31 of Our Best Pumpkin Carving and Decorating Ideas
Over the past 30 years, our editors have imagined and made some of the most incredible pumpkins you've seen yet: whimsical creatures, spooky figures, and jaunty jack-o'-lanterns with funny faces.
You've mastered the toothy grin. Maybe you've experimented with eyebrows. But odds are you haven't given your pumpkin a hairdo, an eye patch, or a bow tie. Our templates for mix-and-match features are designed to help you up your game, providing just the right amount of guidance while leaving plenty of room for creative freedom. To start, download and print out your favorite templates, and play around with different combinations. Tape your chosen designs to the pumpkin, and start carving. Black areas on the templates indicate where you should cut all the way through, while gray ones mark where to just carve off the skin, allowing light to filter through moodily and giving your jack-o'-lantern even more depth of character.
Create a tree full of sharp-eyed owls. A den of hissing snakes. A bevy of sinister swans. Look more closely, if you dare, and you'll see that the creatures in these Halloween scenes are no such things. They're garden-variety gourds and pumpkins, dressed up for the occasion. All it takes is a carving tool, a coat of paint, and a can-do spirit to turn unsuspecting squashes from your local nursery into creepy crawlers that will wriggle and wing their way into a trick-or-treater's dreams. Or, what's the flip side of scary? Spellbinding. And that's where other Halloween ideas live—in a land of dreamy woodland creatures and deep forests that's far more charming than chilling. Some are simple enough for little goblins to help with (like our fairy house pumpkin); others take a bit of skill with a carving tool (such as our etched woodland fox and bunny rabbit). But each is bound to bewitch. Mysterious autumn skies—and all the things that sparkle, sway, and flutter across them after the sun sets—inspired these spectacular pumpkins: a glowing etched moth, foreboding tree, or a night sky of stars.
Some are easier to create than your average jack-o'-lantern. (If you can glue it, you can do it!) Others are showstoppers in their own right. But each one is an opportunity to make your home shine bright on a cool Hallow's Eve.
Colorful Decoupage Pumpkin
You can achieve one of two different looks—coated in colorful leaves, or paired with a pretty printable design. Our seasonal clip-art was created for us exclusively by artist Angie Pickman. Print out one of the templates, snip them out, and glue them down, silhouette-style, to set a not-so-spooky mood—just right for any gathering this fall. When punching leaf shapes from tissue paper, add a sheet of plain paper to the top of the stack to keep the tissue from ripping.
Whooo-ville Owl Pumpkins
Owls have long been folklore's spooky and ominous messengers. But our take on these glowing nocturnal birds is more friendly than foreboding. Grab two pale white pumpkins—"Lumina," "New Moon," and "Casper" cultivars will all work. Stack a squat one on a taller one for an adult; give the babies bigger noggins.
To start, use a knife to cut the tops off your pumpkins and hollow them out. Turn the head pumpkin upside-down. With a knife, etch a heart-shaped face and triangle beak into it, then cut out two oval eyes. Go over the face and beak lines with a rotary saw. To attach ears, stick toothpicks in triangles cut out of the sliced-off tops. With a knife, etch two long, curved lines into sides of body pumpkin for wings. Put an LED light inside, and set head on top, using toothpicks if needed to hold in place.
Perch one on your porch, or fill a tree with multiple watchers in the woods. To secure your owl to a tree branch, drill a hole in the front and back of the bottom of the body pumpkin, feed a piece of bark-covered wire through the holes, set the owl on a branch, and tie wire underneath.
Where there's smoke, there's soon to be fire—especially with this breed of newborn dragons, coming out of their shells just in time to spark up the dinner party. Crack and dye tiny white pumpkins, such as "Snowball" or "Casper," using the technique on the previous slide, then decorate deep-green mini autumn-wings gourds with gigante-bean eyes and nestle them inside. Their evil eyes are made from gigantes, or Greek white beans. Find them at specialty food stores, or sub in another type of large white bean, such as Great Northern. Add a swipe of black paint for a pupil, and hot-glue it on. Complete the table with smoky milkweed, spiky datura, and eerie lotus pods, and introduce everyone to your new flames.
