If you stare too long at the Russell Westbrook jack-o’-lantern Karrah Youngblood created in the Oklahoma Magazine studio, you might get a bit spooked at its striking likeness to the Thunder superstar … but that’s kind of the point.
Youngblood, an Oklahoma native with a booming business dubbed Pumpkin Brains, discovered her passion for carving pumpkins through a curious combination of family and fear.
“I grew up on a horse farm in Liberty Mounds,” she says. “Horses scared me, so I learned to play piano and starting learning graphic design at age 11. My mom, who died of early onset Alzheimer’s in 2016, was always very festive on all holidays, and made sure my sister and I always had a pumpkin to carve on Halloween. I just got better every year.”
Youngblood got serious about the art form about a decade ago, when she started buying kits and templates to practice her skills. Still, something felt off.
“As a graphic designer, it killed me to pay for someone else’s designs,” she says.
So she created her own. After several failed attempts at two-tone templates, she discovered what would put her work above the competition.
“It hit me there are three shades to a pumpkin,” she says. “Cut all the way through is a color, the skin peeled off is a color, and the skin left alone is a color. My failure in Adobe Photoshop turned out to make killer pumpkins.”
These three-tone templates made Youngblood’s work spread worldwide for its impressive realism – with some critics cementing her talent.
“I love it when one of my pumpkins goes viral and I get to see all the comments about it being photo-shopped or fake,” she says. “I take them as the biggest compliments.”
Youngblood’s received her fair share of praise, from local TV stations and the Tulsa World to TMZ and appearances at Comic-Con in San Diego. She says “carving William Shatner for William Shatner” was a definite highlight.
Raw talent is an element to her success, but so is striving to improve. She encourages everyone interested in carving to go for it.
“Just like with in anything in life, have a lot of try,” she says. “Go buy the PumpkinMasters kit at Walmart and surprise yourself. I carve my pumpkins with a $1.97 plastic knife, a thumbtack and a flathead screwdriver, but if you want to be fancy with your tools, cool.”
Although Youngblood’s talents reach far beyond those of an average carver, she doesn’t hesitate to help others achieve impressive results.
“I think I’ve figured out how to make it so everyone can up their pumpkin game like I did,” she says. “While I still appreciate a good triangle-eyed jack-o’-lantern, those days are over. There’s going to be portraits of grandma pumpkins lighting up everyone’s porches one year soon … you’ll see. It’s in testing phases, but I’ll be putting out a book in the next couple of years making it so anyone can carve Russell Westbrook on a jack-o’-lantern.”
Each pumpkin commissioned at Pumpkin Brains costs around $125 and comes hand-carved with a bleach bath to extend the life of the gourd, plus a special light, calibrated specifically for the design.
Along with carving and corporate graphic design work, Youngblood is a single mother, piano teacher and advocate for survivors of domestic violence. To see more of her works or commission one for yourself, visit pumpkinbrains.com.