Guest Post: Advanced Pumpkin Carving with Mr. Julian Seiden

Hi everyone… Today you’re in for a treat! We’ve asked our friend Julian Seiden to drop some education regarding the pumpkin carving process. Julian’s pumpkins are feats of vision and obviously love; if anyone can encapsulate the experience of turning this basic staple of Halloween into an art form, it is him.

As an added bonus, Julian is internet-famous! The Dalek pumpkin displayed below has been featured on sites such as Planet Gallifrey, Neat-O-Rama, i09, and Geeks are Sexy. So, without further delay and with an abundance of thanks, we turn things over to generally awesome person and pumpkin-artist extraordinaire, Mr. Julian Seiden!

Hi! You may have seen this Dalek pumpkin floating around the interwebs over the last couple years:

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I made that. I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. I also have a picture of myself dressed as David Tennant’s 10th Doctor that year pointing and making an angry face at it. I was asked by the Scratch Living folks to do a guest blog about Halloween pumpkin carving because it’s kind of a thing I’m known for among my friends.

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The eye is a plastic Easter egg cut into shape with an LED in it (attached to a 9V battery inside the pumpkin) and a small magnifying lens on the end, the suction cup is half a racquetball, the lazer arm is cut and spray-painted cardboard, the ears are make-your-own-popsicle cups, the bumps are 25 cent machine capsules (bought in bulk off eBay), and the arms and eyestalk are spray-painted brake line. The discs on the eyestalk are… well, discs. I had my dad cut them out of a piece of plastic because he owns the tools. He also spray-painted the stuff. Thanks, Dad.

The construction of the appendages was done over the course of three weeks, here and there after work and such. The actual carving – scooping, holes, and slots – was one seven-hour marathon session on Halloween (more on that timing later). I ate because someone stuck a hamburger under my face; I may not have otherwise. I get a little into my Halloween pumpkins.

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So, every year I think of a pumpkin idea early (sometimes 370 days in advance), and spend the rest of the time to Halloween figuring out how to do it. Then, I’ll wait until the last minute and do it right before Halloween. As for the weird parts and electronics and stuff like that, I can’t really explain process or give advice on that sort of thing, because I make it up off the top of my head as I do it. Besides, I wouldn’t wish this nightmare…

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…on anyone.

But what I can do is give you advice on the actual pumpkin carving itself (my favorite part). These methods work for me; use the knowledge as you see fit.

Before you begin, wash the pumpkin. I use a warm, damp washrag. You’ll want to wipe it off all over and then dry it with a paper towel. I can’t really explain any specific benefits of this; it’s just what I always do. A clean pumpkin is a happy pumpkin. Oh! Less likely for dirt to get in the exposed cuts and start rot. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds good.

Step 1 is emptying the pumpkin out. I always use a big kitchen knife (please be careful; I’m not liable if you cut a finger off but if you do feel free to incorporate it into your pumpkin because that’s good production value. I put it in around the top at an angle, so once we have a separate cap piece it won’t fall inside. Cut off the bottom wet layer of the cap with that knife and cut a small triangle wedge out of one of the sides for a vent; it lets the heat of the candle out so the cap doesn’t scorch or burn.

Step 2 is scooping. This is a pain in the butt but it’s important for all the carving you do to look good. Get in there and rip and tear with your bare hands. Work for your pumpkin. Own it. Grunt as you do it. That last part is unnecessary. Once you can’t get any more out by hand, get in there with a big metal spoon and start scraping. Don’t worry about going too hard; pumpkin skin is thick. You’ll start to see a lighter shade of drier pumpkin meat under the wet top layer; this is what you want around the whole thing.

Scoop for a while, then take out what you’ve loosened with your hand. Alternate back and forth. You’ll also want to scrape the bottom of the pumpkin and make a flat spot for the candle. After you’ve gotten all you can out, wipe the inside of the pumpkin with a paper towel. It’ll collect even more bits that were left behind, and dry out the meat a bit more. Eventually, you’ll want your pumpkin inside to look like this:

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Let it sit open for a bit. Go put the guts in the compost (you’re reading Scratch Living so I assume you have one; otherwise go throw it in the woods so nature can have it. Either way you might end up with random pumpkins in your yard, which is fun). Wash your hands. You know; tidying up gives the pumpkin a chance to dry out some more before you start to carve. You don’t want it completely dry (they get rubbery); just a chance for it to set. That might make no sense at all scientifically, but again, it’s what I do.

Step 3 is carving, and here’s a secret of mine: I always use the cheap store-bought set. The one that has the metal cutting blade with the orange or purple handle. It’s still the best thing I’ve found for sawing a straight line. Speaking of which, here’s another tip: draw the shape you want to cut on the outside of the pumpkin with an orange dry-erase marker. After you’re done cutting, you can wipe off any remaining lines with a damp washrag. I tend to push on the insides of the cut shapes so they pop out the front; feel free to pull on them; you’ll trim the holes in the next paragraph.

After you have your pieces out, you’ll want to use the saw to trim around the *insides* of the open areas. Cut at an angle from the front of the pumpkin around the inside backs of each hole (bits will fall inside the pumpkin as you do this; scoop ‘em out every once and a while, and use a damp paper towel inside when done). When you’re done, the insides of the holes will be bigger than the outsides of the holes. This allows more uninterrupted candlelight to get out of each hole and makes the shapes more defined and easier to see. It also makes touching up the lines from the outside easier, because it’s now thinner there.

Take a paper towel and wipe with your finger around the insides of each hole to get any last bits out. Take a step back and look. All of the exposed pumpkin meat around the holes should be thinner than the rest of the pumpkin. I’ll spend a bit of time doing final thinning so more candlelight comes out of the holes. Once I put in a candle, I’m done.

That’s pretty much it. I can’t give you any advice on how to keep your pumpkin fresh because I don’t do that. Hence, why I always finish carving my pumpkins on Halloween. I’ve heard tales of Vaseline on the exposed meat and diluted bleach sprays, but I don’t use them so feel free to look those up for yourself. My pumpkins last about a week before they start to sag and mold, and then it’s off to the compost pile. One night is really all I need. The more intricate your pumpkin is, the better chance for neighborhood hooligans to make off with them, so I don’t leave mine out unless I’m there handing out candy.

I hope this or any part of it helped, or at least entertained you a bit. Some people say I spend too much time on my pumpkins (or I have “too much time on my hands” in general, a phrase that I can’t stand), but it’s my art. Even more than that, it’s my meditation. When I’m carving a pumpkin, I’m not thinking about anything else. I’m focused. I’m content. And there’s no such thing as too much time with something that makes you happy. Don’t let pumpkin carving be a chore; embrace it, care for it, and have fun.

Thank you to Scratch Living for giving me an opportunity to write about a thing I love and possibly help other people in the process. Also for giving me a chance to take credit for that Dalek pumpkin that gets shared around every year and explain how I did it. I hope you all have a great Halloween.

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Again, our most heartfelt thanks to Julian for taking time out of his schedule and sharing his gifts of prose and pumpkin-based artistry. To read more from Julian, be sure to subscribe to I Hear Things Out Here

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