As Halloween approaches, pumpkins begin to appear on doorsteps, some carved in the classic pumpkin-lantern style, others with intricate designs.
British Columbia pumpkin carver and artist Clive Cooper has been carving pumpkins into elaborate shapes and figures for decades. Sometimes he says that the shape of a pumpkin “tells” him what to engrave on it, other times he just rolls with whatever inspires him.
“I love sci-fi movies and something is going to grab my attention and I’m going, oh yeah, I’d love to do something like that,” he said.
“Then I will look for a pumpkin and I will produce it.”
Cooper shared some of his pumpkin carving tips with The first editions host, Stephen Quinn.
No pumpkin? no problem
If your pumpkin grower or local grocer is out of pumpkins by the time you get there, don’t worry – pumpkins aren’t the only vegetable or fruit that can be cut up. In fact, Cooper says he also carves watermelons.
An old Irish tradition that predates the pumpkin was to carve turnips.
The ancient Celts carved hollowed out turnips and placed them in front of their doors at night for Samhain, a pagan religious holiday in which Halloween has its roots, to ward off evil spirits.
Turnips, Cooper said, are the only vegetable he hasn’t tried to cut up.
“They are relatively small and they are quite tough,” he said. “So they wouldn’t be very good at sculpting, really, I don’t think so.”
Polish your pumpkin
Cooper’s pumpkins all have a waxy, shiny finish. The secret, he says, is to polish them with a green scotch pad.
“It doesn’t take away much, but it does alleviate all of those bumps and wrinkles,” he said.
Spray the pad with water to make it slightly damp and “sand” the pumpkin when you are done carving.
Some people also try to store their pumpkins, but Cooper says if you don’t have “gallons” of vinegar to put the pumpkin in, it won’t work. Instead, he said, enjoy it before it gets mushy, which can range from a few days to a few weeks.
The most important part of pumpkin carving, Cooper said, is having fun and learning every time you carve.
He said the more you practice, the better you get.
“The first time I made a nose or an ear, oh that looked terrible. But then I looked at a nose and its shape. And then the next time I made a pumpkin, I made a better nose. “
Cooper suggests starting with a topic you like, such as a cartoon character that isn’t particularly complicated.
“Don’t worry if it doesn’t give exactly what you want,” he said.
“I have more failures than good ones. I just don’t show bad ones.”
LISTEN | Clive Cooper explains how to carve a beautiful pumpkin
9:14An expert pumpkin carver on how to carve the best pumpkin