Eggs this gigantic don't hatch regular snakes. And their inky interiors hint that something seriously scary is slithering out. Embellish aptly named snake gourds with gigante-bean eyes and tongues made of forked twigs or curly devil's pods (find them online or at the florist). The "shells" are beach-ball-size "Full Moon" pumpkins with jagged holes; twist your knife as you insert it to create the cracks. Then scoop out the seeds, and tint the insides by brushing on black food coloring diluted with a little water. The flesh will soak it up, but it won't seep through to the skin—a clever little trick we call the dark arts.
Ballerinas train for decades to perform Swan Lake, but it'll take you less than an hour to stage this production. Grab a gaggle of gourds (a large gooseneck for Mom or Dad, plus autumn-wings for the babes), and spray-paint them white. Paint a black diamond onto the big gourd's stem and neck for the beak, and dot two black eyes above it. For each cygnet, just tap on two eyes and brush the stem. Reserve one youngster to spray-paint solid black. She'll be the diva who steals the show.
By day, millipedes hide under rocks and leaves, but at night they skitter around, fearsomely free, feeding on plant rot. Our blown-up version is impossible to miss at any hour, with its conga line of big "Blue Hubbard" squashes for a body, six gigante-bean eyes, lotus-pod antennae, and army of okra-pod legs. "Blue Hubbard" squashes are naturally soft, so you can easily push in okra-pod stems to give this insect his many limbs. Do the same with lotus pods for his antennae. Misnomer alert: These insects don't have a thousand limbs—more like 30 to 330. But four per pumpkin are plenty to send shivers up the spine of any humans who stumble upon this one.
These crazy, kid-friendly pumpkins require zero knives, but they're seriously sharp. Sketch a design on the surface with chalk, then go over (and fill in) the lines with stick-on jewels. Let the shape of the decals guide your design: Teardrops stand in for fangs; pointy ovals make wily pupils. To apply items that aren't self-adhesive, like our faux spider, use a smidge of Magna-Tac craft glue. The low-impact approach has a bonus: Uncut gourds last longer than carved ones, so your crew can start boo-dazzling as soon as the air turns crisp.
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Etched Woodland Animal Pumpkins
Step into our fairy-tale realm, where all critters get along. The secret to these sweet (and impressive) creations is our bunny and fox templates. Slice off a small piece of the bottom to make a level base, hollow the pumpkin out, tape on a template, and press a pin into the skin along the lines. Then remove the paper and connect the dots with a linoleum cutter, scraping the surface just deeply enough for light to shine through. Insert a battery-powered candle, and watch your etchings come to life.
Embroidered Applique Pumpkin
You don't need magic beans to cultivate this ethereal pumpkin. The delicate tendrils encircling it are actually fabric appliqués from a crafts store. As for technique, simply pin it to win it: Place the floral pieces where you want them, and secure them with straight pins. We chose a smooth pumpkin with a unique pale-pink skin that contrasts softly with the embroidery colors, then gave the blushing beauty pride of place on a moss-covered pediment. But it will look just as lovely at the center of a table or spotlighted on your stoop.
Shop Now: M&J Trimming Iron-On Leaf Metallic Trim (similar to shown), 11⁄8", in Gold, $10 per yd., mjtrim.com; Mood Designer Fabrics Cream Floral Left-Side Appliqués (similar to shown), 10" by 3.5", $8 each, moodfabrics.com.
Fairy House Pumpkin
Let the ghouls and goblins knock on everyone else's door while you spend the evening hanging with the fairies. To invite them in, transform a pumpkin into a cozy hollow. Slice off a small piece of the bot- tom, scoop out the seeds, and tape on our template, then go over the lines with a pin. Remove the paper, and trace the pinpricks with a linoleum cutter. For the windows, apply enough pressure to cut out the panes; everywhere else, use a lighter hand. With a glue gun or pins, add shelf mushrooms for front steps. Then do a little landscaping: A couple of T-pins secure a twisty branch for a homey arbor. Set a battery-operated candle inside to illuminate fairyland's most coveted real estate.
