Saws, knifes, a wood-burning pen and a power drill.
No, those are not instruments of mayhem.
They are the tools Jess Johnson needs to carve the perfect pumpkin.
Tidioute resident Jess Johnson demonstrates her pumpkin carving skills.
Johnson, a resident of Tidioute, has been carving pumpkins since she was a kid. Over the years, the simple jack-o-lantern faces of triangle-shaped eyes and a ragged, toothy smile have evolved into elaborate depictions of fictional characters and scenes.
This year, her pumpkins are renditions of Frankenstein, Dracula, Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas," Janet Leigh as Marion Crane from the classic horror flick "Psycho," and a scene from "Sleepy Hollow."
"As you can see, there is a movie theme," Johnson said.
imes Observer photo by Lydia Cottrell
Jess Johnson displays her creations in dim light. Clockwise from top are Janet Leigh as Marion Crane from the classic horror flick “Psycho,” a scene from “Sleepy Hollow,” Frankenstein, Dracula, and Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare Before Christmas,”
Times Observer photo by Lydia Cottrell
Tidioute resident Jess Johnson carefully cuts out pieces of pumpkin to create the face of Dracula.
Times Observer photo by Lydia Cottrell
Tools of the trade
Although her jack-o-lantern creations are detailed and eye-catching, she is humble when speaking of her talents.
"I wouldn't call it an art because I just use stencils," she said. "Sometimes I'll free-hand a simple haunted house or a traditional pumpkin face."
Sitting on her front porch surrounded by her tools of the trade, she explained her technique and process.
In the case of the Dracula portrait stencil, Johnson said, "I printed it off a website called Zombie Pumpkins."
She tape the stencil to a piece of blue transfer paper. The blue contrasts the orange of the pumpkins, making it easier to see.
From there the stencil and transfer paper is carefully placed on the pumpkin. Johnson meticulously centered the portrait and checked to make sure it was not crooked. With the stencil taped into place, she began tracing over the lines. Once the picture was sufficiently on the pumpkin's surface, Johnson placed the original stencil next to her.
"You want to keep the stencil nearby in case part of a line is missing," she explained.
Johnson began the metamorphosis from pumpkin to jack-o-lantern by cutting away at the stencil lines with a mini saw.
"Start with the smaller pieces," she said over the light ripping sound of the saw.
Continuing on the blue lines, she leaned in close as to not miss a spot. Chunk by chunk, parts of the pumpkin were discarded and Dracula's face began to take shape. In less than 20 minutes, the creation was ready for a candle, dim light and spooky music.
Johnson has been using stencils to make jack-o-lanterns for the past 12 years. In the most recent line-up of designs, three came from websites. However, to create the image of Janet Leigh's screaming face and the Sleepy Hollow scene, she used photo-editing software to manipulate the pictures into stencils.
The types of pumpkin she uses also varies. Three of them were real pumpkins while the Jack Skellington and Frankenstein portraits were done on foam pumpkins.
Johnson's dedication to pumpkin-carving requires some serious tools. When crafting an image on the foam, a wood-burning pen is used on the stencil lines. To prepare the real pumpkins, Johnson calls on the power and torque of a cordless drill. She has a drill attachment called a pumpkin gutter, which is used to tear and extract the seeds and pulp from the inside. The tool is also used to thin the walls for easier carving as well.
Each year Johnson carves three or four pumpkins. Her all-time favorite creation was a series of four Disney villains which included Ursula from "The Little Mermaid," Cruella de Vil from "One Hundred and One Dalmatians," the Queen from "Snow White,"and Maleficent from "Sleeping Beauty."
So, why spend all the time and resources on a jack-o-lantern that will last a few weeks at best?
Perhaps it is because Halloween is Johnson's favorite holiday. But she struggled to articulate the reason.
"Fall has always been my favorite season," she said. "I guess probably because you get dressed up and get to make stuff like this."
She added, "I'm sure the candy doesn't hurt."
Whatever the reason, her love for the fall holiday is obvious by the tattoo on her left upper arm. It's a Halloween scene complete with a carved pumpkin.