It may be a challenge, but there's more to scary squash at Halloween than two eyes and a toothless grimace
I love Halloween. I love pumpkin carving. Most of all, I love roping in as many unsuspecting participants as possible to both.
Growing up, I always glossed over the pumpkin carving part of the October 31 Halloween tradition at home in Canada – mostly because I can’t even draw a stick man to save my trick-or-treat-loving life. As a photo editor, I could tell you which lighting is best to photograph Stick Man in. And which shadows and posture best capture the hard lines of Stick Man. But draw Stick Man, I cannot.
I made many miserable attempts at carving pumpkins "free-hand" until I happened across a magical assistant, whose mere presence changed the face (quite literally) of my spooky squashes. Pumpkin carving kits.
Fully equipped with ghoulish stencils and a bundle of small carving tools, these have become the rabbit in my witch's hat. This city being fairly new to the tradition of scaring your neighbours with your terrifying fancy dress, the kits are harder to track down, but there's at least one stockist in the shape of www.desertcart.ae, which delivers across the UAE. You're also going to need to see a man about a pumpkin. After trawling the city's supermarkets, I venture to the fruit and vegetable market off Al Awir Road and discover large Omani pumpkins aplenty. They’re slightly lighter in colour then the deep orange American Jack O’Lanterns, but considerably cheaper (and once the lights are off, who can really tell?).
After wrangling my Time Out comrades to join me in some early Halloween artistry, we make our way up to the studio, where the stencil tutorial begins (I may not be able to draw, but I can trace any scalpel-wielding challenger into next week).
We choose our stencils according to the shape and size of our pumpkins. Using a large knife (take care if you're doing this with kids or calamity-prone adults), we cut around the stalk to create a hole big enough to fit our hands comfortably through. Keep the top as this will be your pumpkin's hat, so to speak.
Inside the squash plant will be the "guts". Using hands or spoons (or somebody else's hands), clean the gunk and seeds out thoroughly. This will leave a nice clean space for the tea light candle – plus, any leftover mush might lead your pumpkin to catch fire, at which point melted chocolate will probably be the least of your worries.
We give the exterior a good wipe down and a thorough dry, before transferring the stencil onto the pumpkin's face (choose the flattest side). Depending on the intricacy of the stencil, this can be done in two ways. Using an exacto knife, cut out the stencil first and tape it to the flattest part of the face. Then, using a pen, transfer the stencil on. Alternatively, place the stencil directly onto the pumpkin and use your kit's poker (or a skewer, if you're kit-less) to transfer. Remove the stencil and keep it to hand for reference.
With our arsenal of tools and spooky spirit, the carving begins. The tools are flimsy, so take it easy. It will be tedious and you will be thinking as you go that it looks terrible and nothing like the stencil, but keep going.
The whole process takes about two hours. Yes, that may seem like Halloween madness given your little orange army will only last a few days. In fact, it probably is. But once the carving is finished and you drop your little candle into your perfectly gutted Jack O’Lantern and you turn off the lights... You might not be able to draw Stick Man, but you can create a real spooky treat.
The results Editor Mark Dinning's verdict on the spooky line-up
There are delicate touches around the edges here (one millimetre more at the toe and disaster would have beckoned). Plus points for also looking a bit like the James Bond gunsight credits. Except with a witch instead of an 007. Nice.
The Force is strong in this one. Clean lines, a great 3D effect and a fitting tribute to Skywalker Snr. Surely the work of a pumpkin-pro. Or the person whose idea this was and whose expenses bill just landed on my desk (how much?).
Sometimes the simpler you are, the better the results. (A personal motto more than an observation, really.) Anyway, fantastic use of orange space here, which can only mean it's the work of a designer. Lovely work.
Oh, what to say... Well, on the plus side at least there are two eyes, a nose and a mouth. It's just a shame they all look like they've been carved by a six-year-old. With a blindfold on. And holding the knife in their teeth. Epic fail.