Etched Moth Pumpkin
Like most moths, the carved beauty here is drawn to the light. And it has space to spread its wings, since we sliced off the pumpkin's bottom and hollowed it out from below (a trick that also gives it a level base). To fashion our fluttering vision, print the template, cut it out, tape it on, and transfer the pattern with an awl. Then scrape off the outer skin between dots using a gouge, and add a battery-powered candle.
Our foreboding tree "shadow" casts a pall over this foyer bench, and would look just as bewitching stacked on your porch steps. First, pile some eerie pumpkins—for a truly ghoulish vibe, go for specimens with a naturally greenish tint, including the knobby Hubbard variety. Draw the outline of a leafless tree over several of them with a grease pencil, then fill it in using a brush and matte black paint. To throw extra shade, add a faux crow to the haunting scene.
If you want a stellar display, this one's got astronomical potential. Hollow out a pumpkin from below. Punch holes in the shapes of constellations with a drill, and connect the dots with a gouge. (If you want to be more exacting, print our template and tape on the formations you want.) We brightened the night by placing the individual bulbs of an LED strand in each hole. For a faster finish, use a single battery-powered candle to light the way.
This metallic leaf design is made using an easy-peasy foiling technique. More sleek than spooky, these pumpkins will look at home on your front porch or dining table. To begin, trace or draw a leaf on a pumpkin, and fill in shape with metal-leaf adhesive. Wait five minutes for adhesive to get tacky. Place a gilding sheet over leaf shape and brush with a dry brush. The sheet will stick to the adhesive and disintegrate around it, so a metallic leaf remains. Repeat all over pumpkin; paint stem gold with craft paint. Let dry, then arrange on a bed of extra cutout foil leaves.
Shop Now: Speedball Mona Lisa Composition Copper Leaf, $10, dickblick.com; Metal-Leaf Adhesive, Speedball Mona Lisa Adhesive, $6.67 for 2 oz., amazon.com; Da Vinci Black Goat Quill Mop Brush, $9, dickblick.com.
Place this slithering display in an entryway to scare the scales off of trick-or-treaters and dinner guests alike. Look for gray, green, or white varieties at pumpkin patches and farmers' markets, and buy plastic snakes in bulk at dime stores. Spread out newspapers, and place pumpkins on top. Place tape around the base of stems and coat them with gold acrylic paint. Lay plastic snakes on newspaper and spray-paint gold, turning to coat all sides. Once they're dry, spray them with fixative to set color. To display, wrap snakes around stems and arrange more underneath for a terrifying Indiana Jones effect. Add a gold bowl filled with "snake egg" candies.
Shop Now: Martha Stewart Crafts Multi‐Surface Metallic Acrylic Craft Paint, in Gold, $3 for 2 oz., michaels.com; Vinyl Snakes, $10 for 48, orientaltrading.com; Rust-Oleum Metallic Gold Spray Paint, $4.18 for 11 oz., homedepot.com.
In this "cheesy" project, a variety of drill bits create holes of different sizes. The result is a glowing, move-in-ready home for a family of skittering mice. Slice off the bottom of a pumpkin and scoop out seeds. Using a set of spade bits, drill holes of different sizes all over pumpkin. Place plastic mice on newspaper and paint gold, turning to coat all sides; let dry. Pin critters into place on the pumpkin, both on its surface and inside larger holes, as shown. Place a flickering LED light on your table or mantle, and put pumpkin on top. Optional: Use this as a centerpiece for a fruit-and-cheese spread.
Shop Now: Party City Plastic Mice, $8 for 28, partycity.com; Martha Stewart Crafts Multi‐Surface Metallic Acrylic Craft Paint, in Gold, $3 for 2 oz., michaels.com; Power Drill with Blu-Mol Xtreme Spade-Bit Set, $15.65, homedepot.com; Party City Tealight Flameless LED Candle in White, $7 for 12, partycity.com.
Stick-On Art Pumpkins
Temporary tattoos adhere to a pumpkin just like they would to your skin. All you need is a pretty design like the specimens shown here: a flock of fluttering butterflies and a creepy-crawly scarab would be at home in any cabinet of curiosities.
