Master pumpkin carvers Ray Villafane and Michael Natiello. Read more about Villafane and his famous pumpkins here.
Carving Tips from Ray Villafane
- Go big—and ugly. When pumpkin picking, think gnarly and thick-walled over smooth and thin-skinned.
- Skip the supermarket. For best selection, hit a farm stand or pumpkin patch.
- Sketch it out. “It helps to have reference material—a drawing, something from the Internet, or even a mirror,” he says.
- Up your game. Try carving with clay sculpting tools, available in art stores.
- Make it last. Spray exposed pumpkin flesh with lemon juice to keep your pumpkin on the porch an extra day or two.
- Skip the carving. Don’t feel confident cutting up? Bring your pumpkin to life with stick-on arms and legs. (Available at VillafaneStudios.com).
Tips on Tools from Pumpkin Pro Michael Natiello
Always use good quality tools and make sure they are sharp.
A basic carving kit includes:
- keyhole saw for cutting a big hole in the bottom (always the bottom, never the top)
- ice cream scoop for scraping out the insides
- paring knife or small steak knife for cutting out shapes
- X-Acto/craft utility knife for detail work
How to Pick the Perfect Pumpkin
Looking for a picture-worthy pumpkin for your front step? Mac Condill, 37, who grows more than 300 varieties of pumpkin and squash on his fifth-generation farm in Arthur, Ill., shares some tips.
- Reject pumpkins with cracks, holes or soft spots—these will lead to premature rotting.
- Never lift or carry a pumpkin by the stem; it could break off.
- Don’t limit yourself to orange. Condill grows white, black, red and gray pumpkins.
- Keep your pumpkin away from extreme heat or cold.
The jack-o’-lantern tradition started in the British Isles, where turnips, potatoes and beets were carved, filled with embers and used as lanterns. (From Halloween: An American Holiday, an American History, Pelican Publishing, 1998).
The largest jack-o’-lantern ever was carved by Scott Cully in 2010 from a 1,810 pound pumpkin. (Guinness World Records)
Illinois produces the most pumpkins each year, followed by California, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center at Iowa State University).