Day of the Dead face painting tutorial

Updated April 17, 2017

The Day of the Dead, or El Dia de los Muertos, when people celebrate the lives of their dead loved ones, falls on Nov. 2 each year. They do so publicly and privately with parties, parades and festivals. As part of the tradition of the original Mexican holiday, people sometimes exchange sugar skulls, which are miniature white sugar sculptures festively decorated with frosting and glitter. For parades and parties, people often paint their faces to resemble plain or elaborate skulls.

Basic Skull

Begin by covering the face with white costume make-up. Use a sponge for even coverage. To make eyes look like empty eye sockets, use black face paint to draw and colour rounded rectangles around the eyes. To transform a nose into the hollow nasal opening of a skull, draw a rounded triangle over the nose tip and fill in with black. For the mouth, use black crayon make-up to extend the mouth line on both sides. Add short vertical lines over top and bottom lips to create "teeth." This composes the basic skull; adding festive details will turn the basic skull into a sugar skull.

Spider Webbing

Often sugar skull face painting designs include a spider web painted on the forehead. Using the black crayon make-up, place a small guiding dot just above the centre of the bridge of the nose. From this dot, draw four lines fanning out over the forehead. The leftmost line should curve sharply left, the right-most line should curve sharply right and the other two lines should be evenly spaced between them. These form the supporting lines of the web. Still using the black crayon make-up, connect the supporting lines with roughly horizontal scalloped lines, or ocean wave lines, that dip and then "peak" as they intersect the supporting lines. This creates a curving mesh pattern for a triangular spider web.

Petal-Rimmed Eyes

In many sugar skull designs, the rectangular eye sockets are playfully turned into flowers rimmed with tiny petals. Using the black crayon make-up, draw the outline of petals rimming the eye socket. The petals may be the same size, or vary in size and shape to produce different effects. Some outline the entire eye socket, while others outline only the outer or upper half. Using another colour of make-up --- usually a bright hue, such as red, pink or yellow --- colour in each petal.

Alternative Mouths

For a feminine take on the skull's mouth, add colour. As with the simple skull, extend the mouth line on both sides using the black crayon make-up. Then, consider tinting the lips subtly or boldly in red. The vertical lines may be drawn over the tinted lips. Otherwise, neatly outline the lips in black and draw the "teeth" above and below the actual lips.

Flowers and Gems

Painted flowers and adhesive-backed gems may accent various points of a sugar skull face painting design. Some fake tattoos include tiny gems with adhesive backings. Make-up stores also offer gems with adhesive. Consider placing one brightly coloured gem at a central point above the bridge of the nose and let the painted webbing fan out from it. To accent the gem, consider adding a tiny gem on each side of the central gem or a row of tiny gems over each eyebrow. Some designs also incorporate brightly coloured flowers painted on the face. Draw and colour one on the chin, paint one in place of the gem at the bridge of the nose, or draw a flower "caught" in the webbing on the forehead. Finish with small but artfully placed swirls, teardrops and dots to accent the entire face.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

A native Midwesterner, Kristie Bishopp has been writing professionally since 1992. She started out as a technical writer and editor for a newsletter firm, then wrote several novels published under various pen names. Bishopp holds bachelor's degrees in magazine journalism and English literature from the University of Missouri-Columbia.