Friday, October 18, 2013

Day of the Dead Sugar skull tutorial

The air has a crisp scent, pumpkins are popping up, leaves are falling down. Its that time of year - time for the Day of the Dead! 

We have discussed the Dia de los Muertos both recently and in the past here on the AJE blog. It is a celebration that inspires me greatly - with its rituals and colors, its heritage and history. ( I have discussed that  here. ) The holiday acknowledges death as a part of life, and remembers & honors the departed. ( Linda goes into depth on her post from last month if you missed it.)

This is the second year I have made polymer "sugar skulls" - my take on the popular decoration for Day of the Dead. This time I was savvy enough to take pictures of the process. I hope you enjoy - and feel free to ask me questions!

Roll a ball of polymer. I use ivory.
( 2 pts white, 1 part translucent, 1 pt ecru)

Pinch and turn bottom half - aiming for a light bulb shape. 

Gently flatten until desired shape is achieved. Square off chin if you want...  

Optional: cheekbones.
Roll a wedge shaped tool in from edge toward center of head.
 Soften hard edges with your finger. 

Variations on cheekbones and chins. 

I use wax modeling tools from my casting classes in college.
This has a spear tip, bent like a spoon and makes great nostrils! 

Repeat on other side for that skull nose shape. 

Roll a tool across the jaw to mark out mouth and teeth. 

Press teeth in above and below line with "bent spear" tool. 

Teeth on left are simple lines pressed in, pressing above and below  mouth line at the same time.  Eyes have a little interest added with a star shaped screwdriver bit from the hardware store. 

Friesen florals
( At this point I managed to forget to take any more pictures. I am so sorry! I use flower  and leaf molds from Christi Friesen. Press clay in, flex mold to remove flower, affix on forehead with a dab of liquid sculpey. Some designs I simply added balls of clay, and impressed them with rubber stamps. I also pressed some stamp designs into the skulls themselves. Cure in polymer oven to manufacture recommendations. For me it was Sculpey PREMO - 30 min at 275 degrees. )

First layer of color! Burnt umber to antique the clay. I use Genesis heat set oils. Here you see it applied, and then wiped back with a tissue.  

After heat setting the oils for 10 minutes at 275 degrees - the "as is" on the left and then after a brief bit of wet sanding. Sanding wet is necessary to protect ones lungs! But sanding removes excess burnt umber and returns the ivory color I want on the surface.
Antiqued and sanded. Ready for color - in the form of acrylics. 
I use acrylics for the color portion of the process. I want a liquid that will go into the designs, I want to be able to mix colors...  First I add color to any impressed areas and sand as needed:
1. red applied to dot design. 2. red wiped off with finger. 3. red sanded back /ivory on face. 4. Others with impressed designs colored, wiped, sanded. 

Then I just break out small brushes, put on music, and paint! This two part process really clicked with me. Like a wash, or an underpainting when painting on canvas, the burnt umber adds great depth to the colors with out being too heavy of opaque.  I do heat set my acrylic layer - although every one seems to have differing opinions about that. And this batch was given a light coat of Swellegant sealer. Its very important to me to be sure the colors are secure and long lasting with normal wear.

Ready for a Day of the Dead celebration near you!

Feliz Dia de los Muertos! 
Stay tuned for the next two Fridays! I have some slightly spooky, slightly morbid topics bubbling away on the cauldron... 




  • The skulls have wrapped loops - a barbell is you will - in the back. It is held in place with a textured bit of clay, integrating yet hiding the hanging mechanism. 
  • Clearly I am new to tutorials as I forgot pix of a whole stage in the process. Sorry!
  • I do not receive any $$ from Christi Friesen for promoting her products: flower molds and Swellegant. 


  1. Sweet! Since I just received my sugar skully from you I am going to treasure it all the more knowing all the steps that went into crafting it! Now to find a design that does it justice! Enjoy the day. Erin

  2. These are just so darn cute, fabulous tutorial Jenny!!

  3. These are just adorable! Thank you for sharing the process.

  4. Love reading about your process, and I love my new skull!

  5. Oh, this is a great post! I posted a link to it on my FB fan page Ladyflowersbysusan. I also opined that a person could make these from sugar cookie dough, even the supermarket kind that comes in a sausage like roll.

  6. Great tutorial! thank you!


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