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The Art of the Perfect Carve

Had this post been published a few weeks later, you would be forgiven for thinking that the title alludes to the ancient ritual of dinner-table poultry preparation that is so central to the Thanksgiving holidays. And had it been published a few weeks later still, the implication would be that you should prepare to learn how to cut the most elegant of swathes across the perfect ski mountain of your choosing. But because I’m writing this on All Hallows’ Eve, there can only be one type of carving on our minds, and that is the annual, nationwide amateur design contest that is the Great American Pumpkin Carve.Pumpkin carvingBeing relatively new to this game and hailing from a place where the enthusiasm for Halloween hovers only slightly above the nation’s appetite for commemorating a revolutionary war that went the wrong way, I’ve taken to the pumpkin carving ritual with no small amount of enthusiasm. From the first truck-bed full of uprooted gourds that are unceremoniously dropped off at the local grocery store, to the act of picking out a suitable vegetable from the roadside stands that entrepreneurially spring up in the last week of October, the questions of shape, color, design and illumination-strategy inevitably weigh heavy on the mind.

For me, the design is the most important part, followed very closely by the level of perfection that can be achieved within the parameters of said design. Should the pumpkin be traditionally disfigured to create a fearsome, snarling warden of your property lines? Perhaps your design should choose to provide solace from the ghouls, zombies and bloodbaths that adorn the rest of the neighborhood with a cute, possibly animalistic take on the art– a cat perhaps? Or maybe you favor a more knowing, ironic take on the tradition. For you, a toothsome face and searing gaze are all just too passé; an internet meme, well-kerned piece of type or post-modern take on meta-pumpkin-carving is more in order.Ultimately, no one can say which of these approaches most embodies the spirit of the occasion, but your design will undoubtedly give away a certain something about the inner workings of your mind.

After settling on your chosen pattern, performing innumerable Google Image Searches for inspiration and laying out a finely tiled pattern of newspaper on your living room floor, the Sharpie-sketching begins and ends, the knives come out and suddenly you’ve lost hours of your life, huddled cross-legged on the floor realizing your artistic vision in all its seedy, goopy glory. At this point, you have a workable, convincing jack-o-lantern, but here is where more telling personality traits are revealed. Some of you choose to break out the tea-lights, light a match and call it a day and while there’s nothing wrong with that, if you happen to cohabit with someone of the obsessive, detail-focused persuasion (let’s say a designer, for instance), you would be foolish to think that your night would end there…

The “feature complete” lantern is merely a starting point in an overall project of vege-art perfection. Facial features need to be proposed, evaluated and possibly, finally implemented, followed by the minute adjustments and the whittling of sharpened edges. All the while, the eagle eye of the carver looking for minute internal improvements and slight reductions in tolerances with the zeal of the finest of industrial designers. By this hour, you will probably be able to tell if you’re in the middle of a fun, family exercise or the unlucky participant in a prolonged session of prototyping and design exploration. In the event of the latter, my advice would be to retire, alone, to bed.Untitled Scary Cat PumpkinAt our house, last year’s addition to our small, two-person household (dubbed Howard) was well received by a generally Halloween-apathetic audience in his native Germany. This year, with a relocation to the States and the addition of an overweight black cat to our expanding family, we welcome in tribute an as-yet untitled “scary cat” to our neighborhood. The fate of our creation, hewn from the unique combination of soil, man and knife-blade rests on the doorstep, ready to be judged by the harshest (or probably more realistically, the most ambivalent) of audiences: exhausted parents and hyperactive candy-obsessed 10-year-olds.

Happy Halloween!

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