Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here.

Hell Is Empty and All the Devils Are Here.
All photos and jack-o’-lantern carvings by Sean Bonney

“Carving Is Easy. You Just Go Down to the Skin and Stop.” –Michelangelo

By Sean Bonney

Halloween is, indisputably and factually, the best holiday. Glowing houses on a crisp fall evening, kids in costumes running down the block, and of course, pumpkins. Pumpkin carving is the perfect recreational craft. It’s quicker than carving marble, you’re not stuck with them for more than a few days or weeks, and you’re only expected to make the effort once a year.


2005 Fridge

Our fridge fills up the week before Halloween. I have never tried any preservatives, but commercial sprays are available to keep carved pumpkins from starting to decay too soon. I’ve also heard that a light glaze of Vaseline will do the trick. 


2008 Biter

This classic composition is seen in many online pumpkin galleries, and a great reason to buy tiny pumpkins. I was starting to experiment with shallow engraving, but learned that I would have to go much deeper to let the light out.


2009 Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters: The Video Game was released on June 16, 2009, and sparked a surge of interest from our kids. This one was pretty quick, and marked my first ever 100 percent engraved pumpkin.


2009 Imps

The tormented soul on the inside is standing on an armature of wires. Can you see the 4th face?


2009 Mirror Mirror

From the Star Trek Original Series episode Mirror Mirror, the ruthless yet logical Mr. Spock appears in a chilling parallel universe


2009 Tattoo

Sometimes it’s just fun to play with ornamentation, filling patterns without much planning.


2010 Chicken King Unlit

For years, I kept the larger bones from our roaster chickens. Many went into a crown for a James Monroe High School production of Othello, and some went into pumpkins. One adult trick-or-treater was intrigued enough to reach out and feel how these bones fit into the gourd. She snapped her hand back with alarm when I told her they were real.


2010 Stitches

This took a long time; that’s a ton of pumpkin skin to remove. The top is flipped over to reveal brains.


2012 Gangnam Style

South Korean rapper Psy released Gangnam Style on July 15, 2012. It quickly became a mega hit, spawning countless memes and take offs, and by December had become the first YouTube video to reach one billion views. This was quickly carved to take advantage of a strobe light.


2012 Obama

I carved Obama pumpkins based on Shepard Fairey’s iconic “Hope” poster for both the 2008 and 2012 elections. Obama won both times. Coincidence?



There was a lot of interest in Doctor Who among the teen members of our household in 2012.


2013 Steampumpkin

I was inspired by a pumpkin that someone had covered in gadgets, and enhanced this guy with some of my actual desk tools.


2013 VW Bus

Another one based on a pumpkin I saw online. I love the bumper mouth.


2014 Beholder

Beholders are among the most revered and feared classic Dungeons & Dragons monsters. They’re very intelligent, can shoot magic rays from their eyestalks, and have a nasty temperament. Not sure why they have such large mouths given there is no room in that body for a digestive tract.


2014 Grump

I was running out of time and my fingers were cramping up, so I put those feelings into this irritated monster. I actually kept this one for two weeks. It looked amazing once it was half-rotted.


2014 Thorns

A thorn bush plus negative space.


2014 Two-Face

Sometimes the shape of a pumpkin does half the work. This lumpy pumpkin was already formed into two lobes, hence the inspiration.


2015 Mindflayer

Another return to the well of D&D monsters, the psychic horror of the Mindflayer. They sap their victims’ will and eat their brains. This also looks like the villain Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.


2015 Poe

Edgar Allan Poe is just perfect for Halloween.


2015 Trumpkin

This was funny back then.


2015 Vader

When watching the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer, I was chilled to the core when an unknown Sith pledged to continue Darth Vader’s crusade.


2016 Hamilton

Hamilton: An American Musical premiered on January 20, 2015. By the following fall, it seemed like everyone was humming the tale of the “brother who was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter.”


