Halloween was a few weeks ago, and now we’re moving toward some other holidays. Even still, I wanted to share my experience carving a jack o’ lantern this year, and take you through the steps of how I (and my wonderful partner for this project, my boyfriend) did it. Here we go:
1. One acceptable pumpkin
2. Sketch or design concept
3. Candle, or LED light
4. Spoon for scooping flesh/seeds
5. Sharpie (drawing design on pumpkin)
6. Bowl for placing scooped flesh, seeds
8. Towels, plastic wrap/bag, paper towels
10. Hair dryer
11. Aluminum foil
12. Tape, adhesive
13. Pins, staples, pliers
14. Glass jar to hold candle / LED
15. Steel wool
Optional, paint (green) and paint brush for stem
To get started on your jack o’ lantern, you’ll first want to have a printout or hand-drawn image of what you’ll want your pumpkin to end up looking like. I drew out my picture in a sketchbook and had my boyfriend approve of the final concept. What we had to work with was the following image. The tongue didn’t make it onto the pumpkin, however.
And once you’re sure of what you want your jack o’ lantern to look like, take a sharpie and transfer the image onto your pumpkin. Before beginning to carve into it, though, be sure the ink is dry.
To begin carving your jack o’ lantern, you’ll first want to set down some protection for your workspace. This can be a towel, such as the one we used, or you can place some plastic covering over your surface, like a trash bag. This ensures that you will have less chance of a messy area after your pumpkin carving is complete.
With your sharpie, draw a circle around the stem of your pumpkin. Make it large enough so that after the top is removed, you’re easily able to reach in and get the insides of the pumpkin out. Carve out the circle by using your knife with a narrow blade.
The best way to create clean, sharp lines when carving is to push the tip of the knife all the way in carefully and slowly. Lightly push the knife up and down in such a way that it glides in saw-motion. This will also help you carve around corners in a more fluid manner, so the jack o’ lantern top won’t be a problem to remove. You’ll want to make sure that you’re careful to keep it so that it will be able to fit back on the pumpkin tightly while minimizing pressure.
Once you have the circular section on top of the pumpkin removed, set it off to the side and grab your spoon. You’ll want to have a bowl handy for this step.
Using your spoon, dig out the flesh and seeds from inside the pumpkin and slip them into your bowl. Once you have most, if not all, of the insides taken out, gently use your spoon to scrape the walls and get the remaining bits of flesh removed.
When the scooping spoon’s work is done, take your pumpkin to a faucet and rinse the inside with hot water. Using steel wool, once again scrape the inside area, including along the “walls.” While doing this, make sure a small amount of water (still hot) is still inside. Using the steel wool will ensure that the pumpkin is as bare of flesh and seeds as possible. It should look like this:
Take your pumpkin back to where you set up your carving supplies. Wipe it down gently on the outside to remove any water that may have made its way there. Keep some paper towels close by you as you venture into the next step.
It’s time to begin carving your design! Remember to go all the way through the pumpkin, let the knife glide without too much pressure, and in a saw/up-down motion.
Those paper towels we mentioned earlier come in handy while you engage in the jack o’ lantern carving process. Moisture will occasionally collect within the pumpkin, so use your paper towels to remove it as needed.
Carving our pumpkin was a breeze, and the two of us worked on it at the same time to get it done as quickly as possible. The eyebrows, eyes, and nose were easy as pie to cut out, but the mouth proved to be the most challenging. My boyfriend, who has way more experience with making jack o’ lanterns than I do, took that part over. When cutting an intricate mouth for your jack o’ lantern, you’ll want to be very careful carving out the right parts. You don’t want to accidentally slice into a tooth that was supposed to be left in, so be sure you’re taking your time and seeing the design for what it is.
After we were finished with cutting out the pieces in our jack o’ lantern design, I grabbed the sharpie once again and added the extra touches to complete the look. I thickened the outlines that were already present and then drew cracks under one eye and a spider web along the corner of the other.
Once your jack o’ lantern concept has been sliced and diced to specifications, you’ll probably notice that within the newly-formed holes in your pumpkin there are bits of flesh that need to be removed for a clean finish. To get that done, gently pull a washcloth through each space, as if it were a piece of dental floss.
Use light pressure, and the edges of your carved sections will be sharp and crisp. After you’re done with that, wipe the whole outside of the pumpkin down for a general tidy-up.
Dry out the flesh of the pumpkin with a hair dryer.
This means the inside of the jack o’ lantern needs to be bare of water droplets, and dry without losing ALL moisture. Make sure that you use the highest temperature on your dryer. The speed, on the other hand, won’t matter as much so use your own discretion.
If you’d like to keep your jack o’ lantern for a long time, you can preserve it with hairspray. What you want to do is, using the spray, focus on the inside of the pumpkin and the design you carved, but the outer shell needs to be left dull and dry. At most, all it would need is a light mist.
Take a little bit of hairspray and, on your finger, liberally sweep it along the fleshy parts of each cut-out.
Spray them from the front for good measure, and wipe away any excess.
Once again, grab your hair dryer and program it to the highest temperature setting. Thoroughly dry the inside of the pumpkin before continuing on. Check that the outside isn’t sticky from hairspray. If it is, lightly wipe it with a damp washcloth, and let it dry.
Grab a roll of aluminum foil. As carefully as you can, tear a few sheet-size pieces with as few wrinkles and creases as possible. You’ll use these on the inside of your jack o’ lantern to reflect your candle (or LED light), so if you’re unsure of what size sheets to pull from the roll, err on the side of caution and get large ones. You can always trim them down if need be.
If you do happen to get a few more creases in your foil than you’d like, take a paper towel and (gently!) smooth them out. Your sheets should be good as new and ready to use.
First, you’ll want to lay a sheet down on the bottom of the jack o’ lantern, underneath where your candle will be later.
After that, you’ll place however much foil necessary to cover the “wall” of the pumpkin opposite the carved side. Lay it as flat and smooth as possible against the surface you’re working to cover and tack or pin them in place.
If you end up using multiple sheets of aluminum foil to do this, that’s perfectly fine. Seams are okay, but once again, beware of crinkles and creases!
Grab a small glass jar for your candle (unless the candle you chose for your jack o’ lantern already comes in a jar, in which case, get the whole thing!), and make sure it has no burn marks on it if it’s been used previously.
Using more aluminum foil, wrap the outside of the jar snugly and tape in place to secure it.
Place a candle or LED light within the jar, and then set it inside the pumpkin. We’re almost done with our jack o’ lantern!
The next thing you want to do is wrap the removable top in foil, or the bottom-side of it that serves as the ceiling inside the pumpkin. Pin or tack the foil in place, and trim back any bits that poke through and can be seen when the top is in place on the jack o’ lantern.
And you’re pretty much finished!
An optional step is to get out your inner artist with the jack o’ lantern’s stem. With ours, my boyfriend took some acrylic paint in the color “forest green” and lightly touched up the stem’s visual appeal.
Now all your hard work is done! At this point, you can light the candle inside your jack o’ lantern and watch your spooky creation come to life!
We thought some tealight candles in a pumpkin pie scent were appropriate here and set our newly-glowing jack o’ lantern where we could show off our handiwork.
I thought it looked quite fetching on top of an Autumn leaf placemat we already had lying around.
So Halloween is over for 2016, and it’s very nearly time for winter. Nevertheless, it’s never too early to gear up for next year and plan some fantastic jack o’ lantern designs to carve with your loved ones!
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