A jack-o'-lantern can be a scary element in your decorations for Halloween, so don't be afraid to get out your knife and start carving. "Pumpkins are an easy medium," said Kent Garrett, an art instructor at the Ninth Grade Center in Waco, Texas. "They are very forgiving about mistakes."
He said many people are afraid to carve jack-o'-lanterns because they think they can't draw or carve properly. But Garrett said the wonderful thing about carving pumpkins is you use your own design, so who is to say it's wrong?
"After all you are usually carving a demon that is ugly to begin with," Garrett said.
This year, he's doing a Teen-age Mutant Ninja Pumpkin.
"When we carve the mask, we won't carve all the way through the skin," said Garrett, who is bringing his class into the project and using pumpkins supplied by the school cafeteria. "That will give it a translucent effect. Then we'll cut out the eyes."
Garrett likes conceptual designs.
He's got an idea for a punk-in _ a punk-rock jack-o'-lantern with a mohawk wig, ragged eyes and a safety pin in its ear.
For those who still aren't convinced they can carve a pumpkin, Garrett suggests painting and decorating one instead.
"There are many people who decorate pumpkins without carving them," he said. For instance they might draw on a face, then add wig, arms or have the pumpkin as the head for a stuffed body.
In the years he has carved pumpkins, Garrett has found several helpful tips.
First choose your pumpkin carefully. The best jack-o'-lantern pumpkins weigh 15 to 20 pounds, have bright orange, blemish-free rinds and well-defined ribbing.
If you have a design in mind, choose a pumpkin with a shape to match it. For instance, some designs look best on round pumpkins while others are more suited to oblong pumpkins.
When you are ready to go to work on your jack-o'-lantern, Garrett suggests cutting into the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top when making the initial hole to scrape out the insides.
"You can scoop out the pumpkin easier from the bottom, and you don't have the mess at the top," Garrett said.
It's also easier to install a candle or even an electric light from the bottom than it is from the top.
He recommends using a long, sharp knife and making a hole about 5 inches in diameter.
Use a large soup spoon to scoop out the seeds and pulp. A cleanliness note: Spread lots of newspaper around before making the cut. There are many seeds and
lots of juice and rind in a pumpkin that you won't want all over the floor.
Once the pumpkin is ready for carving, Garrett suggests drawing your design on the pumpkin with a felt-tip pen. Keep the design simple and practice on paper before moving to the pumpkin.
For those who don't feel comfortable drawing freehand, they can find a picture and transfer the design by wrapping it around the pumpkin and making pinpricks through the paper, Garrett said. When the paper is removed, follow the pricks with the felt tip pen.
Garrett said an X-acto knife or a small paring knife work well for carving out the design.
Besides the layering technique Garrett mentioned for the ninja mask, there are other tricks that produce nifty effects in jack-o'-lanterns.
One is reinserting. "For instance you can cut out holes for the eyes, then put them back in." Garrett said. "This leaves a hole around the eyes that allows light to come through."
Another trick is attaching other items to the carved pumpkin. For instance, a carrot can be inserted into a hole cut for a nose to become a menacing snout. Toothpicks can be used to attach small gourds for ears.
And don't forget hair. Corn husks make good hair when taped or glued to an old hat and placed on top of the pumpkin for a scarecrow effect. Or tape toothpicks onto long spiral pasta and stick them into the top of a pumpkin. It makes a great fright wig.
Lastly, jack-o'-lanterns last longer when sprayed with a disinfectant. This cuts down the bacteria that causes pumpkins to rot.