A Pumpkin Primer

Associated in folklore with mischievous ghosts and fairies, “jack-o-lanterns” have been at the center of haunting myths as far back as the 17th-century. The Celtic tribes  in Ireland believed that malevolent spirits rose from the graves to walk among the living on one night of the year, prompting farmers to carve faces on turnips and gourds as a way of warding off evil spirits. More than 300 years on, the custom of pumpkin carving has evolved into an art form.

Armed with 20 years of experience, Marc Evans and Chris Soria, founders of the Brooklyn-based Maniac Pumpkin Carvers studio, carve a few hundred pumpkins a year. Still, it’s not just about quantity. “We used to measure success by how many pumpkins we carve a year, but now it’s more about the quality,” explains Marc. A particularly intricate carving can take them up to 10 hours to complete. (During the nine-month off season, they sharpen their artistic skills by painting murals and taking on larger illustration projects.)

We asked them to share some pointers for carving the ultimate jack-o-lantern.

pumpkin carving how-to


1. Select your pumpkin as you would a fruit. (It is one, afterall). You want the ripest and strongest of the bunch. Avoid ones with nicks, bruises or dry and brittle stems. A healthy stem is the lifeline of the pumpkin, and will continue to provide moisture and nutrients long after it’s cut from the vine.

2. Pick the right size. The bigger the pumpkin, the more work you have ahead of you. Sculpted, three-dimensional designs require heavier pumpkins with more density and thicker walls to sculpt into – whereas lighter and therefore more hollow pumpkins are better suited for traditional jack-o-lantern styles.

3. Arm yourself with the right tools. Rather than cutting around the stem and carving from the top, use a sharp knife to cut an opening in the back of the pumpkin. Scoop out the meat with a large spoon or a sturdy ice cream scoop, and begin drawing the details of your design onto the surface with a sharpie pen or any ink that’s waterproof. By keeping the stem intact, your pumpkin will maintain its freshness and shape longer.