Learn how to paint a sugar skull with a few simple folds to make is easier!
What is the Day of the Dead…
The Day of the Dead is a Mexican holiday celebrated over the course a of a few days in late October through early November. Although Dia de los Muertos and Halloween take place at the same time they are very different holidays with different origins and intentions.
The Day of the Dead is a time to celebrate loved ones who have passed by creating ofrendas, or altars, to commemorate those loved ones. It is a time of celebration and family.
If you and your students would like to learn more about the Dia de Los Muertos celebration check out this extensive book list and free printable to check for understanding!
What is a sugar skull…
Traditionally, sugar skulls are decorative candy skulls used as a part of the Day of the Dead, or the Dia de los Muertos celebration. A sugar paste was used in molds to create the skull shape which was then decorated with flowers, feathers, icing, and more.
Today the sugar skull image is widely recognized as being a part of the Day of the Dead celebration. Sugar skulls are such beautiful imagery because they are so full of color and pattern.
Materials for your sugar skull painting….
-White paint, either tempera or acrylic
-Black paper, 8.5 x 11
How to paint a sugar skull…
Skulls are symmetrical. That means if you imagine a line down the center of the skull, whatever is one side of the skull is exactly the same on the other side, like a mirror image.
A fun and easy way to get this effect is to use blot painting. Start by folding your paper in half the “hot dog way” or the long and skinny way. Students will only paint one side of the paper. That paint will be transferred to the other side of the paper by folding the paper in half and transferring the paint while it’s still wet.
We’re going to break the painting of the skull down in to three separate lines. This will help your students transfer the line to the other side of the paper while the paint is still wet as well as to create a nice big skull that fills their paper.
Start near the top of the paper, near the fold, with a slightly curved line that comes down to the long edge of the paper, near the 1/3 to 1/2 way point of the paper. Immediately fold the paper in half and press lightly.
Steps two and three of painting your skull…
Beginning at the bottom of the first line paint a smaller, shallow curved shape. This is the “cheekbone” area of the skull. Immediately fold the paper in half again while the paint is still wet.
Then, the third part of the skull starts at the bottom of the line just painted. Paint a line that curves down and meets the fold near the bottom of the paper. Fold your paper in half again.
Adding features to your sugar skull painting….
The features of the skull will be added the same we created the outline- by painting on only side of the paper, folding, and blotting.
This is a good time to talk about feature placement within a portrait. Students often want to place eyes at the top of a head or face. The eyes are actually about half way down between the top of the head and the bottom of the chin. Even though this is a skull and not a traditional portrait placing the features in the correct spot will help it to look more recognizable.
Paint a large round circle about halfway down the skull. Fold and blot to create symmetrical eyes.
The nose shape within the skull is easy to achieve by painting half of an upside down heart directly on the fold line. Fold and blot.
And lastly, painting the teeth is so fun. I love this part because it’s so simple to do and looks so cool. Use the shape of your paintbrush to create each individual tooth. Get a little white paint on your brush and just press your brush down to create a single tooth shape. Remember, only make teeth on one side before folding and pressing down.
Add embellishments to your sugar skull painting….
Traditionally sugar skulls are highly decorated with lots of pattern and color. Adding some details now with white paint allows students more room to add additional pattern and color in the next step of this sugar skull painting.
We will add details in the same way we painted the rest of the skull, by painting only on one side and folding and blotting. Because of this they won’t be fine tuned patterns, but rather larger, more simple shapes. This is all great because those finer details can be added in the next step.
If your students need some inspiration I urge you to check out this Day of the Dead book list for some amazing imagery!
Adding color to your sugar skull…
Using white paint only for this project makes it such a simple opportunity for kids to paint and a bold structure on which to add a few bright and colorful details! Most oil pastels will show up even on dark paper. But oil pastels on top of the areas painted white will really pop.
Use oil pastels to add patterns, colors and details to your sugar skulls.
More sugar skull fun…
I urge you to explore some of the amazing imagery and information in these children’s books about the Dia de los Muertos celebration. I’ve also included a free one page printable that’s an easy way for students to record what they learn.
Or make your own wearable sugar skull mask with one of my five free printable sugar skull mask templates. These original illustrations are so pretty – I know you’ll want to color them!