"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.
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.