A fun and seasonal pastime, pumpkin carving ideas are most sought-after in October – the month of Halloween. A plain pumpkin can go from basic to amazing in a matter of minutes. And by using stencils or going freehand, you can produce some killer creations.
But if your DIY Halloween decorations go as far as carving a few triangles into this beautifully colored gourd – don't be scared, as there is plenty to inspire you creatively in spooky season.
Pumpkin carving ideas to practice
From creepy classic designs to self-serve candy containers for trick-or-treaters, there's lots to experiment with and a Jack-O-Lantern or two is sure to enhance any fall decorating ideas you have around the house also.
'It's unclear when the jack o lantern was first invented, but it is believed to have originated in Ireland and Scotland,' says Jamie Jones, founder of bespoke pumpkin carving studio, Pumpkin Freak.
'One of the earliest records of a mention of the Jack-O-Lantern comes from Irish folklore, in which a man named Stingy Jack tricks the devil into climbing an apple tree and then throws him down to earth.'
'The history of this festival has been traced back as far as 1000 AD when people would use turnips, potatoes or beets to make their Jack-O-Lanterns. They would carve faces into these vegetables and place candles inside them for light. These vegetables were later replaced with pumpkins due to their growing popularity in North America.'
1. Go for a classic Jack-O-Lantern
You know what they say: if it ain't broke – don't fix it. So if you're looking for a pumpkin carving idea that's easy as well as being familiar – a single, or trio of pumpkins in an classic Jack-O-Lantern design is something that's not to be sniffed at – as @oliver.theminibernedoodle proves.
There are thousands of free designs available online, so it's simply a case of finding one you like, printing it off, cutting it out and then drawing around the paper stencil. Or, if you're a little more artistic and clued up on how to carve a pumpkin like a pro you can go freehand.
2. Swap triangle eyes for eyelashes
A more feminine alternative to cutting out triangular eyes in your Jack-O-Lantern is to carve eyelash-like shapes. In this pumpkin decorating idea by Lauren (aka @houseonhideaway) she's given this "Jackie-O-Lantern" a girly glow-up, swapping in a grin over a grimace too for a less scary pumpkin carving ideas. And of course, we can't get enough of the pink ringlets.
3. 'Brace' yourself with a toothy design
While we love all three of these pumpkin carving ideas by @morning.sophie, we're particularly fond of the foil-braced orange face who has received some orthodontic work from its owner.
Other than the train tracks, we love the detail that's gone into giving the 'teeth' of this design some texture – something you can achieve with a fork or paring knife.
4. Unleash 90's vibes with a Barbie pink pumpkin
If you were born in the nineties, or grew up role-playing with the iconic female figurine – chances are you'll go gaga over this cool creation. Create a dreamhouse for you dollies by sticking them in this pink carved pumpkin.
To nail the logo, find the infamous 'B' logo online, print it off onto some paper, cut it out and tape it to the pumpkin, using it as a stencil to guide you. Use a pencil to etch around the letter. You'll then need to carefully carve this using a small knife. Cutting a little silhouette around the initial design, like Youtuber, Marina The 90's Barbie has done to give it more definition and make it pop!
She painted thin layers of bubblegum pink spray paint onto the pumpkin, covering the squash more generously as she got towards the bottom for an ombre effect.
You'll want this to look clean and pristine for picture-perfect results.
5. Create a Disney Princess inspired pumpkin
Move over Cinderella – there's a new Disney princess in town – and comes with her own pretty purple pumpkin carving ideas. Adorned with lilac flowers and gold glitter cards, one Instagrammer took to her gourd to create a touching Tangled-inspired scene.
'I drew the lantern scene on my iPad to then be cut out on my Cricut, which saves a lot of work!' explains Lola Hancock, founder of Luby & Lola.
'Then I simply cut a circle at the front of the pumpkin, painted it lilac and used to a glue gun to add the glittery silhouettes and paper flowers. Also used battery candles, just in case!'
While the adults may want to take charge of the carving, dipping cards in glue and sprinkling gold glitter over them is a just one of the Halloween activities that younger kids and preschoolers can get involved in.
