Smashing pumpkins: Sophisticated Hallowe'en lanterns

The rough approximation of Worzel Gummidge no longer cuts it. Susie Rushton gets carving

Eyes: two triangles. Nose: one triangle, inverted. Mouth: a smile of castellated teeth or zigzags. How simple the task of pumpkin carving once was. But those days, my Hallowe'en friends, are over, and the rough approximation of Worzel Gummidge, as imagined by a four-year-old armed with a bread knife, simply doesn't cut it.

Today's witchy reveller demands photorealism, a sculptor's standard of execution, and (especially in the US) political satire from their squash-based illuminations. Carvers must now achieve a 3D likeness of their heroes and anti-heroes, from Cher and Johnny Cash to Obama and McCain. Forget Mr Jack-o'-Lantern, on Friday night, the toast of the party will be the genius who arrives with a glowing Death Star.

The reigning queen of pumpkin art is jolly American Lisa Berberette, who discovered her talent five years ago and now markets DIY stencils from her site, pumpkinlady.com. Quite what biography leads a person to become so enamoured of lantern-carving that she winds up on Oprah extolling her skills, selling themed books of stencils ranging from "Patriotic" to the inevitable "Faith" selection, is hard to fathom. Nonetheless, Berberette has had years of practice – "artificial pumpkins made it possible for her to continue year round" says her blog – and produces sculptures of such kitsch accomplishment that they've appeared in museums.

What can the humble amateur lantern-maker learn from Ms Berberette? With my £1 Tesco pumpkin, a couple of plastic pumpkin carvers from Sainsbury's, a GCSE in art, and the internet, I spent an afternoon advancing my skills. First, the stencil. After toying with the idea of a Winehouse motif (the medium lending itself well to Amy's eyeliner flicks and snaggleteeth), I settle on another, equally alarming, female public figure.

I cut out the hair, lips, glasses. To achieve realism, one mustn't cut right through the wall every time; to shade a cheekbone, say, it's best just to shave off the surface. The whole process took about an hour, was achieved without sliced fingers, and has since drawn flattering comments. Bring on the Turner Prize judges. But, in the words of Rolf Harris, can you guess who it is yet?

Gourd of honour Carving tips

Choose a slightly unripe pumpkin: the firm flesh will make it easier to carve and it will last longer – they can keep for up to two weeks.

Pumpkins are in season, so relatively cheap. Don't pay more than £2 for a decent-sized one.

Stencils are easy to find on the internet – type your chosen design and "stencil" into Google – and produce good results.

It's not advisable to let children under eight use sharp knives, and keep the design simple.

Use a serrated knife to remove top of pumpkin, then scoop out seeds and flesh with a spoon.

Seeds make a tasty snack: wash and dry, toss in a little salt, chilli flakes and olive oil, and roast in a hot oven for 10 minutes.

Trace chosen image on to the pumpkin then cut it out using a small, sharp knife. Insert candle (tea lights work well and don't smoke). Ben Naylor

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