Friday, October 22, 2010

Art for Dead People

Making Día de los Muertos decorations is a great do-it-yourself art project. They are fun to make, and since they are made by recycling cardboard, super inexpensive too. These skeleton figures are called calacas and are used as decorations during the Day of the Dead. They are art for dead people.

How to make your own calaca:
    • Draw a skull (or anything) on a piece of cardboard. It doesn't have to be fancy.
    • Cut it out.  I used a snap off blade box cutter on a self healing cutting mat. Make sure and cut away from your fingers. Protect the surface you are cutting on.
    • Draw 2 circles for eyes.
    • and a triangle for the nose.  You know where it goes.
    • Cut them out.
    • Paint it white. I used the least expensive white acrylic paint in the art store. You can use old house paint if you have some. It doesn't have to be perfect. Paint it in quickly, using a dry brush technique. Let the cardboard show through in places - it looks cool like that. I chose to paint the dirtier side of the cardboard, allowing the cleaner side to be towards ones face. It's up to you. I used a 1 inch wide brush.
    • Dry.  If you didn't glop the paint on, it should be dry in 15 minutes.
    • Paint a cool design on it.  I used black India ink and a #3 round brush. Just make sure it's cool looking.
    • Attach the decoration to a stick making a mask to hold in front of your face. Use staples or yarn to tie it on with.
    • Run out to a party and show your friends. The Day of the Dead is a time of celebration, where partying and eating is common.

    Since Día de Los Muertos is a  holiday that focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, I like to paint the heart symbol on the forehead of my calaca. Sometimes I paint a glow around the heart, or an eternal flame. That way, the dead know they are loved and will always be remembered.


    Even though Día de Los Muertos is a celebration, sometimes we miss those that have gone. I paint tear drops on my offerings, so the dead know they are missed.

    During the three-day celebration, families usually clean and decorate graves. Most visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried and decorate their graves with flowers. These flowers are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings.

    In this tradition, I painted the Flor de Muerto around the eyes of my calaca. The ancient Mexican people decorated skulls, and displayed them during the rituals to symbolize death and rebirth.

    In more practical terms, Aztec marigolds, the Flower of Death, contain essential oils used to wash corpses and contain many medicinal properties. They are still commonly planted in cemeteries today.

    In most regions of Mexico, November 1st is Día de los Angelitos, which honors children and infants. On The Day of the Little Angels, toys are brought out to attract their souls. Deceased adults are honored on November 2nd, Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

    Sometimes, it's our beloved pets we miss the most. I made some rememberances for them, too.

    Día de los Muertos artwork by Graham Smith, made from 100% "recycled" cardboard.

    This is a fun project to do together with your friends or kids. Let the kids draw and paint their decorations, but have an adult cut them out first. Don't let the kids be near box cutters and scissors. Safety. Okay?

    Day of the Dead facts from Wikipedia. Thanks.
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