SUGAR SKULL DIY PAINTING | Step by step

Celebrate Dia de los Muertos. Learn how to paint an Easy DIY sugar skull painting using posca markers & acrylic paint.  Step-by-step instructions + a free printable tracing template!

a whimsical sugar skull painting with the saying my love for you will never die and a title that says step by step
Sugar Skull Painting – A step by step tutorial by Carrie Stephens

You will be pleasantly surprised how easy this Dia de los Muertos skull painting is to recreate. Using Posca paint pens, it's easy to add your own artistic touches on, even if you have no experience painting.

You can make your sugar skull just like mine, but the fun is making it all your own with your favorite colors, patterns, and special details.

I envision glitter paint or even some flat gemstones for extra glam!

To get ready to follow the step-by-step instructions below, print the template, choose your paint colors, prep your canvas surface, and you are ready to begin to DIY your own unique sugar skull masterpiece to express your undying love for someone you cherish!

THE SUPPLIES YOU'LL NEED to Paint

You will need the supplies listed below for following my step-by-step instructions for getting the template traced onto the canvas and painted.

If you are limited to your creative free time, gather the supplies to make the tracing on the canvas first, then on another day, paint and have FUN!

TIP: Trace more than one image if you want to paint with a friend. Doing double the prep work will pay off when it comes time to just having a relaxing paint night with friends at home!

A display of the 4 printed template sheets to use for tracing the sugar skull

To Use The Sugar Skull Template

  • Printer + Copy Paper
  • Sugar skull Printable Template PDF
  • 11×14 – 18×24 Canvas or Paper
  • White Gesso (Optional)
  • Tape—painters’ tape
  • Carbon / Graphite Tracing Paper
  • Ball Point Pen or sharp Colored Pencil

To Paint the Sugar Skull Painting

  • Acylic Paint Pens—Blue, Pink, Orange, Yellow, Black & White.
  • Black Acylic Paint
  • Paint Brushes
  • Jar (or two) with water
  • Paint cloth or paper-towels
  • Chalk pencil
  • Protectant paper or a tablecloth—when you paint the edges of your canvas or paper, you will want something on the table if you don’t have a dedicated painting space.

THE PRINTABLE Tracing TEMPLATE

This image shows the printable template divided into 4 sections
Just cut these prints out and tape them together to form one large image!

I created a sugar skull illustration to make my painting and am allowing you to print and trace it—you can follow along and re-create your own version of my painting!

The image is split into 4 sheets so you can print easily on your home printer and tape it together to form a larger image—I also included a single on one page.

Skull Tracing Templates are for your Personal / Classroom use only. Do not distribute, share or sell.

sugar skull painting details with posca marker

WHAT IS A SUGAR SKULL?

A sugar skull—Calavera—refers to any artistic representations—figurines—of a human skull and is a cultural tradition of Latin America.

These creative interpretations can be made of sugar—chocolate—clay or painted images and are often colorfully decorated with beads, foils, and feathers!

Skulls are decorated to honor a loved one and traditionally presented on an altar, as a token for the departed soul on the Day of the Dead.

smiling woman with sugar skull face paint celebrating loved ones by holding a sign honoring them in a day of dead festival parade
What a wonderful way to pay tribute to someone you admire or love!

WHAT IS DAY OF THE DEAD?

Day of the Dead—also known as Dia de Muertos—is a cultural holiday with Mexican origin.  It originated in Mexico and is traditionally celebrated on November 1st and 2nd   

For some, it is a day of mourning and has a solemn tone, but for others it is a holiday of joyful celebrations for loved ones who have departed.

Whether grieving or memorializing on the Day of the dead, this is a day that reminds us of the ephemeral nature of our souls’ existence.

Here is some more interesting information If you want to learn more about Day of the Dead Traditions

an image of a colorful sugar skull painting on a canvas surrounded by flowers and text that says step by step
Paint this sugar skull painting step by step!

MAKE A DIY SUGAR SKULL PAINTING | STEP BY STEP!

Now that we have collected all the art supplies, it is time to give the step-by-step instructions once over.

