6 Alternatives to Pumpking Carving

This Halloween, ditch the knife and try painting your jack-o-lantern.

Growing up, pumpkin carving was a simple task. My family would go to an orchard and pick out a solid pumpkin with few blemishes and a sturdy stem. My brother or I would draft a design, which my father would then etch into the pumpkin. We’d then pop in a tea light and or jack-o-lantern was complete.

Today, that simple task is a bit more arduous, with everyone wanting perfectly photogenic displays. Luckily, there are plenty of non-carving alternatives—because, let’s be honest, those were always far from perfect.

A simple, but eye-catching alternative is to paint the pumpkin. With the right colors, pumpkins can be transformed into glitzy centerpieces, playful cartoon characters, and everything in between. Here are three popular design ideas to try this fall.

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1. Jack Skellington


Tim Burton’s iconic character from The Nightmare Before Christmas is a popular choice for those looking for something both scary and a little whimsical. Start by painting the pumpkin white and the stem black. Or, skip a step and buy a white pumpkin. After the paint has dried, add two large, black egg-shaped eyes, about an inch apart. For the nose, paint the same egg shape in miniature. For the classic stitched-up mouth, begin with a wide grin, stretching past both ends of the eyes. Paint a small opening by bringing the paint up about half an inch from the nose and fill it in. Last, make the stitch marks in the smile by painting small, vertical lines throughout the entire smile.

2. Polka Dots


An easy but chic design, use bottle caps of the same or varying sizes and lightly tap them into the pumpkin with a hammer. Once they’re in place, paint or spray paint the surface with a contrasting color. Once dry, remove the bottle caps to reveal orange polka dots.

3. Emojis


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Simple, expressive and whimsical, emojis are another popular choice for painting on a pumpkin. Just pick one of many options, paint the pumpkin yellow and then stencil the appropriate expression on. Once the yellow paint has dried, fill in the eyes and mouth for a social media-worthy jack-o-lantern.

4. Glitter Pumpkins


Those going for a more glamorous aesthetic can go for an even easier option. Spray paint a pumpkin in a glittery shade, let it draw and then pop it on the table for an instantly chic and minimalist look.

5. Miniature Pumpkin Donuts


Though simple to create, this display can look realistic and trick guests into thinking they’re actual donuts. Start with a white miniature pumpkin—or an orange one painted white—and paint the top to appear frosted using brown or pink. Keep the paint thick and then top with real sprinkles or paint them on. Remove the stem for an even more realistic look.

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6. Taped Designs


Create a fun, geometric pattern on a pumpkin by using tape. For a two-toned look, start by painting the pumpkin a solid color and letting it dry. Then apply strips of tape in a pattern and paint again. The taped parts will show the original color. Try chevrons for a fun, classic look. 

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