How to carve a jack-o’-lantern in 3D |

How to carve a jack-o’-lantern in 3D

Carving a 3D pumpkin like this one made by Erica Nicol might be easier than you think.
Steven Josephson /

Last week, I shared my fairly basic attempt to make a fancy, 3D-carved jack-o’-lantern, which was definitely scary but perhaps not very well executed. Since writing that column, I have gotten in touch with Erica Nicol, who is a pumpkin-carving artist. She was kind enough to give me the rundown on how to 3D carve a pumpkin before she headed off to carve pumpkins at the Denver Botanical Gardens.

Tools For 3D Pumpkin Carving
  • Ice cream scooper or spoon
  • Dry-erase marker
  • Permanent marker
  • Cookie cutters or lids
  • Kitchen knife or X-Acto knife
  • vegetable peeler
  • pumpkin carving kit
Cookie cutters or jar lids are helpful for tracing shapes onto the outside of your pumpkin.
Steven Josephson /

Step one: The design

Use the dry-erase marker to trace out your design. It’ll be easier to clean off after you’re done carving. Nicol says she thinks odd-looking faces are usually better than strongly realistic designs.

A kitchen spoon or ice cream scoop can make quick work clearing out pumpkin guts.
Steven Josephson /

Step two: Get the guts out

Nicol recommends carving a hole out from the bottom of the pumpkin, which hides the cut line and slows down pumpkin rot. Cutting a notch into the circle will make it easier to put the bottom piece back in.

From there, use the ice cream scooper or spoon to get out the pumpkin guts. One important step for a 3D pumpkin is to scrape extra flesh from the side you’ll be carving, which will allow more light to shine through.

Carving the outside lines of your design will help keep clean edges.
Steven Josephson /

Step three: Cut out the outside lines

The outer skin of the pumpkin is hard to carve and easy to mess up if you’re not careful. Take a small kitchen knife, or X-Acto knife, and carve out a small V-shaped piece along the outside lines of your design. This provides a boundary to stay inside while you’re carving and provides a clean outside edge for your shapes. Nicol urges shallow cuts at this point.

You also can carve thin lines to add smaller details to your pumpkin. These won’t be visible at night but add to the appearance during the day.

Removing the tough outer skin of the pumpkin makes 3D carving easier.
Steven Josephson /

Step four: Peel the skin inside your shapes

Use a vegetable peeler or knife to carve away the tough outer skin from the areas you want to carve out. This exposes the soft inner flesh, which is much easier to carve. Smooth out the flesh and make sure you’ve peeled away all of the skin. Be careful not to carve too deep.

A kitchen knife is a useful tool for carving out a 3D pumpkin design.
Steven Josephson /

Step five: Carve out the details

Now you get to the 3D part of the carving. You can use a permanent marker to draw in shapes and details on the flesh and use a kitchen knife or exacto knife to cut details into the pumpkin. Remember that the deepest cuts will show the most light. Some of the smaller cutting/shaving tools that come with pumpkin carving kits are helpful for carving in finer details.

Even carving out small areas all the way through will have a dramatic effect when the pumpkin is lit up.
Steven Josephson /

Step six: Cut holes through the pumpkin

“With 3D pumpkins it’s really fun to show all three layers: So you have the orange pumpkin skin, the light flesh of the pumpkin and then you have a few places where the holes go all the way through where your light shines really bright,” Nicol said.

A little light will go a long way, so pick a few special areas to have the light shine out brighter. For smaller, circular areas, you can use a skewer or even a drill to punch holes into the pumpkin. Start small — even carving thin lines all the way through can add a lot. Be especially careful around deeply carved areas, which will be fairly fragile at this point.

Use a knife to help clean out small pieces of pumpkin from carved areas, which will rot more quickly.
Steven Josephson /

Step seven: Clean up the design

Work on adding finer details and consider areas where you can add a little more depth. Put a light in the pumpkin to see how much light is coming through and what areas may be too dark. Use the tip of your knife to clean small bits of pumpkin from the deeper carved areas, which will rot if they aren’t removed.

Step eight: Weatherize your pumpkin

Nicol has three steps she takes to help preserve her pumpkins. First, fill a kitchen sink or bathtub with ice water and let the pumpkins soak for one to two hours. This helps to rehydrate the pumpkin.

Next, spray the surface of the pumpkin with a light bleach solution (no more than a tablespoon of bleach in a spray bottle full of water).

Last, cover the carved surfaces with petroleum jelly, which will keep cut areas from drying out.

“You may have a couple bugs get stuck to (the jelly), but that just adds to the creepy effect,” Nicol said.

Putting a light in your pumpkin can help show areas that need to be carved further to let more light through.
Steven Josephson /

Step nine: Lighting

Nicol recommends using small houselights over candles.

They last much longer, and they don’t go out,” she said.

Steven Josephson is the arts and entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.


Start a dialogue, stay on topic and be civil.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.

User Legend: iconModerator iconTrusted User