Carving pumpkins is the ultimate Halloween tradition, but if you want to go beyond the generic jack-o-lantern and create something truly unique, you need to break the mold. Need a bit of inspiration? There's no better place to look than the magical lands of Pumpkin Nights. Founded by Chelsea Kasen, Pumpkin Nights has creations inspired by everything from Sleepy Hollow to Harry Potter, ocean creatures, and beyond to create a Halloween experience that can be enjoyed by all ages. On display at Utah State Fair Park through November 4, Pumpkin Nights consists of more than 3,000 pumpkins imaginatively carved and built into eight amazing worlds. We chatted with Jesse Draper, one of the pumpkin artists, to find out how his team conjures up so many unique designs and to garner tips for creating out-of-this-world jack-o-lanterns.
Where do the ideas come from for each specific pumpkin world?
This is the most fun part of the whole process. We start by getting together and throwing everything out there, posting all of our ideas on a wall. We ask ourselves questions like 'What would you do in a pumpkin-themed world?' and look at everyday objects, trying to reimagine them as pumpkins. From the words, we then move on to sketches, then sculptures, and then the lighting. Basically, our motto is 'if it doesn't sound good, there's no reason to make it' and vice versa.
Do you have any behind-the-scenes elements planned to show people how you carve all these pumpkins?
We have a lot of interactive scenes both before and during the event. If you follow our Instagram (@pumpkinnightsfest), you can see a lot of stuff in our stories section. We've been working on creating the event since January and coming up with these really spectacular stories to share with everyone. On-site, we’ve hired really talented giant pumpkin carvers to create a pumpkin-themed land where anyone in attendance can come up and talk to them about the concepts. One of the great things about the event is that everything is created here by local artists, who have put their hearts and souls into the sculptures to help guests connect with the art. It's definitely worth going and seeing those live carvers and I think it's very unique in that we keep adding to a scene every night, making it an ongoing art project.
You've created a lot of different worlds for Pumpkin Nights, what was your favorite theme to work with?
I have three favorites: Under the Sea, Pirate Cove, and Maravilla Land. Under the Sea is one of the most immersive lands with unique bubble pumpkins and coral. We also had a great time creating this massive octopus, multi-pumpkin character. Pirate Cove was super fun with the pirate treasure and new designs for pirates and palm trees. I'm also really excited about Maravilla Lane, it's a sort of 'Day of the Dead' world with really artistic elements in honor of the artist Frida Kahlo. We drew inspiration from the movie Coco, so kids will definitely recognize a lot of things.
What's the best way to come up with a pumpkin design and how do you suggest people go about it?
Use your imagination! We’re breaking the mold of what pumpkin carving can be, pushing the simple design to see how far can we take it. All you need is an idea and then ask yourself how you can turn it into a pumpkin. It will probably come out better than you think. There are a lot of tools online you can use and I recommend drawing to help. Don't be afraid to keep the shapes you're carving simple or use minimal cuts because you still have the light and darkness to bring it to life. On the opposite end, you can also get really intricate if you want. Really, your imagination is the only barrier. If it's something you're into, I also suggest switching out the real pumpkins for fun-kins (artificial carvable pumpkins), it cuts down on the mess and you can keep adding to your collection year after year!