A sure sign of Halloween is a profusion of bright orange pumpkins everywhere.
Big ones, tiny ones, symmetrical and oddly elongated pumpkins are piled high on tables at farmers markets and produce counters, tumbled in heaps outside grocery stores and farm stands.
Grotesquely carved pumpkins and whimsically painted pumpkins also are showing up on doorsteps and windowsills.
Planning to try your hand at turning pumpkins into jack-o'-lanterns? Before you grab your favorite carving knife you might want to put some thought into design. Because while the time-honored way to carve up a pumpkin is with the nearest sharp instrument, carving kits available at large discount and grocery stores and online can make the job easier, and more artistic.
Patterns too are available online. For inspiration point your computer mouse at PumpkinMasters.com. The spectacularly carved gourds pictured there just might rouse the artist in you to aspire beyond a simple grinning mouth, triangular nose and eyes.
There are a number of pumpkin carving kits on the market but the one offered by Pumpkin Masters was the first. Introduced in 1986, the carving kits were the brainchild of Paul Bardeen of Racine, Wis., who wanted a safer way for his children to carve their jack-o'-lanterns.
Using small saws and drill bits the Bardeen family began creating intricate and exotic jack-o'-lanterns for themselves and friends. When he died, his family wanted to preserve the tradition and created the carving kits complete with tools and patterns which are sold seasonally in stores along with other Halloween merchandise and year round on the Pumpkin Master.com website.
But if the thought of sharp tools and small fingers -- or even adult digits -- makes you cringe don't forgo the fun of creating a scary creation there's no need to forgo displaying decorated pumpkins. Use paint instead.
Acrylic paints are easy to use, dry fast and come in a rainbow of colors, said Larry Crowell, manager of Craft Warehouse in Kennewick.
"We stock over 400 colors in the eight-ounce containers and even in the two-ounce size we have a good selection of colors," he said.
Before painting, do a little prep work first. Give the pumpkin a good wash to remove any dirt and then dry them off well, he said.
When done painting, Crowell recommends covering your art work with a glaze, either Modge Podge or a polyurethane, to protect it. You'll find that at Craft Warehouse, Michaels and other craft stores, plus the paint brushes and anything else you might want to use to decorate your jack-o'-lantern including eyes, beads, pipe cleaners and other baubles to glue on.
Whether you're carving or painting your pumpkin choose one with a firm, smooth skin. Perfectly symmetrical pumpkins are nice but you might have more fun with one that has an interesting shape or unsightly bumps. Use these so-called imperfections to create a jack-o'-lantern with real character.
Before you begin, look at your pumpkin from all sides. Instead of decorating it stem up, try tipping it on its side. Would the stem make a nose?
If your pumpkin won't stay on its side, but keeps rolling over, cut a thin slice off and create your own "bottom."
Cut out the top, or create your own, and scoop out the stringy pulp and seeds. Rinse the interior in a mild solution of bleach and water to help delay decay.
If using a pattern tape it in place or use quilters' straight pins to attach it. Use more pins or a wooden skewer to trace the design onto the pumpkin.
If carving, use a sharp paring knife or serrated steak knife to make the cuts. Carving knives are too big and can slip on the hard skin. Use a vegetable peeler for fine details and character lines. Peel away the orange skin and the candlelight (or flashlight) will glow softly through the exposed flesh.
For ideas, tools and patterns here are some websites to visit:
* Pumpkin Masters -- www.pumpkinmasters.com/carving.asp
* Pumpkin Carving 101 -- www.pumpkin masters.com/carving.asp
* About.com -- http://familycrafts.about. com/od/pumpkincrafts/
* Better Homes & Gardens -- www.bhg. com/holidays/halloween/pumpkin-decorating/
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org.