When I was a kid, my family always carved pumpkins for Halloween. I loved scooping my hands into the slimy guck, and cutting faces into meaty side. What to carve was the big question.
Now that I’ve got my own kids, I tend to answer the question “what should I carve this year?” with whatever movie or action figure the kids are into. Below you can see the forms and faces we’ve tried—from Disney to Pokemon and plenty in between.
Looking for some new pumpkin ideas this Halloween? Knock on this door for an interactive walk through our inspiration pumpkin patch:
I’m no pro carver, I just have fun sitting down and trying something new each year. Here are examples for every skill level, with simple tips for those who want to try but don’t know where to start.
20+ Halloween pumpkin carving ideas for every skill level
The Drunkard is an easy one. Just carve your face, leaving a big mouth opening near the bottom of the pumpkin. Then just spew those guts all over. (note: this was the last pumpkin I made before I had kids.)
The typical pumpkin gets one face, but I thought this Disney trio—Donald, Mickey, and Goofy—belonged wrapped around a shared pumpkin. The idea was cool, but TBH it would’ve been nice to have all three visible at once on separate pumpkins.
Here’s how it looked in the light. As you can see, nothing was cut all the way through the pumpkin, though the mouths and whites of the eyes were close.
And here’s an earlier attempt at Mickey. One of my first explorations with different layers.
Sesame Street is another generation-spanning classic, and we wanted the whole gang: Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Oscar, and Elmo. In this first iteration, I outlined the faces and left the rest mostly untouched. Very simple, and the characters were recognizable without the candles, but less clear when lit up. Later we thinned out the faces for a better glow.
When mommy was 9-months pregnant with baby brother, big brother thought we need a pumpkin dedicated to the newcomer. Five days later, he came out of the pumpkin.
This Spiderman pumpkin isn’t that difficult to make, and it’s very cool when lit up. Just cut big triangle holes for the eyes, then some thin web-like lines running out from center, cut partway through the pumpkin.
You can carve a spider into your pumpkin, but they light up better if instead you remove the negative space around the spider. Not too difficult if you first draw a simple spider outline on the pumpkin. Just use a pen that wipes away better than the one I used here.
A nice simple ghost pumpkin. Like the spider, I think this one lights up better you take out the negative space around the ghost. Just make sure some parts (like arms) still touch the rest of the pumpkin.
Create a monkey by using the cutouts from the eyes as ears. Attach the cutout eye pieces to side of the pumpkin using toothpicks to hold them in place. This one is cute on the counter, but less interesting when the lights go off. Thinking now: maybe cutting small slits just in front of the ears would help the ears glow when the lights are out.
This is Beardyman, the original, now-retired mascot for the company I work for.
And here are some early logos from the same company. The symbols are cut all the way through, and the boxes around each symbol are cut partway in.
I set out to make an orangutan with big face-pad flanges. That didn’t work out so well, and somehow Gorilla Dog appeared instead. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Big Tooth pumpkin face was another fun attempt to try something more 3D. You need a bigger pumpkin to get some nice thick teeth. Start slow, then little by little dig in deeper to shape those pearly whites. It takes time, but it’s fairly simple if you have the patience.
An earlier exploration of how to make 3D teeth.
Who doesn’t love the Minions? A simple 3D-ish attempt with a simple Stuart the lovable minion.
A couple years back, I wanted to try something more creative. I also figured out that power drills are great for carving pumpkins. Highly recommended. (psst: I highly recommended drills, knives, and fire for young children. More on that soon.)
And another attempt with a drill, kitchen knife, and no plan.
This Ninjago pumpkin idea was the kids’ choice in 2018, following the weirdly entertaining Lego series. Trying to make a textured mask was a new type of challenge. But after playing around with the shape and thickness of the mask, it was neat when the candle flickered inside.
It was only so long before my kids requested a Pokémon pumpkin. These “Pocket Monsters” started in Japan in the early 1980s, and are still loved by kids around the world today. We tried a different kind of pumpkin with a shape that yelled Pikachu and Pokéball. Much tougher to carve into these hard pumpkins with my primitive tools, but it can be done.
“Great artists steal,” said the eccentric Pablo Picasso. So I grabbed his book off the shelf and tried to steal his painting for my pumpkin. Clearly I’m no Picasso.
A few tips for carving better pumpkins
New to pumpkin carving? Looking to try your hand? Here’s 7 quick tips on tools, techniques, and memory-making.
1. Get the right tools
You need sharp knives, varied sizes better. Until very recently, I’ve mostly used kitchen knives held like pencils, and I’ve always finished with cut fingers.
I finally added a little flexible saw blade which was a great addition. Swiss Army knives also give some options. And this year I’ll be expanding my toolkit, so hopefully better pumpkins coming soon.
2. Plan your design
You can stab that knife into the pumpkin and hope something interesting appears. But why not put some thought into it?
- Get inspired. Look around your house for clues on what’s meaningful to you. Ask your kids what’s meaningful to them.
- Find the best surface of the pumpkin. Spin it around, imagine your design, and visualize the size of your design.
- Draw it out first. I suggest you lightly press into the pumpkin to indent your design, rather than actually drawing with pen. Mechanical pencils with the lead pushed in work well for this.
3. Think in negative space
As you saw in the photos above, pumpkins look a lot different in the daily time with the lights on versus at night lit by candle light. So before you start carving, think about what will be lit up versus dark with a candle inside. Your first instincts may lead to disappointment. I hope the pics above help to guide you.
4. Get kids fully involved
- From planning the design
- To opening up the pumpkin and scraping out the guts
- And making cuts
- And lighting the candles
It’s a great way to introduce the basics of knife and fire safety, not to mention power tools.
5. Use those seeds
They taste great and they’re great for you. And it’s oh so easy:
- Separate seeds from funky slime stuff
- Rinse, dry, salt & oil, bake
- This recipe is easy enough
6. Time it right
Pumpkins don’t last forever, especially after opening them. So if you want it to look good on Halloween night, carve your pumpkins not more than 2 days before October 31st.
7. Make Halloween something your kids will remember
You probably have Halloween neighborhoods full of gruesome goblins and wacky witches happy to hand out candy to kids. But my family lives in Barcelona, where Trick-or-Treating doesn’t really happen. We solve this by creating a self-contained trick-or-treat experience right in our small home.
1- Map out your house, and leave different adult costumes in every room.
2- Kids go from room to room encountering different themes, tricks, and treats.
3- Parents switch from room to room, quickly changing costumes, doing tricks, and handing out treats.
Thanks for stopping by, hope you enjoyed. And good luck with your pumpkins this year! 🎃