Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a two-day holiday in November that originated in Mexico but is celebrated in many other places as well.
Being so close to Halloween, it is often incorrectly associated and although the word “death” may be in the name, this holiday is about honoring those who have passed rather than focusing on death and sorrow.
Families and friends gather to remember loved ones, pray and offer special items such as flowers and even food and drinks on an ofrenda, or home-build altar, for their spiritual journey. Our Day of the Dead Catrina Marker Drawings & Celebration Altar is another great lesson to tie in with this project if you are looking for others that are relevant to this holiday.
Placing a decorated sugar skull, also called a calavera, that represents a departed soul on an ofrenda is just one tradition that accompanies this Día de los Muertos. Sometimes these skulls are decorated with the name of a person or other brightly colored designs.
Who doesn’t love the bright colors, the beautiful flowers and the tradition of celebrating and honoring our loved ones who have passed?
I know I do, but as I continue to learn and grow each day, I am recognizing what’s even more important…and in this case, it’s taking the time to learn about a unique culture that is not my own first AND honor the cultural significance of this holiday that emphasizes remembrance and tradition behind the sugar skull…a process that will hopefully help foster appreciation when modeled to your students.
Take a look! This quick video below shows you how to draw and paint a sugar skull WITHOUT using a template.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED:
– 12″ x 9″ white sulphite paper or watercolor paper
– Black oil pastel, crayon or waterproof marker
– Watercolor or cake tempera paints
– Medium round paintbrush
DRAWING THE SUGAR SKULL
Fold a 9″ x 12″ paper into fourths. Make a small dot near the top, bottom, and two sides at the fold lines.
From the top dot, draw a curved line to the right hand dot. Repeat on the other side. This will create the rounded top of the skull.
Starting at the right hand dot, draw a short, angled line down towards the bottom dot. Curve and continue the line down to the bottom dot. This is the chin so don’t make the curve line too wide. Repeat on the other side.
Add a line for the mouth and two dots with large circles around them for the eyes.
Finish off by adding bumpy lines on the top and bottom of the mouth to create teeth. Then, add a nose by drawing an upside-down “V” with three bumpy lines connecting the bottom.
Some sugar skulls are decorated with names while others are highly decorated with different floral and line designs.
The designs are typically symmetrical, which means the designs are the same on each side of the skull. When you add a design on your sugar skull, draw the same design in the same spot on the other side.
As you are decorating your sugar skull, keep in mind the intention of the project as well as the tradition behind the sugar skull and let them guide you. Some of your designs can even be symbolic.
PAINTING THE SUGAR SKULL
Watercolors are a lovely option for filling in areas of your sugar skulls but you can really use any material you like: watercolors, tempera cakes, crayon, marker, colored pencils…whatever you have on hand.
Make sure you use a variety of colors so that your sugar skull is bright and bold.
If you are using watercolor or tempera cake to paint your skull, try to paint areas that are not touching so that you can avoid wet paint touching wet paint, which can cause bleeding between colors.
Paint your background last. You can vary your techniques by using wet-on-wet for the background. To do this, paint your background first with just water and then drop paint in.
And there you have it, your sugar skull is complete!
The guide below will show you how to draw a skull by using reference points. This is a fantastic drawing technique that can be used with any type of object and on a number of different projects but it particularly good with round shapes
This blog post is based off of a Sparklers lesson from the Global Art Passport Curriculum, inside the Sparklers Club. If you are interested in joining, click the link HERE and sign up to be notified of our next enrollment.
Here are a couple more Day of the Dead Art Projects to try:
Torn Paper Calaveras (skeleton) with Marigolds
Sugar Skull Drawing with markers and painted paper flowers Perfect for grades 4-7
Do you celebrate Day of the Dead? Have you done a Day of the Dead art project with your students or kids? I’d love to hear how you celebrate Dia de los Muertos.
Share your ideas in the comment section below…
Thank you for the sugar skull handout! Just in time for next week 🙂
Super handout! Thanks for sharing.
I love it! Thank you!
Is the link for the sugar skull hand out still available some place? I can’t seem to locate it or get it to open.
I would love to try it as a drawing guide!
I removed it because it was a seasonal download but I just loaded it again in the shop. You should be able to download it now. Thanks!
Thank you for generously sharing your ideas! I have done a lesson for Dia de los Muertos in many different ways. I have had students paint skeletons on black then used scrap papers to embellish – they have used mask molds to create a white mask and then painted on designs and added mixed media.. we have created skulls from model magic and mounted them in a paper mache created niche with a copper tooled front design hot glued on.. so many ideas! I would love to hear from others as well!
It’s such an artist’s celebration. Love all your ideas!
THIS IS GREAT!!! I WANT TO DO IT!!
Wow! So lovely! I tried to download your sugar skulls free guide and nothing happens? Is the link for the sugar skull hand out still available some place?
It works…try clicking on the black box “Download Sugar Skulls Drawing Guide” and click on the white box. It will ask you fo royal email. Then just fill out the form and we’ll email you the PDF. Make sure to check your junk folder 🙂
I Love it! So fun, and with endless desings, I could do a million of these! Thanks for this!
Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated on November 2nd. The holiday focuses on the gathering of family and friends to pray for and remember loved ones who have died, and help support their spiritual journey.
Love the handouts
I find this entertaining. At the senior center they were working on day of the dead too. I will be able to help them with ideas.
Love the chalk- really makes the pictures stand out
Hi, would it be possible to receive the download still? This project is beautiful and I’d love to complete it with my class this year!
Hi Kristen! Everything is working on our end. If you click the download button and add your email address we will send the lesson directly to your inbox. Be sure to check your Spam or Junk folders to make sure it didn’t end up there. We have also found that the Firefox browser doesn’t work as well on our website so if you use that please try Safari or Chrome. Enjoy.
Excellent !Thank you!
I love this and how you explained drawing the skull shape