Knives out! Here are 9 spooky (but still stylish) pumpkin carving ideas

This Halloween, make sure your Jack O’Lantern stands out on the street.

Halloween is my favourite calendar event. As someone who watches horror films on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, October is the time when I feel many people finally embrace the spookier side of life that I relish year-round. But what I really love about Halloween’s (or “Samhain’s”) customs is that once you look past supermarket aisles luminescent with seasonal knickknacks, there are fascinating links to old UK cultural traditions. Pumpkin carving is one of them.

Credit: Shutterstock / Yuganov Konstantin

In the past, people used to carve spooky faces into turnips and potatoes to protect against evil spirits. Now, many more create intricate works of art in pumpkin’s iconic orange flesh just for the fun of it. But if you’re struggling to find a spark of creativity this spooky season, fear not. We’ve got nine pumpkin carving design ideas to inspire this year’s Halloween decorations, as well as some insider tips from one of the UK’s top pumpkin carving experts.

There are options if you’re not keen or able to wield a knife, too. Your Jack O’Lantern will outshine your neighbour’s design in no time (and will keep those pesky ghouls at bay phew).  


1. Make the seeds (and flesh) part of your design

Using seeds means less food waste

Credit: M&S

Wondering what to do with pumpkin seeds? You’ll need a strong stomach for this pumpkin carving design idea. Don’t throw away your pumpkin’s innards. Instead, why not trail them out of your pumpkin’s mouth, as with this example, courtesy of M&S? They can either resemble the remains of your Jack O’Lantern’s latest snack, or some seedy vomit.  

It’s a bit disgusting, we know, but it looks effective and is a completely natural addition to your gorgeously grotesque design. If you’re hoping to provide seedy snacks for garden visitors, then don’t make a bird-feeding mistake though. It’s best to dry the seeds in your oven before adding to feeding stations.  

“The seeds are great for wildlife and will be devoured by a range of birds like sparrows, nuthatches, and tits,” says Eric Michels, head of pro at CJ Wildlife. “Simply offer the seeds by themselves or mixed with your feathered friends’ favourites on the bird table, or get inventive and create your own Halloween fat balls to give them a spooky surprise.  

“All you need is lard, suet or peanut butter for birds, an old yoghurt pot to set them in and then combine with pumpkin seeds and any other nutritious bird-friendly leftovers you have, like grated cheese, cake crumbs or seeds. 

“Once the pumpkin has started to turn, it should be discarded in the compost or garden waste bin – never leave pumpkins out to rot as this can cause illness to any wildlife brave enough to take a bite.” 

2. Pick up a paint brush instead

No carving? No problem!

Credit: M&S

If you’re not comfortable using tools, are less dextrous or don’t have much hand strength, you can decorate a pumpkin instead. You might like to use stickers, but we love this idea from M&S.  

“For a striking finish, use neon paint and experiment with different designs,” the retailer says. “Splatter the paint Jackson Pollock-style across the pumpkin, draw graphic stripes and shapes, paint a thick layer across one half and let it drip down, or go for spooky faces.” 

3. Create a realistic picture

An artistically intricate masterpiece

Credit: Pumpkin Freak

The devil’s in the detail of this pumpkin carving design idea. Created by expert Jamie Jones, who runs Pumpkin Freak, the skull is sculpted from the flesh. The finished result is picture perfect, with varying levels of skin and flesh carved away to create shading when light passes through.  

“Regardless of the method or tools you are using, the best advice I can give when carving any pumpkin is to make sure whatever tool or knife you are using is sharp, as blunt tools require more force and are much more likely to cause an accident,” explains Jones. 

“For cut-out designs and a simple silhouette shaded method, make sure you thoroughly hollow out the pumpkin. “People often leave way too much flesh on the pumpkin. You’re aiming for around a 2-3cm (0.5-1in) thickness. This will make the traditional cut-out method way easier! 

Top carving tip to make your pumpkin last longer 

“I hollow out my pumpkins from the bottom, I never cut the top off,” adds Jones. “I think the final results looks much better, and the pumpkins last a lot longer with the stem still attached.” 

How to carve, cut out and shade a pumpkin like Pumpkin Freak

“Using a stencil is a quick and easy way for beginners to get a good pattern,” explains Jones. “For example, my stencils have all the ‘shaded’ areas mapped out for you.” 

These stencils are available to buy on his website. 

