As a professional jack-o’-lantern carver, Sean Fitzpatrick is an old hand at turning humble gourds into Halloween showstoppers. “There’s nothing better than hearing a kid walk behind me when I’m carving and just go, ‘Wow!’” says Fitzpatrick, owner of Fitzy Snowman Sculpting in Saugus, Massachusetts (he also sculpts snow, ice, and sand). So, we figured, who better to teach us how to impress all those trick-or-treaters this year?
The gourd standard: The perfect jack-o’-lantern begins with a healthy pumpkin, with no mold or soft spots. “You shouldn’t be able to squeeze it,” Fitzpatrick says. “That means it was picked late or went through a bad growing season.”
Bottom’s up: “If you cut the top off as your lid, it dries up first and actually shrinks,” says Fitzpatrick, who prefers to cut out the bottom instead, which preserves the gourd’s shape and helps prevent moisture loss.
Tools of the trade: To hollow out a pumpkin, Fitzpatrick likes to use an ice cream scooper, followed by a scouring pad to polish the walls. A flexible serrated knife is great for intricate cuts, while a clay-carving loop is ideal for engravings.
Copy that:Digital photos can easily be converted into design templates, Fitzpatrick says. Simply convert the image to black and white, posterize it (to create distinct tonal shades), and print out two copies. Attach one to the pumpkin, covering it completely with clear packing tape, and use a sharp blade to trace all the shapes. Then remove what’s left of the paper, and, with your second image as a reference, start carving. White areas are sections where you’ll cut all the way through the gourd; gray sections will be only partially deep; black areas require just a light scraping.
Seal the deal:To give his creations a bit more shelf life, Fitzpatrick seals the cut edges with Vaseline. “And it helps preserve your design,” he says. After all that hard work, you’ll appreciate that.
—Adapted from “How to Carve a Better Jack-o’-Lantern” by Ian Aldrich, September/October 2011