6. Create a self-service candy bowl
Pumpkins make great Halloween tool for a self-service style trick-o-treat. Whether you've a newborn in the home who is sleeping, or you're out visiting friends and family over the holiday season – you needn't miss out on all the fun.
'Create a pumpkin candy bowl this Halloween by digging out your pumpkin and carve a fun message using a rotary tool,' says Sarah Fishburne, director of trend and design, Home Depot.
'Insert a plastic container or line your Jack-O’-Lantern with foil and fill with assorted candies. Keep this pumpkin candy bowl on display in your home or place it on an outdoor table on your front porch for trick-or-treaters while you’re away.'
Don't feel obliged to create a decorative design on the front. If you're after easy pumpkin carving ideas, a simple removal of the pumpkin's seeds and cavity will suffice.
7. Fake it with foam
'See those two carved pumpkins? Take a guess, real or fake?' asks Gillian (aka @thewoolycanvas)
'I recently learned from DIY blogger, Stephanie Hanna that you can carve foam craft pumpkins with a hot knife. I own a wood burning set from a previous The Crafter's Box kit that includes a blade so I tried my hand at carving craft pumpkins and am in love with the results and the simple fact that I can bring them out year after year!
And, as they're a non-edible product – it's one way to stop pests like squirrels eating pumpkins.
8. Carve the top of your pumpkin
Often, we will use the top of the gourd as a lid or head of our creation – some going as far as to use the innards in, gory or gruesome ways. But another way to tackle this task, is to flip it on its head – quite literally.
So before you give your squash a lobotomy, try and see if you can cut facial features into it. It's one of those pumpkin carving ideas that is simple, yet not many people do it. If you've picked your own from pumpkin patch or farm, you can even leave the stalk intact to depict a gnarly nose.
This Jarrahdale pumpkin variety is particularly good styled with grey, blue green decor – and it's zombie-like tinge is best suited if you're on the (witch) hunt for scary ideas.
9. Have a go at intricate designs
You've probably seen those fancy, postcard-perfect fruit designs in South Asia, but this pumpkin decorating idea can be done at home with a little time, patience and a steady hand.
Instead of taking a knife to a watermelon or pineapple, Andy Branca-Masa (aka @andys_carving) has sketched out his designs on a seasonal squash variety. But if you're more of a beginner, we suggest you start out with pumpkin carving ideas that are a little simpler or even no carve pumpkin decorating ideas.
10. Drill holes
If your carving skills aren't quite up to scratch, one way to tackle your pumpkin carving ideas is with your DIY tools – namely an electric drill.
Using this piece of hardware will deliver consistent results that you can easily control. We love this swirled pattern design by Spooks & Snow on Instagram, but you can also 'drill' out a slogan or go for a simple polka dot style instead.
To make this a fool-proof, easy pumpkin carving idea, dot your design on first with a marker pen.
11. Use multiple pumpkins
If there's one pumpkin carving idea that screams "Bite me" – it's this. Using a little and large combo of pumpkins, it's a duo that's destined for success. To create a cool contrast, why not use multiple varieties. For example, your standard orange squash could be gorging on a mini ghost gourd.
Top pumpkin carving tips
If you are feeling inspired and want to carve your own Jack-O’-Lantern this Halloween, Charis Hawkins, brand manager, Magnet has put together some top tips to help.
1. Select your pumpkin carefully
There are many shapes, sizes and colors to choose from when picking a pumpkin. It’s best to choose one with a surface that’s fresh, and with minimal bruises or soft spots. A flat base and a sturdy stem are also good key features to look out for.
2. Cover and prepare your surfaces and equipment before cutting
We recommend carving your pumpkin on the kitchen counter or dining table. Wipe down and cover your surface with cardboard, newspaper or a plastic sheet before you start. Be careful when using sharp tools and always supervise children. We’d also suggest having a bowl ready to scoop the insides of your pumpkin into - as it can get messy.
3. Cut from the bottom of your pumpkin, not the top
Creating the entrance to your pumpkin from the bottom instead of the top allows for you to pull the insides out easier and creates a more streamlined look. If using a real candle, it also prevents the risk of accidental burns when lighting the flame inside as you can place your pumpkin on top of the candle instead of trying to drop a lit candle in.
