Hallowe’en pumpkin carving becoming artform

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GUTS everywhere, slime oozing from a gaping wound, a slight whiff of something rotten and maybe even some real blood courtesy of a badly-wielded knife and a partially-severed finger.

Can only mean it’s pumpkin-carving season again.

Imogen Nurse, aged 3, shows off her traditionally styled carved pumpkin. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Imogen Nurse, aged 3, shows off her traditionally styled carved pumpkin. Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Getting to grips with the slippery monsters and turning them into something that looks better than just a rapidly moulding vegetable with a big hole cut into it, has become an art form in itself.

No longer is it at all acceptable to shove junior out into the Hallowe’en night with a turnip with its top cut off, two holes for eyes, one gaping slash for a mouth and the rank aroma of singed neeps.

Nor in this competitive parenting age is it even worth sending the kids to their Hallowe’en party with a pathetic pumpkin that merely sports triangle eyes, tombstone teeth and glow sticks for horns – a definite loser in the cut-throat pumpkin contest. Not when their best pal rolls up with a Darth Vader carved pumpkin, flashing light system and a hidden speaker which blares out the Star Wars theme . . .

For today’s Hallowe’en pumpkins mean serious business.

So serious, indeed, that pumpkin carving classes have sprung up aimed at teaching even the most ham-fisted novice how to create a show-stopping Hallowe’en horror.

Alison Thornton launched the pumpkin-carving classes at her Dalkeith Road shop, Apeeling Fruit Bouquets, where she normally specialises in creating pretty fruit displays.

“We’ve had lots of interest in them,” she says. “Lots of mums and dads, all of them saying that the whole pumpkin carving thing is now quite competitive.

“And it can be quite stressful trying to carve out a pumpkin with the kids and it all goes wrong.

“But at the end of the classes, everyone agreed that carving a pumpkin can actually be quite a relaxing thing to do.”

Alison suggests using easy-to-find stencils online, cutting out the shape and pinning them on to the pumpkin, before beginning to carve.

“The mistake a lot of people make is just trying to hack straight in to it,” she says. “Or they cut off the top without leaving enough room to actually get their hand inside and clean it out.”

She uses a small paring knife for the tricky bits but warns against attempting anything too intricate. “It’s actually really easy once you get the hang of it. A lot of the dads on the courses got quite competitive and starting experimenting straight away.”

If you happen to be stuck for ideas, child sponsorship charity World Vision is suggesting turning Hallowe’en on its head and carving a love heart onto pumpkins as a symbol of hope. It has a free pumpkin pack that can be downloaded at www.worldvision.org.uk/anightofhope.

Meanwhile, Dobbies Garden Centre has also been running pumpkin-carving masterclasses, while celebrity pumpkin carver David Finkle – whose creations have even made it into the Tate Modern – has created a non-terrifying leafy stencil for the chain’s customers, available on www.dobbies.com.

Of course that’s a long way – indeed, a galaxy away – from some pumpkin efforts, such as American expert carver Noel Dickover, who has just unveiled his contribution to Hallowe’en in the shape of a pumpkin replica of Star Wars’ Death Star.

But if all this Hallowe’en nonsense gets on your goat, remember – it’s pretty much all our fault. Scots are widely believed to have gifted Hallowe’en to the world.

“Many believe Scotland to be the home of Hallowe’en,” explains Natalie Rowan of the Edinburgh Dungeon, which is currently running special Hallowe’en show, Dinner for the Dead, at the Market Street venue.

“It’s based on the Celtic origins of Hallowe’en, which started as a festival called Samhuinn, when pagans would set out their feast table for their dead ancestors.”

Hallowe’en comes from the Scots for All Hallow’s Eve. And as for pumpkin carving, Scots had a hand in that, too. “Scots emigrated to America, they couldn’t use traditional turnips to carve and so they used pumpkins instead,” she adds.

Our Bob’s just the job

HE’S the lovable little pooch with the heart-warming story of devotion, whose cute features can be found on tea towels, mugs, books and, of course, a certain well-loved statue.

Now Greyfriars Bobby has been immortalised in pumpkin form, making him if not the scariest of Hallowe’en creations, certainly one of the cutest.

Lisa Meridian, 38, who works behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Dungeon, insists that while the intricate carving looks challenging, it’s deceptively straightforward. “If you can draw a little bit – even just trace – then you can do it,” she says.

She started by finding an image of the terrier and copying it onto a sheet of A4 paper.

“You could just go straight ahead and do it freehand straight on to the pumpkin, but a little bit of planning makes a huge difference,” she suggests.

Indeed, she recommends having all your tools – Lisa used a small serrated edge knife and wood chisels for the carving – your image and a black bag for assorted pumpkin guts, seeds and skin at hand to help ensure a perfect pumpkin.

Lisa says it helps to decide at the start which sections of your drawing should be hollowed out completely, which should remain as pumpkin skin and which should be carved to reveal the pale orange flesh of the squash underneath.

“I found it best to do a ‘halo’ around the image which is hollowed out so the light shines through,” she says.

Lisa cut off the top of the pumpkin at a slight angle to prevent the lid just sliding back inside and left a small ‘v’ shape at the back for a snug fit. She then hollowed out the insides using an ice-cream scoop.

The middle section – forehead, nose, mouth and chin – was drawn on paper as one complete section, meaning Lisa could cut it out and stick it to her pumpkin. She then drew the outline in whiteboard marker pen rather than permanent marker, easier to clean off should a mistake occur. Alternatively, make an outline around the stencil using a sharp knife.

“It’s messy though, so it’s worth making copies of your image as spares,” she adds.

Once the initial outline is in place, Lisa used a small wood chisel to remove a layer of pumpkin skin.

Once done, all that remains is to insert a small tea light candle, turn down the lights and admire.