Pumpkin Carving Tips and Ideas from Extreme Pumpkins' Tom Nardone

Posted by on Oct 26, 2011

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"Extreme Pumpkins" poobah Tom Nardone does not profess to be a highly skilled pumpkin carver. If you want to create artistic pumpkins he recommends you check out the work of sculptor Ray Villafane. What Tom excels at is carving a funny or spooky jack o' lantern in 15 minutes or less (he gives up if the carving process takes longer). "I've got beer to drink and football to watch." So if you're looking for last-minute carving tips or suggestions on how to use pumpkin-carving templates he's a good man to ask. "I'm just a guy who shows you tricks that everybody can do." For more about his work, check out the books "Extreme Pumpkins," "Extreme Pumpkins II" and "Extreme Halloween."

What do you look for in a pumpkin?
I look for pumpkins that are a little bit ugly. I don't like them to be too perfect because then they have little character. I also look for them to be taller than they are wide because that's the shape of most faces. Most jack o' lanterns are a caricature of a person's face so I want them to look human and if they're big it also helps make a larger-than-life caricature. You should also look it over for soft spots and make sure it isn't rotten. If you're going to do a lot of 3-D or relief carving you want one that has a thicker skin. You can tell if the pumpkin's skin is thick because it will be really heavy for its size.

pumpkin carving tips
The "Coolio Pumpkin"
Do you have tips for people working with free pumpkin patterns?
They're pretty easy to work with. I have some on my site you can download. There are specific tips. Tape the pattern on at the center first and then work out. Blue tape works well to hold the pattern on the pumpkin. Keep in mind that the pumpkin is round and the pattern is flat so you're going to have to be prepared for that. You can transfer the pattern with a nail or screw. If it's more complex and you don't want to get confused when you're carving, you can color code the parts with a dry erase marker since that will wipe off. Dry Erase markers are also good if you want to draw a pattern on the pumpkin and take it off later.

How can a pumpkin carver recover from a simple mistake?

Sure, let's say you were cutting an eye and you accidentally broke a chunk off or the eyeball popped out. You can patch it together using toothpicks. First you stick the toothpick into the pumpkin and then slide the broken piece on top of it. The process works pretty well. You can also use wire and nails to make up for a lot of mistakes.
pumpkin carving tips
Pumpkin with taxidermy tongue
You're a big fan of cheap props to add some humor to the piece. What do you recommend?
I make a mohawk out of carrots. I make dreadlocks out of black Twizzlers. To attach them all you need to do is cut a hole that's a little too small and then jam the carrot or Twizzler in there and friction holds it together. I got some plastic tongues from a taxidermy catalog that are like two bucks each. Expanding foam insulation works for brains. An old onesie makes it look like the pumpkin is eating a baby. Marshmallows can be used to make it look like an old lady with hair curlers. 

Do you have any tips so people don't hurt themselves? 
Yeah, don't cut yourself. Wear safety glasses. People are always surprised that I wear safety glasses. I'm like "Yeah, I want to see tomorrow."



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