Sugar Skull Face Paint

Hi guys! I had a lovely Samhain party this weekend and, as I organize the photographs, I’ll present them here for you to make use of if you so desire. First on the list, because I’ve been poked by everyone who’s seen it so far, is a post on the sugar skull makeup I did on my wife.

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If you’re looking for a costume for Halloween that is cheap, relatively easy to do, and also deeply meaningful, this is a good one to consider.

So what is a sugar skull anyway? This neat-looking paint-job is part of a Mexican tradition called Dia de los Muertos. If you already know what this is, you can skip this paragraph. To those of you for whom this is a new idea, this holiday is a special time of year when the lives of departed friends and loved ones are remembered and honoured. It’s a cheerful affair. A celebration. I know it seems strange to have a flower and candy-filled party coinciding with the deaths of our most cherished people but, trust me, it makes sense. It’s certainly much healthier to throw a bash than to brood about it!

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(image credit: freevectors.net)

For a lovely history of Dia de los Muertos (with pretty pictures!), feel free to click here and enjoy a new way to look at the season.

Unlike some last-minute costumes, the sugar skull does not look thrown together and even if people do not recognize what it is, you’ll still get compliments on how awesome you look.

Now for the How To!

You will need:

  • White facepaint. (I used cream but you can use water based, greased, etc)
  • White powder. (You can use eyeshadow, facial powder, or whatever. I used corn starch.)
  • Black facepaint. (You’ll probably want to use water based like I did.)
  • Black eyeliner.
  • Eyeshadow in the colours you want.
  • A towel or something to protect your clothes. (I used a raincoat.)
  • Flowers. (Real or fake. Doesn’t matter.)
  • Small paint brushes.
  • Makeup sponges.

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Other stuff:

  • Dress clothes to complete the ensemble.
  • Sequins, fake jewels, glitter, etc.
  • Skull or flower-themed jewelry.
  • A lace shawl or veil. (For executing a Catarina look.)
  • Stencils of flowers, hearts, butterflies, and other happy things.
  • Something straight like a stir-stick or ruler to help steady your hand.

Seriously. That’s it. Probably mostly stuff you already have.

Step 1:

Ensure your face is clean and dry. Protect your clothing. Draw two white circles around your eyes where the centres of the flowers will be. I used a white eyeliner for this. Ensure the circles are identical on both sides. Symmetry is a prominent feature of sugar skulls.

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Step 2:

Apply white facepaint all over the face except for the eye circles and the tip of the nose. Paint right over the lips. Some people paint the ears and neck as well but I prefer not to. If you used a cream makeup with a sponge like I did, apply it in patting motions to minimize any blotches. Brush over the whole face with white powder to set the makeup. This will help avoid smearing, soften any unevenness in colour, and remove any stickiness.

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Step 3:

Outline the flower centres in black. I used a black eyeliner for this.

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Step 4:

Some people choose to colour the centres of the flowers black. I decided on a colourful two-tone look inspired by the colours of a peacock feather. The emerald green set off the shirt nicely. I will show you how to get a simple two-tone and you can play with it however you wish.

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Wet a small, flat brush and get some blue eyeshadow on it. Paint over the area you wish to be blue. I chose the highlight of the eye-area. The dampened eyeshadow will show up solid and brilliant and you can enhance this colour by brushing over some more eyeshadow on with a dry brush.

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Now use the same technique to put green around the rest of the flower centre.

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Select a colour between the shades of blue and green and apply it along the boarders between these two colours with a dry brush to blend them together.

Step 5:

Draw in the petals. I did this with a black eyeliner and filled them in with black water-based paint.

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Step 6:

Paint a spider-web on the forehead. I used a white eyeliner to plot out the design, a black eyeliner to define the lines, and then a small round-brush with black water-colour paint to smooth and thicken the lines. If you have a really steady hand, you can just paint the lines on with the water paint straight away. I used a stir-stick to keep the lines straight and I highly recommend it.

Note: it’s not necessary to paint a spider web here. It’s just a very popular design and it enhances the look of the veil if you’re wearing one.

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After you’ve drawn in the small scoops between the main lines, take a small flat brush with a bit of water-based black paint or eyeshadow on it and lightly smudge the edges of each of these scoops. Make sure to only smudge the rounded edges. This provides “shadows” on the undersides of the lines and adds greater depth and interest to the design.