2016 Hillary Clinton

So maybe not all of my political pumpkins guarantee victory.


2016 Idol

Inspired by the original cover to the 1978 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook by the amazing fantasy illustrator David A. Trampier. This book, and this cover, were very important to me as a young D&D player.


2016 Pikachu

Remember when Pokémon Go was released in July 2016 and suddenly we were all getting out of our houses and converging on street corners and in parks, joining in the camaraderie of collecting virtual critters? That was a nice feeling.


2017 Efreeti

The fire-genies called Efreeti live on the Elemental Plane of Fire. David A. Trampier illustrated their entry in the AD&D Monster Manual. Turns out his line-art is easily adaptable for pumpkins.


2017 Sugar Skull

Day of the Dead is a great source of inspiration, and I hadn’t drawn many roses since my Grateful Dead touring days.


2017 Tom Petty

We lost Tom Petty in early October; that was a hard one. This shot from his music video Don’t Come Around Here No More (1985) seemed a decent tribute. The scene where Alice has been transformed into a cake for the mad crew to gobble up was so upsetting to Tipper Gore’s daughter that Tipper was inspired to launch the Parents Music Resource Center to combat, among other things, the promotion of cannibalism by the music industry. The pumpkin’s hat is punched cardboard filled with Christmas lights.


2018 Goofy

I tried to keep this one light, with a cheery smile.


2018 Jailhouse

This jailhouse pumpkin was entirely inspired by an animatronic banjo-playing skeleton we picked up. Press a button and it would thrash around to the tune of Dixie for thirty seconds. A small dowel is lined up with his hip, enabling visitors to press the button to start the show. It went missing later in the evening after we had heard the tune way too many times.


2018 Kraken

Initially inspired by one of our kid’s appreciation for Horatio Hornblower, I quickly transitioned to Pirates of the Caribbean because it has a Kraken attack scene. The top of the pumpkin was repurposed to make the doomed ship.


2018 Tomb of Horrors

Another Trampier illustration, this time from the 1978 adventure written by D&D originator Gary Gygax. In the adventure, the “Devil Face” is a giant wall carving with an open mouth filled with absolute blackness. Anything, or anyone, who enters is completely and forever destroyed. An unforgiving trap for the over-curious adventurer. Obviously, the mouth required black paint for this effect.


2019 Pseudo Dragon

I was really on a Trampier kick. Magic-users in old-school D&D can get a magical pet, such as a crow, toad, or owl. But if you rolled really well, and met strict criteria, you could get a cat-sized dragon that sat on your shoulder, so everyone wanted that.


2019 Wild Rumpus

Where the Wild Things Are is just a gorgeous book. I combined two photos here to show the design, which wrapped around two-thirds of the pumpkin.


2022 Skeksis

I was very excited to get back to Halloween after two bleak pandemic years. This is a Skeksis from The Dark Crystal (1982), one of the best examples of fantasy world-building ever, which resurfaced in 2019’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance TV series. Sadly, the show was too expensive to be renewed after the first season.


2022 Spooky House

Something light, for the smallest trick-or-treaters.


2022 Vecna

The villain from season four of Stranger Things has the mental prowess of the mindflayer, but is named for another iconic D&D terror, Vecna.


Tools of the Trade, from left to right

  • A Sharpie pen because nothing else is easy to see on a pumpkin skin. 
  • A spoon for carving out the inside to make areas brighter. 
  • A clay-carving implement from the 1986 3D art class where I got to know the woman I would marry. 
  • A linoleum carving tool for narrow channels. 
  • A wide scoop for large areas and for carving away at the inside. 
  • A v-channel carver. 
  • A scoop carver. 
  • A flat chisel. 
  • Not pictured, Goof Off for erasing Sharpie lines.


Sean Bonney is a public library advocate and Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast who lives in Fredericksburg and clearly has a pumpkin fixation.


“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” –William Shakespeare, The Tempest