“People always ask, ‘How did you carve it without cutting a hole in it?’” Hardin laughed. “I always say, ‘Are you sure I didn’t cut a hole in it?’”

Carving Fundamentals and Placement

Courtesy of Terri Hardin

Courtesy of Terri Hardin

It’s important to remember: carving is the best part about a jack-o’-lantern. Carving is fun, creative play—or can be if you let it. Take the pressure off yourself, and just have fun. “The kids are not a problem … I have adult students that will sit and stare at a pumpkin and burst into tears,” Hardin said. “I say, ‘You know this thing isn’t going to be around for very long, right? Let’s calm down, breathe, and get started.”

When you’re designing a pumpkin, it’s important to keep a lot of different viewpoints in mind—the shape of the pumpkin, where it will be placed, and who is carving it. For example, if you’re a parent carving a pumpkin with a 3- to 5-year-old, you might not want to dictate a design at all. Just put down some newspaper, hand them a safe tool, and let them have at it.

Whatever they come up with will be much more creative, and much more fun, than forcing your small child to watch you painstakingly draw and cut out a silhouette of a cat on a broomstick. Will it be a tree? Will it be a ghost with chickenpox? “Whatever they create, you celebrate,” Hardin said.

But if you have bigger plans (and yes, more fine motor control), the next step is to consider where the pumpkin will be. If it’s going to be on a stoop by your door, orient the design closer to the top of the pumpkin, where people are going to be able to see it.

If you have an enormous pumpkin, keep in mind that for some reason, everyone kicks them! “If someone kicks it, then your new artist, who has worked so hard to create a beautiful pumpkin, will go inside the house to get a meat cleaver,” Hardin said. Secure your squash with a sign or another obstacle (and hide the sharp objects in your home).

Another trick Hardin suggests is to place the pumpkin in a yard or garden to watch it change as it starts to decompose. “If you do a face, they start to grow little beards, they start to distort in on themselves,” Hardin said. “But you don’t want it in your home. When they go to juice, they go to juice very quickly, and there’s a lot of juice in these guys.” If it decomposes in your yard, the pumpkin carcass can go toward fertilizing your garden or straight into the compost.

Lighting That Lantern

Courtesy of Terri Hardin

Courtesy of Terri Hardin

Let’s get one thing straight: Nothing is more annoying than seeing the light source inside the pumpkin. Luckily, there are ways to get around this. For example, rather than cutting all the way through the wall, you can use a sculpting tool to thin it. This lets light shine through and will give your pumpkin interesting dimensionality.

“It glows in orange or red, so it plays with color as well,” Hardin noted.