Q&A: Pumpkin carving do’s and don’ts

A pumpkin carved by Mark Monlux.
A pumpkin carved by Mark Monlux. Courtesy photo

Prepare your pumpkins. Gear-up your gourds.

South Sound Halloween carvers are out in full force.

And some of the most creative will face off Wednesday in Tacoma.

Carvers will get about an hour to finish their masterpieces for the competition at Kings Books, hosted by the Cartoonist’s League of Absurd Washingtonians.

It’s the third year the band of cartoonists has held the free event.

Mark Monlux, a member of the group, talked to The News Tribune recently about best practices for pumpkin carving, and about the competition.

Q: Is the pumpkin you start with important, or will any gourd do?

A: Actually, choosing the pumpkin is fairly important. Often people don’t come up with a concept until they see the pumpkin. Some people will have a preconceived idea what they’re looking for, and will look for a pumpkin to emulate the shape.

I personally have a very specific plan this year, and I had a very specific plan last year. I was looking for some very uniquely shaped pumpkins.

Q: What’s your concept?

A: My plan last year was to get a pumpkin that had a very warty texture on it. They also had some very nice gourds. I used two long-stemmed gourds as eyes to come out of the pumpkin. I was kind of going for an alien look.

Q: As long as it’s the right shape for what someone wants to carve, will any type of pumpkin work?

A: Giant pumpkins you almost need chisels to get into. You shouldn’t try to tackle something like that without practicing on something similar. Some of the gourds have a very rough texture, some of them not so much. Butternut is fairly easy to carve. The traditional jack-o’-lantern is soft and very easy to carve.

Q: What tools are best?

A: If you’re using a traditional jack-o’-lantern, a nice sharp paring knife is actually the best tool. Something with a short knife blade that you can get a very firm grip on, because the juice of the pumpkin is very slippery. Some people use pocket knifes, other people will use a variation of a steak knife that has a larger blade. If you do sculpting with clay, there are these wire loops with sharp edges, and people will use those to shape a pumpkin.

Q: Is there a standard way to start carving?

A: Basically you have three types of carving. The first one is when you carve the pumpkin from the outside. What you do is cut away the skin, but you leave the flesh of the pumpkin exposed, and you kind of whittle at it like you would wood. You have your traditional way, where you cut all the way through the pumpkin and you cut sections out. Another method is sort of like a shadow box method where you have made a nice clean inside of the pumpkin, and then you cut away sections from the outside but don’t go all the way through the flesh. And what you want is light to shine through the flesh of the pumpkin.

Q: Which method do you use?

A: I like to do a little bit of the first and a little bit of the traditional, where I carve all the way through the pumpkin and when I get to the teeth, I will carve away, exposing the teeth into sharp points. The teeth then look like they’re glowing.

Q: Any favorite pumpkins people have done over the years?

A:One of our winners a couple years back carved a white pumpkin into a skull, carved another pumpkin, and put the white one inside like a cracked skull.

Q: What are your lighting preferences?

A: It’s really hard to beat a nice tea candle, but a lot of people can’t have those inside. I know people who get mini LED or Christmas lights, and they’ll dump those inside the pumpkin. I tried to use an LED flicker candle last year, but it was too weak to shine through.

Q: If novices want to attend, what do they need?

It’s a free event, they just need to bring their own pumpkin (and tools). We do ask people to pre-core their pumpkin before the competition. We don’t want to make too much of a mess. Also they’ll need to bring trash bags to take away their carvings.

Q: What do you do with the pumpkin guts?

A: I’m a big bird lover. I pull the pumpkin seeds out, I toss the goop on my compost, and I put the seed out. They just love those things.

Q: Any last advice?

A: Don’t try to carve it on a table. Get yourself an apron. Keep your pumpkin dry. I like working with a pumpkin on my lap.

If you go

When: 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. October 28

Where: King’s Books, 218 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma

For more information: Visit on.fb.me/1N1guSg.