“There are a few ways to transfer the pattern,” says Jones. “For simpler designs, I simply print off the pattern in the size I want, shade the back with a pencil and use tape to stick the design to the pumpkin. I then use a ballpoint pen to draw around all the reference lines on the stencil.  

“The pen will then press the graphite onto the surface of the pumpkin… but be warned, this can rub off easily, so it can be a good idea to then draw over the pencil lines with a permanent marker pen. 

“Depending on the design, this can be a little time consuming, but this is the foundation of the carve, putting the time and effort in now will pay off later on.” 

Jones explains that the second method is to use transfer paper: “I use this for more complicated designs as it doesn’t rub off as easily. You probably won’t need to use a marker pen. I prefer the blue Saral Transfer paper. 

Check out this video from Jones, which shows the various methods he uses.  

I use handwoodcarving chisels and lino cutters; both are fairly inexpensive. 

“Cut out, which people are most familiar with, involves simply cutting blocks out of the pumpkin,” Jones explains. “Sculpting is exactly as it sounds, sculpting the pumpkin the same way you would a block of wood or clay. 

“Shading is what I specialise in. This involves etching the surface of the pumpkin to different depths. The deeper you go, the more light is allowed to pass through the pumpkin. This gives a range of tones which make the final design. 

“The lino-cutter tools are ideal for this final method. A simple way to get started is to start with a silhouette design and the lino cutter to peel a very thin layer of the waxy pumpkin skin from the pumpkin. Lino cutters are a sharp V-shape, so this doesn’t take much force. 

“To make the pumpkin glow brighter, simply hollow it out more thinly. This will be much easier than carving deeper from the front. 

“As your skill progresses, you can start adding highlights by going in deeper from the front.” 

I never use candles I use weatherproof batterypowered lights, or outdoor spotlights, for my displays. They are much brighter and make for a better-looking pumpkin. Here’s a video looking at the various lights I use.” 

4. Use a screwdriver

Twinkly fairy lights aren’t just for Christmas

Young boy making decorative holes in pumpkin with screwdriverCredit: Shutterstock /

If you aren’t into the horrifying imagery usually associated with Halloween, then this pumpkin carving design idea is for you. Carefully use a serrated carving tool or knife to cut out the bottom of the pumpkin and hollow out the insides with a spoon or scoop.  

Then, working from the outside in, take a screwdriver and carefully bore a series of holes in a pattern of your choice. If you’re getting children involved, be sure to monitor them when using tools. Then, grab some battery-powered fairy lights and gently poke each individual LED bulb through the holes you’ve created from the inside. If you don’t have battery-powered fairy lights, you can cut off the top instead of the bottom, and place a single light inside (such as a bicycle light, torch, or other battery-powered light).  

You can watch a how-to video on Tesco’s website.  


The right pumpkin carving tools make a huge difference 

Anyone who’s ever tried to carve through these huge fruits for cooking (making an air fryer pumpkin recipe, perhaps) will know it can be hard work. There are specially designed pumpkin carving sets available to buy from many retailers. Usually, they’re suitable for children to use, too. This can avoid the need to use sharp knives that carry greater risk of injury if your hand slips.  

“Alternatively, a paring knife will do everything you need and has a short blade, which is easy to control for the more delicate tasks,” says Steven Carter-Bailey, ProCook’s head chef and cookery school manager. 

Here are some simple safety tips to keep in mind when creating your masterpiece: 

  • Remember to check that your worksurface is clean and dry, as well as your hands and any tools you’re using. 
  • “Remove the bottom of the pumpkin to give a flatter base,” advises Carter-Bailey. “This will also help you maintain a steady hand for drawing and cutting out your design.” 
  • “If you’re not confident carving freehand, draw your design on the surface with a marker pen first,” Carter-Bailey adds. 
  • Always carve away from your body, not towards it, Carter-Bailey notes, in case your hands do slip. 
  • Turn the lights on and work in a well-lit area.
  • Take your time and try to avoid sharp, sudden stabbing movements. Smooth, slower sawing and turning movements are safer.
  • Don’t put your hand in a hollowed-out pumpkin to keep it steady when carving from the outside. Your tool could break through the flesh suddenly.  

Featured product

Pumpkin carving set (3 piece), ProCook

RRP: £4.99

Pumpkin carving set (3 piece), ProCook

5. Carve a crowd

Different shapes and sizes can have the same face

Large collection of carved pumpkins in a doorwayCredit: Andrei Ianovskii / Unsplash

Just like humans, no two pumpkins are the same inside and out. So, let’s celebrate their diversity and carve creations of different shapes, sizes and colours for a sprawling display outside your home.  

