While spooky decor and classic costumes are the usual symbols of Halloween, you can’t forget about the iconic jack-o’-lantern. Picking out pumpkins and deciding how to decorate them is one of the most enjoyable traditions of the Halloween season. That’s why we’re sharing our best pumpkin carving tips from the pros to help you and your family create your own All Hallows’ Eve staple.

Carving a pumpkin is a lot harder than it looks — no matter how much of a beginner or skilled crafter you may be. So we gathered insight from experts to find out their go-to carving tips to bring your creepy creations to life — from the standard triangular eyes and toothy grin to a glittery masterpiece and carved-out black cat. And if you want to stray from the traditional route, check out these no-carve pumpkins and painted pumpkin ideas instead.

Step 1. Begin with the right pumpkin.

Choose one that’s fresh, with a sturdy stem, no bruises and a flat bottom so it won’t roll while you carve.

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Step 2. Start cutting from the bottom, not the top.

Michael Natiello, pumpkin carving pro and creative director for The Great Jack-o’-Lantern Blaze, says cutting your “lid” from the bottom of the pumpkin helps prevent the sides from caving in later.

Step 3. If you do carve from the top, cut out the lid on an angle.

This way it won’t drop inside the pumpkin when you put it back on top, like it would with a straight up-and-down cut. A boning knife should work well for this.

Step 4. Scoop out all the pulp (and then some).

You can buy a special “claw” for pumpkin gutting, but an ice cream scoop will do just fine. Thin the inner wall of the “face” area to 1¼-inch thick, so it will be easier to pierce the shell.

Step 5. Sketch out your design on paper first.

If you draw your jack-o’-lantern face to size, Natiello says you can use it as a pattern: Just tape it to the front of your pumpkin and use a fork or pencil to poke holes along the lines you want to carve. (Or save yourself from creative blocks by getting a pumpkin carving kit, complete with a marker, scraper, cutting tools and pre-made patterns.)

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