4. Scoop out as much as you can and thin the side you are going to carve
Before carving the pattern, clean out all the seeds and strings from the pumpkin. Scrape the insides with a large spoon, ice cream scoop, or scraping tool and be sure to thin the sides you’re carving the design into. Aim to thin the wall to around 1 inch in thickness, this makes the carving easier and cleaner.
5. Use a template to carve the pattern
You can create your own template by sketching a design on paper. If you are feeling less artistic, you can also print one online. Tape the stencil to the pumpkin then trace the design by poking multiple holes along the lines. When finished remove the paper and rub flour over your design. This will make your lines easier to see so that you can more easily join up the holes ready for carving.
6. Don’t be scared to get creative
Taking inspiration from designs online, such as Pinterest, can be a great way to initiate your creativity. Consider your tools and abilities when choosing a design. If you’re more advanced, try shaving parts of the pumpkin at different depths to get different, more detailed effects. If you want to save the mess and avoid sharp tools, you can even choose to paint your pumpkin instead of carving. Whatever you do, don’t worry too much about it being perfect, just have fun!
7. Mistakes can be salvaged
If any pieces come off that were not meant to, don’t panic, you can use cocktail sticks to secure the runaway pieces back into place. We also advise that when you’re popping out any piece that you push from the inside to dislodge them.
8. Keep your pumpkin fresh for longer
When you cut into your pumpkin it will start to rot, so we recommend leaving the carving to the last minute if you still want it looking fresh on Halloween. There are also a few ways to maximise the lifespan of your pumpkin. After carving, soak your pumpkin in cold water with a small amount of bleach. When removed, dry it well to extend its freshness. You can also spray the pumpkin daily with a water/bleach solution to rehydrate and stop mold. This should be done by an adult and children should be kept away from potentially harmful chemicals. If you’re carving with children or under 18, you should always make sure there is an adult present throughout the pumpkin carving process to supervise and make sure carving is fun but safe!
9. Avoid using real candles: The heat from real flames can cook the pumpkin, drying it out and speeding up the decay process. Using battery powered candles can provide the same lighting effect without the negative impact. This way, you can also try out different color lights!
10. Don’t let the pumpkin insides go to waste
Over half of the 15 million pumpkins produced in the UK are used only for carving – with most going straight to waste after Halloween is over. However, there are plenty of ways to use your leftover pumpkin insides – from roasted pumpkin seeds to pumpkin dog treats, the internet is full of different recipes. However, do not eat any of the pumpkin if you have treated it with bleach.
How long do carved pumpkins last?
'It really depends on the pumpkin, the carving, and a bunch of other factors,' says Marc Evan, co-founder of Brooklyn, NYC-based, Maniac Pumpkin Carvers.
'Pumpkins can last a few days to three weeks or longer with proper care. They look their absolute best for the first few days after carving and can typically look great for at least a week with minimal care.'
'Some things you can do to prolong your pumpkin are keeping it wrapped tightly in plastic wrap when not on display. Keeping your pumpkin cold also helps, so refrigerate it or keep it somewhere cool whenever possible.'
'Another great tip for pumpkins that are starting to shrivel or look old is to give it an ice bath (just make sure to remove any lights or electronics first) with a capful of bleach added. This will plump the pumpkin back up as well as kill any mold growth.'
'Wrapping the pumpkin tightly with plastic wrap and keeping it cool when not on display will greatly increase the pumpkins life. You can also lightly spray your pumpkin with diluted lemon juice or vinegar to help prevent oxidation.'
How are carved pumpkins lit?
'We use custom fitted electric lighting. Our LED lights are equivalent to 40 watt bulbs (60-100 watt equivalent are available for larger pumpkins),' explains Chris Soria, co-founder at Maniac Pumpkin Carvers.
'They are energy efficient and stay cool, helping your pumpkin last longer. We recently switched to LEDs from Compact Fluorescents (CFL). They are a more consistent light as well as much safer to use and better for the environment.'
'Please save your lighting units for future pumpkins or reuse the the standard sized bulbs in your home. Our LED bulbs are rated to last for 20 years!'