The owners of this grinning gaggle of gourds have interspersed spray-painted and uncarved pumpkins, which makes the carved faces stand out even more. For a cohesive design, the facial expression is the same on all the carved pumpkins here, even though the shape of each one is slightly different.  

6. Build a tiny house

A whimsical pumpkin cottage

Credit: Shutterstock / Irina Magrelo

This pumpkin carving design idea is a far cry from Jack O’Lantern’s menacing smile. The unusual blue-grey skin of a Queensland Blue squash becomes the exterior of a tiny little cottage. A perfect home for an autumnal sprite, rather than being used to ward off a scary spirit.  

We love the window boxes full of blooms. As with this design, you could place your bolthole on a soft carpet of moss, creating a miniature garden to surround it.  

Ready for a science experiment? 

If you’re setting up a pumpkin carving session at home to entertain young ones as part of half term childcare, here’s a trick that’ll light up their faces.  

Using bicarbonate of soda, washing-up liquid, water, food colouring and distilled vinegar, you can create delightfully frightful foaming pumpkin innards. Tesco has a handy how-to video that shows you the steps in less than 20 seconds.  

7. Add some special effects

Get overdramatic with smoke and spray-paint

A pumpkin with a face carved into it on the forest floor, and a light green smoke is billowing out from inside itCredit: Daniel Lincoln / Unsplash

This menacing pumpkin carving design idea elevates a classic Jack O’Lantern face with a light dusting of black spray paint around the inner flesh of its features. You could also use charcoal and smudge it around – the contrast of black on orange is downright dastardly.  

And if you’re a keen photographer, or simply love the drama, then smoke grenades are a must. Technicolour plumes of atmospheric smoke will come billowing out of your pumpkin’s face. Approach if you dare. 

8. Erect a gravestone

Pay your respects at a pumpkin cemetery

Scene with pumpkins lit up by string lights, the two main pumpkins have been carved, one with a gravestone design and the other with a skeleton handCredit: Sudan Ouyang / Unsplash

If faces aren’t your thing, and you have a rather awkward rectangular pumpkin to carve, then perhaps a gravestone design is in order. This idea pairs two pumpkins together, with a simple gravestone outline carved into one and a cheeky skeleton hand rising from the ground from another smaller, rounder fruit. 

We like how this duo contrasts with the uncarved pumpkins that are nonetheless illuminated behind them. Less carving work for you, but still an impactful display for passersby.  

Not sure what to carve? 

Look at the natural shape and contours of your pumpkin. Perhaps there are natural features that will mean you can easily make it look like an animal or object, like the gravestone design above.  

9. Utilise smaller fruit and veg

Two characters are better than one

Large carved pumpkin with smaller carved pumpkin between its teethCredit: Shutterstock / TalyaPhoto

Poor, tiny pumpkin. Sitting there minding its own business and then suddenly it’s in the jaws of a Jack O’Lantern. This playful pumpkin carving design idea introduces another character. If you carve an extra-wide and very open mouth of your pumpkin’s main facial features, there will be enough room to fit a smaller carved pumpkin between its gnashers. 

If you don’t have a mini pumpkin to go in the mouth, you could use any fruit or vegetables you have to hand that can be safely carved. By alternating the expressions on both characters’ faces, you can really tell a story with this design. Which one is winning the battle between good and evil? 

Rosanna Spence

Written by Rosanna Spence she/her


Rosanna Spence has been a journalist for nearly 10 years, reporting on a huge array of topics – from microwaves to cocktails, sustainable buildings, the Caribbean islands and beyond. She’s interviewed chefs at the helm of Michelin-starred restaurants and chatted to countless CEOs about their businesses, as well as created travel guides for experienced travellers seeking life-changing adventures.

Rosanna loves nothing better than getting under the skin of a topic and is led by an unwavering curiosity to share information and stories that inform and inspire her readers – a mission that has taken her around the world. Throughout her career, she has created content for Business Traveller,, Pub & Bar, BRITA, Dine Out and many more leading titles and brands.

She turned her attention to the Homes sector as a result of an ongoing renovation and improvement project, which takes up a fair amount of her time outside of work. When she’s not comparing carpet samples or debating the pros and cons of induction hobs, you’ll find Rosanna exploring Bristol’s food and drink scene, obsessively watching horror films, or donning some walking boots and heading for the hills.

  • linkedin