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This is a simple technique that really makes your work look professional.

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Step 7:

Draw a heart or other simple design where the lines of the web meet. Use the same technique as you did with the eyes to colour it in.

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Here’s another idea of what you can do with the forehead area if you don’t want to do a web. There are many options so have fun with it!

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(Image credit: Natasha Kudashkina)

Step 9:

Outline the nose in black eyeliner. Feel for where the cartilage of the nose meets bone and follow this line. Remember to keep the lines equal on both sides. Follow the nostrils all the way around and fill in the space with black water based paint.

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Note: There are also different ways to do the nose. Some leave a space down the middle for the Vomer bone.

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(Image credit: Erin’s Faces)

I prefer not to leave the space as it’s easier to screw up and I like the spade or upside-down heart look that the solid black can yield.

Step 10:

I forgot to mention deepening the shadows of the eyes with some black eyeshadow in the corners like so:

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This is important as this is supposed to be a skull we’re looking at. The eyes need to look recessed. Some people put the eyeshadow all over the eyelid as well so that when they close their eyes, they look like empty eye sockets. This can be a really cool effect!

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(Image credit: Jangsara)

Step 11:

Take a small round brush and draw vertical lines across the lips. Extend the line of the lip in a curving line toward the ear. Remember to make the lines symmetrical. These are teeth after all! Follow the line of your cheekbones as you draw. This helps define the shape of the skull. Load a small flat brush with a bit of black water based paint. Press it between your lips and gently work your lips from side to side to rub the paint onto your skin. This gives a shadow between the rows of “teeth.” You can extend this shadow along the line with the same technique you used to make shadows on the spider web.

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Some people choose to draw the actual teeth but I prefer this method as I think it looks more simple and elegant.

Step 12:

Go nuts with details! You have the cheek, jaw, and chin areas to decorate as you see fit, plus pretty much any available white space you can see. I went with simple and elegant but feel free to go as wild as you wish. Sugar skulls are typically very detailed.

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Here you can see I’ve added some dots and swirls and a depiction of a marigold on the chin. (Marigold being a traditional flower of death.) You can get nice clean dots by pressing a black eyeliner to the skin and rotating it gently a few times clockwise and counterclockwise. I used a small round brush for the swirl details.

Finally:

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You can add accessories to dress up the outfit. The flowers you see here are comprised of a modified Halloween wreath, and a stretchy fabric headband with fake flowers tucked under it. Easy peasy!

For the gents, I suggest a top-hat, boater, or fedora to top off your look. Don’t forget the flowers! They’re not just for girls. Stick them in your hat band and in your breast pocket. You’ll be a classy dead guy in no time.

This particular skull took 2 hours to do but only because it was my first time doing it so I definitely recommend doing a practice run or two of the design you want if at all possible.

I’d like to share with you the youtube videos that taught me how to do this. I think you’ll find them helpful. There are many ways to do a sugar skull and they can be as simple or ornate as you like. Just make sure to get enough of the key elements together so people know what they’re looking at. The white face, flower eyes, black nose, and skeleton teeth are the bare essentials for pulling off this look. Any less and you may wind up looking like just a plain skull, a clown, or some kind of flower-eyed puppy.

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(Image credit: Jenny Lee Forth)

Some skeletal teeth here would have gotten her point across.

Feel free to ask questions or comment and have a great Halloween! If you do your own sugar skull, I’d love to see it so feel free to post links.

Author: Ethan Kincaid

Ethan Kincaid was born in 1985 in Brockville, a sleepy little town on the St. Lawrence River. He graduated from Carleton University in Ottawa with a degree in Linguistics and a minor in Japanese Language. After finishing his education, he settled down there with his wife Kaitlyn and became a full-time writer. In 2011, he moved to Montreal and discovered its vibrant writing culture. In 2015, Ethan moved to Helsinki, Finland with his wife; he works as a props crafter and part time author. His first book, Blood of Midnight: The Broken Prophecy is the first of a new fantasy trilogy. The greatest joy in his life lies in helping budding writers find their voices. In his words: "I like to shake people until cool stuff comes out!"

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