Reading the instructions before you begin your painting will help you get prepared and know if there is anything that might trip you up while you are following along. 

I recreated this painting twice and followed along with my own instructions the second time because I want to make sure they are clear.

Please do let me know if there is anything in there that trips you up when you are following along! 

medium hair tabby cat sitting beside a printer

STEP 1: PRINT YOUR TEMPLATE

Print the outline template on plain copy paper with any type of printer.

Laser, or Inkjet—it doesn’t matter.

IMPORTANT REMINDER!  Be sure your local printer guardian—see mine disapproving in the photo—is warned of the machine—in advance—making “unapproved” noises and provide gentle reminders that they not stick their little paws into the roller to hunt for snakes!  

Sugar Skull Template cut in four pieces, on self-healing cutting mat, with a craft knife.

STEP 2: TRIM TEMPLATE

Trim the four images to the inside edge of the rectangular border so it no longer shows. Be careful not to cut over the line too much, you want to line up the images, so they match.

TIP: I used a metal ruler and a sharp craft knife, but you can use scissors or a paper trimmer. 

The back of 4 papers taped together.

STEP 3: COMBINE THE PRINTED IMAGES

  • Flip your cut out rectangles face down, in order and tape them together with clear tape on the back—blank side.
  • Get a piece of Graphite Tracing Paper, Dark side UP—dark faces down onto canvas—tape that to the back of the tracing image.

TIP: Make sure the whole image is covered where you will be tracing—if your graphite paper overhangs, just use a small piece of tape to wrap it around, it just needs to be lightly attached to the template.

STEP 4: Prime Your Canvas

This is an optional step—you don’t have to prime a canvas or paper. 

  1. Mist your canvas lightly with water
  2. Lay down a coat of white gesso—let dry a little.
  3. Put down a second coat

TIPS: Gesso will make the white area of the skull brighter and have less texture to fill–It saves time and I like the surface it creates!

STEP 5: ATTACH TEMPLATE TO CANVAS

Take your combined image + graphite paper and tape it to your canvas using a single piece of painter’s tape—delicate if you have it—I used blue, and it worked fine!

TIP: Take extra caution to center your image if your canvas is larger than the printouts.

STEP 6: TRACE IMAGE

  1. Trace the entire image.
  2. Flip up the image and check if you want to make sure it is transferring before you complete the entire process of tracing.

TIPS: Use a colored gel pen or sharp pencil. If you can see the lines that you have already traced, you will see where you missed—that avoids you accidentally shifting the template!

Do not use too much pressure when tracing, it is not necessary and will only make your hand cramp.  Just a night light hand will transfer the graphite lines you want and keep it from smearing anywhere it should not.

STEP 7: GET YOUR PAINTING SUPPLIES READY

It is time for the FUN PART! Gather up these supplies

  • Two jars of clean water
  • Cloth rag or paper towels
  • A variety of paint brushes
  • Gesso & Black Paint
  • Paint Palette—or a piece of wax paper will do.
Close Up details of black and white sugar skull painting

STEP 8: PAINT THE BACKGROUND & DETAILS BLACK

Remove your tracing sheet if you have not already. It is time to paint!

My method for painting is to paint all the same color on the painting at once.

  1. Paint all the details in black—This is where you can choose to use a detail brush or use a posca paint pen like I did. They are both acrylic paints, the posca pen just makes it easier to control the paint and quicker.
  2. Grab a larger paint brush—Block in your black background color—go right up to the line of the skull and ribbons.
  3. Let DRY—If you have a hairdryer or heat tool, you can speed up the process, otherwise you will have to have patience. Maybe blow on it or fan it in the air—haha.im an impatient artist, I need a heat gun!

STEP 9: PAINT MORE DETAILS

  1. Choose another color to “fill in” with paint using a posca paint marker or acrylic paint and a detail brush.
  2. Do not be afraid to layer color over the black shapes you previously painted—If it is fully dry!
  3. Add some hearts or pattern to the background. You could do crosses, dots, or marigolds. Let your imagination take over.

