Day of the Dead Catrina Art Project


The Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration honoring loved ones who have passed. This vibrant holiday calls the elaborately decorated skeletons, Catrinas. My second grade students loved creating their Day of the Dead Catrinas using paint and paper.

Use a white oil pastel on black paper to draw the Catrina. We started with an oval for the head and drew two circles for the eyes, a triangle for the nose and two lines for the mouth. A big curved line wrapping around and above the head served as a hat for the men. Lady Catrina’s can have hats, too.

Draw a paint a simple skeleton for Day of the Dead

Three horizontal lines worked well for the neck, then a simple shirt and pants/skirts. Simple lines broken into 2 sections created the arms and legs. Add smaller lines for feet and hands.

Set white tempera paint on the table and paint head arms and legs. To paint the rest of the Catrina, it’s best to use tempera paint colors tinted with some white paint. This way, the colors will pop on the black paper.

Day of the Dead Book suggestions for children:

Day of the Dead Picture Books

Day of the Dead

Calavera Abecedario: A Day of the Dead Alphabet Book

 Second Grade Catrinas!

Draw and paint a simple skeleton for your next Day of the Dead celebration

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What do you think?

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  • Char

    Would love to know how many minutes/class periods your projects take. 🙂 Thanks!

  • Patty P

    just one…about 40 minutes. Go longer if you like. Perhaps add a background, etc.

  • Holly V.

    I absolutely love these. I might have to try it with my students.

  • Kelli

    Do you have a good picture book to introduce this lesson?

  • Carmen Zeisler

    I love this project! I did this last year with my third graders and we just had a blast! I can’t wait to do this again!

  • Theresa

    Your thoughts?…. I LOVE this Deep Space Sparkle lesson and am proud of my students’ resulting work. My artistic director however, recently called me out for cultural appropriation!!! This was long after she, herself, actually approved this lesson in my lesson plan. I had prepped my kids for this project with reference materials such as Unicef’s ‘Children Just Like Me; Celebrations’, Festivals, carnivals, and feast days from around the world’, by Barnabas & Annabel Kindersley, ‘Day of the Dead’ by Julie Murray, & ‘Día De Los Muertos’, by Roseanne Thong. I also brought examples of ceramic sugar skulls and dioramas from Mexico. I also had a teaching assistant whom helped the students pronounce words in Spanish. I, myself, am a mixed race Canadian and had raised my own kids to respect & appreciate diversity and culture. I have also taught lessons inspired by Diwali, Canadian Native artists, and Chinese New Year. I am hurt at the suggestion that I had been in any way considered culturally insensitive by teaching this lesson. I’d be grateful for your thoughts and advice with this.

    • Patty

      I feel you pain. Everyone is becoming a bit too sensitive about everything. I’ve never heard of anyone from South America react to Day of the Dead projects. You’re fine and doing great.

      • Theresa

        Thank you your kind words and support, Patti. Being from California, I’m sure you get a more accurate picture on how the Central/South American community feels about this subject. My director is not from this community and I bristle at the idea that she feels she can speak for them. Her comments have really shaken me up. Being half Chinese and French Canadian, I dealt with a lot of racism growing up in a small town in British Columbia. I have long since embraced the practice of multiculturism and celebrated it with my daughters and later with my students through art education. My art director sent me her mini-lecture about cultural appropriation via email and I have yet to respond. I am still too angry.
        Again, Many Thanks Patti!

        • Patty

          I find the best approach is not to be angry but to just ask questions. I truly have never heard of anyone suggesting that celebrating Day of the Dead is inappropriate. So your director just must be feeling the Canadian focus on Indigenous rights and acknowledgment. I’ve been away from Canada for a while but I do know that the verbiage has changed significantly there. My suggestion–and you may not like it–is to just not do the project. Stick to artists and general subject art projects. We have curriculums in our Sparkler membership that will allow you to move effortlessly (and without conflict) through the year 🙂

          • Theresa

            You are a real gem. It’s so helpful that you have an awareness of both Canadian and American sensibilities. Yes, I will (sadly) stay away from these subjects and will focus on my other two favourites; nature and animals.
            Thank you Patty! 🙂

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