I'm starting to be known as the one who always has the great jack-o-lanterns. This year I took the easy route with a simple carving (hard to do it with a 2-year-old running around). But the truth is, if you can draw, you can carve a unique pumpkin. There are a couple things to keep in mind, though:
1) Pumpkin carving is a lot like using white charcoal on black paper - you start with a black background and carve away the light parts. If you want to carve something dark, like a black cat, you have to surround it with something light, like a full moon. This year, I carved a slight variation of my Moonrise Message, a raven silhouetted against a full moon.
2) Also important to keep in mind is that you can have a light patch by itself, but all dark patches must be connected to another one and ultimately to the rest of the pumpkin. Otherwise, the piece will just fall out. This can be tricky. Last year (and I really wish I had a good photo of it) I carved a tiger face. It was quite a challenge making sure all the stripes and the nose and eyes were all connected.
3) Carve the details first, and make sure the thickness of the pumpkin wall works with the level of detail. A simple jack-o-lantern face can get away with thick walls, but if you have very thin parts, like branches or a raven's beak, a thinner wall is necessary (otherwise, the thickness can be misconstrued as part of the design). By carving out the details first, you have more of the support of the rest of the pumpkin to keep the piece steady. And carve away large blocks last, pulling out smaller portions at a time instead of the whole thing at once. For my raven, I carved between the legs and the small holes between the branches first, then the border of the bird, then as I started around the moon I pulled out wedges until I completed the whole moon area.
4) Achieve a range of light values by carving only part-way through the rind from the outside. This is even more like using white charcoal on black paper. The deeper you carve, the more light shows through. A shallower cut will block more light. I'm going to try this next year, I just ran out of time for a design this year.
Happy Halloween, Samhain, All Hallow's Eve, All Saints Day, Day of the Dead, or whatever you are celebrating this weekend!