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Skull Painting Process June 14th, 2012

Here’s my process work for the UNO Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) art show which was on April 13th at Toronto’s Brickworks Factory. I chose to focus on the holiday’s altars or ofrendas (offerings) that celebrate the life of the person through objects they loved, such as musical instruments, photos, and toys. These shrines are also decorated with favourite food dishes and drinks of the dearly departed. The intent is to encourage visits by the souls, so the souls will hear the prayers and the comments of the living directed to them. I really appreciate the concept of this holiday. The idea of remembering and joyfully celebrating a loved one’s life each year is such a wonderful idea, not to mention visually stunning, and I hope to see it in person one day.

These altars also include flowers: orange Mexican marigolds (Tagetes erecta) called cempasúchil (originally named cempoaxochitl) originally connected to the original Aztec holiday and are thought to attract souls of the dead to the offerings. You can see these in my paintings were I’ve shown a twist on the original celebration by showing altars for dearly departed pets and all the food and memorabilia attached to the missed creature. Also, animal skulls are just so fascinating to draw with such a variety of shapes and sizes. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do more soon. So below we start with the horse with its earthly belongings and its favourite foods.

For photos from the event with features tons of amazing artists and drew 3000 people check out this post.


Ofrenda a un Caballo (Horse)
acrylic paint & Ink
Image 21.5 x 14.5”


With these paintings I stated with a drawing which I printed out big and taped to the top of my gessoed paper. I placed charcoal on the back of the drawing so I could transfer the detailed linear to the painting when need be and have it for a constant reference. After a base coat of acrylic paint I stuck down stenciling plastic and cut out the basic shapes and then started painting. This process was repeated multiple times until I had the desired affect. In love this technique. It allows me to keep a nice sharp border around shapes but lends itself to showing off the texture well.  I also really enjoy that nice element of surprise that can come when I layer is pulled off. It really keeps me focused and enjoying the process of a painting rather than just looking to the final result. I find for myself, staying involved is key to a good piece of art and shows in the finished painting.

So, then the fun begins with adding ink line-work on top using a new crisp ’000′ brush. Sometimes this is done with acrylic ink colours and sometimes good old black India Ink. Then I move onto touching up areas and going back and forth with line-work and paint. Somehow I always think this ‘touch-up’ period will take half-and hour but usually takes a whole bunch of extra time but in the end is totally is worth it and really brings the piece together.

Hope you like these process snap-shots. On with the cat…..


Ofrenda a un Gato (Cat)
acrylic paint & Ink
Image 9.5 x 7.5″


 Ofrenda a un Chihuahueño (Chihuahua Dog)
acrylic paint & Ink
Image 11 x 15″


Some of my inspiration for this project:

Above: Altar photos by Suzanne Barbezat and here and here

With this collection I wanted to further experiment with colourful and abstract blocks of colour under detailed line-work. Lately I’ve been inspired by the line-work in vintage etchings and the rawer hatching lines of medieval art and so I was pleased when I found these pieces below.

Above: Skull by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677) & Drawing of Dog Skull by Walter Heubach (1865-1923)

Hope you liked seeing this process. I enjoyed myself so much working on these pieces and hopefully I’ll by able to add more pieces to this collection down the road. Bird skulls with their gigantic ocular cavities are particularity fascinating.

A big thanks to Hector Herrera was help with the Mexican translations.

4 Responses to Skull Painting Process

  1. rob m! says:

    amazing process. i love seeing your stuff.

  2. Alan Hollar says:

    Wow, I was just surfing around pen and Ink, etching and Wenceslaus Hollar and found your page. This is amazing! Thank you.

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