Calgary

Jack-o'-lantern master digs deep to carve out Twitter-worthy creations

Leaning on a cake-decorating background, a Calgary man has carved his way onto the Twitterverse with some incredible jack-o'-lanterns. It started 20 years ago with Frankenstein and will likely end with a retirement hobby like no other.

Started with Frankenstein, went downhill from there, Dale Rees says

Jack-o'-lantern master Dale Rees is working on Doctor Strange this year. But a rendition of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi five years ago really put him on the map. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Leaning on a cake-decorating background, a Calgary man has carved his way onto the Twitterverse with some incredible jack-o'-lanterns.

It began with Frankenstein and will likely end with a retirement hobby like no other.

Dale Rees started carving pumpkins 20 to 22 years ago, he says.

Here's Sean Connery without and with backlight. (Submitted by Dale Rees)

In the beginning, it was about keeping busy and establishing hobbies for later in life.

His first ever creation was Frankenstein.

"And then it was downhill from there," Rees told The Homestretch with a laugh.

"I think the attention to detail. It's important to have hobbies. In the past before I did this, it was cake decorating, which took equally as long. So I'm close to retirement. I don't think I'll have any problems retiring with all the kind of stuff like this that I do."

It was a pumpkin mayoral superhero that put Rees on the map and on the Twitters.

"Well, my daughter twittered it to, I think, his assistant, and it went viral right after that on Halloween night. It actually got the attention of Twitter Canada. So it's pretty cool," Rees said of his rendition of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi from five years ago.

Here's what Dale Rees uses to carve pumpkins, but he says people new to craft really need only a serrated blade and spoon. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

He chooses what to carve based on what the cool kids are talking about.

"Superheroes, things in the movies that the kids that come around would enjoy, like Harry Potter or The Matrix," he said.

"I did Wonder Woman last year, which was quite difficult. That was a fun one to do."

Here's his 2018 creation, Wonder Woman, without and with backlight. (Submitted by Dale Rees)

Rees, after years of fine-tuning, starts by taping a carbon paper image onto the pumpkin. When he pushes a pin into it, it creates a hole and a blue dot. It's kind of like pixelating the image onto the gourd.

That's when the carving starts.

This year's creation, Doctor Strange, should take roughly four hours or a little more.

To end up with a magical jack-o'-lantern, you must start with a perfect pumpkin.

"I do avoid stores that leave them outside in the boxes, because they just freeze and thaw. And if you bought that pumpkin a week ago, had it sitting in your house waiting to do this great carving job, it's probably going to rot before you can carve it."

Here is 2019 Doctor Strange in pumpkin form, by Dale Rees. (Submitted by Dale Rees)

As to the biggest mistake newbies make? The eyes have it.

"The most difficult thing on all of these pumpkins, definitely, are the eyes. If you don't get the eyes right, you're not going to look good," Rees said.

And for people starting out, you can probably get away with a serrated blade and a spoon.

"Get a pattern off the internet. It will take an hour. It will be better than circles, squares, diamonds and teeth," he said.

"It's like a recipe, it's a formula. If you do each of these steps. And as long as you don't have a disaster, it works out every time."

And as retirement approaches for Rees, he's now carved out a hobby to keep him busy.

"But I think you need to develop that early, just so you get in the habit," Rees said.

With files from Ellis Choe and The Homestretch

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