He knows jack

By Courtney Hollands
October 22, 2009

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For most of us, pumpkin-carving involves clumsily cutting triangle eyes and a jagged mouth. Not so for Sean Fitzpatrick of Saugus. The former auto mechanic now makes his living carving and sculpting ice, sand, snow, foam, and yes, pumpkins. Fitzpatrick spends fall weekends at fairs around the country, showing off his skills - he’s cut everything from intricate flowers and ghouls to the likenesses of Sarah Palin and David Ortiz into pumpkins. He also does custom work, like the pumpkin centerpieces he recently created for a bat mitzvah and the cackling foam jack-o’-lantern he carved for a Marc Jacobs store in New York. Fitzpatrick shared some tips and tricks of the spooky trade.

Q. When did you start carving and sculpting?

A. I’ve always been artistic. . . . About 20 years ago, my daughter asked me to build a snowman that looked like Santa Claus. I fell in love with sculpting; I was hooked.

Q. What’s the most challenging medium to work with?

A. Pumpkins are so flexible. You can use many different techniques. Sand is tricky because there are individual grains that are only bound together by water.

Q. We’re amateurs. Give us some carving tips.

A. Make sure the pumpkin walls are about an inch thick. A standard ice cream scoop is good for getting the seeds out. . . . For the design, you can draw directly on the pumpkin. Or, go online and print out a template. Attach it to the pumpkin with packing tape and use a poking tool to poke holes through the design into the pumpkin. The holes should be a quarter-inch deep and close enough together so you can cut through them in a line. . . . Adults can use a sharp knife and cut along the pattern, starting in the center. When you take the paper off, there is a clear, sharp pattern. To preserve your pumpkin once you’re done, take a plastic Brillo pad and wipe the front surface to get the rough edges off. Then, spray the inside and design area with a cooking spray to help it retain moisture.

Q. Had any carving related injuries?

A. I cut my finger about two minutes before I went on the “Today’’ show [in fall 2006]. It was bleeding and the set designer was horrified. I put on a bandage and no one even knew it happened.

Q. Roughly how many pumpkins do you carve each year?

A. I start carving the foam pumpkins in April and I’ll do at least 200 to 300 a year. I carve about 20 real pumpkins at each live show I do in the fall. It adds up.

Q. How many jack-o’-lanterns will light up your porch this Oct. 31?

A. None. I’m always carving for everyone else, I’m never at home. I’m like the plumber whose own pipes never get fixed.

Q. What do you do with all the seeds?

A. Most of the pumpkins I don’t gut right away so they’ll last longer . . . but if I do gut them, the pumpkin seeds end up in the trash. I’m not a big fan. And all the pumpkin seed fans are now crying as they read this.

Interview was edited and condensed.