Q&A with The Orange Show's Pumpkin Carver Extraordinaire Brian "Visker" Mahanay

My building is having a pumpkin carving contest this Friday with a cash prize. I'm kinda broke so I want to, nay, need to win this contest. I haven't yet decided what I'll carve -- should I draw my own stencil? Jack one from the interweb? Go to Cindie's and get a Pornkin kit? (yup, porn-scene pumpkin stencils...)

Since I'm sort of a newbie and I don't want to sever my finger, I consulted Mr. Brian "Visker" Mahanay, the gourd carving connoiseur that will be facilitating this year's free Orange Show Pumpkin Carving Workshop on Saturday October 29. He told us a little about the workshop and provided a few tricks and tips for carving the best jack 'o lantern ever.

How long have you been carving pumpkins? I've been carving for about four years. It started as something the Orange Show asked me to do a few years ago and I've done it every year since.

Do you draw your own designs? For cartoon kinds of designs I'll freehand, but for realism-type or if we find something on the web where someone's been really creative, we'll re-create some of those because the kids really like that. I'm a professional sculptor so this is just a new, fun thing to do and it's cool to do something for the Orange Show at the same time.

What kinds of tools do you use? I like to find things that make textures. It's just a gourd so your typical food decorating tools, different slicers, knives, scrapers, anything you would use to embellish a cucumber or something.

On average, how long does it take you to carve one pumpkin? About 20 minutes. I'm quick because I've done it so much. I'll carve 5 or 10 examples for the workshop before everyone arrives and save one to work on while everyone else is carving and walk around, help, give ideas and show ways to add texture.

Do you have any carving tips for beginners? The key is using the pounce wheel. That's important because you can just draw everything out on your pumpkin. Most people have a hard time transferring a drawing from a flat piece of paper to a round object. The pounce doesn't leave marks like a sharpie would. It gives you a nice outline.

How can we make our carved pumpkins last longer? After cleaning it out, dry the inside with a hairdryer and spray the inside with enamel, like Rust-Oleum crystal clear enamel. It will hold the moisture, keep the pumpkin from drying out too fast and caving in.

More pumpkin carving tips: - Choose an unbruised pumpkin, check for discoloration and soft spots. Look for pumpkins with a sturdy stem -- this is the sign of a healthy pumpkin.

- You need pumpkin saws, scrapers, pokers, knives, exact-o knives, pins or thumb tacks, and tape. The most important tool is the mini hand held saw. Closer teeth and smaller length provide greater detail.

- After gutting the pumpkin, scrape it with a scraper. The wall for the front of the pumpkin should be no more than one inch thick but don't make it too thin as thin areas will dry out and get wrinkled.

- Patterns for pumpkins should be as large as the face of the pumpkin. Anywhere that will be light on the finished product should be cut away as you're cutting out the negative. Patterns make high use of negative space.

- Tape your stencil to your pumpkin and using a push pin or poker and outline your stencil. Afterwards, sprinkle baby powder on the holes and they will show up nice and clear.

- Saw slowly and gently and hold the saw like a pencil. Push it in and out of the pumpkin flesh. Don't force it.

- Start at the center of the design and work outwards, each time you remove a piece of the design, the pumpkin gets weaker.

- Remove pieces of pumpkin you've cut out with your fingers, not the saw. Make sure the piece is completely free. If it won't come out, cut it into smaller sections.

For ideas, pointers and hands-on help from Brian, be sure to check out the Orange Show's kid and family friendly free Pumpkin Carving Workshop Saturday, October 29 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Orange Show Monument, 2402 Munger St. Houston TX 77023. Materials will be provided, but feel free to bring your own tools and BYOP -- Bring your own pumpkin!

If you're thinking about bringing a stencil to the workshop, steer clear of the pornkin- maybe opt for something G-rated. There will be kids around, freaknasty.

For questions or more info, call Wendy at 713-926-6368.

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