Halloween is just around the corner.. And if you are already tired of the same old Jack-O-Lanterns. Here are some tips from Professionals. :) Choosing a pumpkin Marc Evan is one-half of Maniac Pumpkin Carvers, a Brooklyn-based custom carving business that turns out more than 300 pumpkins during their autumn rush. Although Halloween is especially busy, Evan says there is also a big demand for harvest themed pumpkins and fall wedding decorations. Different pumpkins are suited for different projects. "For a classic lantern style, we look for a lighter pumpkin that's free of defects," says Evan. "For something sculptural we're want something misshapen and heavy for its size." Look for a healthy stem that isn't completely dried out. The pumpkin will last longer. Avoid pumpkins with bruising or soft spots. They will also rot faster. Storing a pumpkin Wash and dry your pumpkin when you bring it home to get rid of dirt and microorganisms. Both before and after carving, pumpkins should be kept below 60 degrees. Evan says to store in the refrigerator if possible. Rub some lemon juice diluted with a little water onto the cut edges to prevent browning and then coat lightly with petroleum jelly. Wrap with cellophane until ready to display. Pumpkins begin to deteriorate after about 24 hours so carve as close as possible to the time you plan on displaying. Carving a pumpkin Scrape out the inside so its very clean, smooth, and dry. If the pumpkin is wobbly, slice the bottom off for a secure base. Have a sketch or photo to work from. "We don't like to wing it," says Evan. There are also lots of free design templates available online. Use a soft pencil to draw your design on the pumpkin. Experiment with tools. Evan thinks pumpkin carving sets are good for beginners, but as your skills improve, you can play with other tools. "We're always looking for stuff at a kitchen store or hardware store that might solve problems." Cut small areas first. If you carve out big chunks, it will leave the face of the pumpkin weak and may cause it to break when you are doing finer work. Create dimension by scraping layers into the outside of the shell like a block of wood. As you are carving, occasionally turn off the lights, put a light source in your pumpkin, and check your progress. Try up-lighting your pumpkin from the outside or cutting a hole the back instead of the traditional lid top. "We like to cut an opening in the back and leave the top intact," says Evan. Battery operated lights are safer than traditional flame candles. If you do use a traditional candle, use a votive in a glass holder and make sure the flame doesn't touch the pumpkin's flesh. Cut a tiny chimney hole in the upper back area to let smoke escape. Never leave a lit pumpkin unattended. Polyurethane Craft Pumpkins Fancy an undead pumpkin that will haunt you into eternity? Master carver Alex Wer favors working with craft pumpkins available at stores such as Michael's. A mild mannered insurance salesman by day, at night he transforms into The Pumpkin Geek and hacks out photo-realistic designs of pop icons, comic book characters, sports heroes, and just about anything else his clients can dream up. Wer suggests practicing on real pumpkins first. When you are ready to try your hand at a permanent design, you can start working with a standard pumpkin carving set. For his astonishingly detailed creations, The Pumpkin Geek favors a dremel. Whichever tool you use, he says, work slowly and be safe.