By MARTIN E. COMAS
What’s Halloween without a little fun carving a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern?
Every year you pledge to turn that uneven, lumpy pumpkin you picked up at your neighborhood patch into a masterful work of art.
You scoop out the gooey insides, then end up carving the usual: triangle shapes for the eyes and nose, and a crooked slit with a few dangling teeth for the mouth.
It’s time to get out of that jack-o’-lantern rut, and here are three pumpkin-carving experts to help.
Ricky Lopez, chef at Cafe Osceola at the Rosen Shingle Creek, carves designs on pumpkins — including portraits — and then displays his artistic creations at the hotel every year.
Lopez, 42, also carves elaborate figures on cheeses, ice sculptures and vegetables, depending on the season. He’s been doing it for more than two decades.
“You need to have fun. Because when you’re having fun you get to be creative,” Lopez said. “Sometimes, it helps to get the whole family involved, that way everyone comes together with different ideas.”
Lopez recommends choosing a large pumpkin — the larger the better. Those are easier to carve.
“The knife should be very, very sharp,” he said. “And put it into the pumpkin at an angle and move the pumpkin back and forth while cutting. But you need to be careful and to be safe. It’s scary how a sharp knife can cut you.”
He also recommends handling the pumpkin gently to avoid bruising it.
When he’s finished carving, Lopez avoids spraying enamels or other paints, saying they give a pumpkin a “fake” look. Instead, he will wrap it in moist towels or cheesecloth and put the pumpkin in the refrigerator to keep it fresh when it’s not on display.
“I want people to smell it, to touch it,” he said.
Lopez’s pumpkin creations will be on display at a free fall festival on Oct. 25 and 26 at the Rosen Shingle Creek’s Sleepy Hollow Sleepover, 9939 Universal Blvd.
David Hartmann, art director for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Creative Entertainment, coordinates the decorations at the Orlando theme park every fall. And pumpkins are a big part of the Magic Kingdom’s autumn decor.
Because Hartmann and his team of employees start setting up their displays at the end of August, they use artificial foam pumpkins that look like the real thing.
“Otherwise, in a little more than a week they will start to disintegrate and become a gooey mess,” Hartmann said about real pumpkins.
The fake pumpkins also allow his team “a clean and nice way to carve into them without the huge mess,” Hartmann said. “And the exciting thing is that they last for as long as you want. … You can have more every year, and they become really cool family heirlooms over the years.”
Hartmann and his team currently have 181 carved pumpkins that they have used to create 175 displays throughout the Magic Kingdom. There’s a pumpkin eating ice cream that appears to be screaming, a pumpkin snowman, and one carved to resemble a fire hydrant with a smiling pumpkin dog nearby.
“I try to do fun and inventive things,” Hartmann said. “Don’t feel you have to stick with the triangle eyes and missing teeth. There are all kinds of crazy things you can come up. Maybe carve a picture of your favorite character. You can have a lot of fun.”
Scott “Stormin’ ” Norman of Galva, Ill., is arguably the most famous pumpkin carver in the nation. He calls himself “The Picasso” of pumpkin carving, and his skills have gotten him on national television and sporting events. Since 2008, he has traveled throughout the country, demonstrating his carving skills at as many as 50 events a year in libraries, art shows and senior centers.
Norman — a former woodcarver and private investigator — prefers to use real pumpkins. In fact, when he performed on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” last year, producers couldn’t find a real pumpkin so they provided him with a foam one instead.
“It was such a mess. It was a fiasco,” Norman said. “I didn’t even make it to the next round. But I got my 30 seconds of fame.”
Norman says it takes him about half a minute to clean out a pumpkin “with no mess,” then up to six hours to carve it.
“You have to give yourself a lot of freedom to screw up, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” Norman said. “It’s an art form, and beautiful works of art have been created by making mistakes. … So have at it.”
—Choose a large pumpkin. They’re easier to carve.
—When cutting the top, place the knife at a 45-degree angle so the lid will not fall through.
—Print or draw a pattern on a paper. Use scissors to cut out a template. Tape the template to the pumpkin and use a marker to trace the carving lines.
—Use a very sharp knife and take your time to cut along the outside edge of the marker lines.
—Sprinkle the bottom of the pumpkin lid with ground cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves to work as an air freshener.
—When not displaying your pumpkin, wrap it wet towels or put it inside a plastic bag and place it in the refrigerator.