Create a stunning jack-o’-lantern with this tutorial from paper-cut artist Nikki McClure.

How to Shine at Pumpkin Carving
José Mandojana
A striking pumpkin carving from artist Nikki McClure

Want to take your jack-o’-lantern game to another level? Artist Nikki McClure here has a tutorial on an entirely new way of carving a pumpkin. Instead of hacking crude shapes all the way through the thick shell, use a scraping tool to remove just the skin and maybe a thin layer of pumpkin flesh. 

The tool allows you to carve finer detail than your bread knife ever could, and when you put a candle inside, the pumpkin glows from within and light is visible through the carved-away part of the design. The creative potential using this technique is endless, but if you like the example McClure made here, you can download a template to help you re-create it.

Make a Template

Download and photocopy the design, sizing it to fit your pumpkin.

Place It

Tape the template to a clean, dry, and hollowed-out pumpkin

Outline It

Using a pushpin, prick closely spaced holes along the outline of the design, making them deep enough to be seen when you remove the template.

Remove the Template

Following the pinpricks and taking care not to cut all the way through, use a small carving chisel or linoleum cutter to outline the design. With a larger linoleum cutter, remove the rind within the outlines and scrape out some pumpkin flesh (the deeper you go, the more light will shine through). Add texture and dimension by varying the direction and depth of your carving.

A striking pumpkin carving from artist Nikki McClure

José Mandojana

Light Your Pumpkin

A votive candle is traditional, but for more illumination, use a battery-powered or outdoor-rated electric light; carve out a hole for the cord if necessary.

Tealights, from $3

Pro Tip: Variegated pumpkins look dramatic, and ‘Small Sugar’ heirlooms are smaller and easy to carve.