Studio Project: Day of the Dead

Have you ever heard of the “Day of the Dead?” Also called Día de los Muertos (by Spanish speakers in the US) or Día de Muertos (in Mexico), it is a holiday celebrated in Mexico, other countries in Latin America, some places in the US with large Hispanic populations, some countries in Europe, and the Philippines.

Originally based on the Catholic holidays of All Saints Day and All Souls Day, combined with Aztec indigenous rituals, “Day of the Dead” is a day to remember loved ones who have died, often commemorated with visits to the cemetery. Families often light candles at the graves and leave offerings of food, drinks, and flowers (especially marigolds, “cempasúchiles“), or for children, sweets and toys. Many people also make an altar in their home, dedicated to their loved ones who have passed away.

This sketchbook prompt was inspired by another website, so first head to this webpage by clicking the image below and scroll down to the youtube demonstration video and then come back!

day of the dead

Hopefully you found some inspiration and are ready to create your own creative version of this artist’s interpretation.

Essential Question(s):

1. What is collage and mixed media?

2. What is layering and how does it affect the work?

3. How can an artist use a color scheme and theme to influence the mood or feeling of the work?

Mastery Objective(s): The student will…

1. demonstrate his/her understanding of the Elements of Art, the Principle of Design, balance, and the art process, collage, by creating a collage and mixed media work inspired by ‘Day of the Dead’.


  1. Use a face with a ‘frontal’ view: meaning that the face is looking directly at you and is almost symmetrical. Eyes have to be open. Face needs to be as large as your fist.

  2. Leave the eyes, neck & shoulders if present.

  3. Must have patterns on the face & stitching on the mouth and cheeks.

  4. The hair must be altered. The hair has to be covered with something unusual. The color scheme and background need to support the patterns on the face and the subject matter you choose for the hair. Hair cannot be flowers!

    1. For example: If you want to a football themed Day of the Dead skull, maybe you cut out football helmets and footballs from magazines for the hair. The color scheme for the patterns and the background would probably match the teams colors you are going with. Also, maybe the background has patterns or something that creates unity and balance in the work as a whole.


Turn in sketches with your Day of the Dead face!


A. Find your face in a magazine! Remember to find one of the right size (larger than a fist), frontal view, eyes open, and with as much as the neck and shoulders as possible!

B. Cut the face, ears, neck, chest, and shoulders out from the hair and background.

C. Using a glue stick and mixed media paper, glue the ‘cut-out’ pieces down to prevent as much ‘wrinkling’ as possible. *When you paint gesso onto magazine paper, it has a tendency to wrinkle!

D. Then with pencil, draw around the areas on the face you do not need to gesso – the white part of the face is supposed to resemble a skull, so the parts that do NOT need gesso are the areas on the face that have cartilage or no bone:

  • opening around the eyes
  • opening/cartilage area of nose 
  • nostrils 


DOD sample 3.jpg

STEP No.2: FACE continued…

A. Paint about 2-3 very thin layers of gesso on the face. Paint as many thin layers as it takes to cover the face.

B. Paint 1 layer of white acrylic paint over the gesso.


STEP No.3: FACE continued…

A. Paint the open areas and the cartilage area with black acrylic.

B. Paint stitching on the cheeks (wait to paint the stitches over the lips).

 C. Paint the lips to match your color scheme.

***Ask me how to GLAZE your lips!!!


STEP No.4: FACE continued…

A. Sketch the patterns you want for your face; if needed there is a link for ideas below:

PINTEREST: Day of the Dead FACE

B. Paint the patterns on the face!


A. Choose a theme according to your choice of HAIR and sketch your idea for the  composition/background.

B. In the video above the artist used 4 layers, list on your sketch 3 ways/mediums you are going to use in your background.

C. Begin and complete your background on the 9 x 15 watercolor paper provided.


A. Hair needs to be SURREAL; anything but flowers!

B. Cut the ‘hair’ out of magazines OR print out the ‘hair’ on a color printer and mod podge OR print out the ‘hair’ on toner printer and paint the ‘hair’ and mod podge!

C. Glue on the mixed media paper around the head.

STEP No.7: Finishing Touches

A. Combine the face,  hair and background with glue; then add any finishing touches to UNIFY the different parts together!

SAMPLES from CLASS of 2020:

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