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Great pumpkins

Fri., Oct. 24, 2008

Old-school Jack-O’-Lanterns being replaced by painted versions

Halloween, like most holidays, has seen its share of trends come and go. Trick-or-treaters have moved from front doorsteps to malls and churches. Popular costumes have switched from witches and ghosts to Hannah Montana and Harry Potter.

And while pumpkins are still the squash of choice when it comes to décor, the one-toothed, three-triangled Jack-O’- Lanterns that used to adorn most porches seem to be disappearing. Today, people are finding creative ways to make their pumpkins stand out from the rest of the patch.

Painting pumpkins was a hot trend in national magazines this fall, with the likes of Better Homes and Gardens and others providing readers with directions, stencils and inspiration.

Kristi Luntzel, education coordinator for Mobius Kids, has been painting pumpkins with her own children for years.

“We always painted because I didn’t want them to have knives, and it’s such a mess to scoop everything out,” she says.

Mobius is offering pumpkin painting activities Monday and Tuesday for children ages 4 through 9, or younger with help from an adult. Finger painters will use Tempera or watercolor paints, while children old enough to use brushes can use acrylic paints, which will last longer, Luntzel says.

She expects most participants to paint faces and is providing craft supplies like googly eyes and yarn (to make hair), but Luntzel says “anything goes” when it comes to painting pumpkins. On Tuesday, she’ll celebrate Pablo Picasso’s birthday by encouraging Mobius attendees to paint more abstractly.

When painting at home, Luntzel advises roughing up the pumpkins with sandpaper first and using small pumpkins or gourds for young children, who can become overwhelmed if a project is too big.

Another pumpkin-carving alternative involves scraping an image into a pumpkin rather than fully slicing and removing pieces of its flesh. This enables you to create a more detailed picture on your pumpkin than you might otherwise achieve.

The first step is to find a simple drawing of an image and either print it out or photocopy it. Consider nature-inspired drawings of leaves or animals, such as squirrels or owls.

Clip art programs and coloring books are good sources of images because their drawings usually have simple lines. There are several free coloring books online, including at

For this project, purchase a pumpkin that’s big enough to accommodate your drawing and that doesn’t have deep grooves. Wash and dry your pumpkin before beginning.

Next, cut a circle out of the bottom of your pumpkin or on top around the stem and scrape the pumpkin’s inside clean. Pay special attention to where you plan to scrape your image. Because you will be removing a shallow layer of the pumpkin instead of carving all the way through the pulp, you’ll want a fairly thin wall for the best illumination.

Now pin your paper image to the outside of the pumpkin using a few pushpins. Using another pushpin, puncture through the paper along the drawing’s lines. You will be transferring the picture from the paper to the pumpkin by poking hundreds of small holes very close together. Resist the urge to peek behind the paper as you go, which could shift your template and distort your image.

Once you’ve traced the entire drawing, remove the paper and discard it. Using a small scraping tool, such as the puncture tool on a wine key or can opener, carefully scrape away the pumpkin’s skin along the dotted lines. If you don’t already have a suitable tool in your kitchen, retailers sell pumpkin carving sets.

Once all the lines are scraped, rub petroleum jelly on your pumpkin to make your carving last longer.

Finally, carve a hole, about 1 inch by 1 inch, on the back of the pumpkin to allow oxygen to reach the candles. Light two candles then fit the pumpkin over the top of them or place the candles inside the pumpkin if you cut a hole around the pumpkin’s stem instead of its bottom.

If your carving doesn’t illuminate enough, add more candles or a bright battery-operated light or scrape away more of the pulp behind your image.

If that sounds like too much work, take a cue from Celeste Shaw, owner of Chaps restaurant, in Spokane.

Shaw forgoes paint, knives and candles. Instead, she simply slips a vintage Halloween mask over a group of pumpkins displayed outside the eatery.

“There’s a cat, a Batman, a witch, Casper the Ghost, and then some are just wearing hats,” she says.

Shaw also created a “pumpkin snowman” this year by placing three pumpkins – small, medium and large – on three levels of a stepladder. The snowman wears a top hat, has branches for arms and is holding cornstalks and a vintage trick-or-treat bucket.

Shaw says thrift stores are great sources for old Halloween decorations and masks, but if you’re lucky you might not have to go far to find something that will work.

“Most people probably have some in their house,” she says. “Look in your parents’ garage. It’s amazing how many people save old costumes.”

Megan Cooley writes a craft blog at www.pennycarnival She can be reached at (509) 326-6024 or

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