STEP 10: PAINT EVEN MORE DETAILS

Have FUN with it, add in details, draw over all of the black, tiny ones, big ones, dots, patterns, you name it!

A painted canvas with a whimsical decorated sugar skull and saying. The Saying says My Love for you will never die. It is neon pink, black and white with hearts all over.

STEP 11: BLOCK IN SECOND LAYER BACKGROUND

I forgot to get a photo of the step of blocking over the background.

This step is optional, you can leave your black background and just decorate it more but adding a second layer of background color gives the sugar skull a black outline and makes it POP off the canvas!

TIP: Using a chalk pencil, trace around the shapes leaving 1/2 inch from each shape. Blocking in the shapes first helps you not make a mistake with your second color. 

STEP 12: SIGN YOUR WORK AND SHOW IT OFF!

My Love for you will NEVER die!

Congrats on finishing your Dia de Los Muertos skull face painting! 

If you finished your painting before November, it’s just in time to decorate for your fiesta, celebrate the day of the dead or offer it to your loved one as an expression of your undying love.

IN CONCLUSION

I hope you have success creating your very own sugar skull painting!

If you DIY a sugar skull painting using this template, make sure you come back and tell me how it went!

A painted gift is the best way to not only celebrate your loved one, but let them know that your love for them will never die while they are still living, don’t you agree?

FAQ | SUGAR SKULL PAINTING

I thought up a bunch of the questions you may have about this DIY sugar skull painting and answered them below. If you have any other questions, let me know!

Is This Sugar Skull Painting Easy?

Yes! I consider this painting to be beginner level—but at the same time, it is all relative to how much experience you have had with painting and the supplies you have.

Painting the entire painting with acrylic paint and a paint brush will be more time consuming than using posca paint pens for a beginner, for sure.

two hot pink and black sugar skull canvas paintings

For Example:

Ultimately, I painted two versions of this sugar skull acrylic painting in 4 hours. This included the time it took me to reconfigure my digital illustration and new tracing template!

Once you have the tracing template printed, cut, and taped together, all you have to do is trace it onto your canvas and paint, paint, paint!  

If you make mistakes, paint over them, put your own spin on things.

I truly feel that the process of creating this step-by-step painting is more important than the outcome, the goal is admiration and fond memories of a loved one, not perfection!

What Is The Best Canvas For My Painting?

The best surface is big, at least 11”x 15” – 18” x 24” and can accept multiple layers of acrylic paint without buckling. Ideally, you will choose a primed canvas or a large mixed media paper.

Can I Paint This Painting Smaller?

I do not recommend that you paint it much smaller than the suggested 18×24. Of course, you can try, but it is going to be more difficult to paint.  Make sure you have small detail brushes or smaller paint markers.

If you do try it on a smaller scale, do not blame my image or painting tutorial if your sugar skull painting becomes more difficult! Ha-ha that is all you, friend!

DO I NEED GRAPHITE PAPER?

Yes, you should have graphite paper—AKA: carbon paper, tracing, or transfer paper—to use my template. There are some ways around it that you could find success if you are determined though and cannot get it!

Alternate Tracing Methods

  1. The “old-fashioned” method: scribbling with a graphite pencil on the back of the printed skull template paper—using that for your transfer. NOTE: This technique is messier—you will get more graphite on your white painted surface.
  2. Cut and trace the shapes!   You can easily print this template off, cut out all the various shapes and just use them to quickly trace around.

NOTE: This method will take a lot more time and patience, but if you really want to paint a sugar skull painting, this will work, this is where you could just use the base shapes and put your own spin on it all by drawing in your own eyes, mouth, and lettering.  

If you do not have all of the supplies, try whatever creative technique you want in a small scale first.  Whatever gets it done is the right way!

Hey, before you go…

A Note from Carrie: I am still learning the ropes of my new site, but so excited to be working hard on making this a fabulous place. I hope not only to nurture my creativity but connect with creativity seekers and makers looking for the same.

Ways you can keep up with what's happening at Inspirational Zest

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you find something special here to inspire a creative project or two and come back to visit again soon!

Carrie Stephens

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