part of the fun, ”says Evan. “But don’t do anything without making fun of it on paper first.”
# 3. You don’t need to use “pumpkin carving” tools
Those sculpture kits that you see at the drugstore? There is nothing wrong with them, although they may limit your potential.
“We use very few tools designed for pumpkins,” Evan explains of Maniac’s designs. “Some of my favorite tools are actually in the kitchen or the toolbox. “
For example, Evan suggests grabbing “a melon spoon or lemon zester, or even various drill bits” for texture and detail. Maniac artists also often use wood carving tools, such as gouges, for precision and depth when creating the “engraving” type designs, or lithophanes, for which Maniac became known.
“It’s definitely a more advanced style, we don’t teach it often … but it gives us more photorealism, more photorealistic portraits.”
To really make the designs shine, Maniac artists rarely use candles to light their sculptures, opting instead for bright LED bulbs.
“The candles just aren’t bright enough to achieve the effects we’re trying to achieve,” says Evan.
If used in a safe environment, a candle is perfectly adequate for small lantern pumpkins, with cuts deep enough to go through the flesh. A small, battery-powered bulb also works and helps prevent “cooking” the inside of the gourd, says Evan.
Evan points out, however, that there is no wrong way to carve a pumpkin lantern, as long as it’s done safely and in a good mood.
“We love pumpkins and we love Halloween,” Evan says. “If there’s one thing we don’t like about pumpkins, it’s pumpkin and spice lattes, or pumpkin lattes. We love to see inspirations and all that, but the artificial pumpkin flavors? This is what we are a little tired of.
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