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DIY Project: Pumpkin Carving Tips from Amelie Mancini

by Grace Bonney

Growing up in France, we didn’t have Halloween. We all dressed up for Mardi Gras, of course, but we didn’t carve pumpkins, eat candy corn or go trick-or-treating. We also didn’t have baseball, peanut butter or Cheers. I moved to New York from Paris nine years ago and I’ll never forget the first time I had root beer (I spit it out, though, of course now I love it), the first time I ate Chinese food out of a white takeout box “just like in the movies!” or the first time I cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving. I’ve lived in the US for almost 10 years now and feel very much at home here, but there are still a few things quintessentially American that I’ve never done. For example, I’d never carved a pumpkin before! Turns out it’s pretty fun, only a little messy and totally worth it to see your design come to life through such beautiful, glowing light.

Pumpkins look best in a group, so I bought three pumpkins of different sizes, shapes and colors. I like jack-o-lanterns and spooky designs, so I decided to make a little pumpkin man. I drew a funny face on the pumpkin with a Sharpie and then added more details as I carved. I wanted to use a similar technique to linocutting and only carve the skin without going all the way through. I used my linocut gouges and it worked really nicely. Just remember to keep your tools sharp and carve away from your body! I carved the second pumpkin for the body and cut out little triangles with a knife to let the light shine through. I stacked them on top of the last pumpkin, put battery-powered tea lights inside, and voila! I hope this inspires you to try some new techniques while carving this Halloween! –Amelie Mancini

Click through for DIY tips and steps after the jump!


-Spoon and knife (for removing pumpkin lid and seeds)
-Pen (a thick black Sharpie works well for drawing faces)
Linocut gouge
-Battery powered electric tea lights (optional)


1. Cut out a lid on the top of the pumpkin and empty out the seeds. Remove most of the flesh, too. Save it and make pumpkin pie later!


2. Sketch a few funny-looking faces on a piece of paper and pick your favorite. Use your imagination! The weirder the better. Draw it on the pumpkin with a Sharpie. It’s supposed to look weird, so don’t stress over getting it perfect! You’ll add more details later.


3. Using a linocut gouge (available at any art store), start cutting over the sharpie lines. You can use a V-shaped gouge for skinny lines and a U-shaped one for wide areas. Only carve out the orange skin, do not cut all the way through. Create fun patterns with lines or dots in some areas. Remember the two rules of carving: always carve away from your body, and keep your tools sharp! You are more likely to slip and cut yourself with a dull blade. You can get a sharpening kit at the art store, too!

AMpumpkin10 (1)

4. With a knife, cut little triangles into the second pumpkin to let the light shine through more brightly.

5. Put battery powered tea lights inside the two hollowed out pumpkins and stack them to make a little snowman-like figure. Admire your hard work and go make a pumpkin pie with the insides of your pumpkin man.


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  • I’ve been doing this method for a while, and I love it! I find it makes pumpkins much easier to carve for me, although you have to scrape through more of the insides if you really want the light to shine through well. It always comes out looking really amazing! The only downside I’ve found is that pumpkins I carve with this method tend to rot faster than the ones I cut through with a knife. :(

  • Not only have you assimilated so well into this new land you have combined a couple of traditions so elegantly! The three pumpkins stacked remind me of a snow man. Viva la calabasa!

  • I moved to the US almost exactly a year ago. At my first Thanksgiving I was marvelling over being served all these traditional American foods that were the stuff of my American-import children’s novels (sweet potatoes with brown sugar, green bean casserole). My hosts told me they had made crescent rolls, and asked if I knew what crescent rolls were. They fell about laughing when I responded enthusiastically “Of course! I’ve seen them in the movies!”

    I don’t think Americans realise how much their real world is a sort-of ‘like us, but one step removed’ fantasy-television-land for other Western countries.

    (I’m off to my first pumpkin carving party tonight!)

  • This is far and away the best way to carve pumpkins, I do this every year and was recently contemplating whether I should just keep my “secret” carving method to myself! Just leave the scraping part until the very last minute, when you want to light the thing up, to save it from “wilting” so fast. Also keep the thing inside if you live in a warm climate (like LA) or else anything will rot on contact with the hot, dry air.