The hardware store provides plenty of inspiration for these pumpkins. Thoughtfully placed nails, brads, wire, spikes, and safety pins become glinting mohawks and piercings. Begin by covering the pumpkins with black spray paint, if desired (protect the stems with painters' tape). Let dry, then use craft paint to make faces. With a pencil, draw your design, then gently tap nails, studs, brads, and pins into the flesh with a hammer. Adhere small piercings, such as a nose ring, with superglue.
At the farmers' market, look for produce that might work as facial features, hair, and props. Plan out the faces you want to create. Keep in mind that as items dry and wither, the results will change—and perhaps become even more interesting. Use hot glue to adhere small hard details, like white beans, and to attach a tangle of Spanish-moss hair. Secure heavier vegetables with wooden skewers, and lighter vegetables with toothpicks. T-pins prevent leaves from blowing away; straight pins work for thin, lightweight items.
Assemble a tableau straight out of a spooky movie. The witch's latest shipment of animals seems to have escaped their crates, and now they're inhabiting these ghostly green pumpkins. Slashing—oops, carving—the huge squashes is a cinch, thanks to serpent and toad templates (scrape out the flesh around the patterns). Set the pumpkins on the crates, and then keep your distance.
Maritime legend has it that the Flying Dutchman is a fearsome ghost ship, which never returns to safe harbor and is doomed to sail the seven seas forever. When it floats in from the fog, its appearance to mere mortals is believed to signal imminent disaster. In our carved iteration, this brigantine-style boat is brimming with a pirate's treasure haul: pearly white gum balls and candy gold doubloons.
No-Carve Lacy Pumpkins
Create an instant and intricate design with nothing more than a pair of lacy stockings and a can of spray paint. Start by cutting a section from stockings—one pair can be used for many pumpkins—and pull tightly around pumpkin. Use hips section for big pumpkins, legs for smaller ones. Cinch and knot excess at bottom. Wrap excess at top around stem, knot, and wrap stem's base with masking tape to shield it from paint, as shown above. In a well-ventilated area, spray-paint top half of pumpkin with one or two coats; let dry. Turn pumpkin over and repeat on bottom. Once dry, remove stockings.
Inspired by the classic decorative style, adhesive laser-cut stencils will help you achieve beautifully fine bird and flora patterns as if you hand-painted them yourself. Remove stencil from adhesive backing and adhere first stencil layer to pumpkin as shown. (Tip: You may need to cut the stencil into segmented parts with scissors in order to fit stencil over the curved surface of the pumpkin.) Stencil with craft paint in two tones for added depth of color.
Haunted House Pumpkins
Hilltop haunted houses have their windows ablaze with spookiness in these carvings. Choose tall, oblong pumpkins to showcase the vertical designs. Scrape the ring in an up-and-down motion with a linoleum cutter to further accentuate the houses' narrow height. To display, place the pumpkins on plates and then surround them with leaves and fine straw to simulate the eerie look of a neglected front lawn. To be on the safe side, use electric twinkle lights rather than a candle to illuminate any pumpkin you set off with decorations such as these.
Etched Watercolor Pumpkins
Take a leaf out of our book and dress up your pumpkins with elegant etched designs. They may look fancy, but they're actually basic watercolors brushed over linocut carvings. We love the contrast of the paints on white, but the patterns will look striking on any pumpkin you happen to pick. First, choose a leaf template. Reduce or enlarge as needed, then print. Attach to pumpkin with clear tape. With an awl, pierce holes along the perimeter of each leaf shape. Remove the template, and use a narrow-bladed linoleum cutter to remove skin along marked holes. Then use a wide-bladed cutter to pare away skin within your design. Paint exposed flesh right away. (For even application of color, paint the flesh soon after carving.)
There's more than one way to conjure up a spellbinding witch. Etch her visage into the surface of a pumpkin and her glowing eyes will be surveying the living room. Or, for the kids, a petite pair of witch and cat pumpkins does the trick. For a wicked look: bumpy, lumpy, and greenish gray Hubbard squashes have the perfect complexions for making the warty witch jack-o'-lanterns pictured here.