Life Boost

Thu, Oct 22, 2020

Día de los Muertos: Calavera Face Paint Tutorial

As part of our re-imagined celebration with our partners at Senderos, watch Santa Cruz artist Evelyn Salguero as she guides us through the facepaint process in this video tutorial.

Then below, we've rounded up all the materials, background information, and supplies you need to try out Evelyn's techniques and honor your loved ones through calavera face painting. Plus, read down to learn more about Evelyn's model Elizabeth Fabian personal Día de los Muertos traditions and experiences from growing up in Michoacán, Mexico.


There is much beauty to be highlighted when learning and experiencing Dia de los Muertos. As Dia de los Muertos travels time and place, new traditions are created while older ones are preserved. One of the newer practices of Dia de los Muertos is face painting of the calavera (skull). Calaveras during Dia de los Muertos represent those who have passed and are often found on the altar as a sugar skull. In some indigenous traditions, the skulls of the deceased were preserved to be placed on the altar and others wore masks as a closing ceremony sending the spirits back. The altar as well as the skulls placed on them, hold different colors that represent different elements, journeys, and cardinal points.

Colors of Dia de los Muertos

Face painting can be represented by both the deceased and those on the altar. Each color and design of the facepaint holds significance to the person being painted.

There is no right way to facepaint during Dia de los Muertos. Each person, region, and peoples have their personal definition of the colors. Below are some common symbols that may help guide you as you honor your loved ones through this medium.

  • Yellow – light and life. Similar to the cempoalxochitl, copal, and candles that are used to purify the space and guide the spirits.
  • Blue – water. For some cultures, water symbolizes cleansing and purity.
  • Red – fire (sun). For some cultures, this honors warriors including those lost while giving birth.
  • Green - youth
  • White - innocence. It honors the purity and innocence of children passed.
  • Black - north, the land of the dead. Where the spirits mourn and dwell
  • Flower Petal Shapes – cempoalxochitl (marigold). This flower holds an aroma that helps guide spirits to earth.

Examples of Evelyn's work from previous Día de los Muertos celebrations at the MAH.

Artist’s Materials

Brushes (set can be found at Palace Arts )

  • Flat paintbrush
  • Angled paintbrush
  • Rounded paintbrush
  • Line paintbrush



  • Small spray bottle for water
  • Medium dense small pore sponge
  • Medium dense small pore sponge
  • Thin eyeliner pencil
  • Thick eyeshadow pencil
  • Lipstick (color your choice)
  • Glitter (optional)

About the artist

Evelyn Salguero is a multifaceted artist who employs a number of different skill sets such as Body painting, Mural art, Assemblage, and Music to engage with her community. Born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, and brought to the states as a 7-year-old, she has a unique perspective in being able to offer her artforms within a multicultural context. Her work is inspired by textile patterns from different parts of the world and translated through the lens of Henna, Jagua and through painting both canvas and body. She hopes to honor her ancestors by contributing to ceremonies that honor both life and death. She will have an ofrenda available for viewing that will feature an 8ft canvas painting at Evergreen Cemetery for this year’s Dia de los Muertos celebration.

Story Spotlight

Elizabeth Fabian's Personal Dia de los Muertos

Growing up in Michoacan I learned how to celebrate Dia de los Muertos. In Michoacán, it is a very important celebration. It is a day to remember the people important in your life, they can be relatives or friends. Every year I try to make an altar to remember my father and grandmother, especially my grandmother.

Las ofrendas de dia de muertos jpg

Example of a Día de los Muertos ofrenda (altar)

It is a connection so much like the food and drink that is offered and the memories you have of them when you are making them. You can make a special meal and listen to the music that reminds you of them.

My grandmother was born in Tequisquiapan, Querétaro and was an indigenous Otomi who spoke very little spanish. She was an artisan who made baskets for a living with my grandfather. As a result my father and uncles also learned and were all artisans. I remember her the most because she is how I learned what it means to be an honest person and hard worker and to be proud of who you are and what you do.

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Photo from Día de los Muertos in Michoacán, 2017


I usually have photographs of all the people I wish to offer food and drinks. I enjoy building it small and with marigold flowers. I also put objects that remind me of loved ones, like jewelry and accessories. My grandmother would love to sit on a chair that only she would sit on. I have one at the entrance of my home in memory of her.

Community support

​I feel good knowing that people [who do not celebrate Día de los Muertos and are just learning about it] are​ accepting our culture in their lives. Everyone is welcome. The only thing we ask is for respect and foe people to participate in this celebration with respect. ​It is part of our culture and it is not a Halloween costume​.

More Día de los Muertos