As Halloween rolls around, it becomes clear which camp you belong to–the one that carves pumpkins, and the one that can’t be bothered, or can’t get it together to get the pumpkin and carve it, too.
I’ve been in the latter camp for a while now because I have trouble drawing stick figures (so why would I be able to carve a face out of a gourd?) But now that I have kids I need to get my act together. Maybe you would like to, too. Here, then, are a few local resources:
Rose Red & Lavender in Williamsburg is selling Pumpkin Carving Kits ($8.99), which comes with 5 tools and 12 ready-to-trace templates that are much more elaborate than that classic, triangle-eyed pumpkin you have in mind. You can also purchase 8 templates separately for $2.99 and use your own exacto knife, paring knife and ice cream scooper to scoop out the seeds. They have plenty of pumpkins for sale, too.
Recently, the owner Kimberly Sevilla sent out an email with some design inspiration from Martha. Her “Celestial Pumpkins” essentially require just a drill and a string of electric lights–and a good amount of patience to poke a light through each hole .
If you would like to show your neighbors who is Pumpkin Boss, there are two master jack-o-lanternists who can create a custom gourd for you.
Hugh McMahon, the Pumpkin Man of Brooklyn Heights, once carved a gorilla out of 1500-pound pumpkin and a shark ouf of a 900-pounder, and has a client list that includes BAM and The Whitney (Brooklyn Heights Blog caught up with him last year in this video). His rates start at $125 for a simple design like a cat, owl or logo, while pumpkin portraits–who knew people did these?–are $250. He can carve a fake pumpkin, too–just ask him more about this option (718-625-6171).
Marc Evan and Chris Soria, local illustrators and the bad-ass jack-o-lanternists behind Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, have an intricate aesthetic that adds a lot more rock and roll and gore to the genre–they can carve everything from “Starry Night” to an Iron Maiden album cover. Their custom pumpkins start at $150 and top out around $500. (Inhabitat has a gallery of their work here.) Their turnaround time is 24 hours and you can order via email.
Understandably, this may not fit into your Halloween decorating budget. There are still costumes to acquire, candies to buy. But you can use some of McMahan’s and Maniac’s pro tips at home.
First, check out this Science Friday video on Maniac Pumpkin Carvers from last Halloween. It’s a great cheat sheet to their methods, which include squirting the cuts with lemon juice and water, and preserving the pumpkin with veggie oil or vaseline.
Both McMahon and the Maniac guys clean the outside of the gourd with soapy water first to prevent the dirt from spoiling the pumpkin too soon, and they never cut from the top. The stem still provides nutrients to the pumpkin, so loosening it in any way, even by lifting the stem, will shorten its life. McMahan cuts and cleans out his gourd from the bottom, the Maniacs cut from the side–if they clean their pumpkin out at all (not every one of their designs is meant to be lit.)
McMahon and Maniac light their pumpkins with electric lights because it’s cooler than a candle and will preserve your pumpkin longer. Maniac uses 40 watt CFL bulbs, but they’re not forthcoming on how they wire them (this is why you pay the big bucks for one of their gourds, because they come with the lamp installed). Since that seems way advanced, you can try an LED candle or a special pumpkin LED like this one, instead.