How to Paint a Sugar Skull with IOD and DIY Paint

Accessories, Tutorials

How to Paint a Sugar Skull

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month and it runs through October 15th. If you are not familiar with Dia De Los Muertos, it’s a wonderful day to honor and celebrate ancestors and loved ones who have passed with beautiful and colorful artwork, like the Sugar Skull!

Are you like me and see these amazing and colorful Sugar Skulls everywhere you go? There are endless and gorgeous versions with so much bright color! In honor of Hispanic Heritage month (which runs through October 15th), I thought it would be fun to celebrate with an easy tutorial on how to make your own Sugar Skull!

Sugar Skull Supplies

It’s easy to find the supplies, this is what I used, but you can get creative, draw the details on yourself, search your local Craft stores for Paper Mache Skulls (but they might be running low now) and let your creativity run free.

I used this Paper Mache Skull from Amazon. I like the size of it, it’s 10″ L x 6″ W x 8″ H and it makes a nice addition to your Halloween Decor.

I also used these Foam Flowers, I have used them for Valentine’s Day crafts as well.  They take Hot Glue really well and come in a variety of colors.  

I used DIY Paint in Bead Board, which is a nice Cottage White. I think it would be fun to try some bright colors or Black as well. Every DIY Paint color is highly pigmented, so you will use very little of it. An 8oz jar would be plenty and you will have some left for your next project!

To make the flowers, I sort of cheated! I used IOD Winter’s Song Paintable Transfer.

If you have not tried the IOD transfers, you are missing out on some serious creative fun. Iron Orchid Designs has the most beautiful transfers on the market and the paintable transfers are a game changer. It’s gorgeous as is in Black and White, but what is so fun about the Winter’s Song transfer is you can paint in the “negative space” and the hard work of drawing the flowers and leaves is already done for you.

Painting the Sugar Skull

As mentioned above, I just used one coat of Paint and didn’t worry about technique. Hold the skull with your fingers in the eyes. It’s an easy way to make sure you get every surface of it, especially the back.

Allow the paint to fully dry. Either overnight or with a heat gun. You want to make sure that paint is really dried out. Transfers stick best to very dry paint, you can seal the skull with a Top Coat, I love Clear Patina because it adds a soft shine, but I have great luck putting the transfer right on the very dry paint.

Adding the Transfer to the Sugar Skull

Now that your paint is fully dry and cured, cut out what parts of the Winter’s Song flowers and leaves you want to use. These transfers are so versatile. You can use them all together to create a beautiful swag or wreath, or you can cut them up (like I usually do) and use them as accents and extra foliage when you need some more fun detail on a project.

Every transfer comes with a plastic burnishing stick. Remove the protective paper from the back of the transfer and place the sticky part on your skull (not your skull…..). Begin rubbing back and forth to “release” the transfer onto your project. Once you have some of it stuck, pull up the plastic and allow gravity to help you out.

It wants to stick, just be patient. If you find you have a piece that is not releasing, just lay it back down and rub it some more.

Painting the detail on the Sugar Skull

In the workshops, I taught last year (they were such a hit, they all sold out!) we used watered-down DIY Paint. This is a really great option as you can really thin DIY Paint to a watercolor consistency and still get beautiful color.

This year I experimented with our fairly new Making Powder. WHOA! This was SO much fun. The Making Powders are pure pigment and a little goes a long way. They absorb perfectly into unsealed DIY Paint and you can create amazing detail that would be hard to get with just DIY Paint. Dip a small craft brush into water, then into the pigment, I like to brush off the excess on a piece of paper. Then paint as you please.

If you think the color is too concentrated, just simply dip your brush in some more water and you can spread the pigments some more.

For this project, I used Bright Side, Date night, and Plant Lady. You can easily combine the colors to make other endless color combinations. I combined Bright Side (Yellow) with Date Night (Hot Pink) to get a beautiful Peach Color.

Allow the pigments to dry overnight or with a heat gun if you plan to put a top coat over the paint.

Putting Foam Flowers on the Sugar Skull

I love the looks of a Flower Headband you see on much of the Sugar Skull art. I decided to mimic this look by hot gluing the flowers close together. I have this Hot Glue Gun. I have had it for years and it works great. It’s the lowest price on Amazon, only $10. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend this little guy for small crafts.

I started with a Red flower in the center, then hot glued the rest of the flowers close together. On this particular Sugar Skull, I used 5 Flowers on each Sugar Skull in all, but you could really load it up and go crazy!

You can really load up the flowers, or place them decoratively over the whole skull, or you can be inspired by this $4800 jeweled Sugar Skull! But you can make yours for less than $20….

Putting the Final Touches on the Sugar Skull

As Martha Stewart says, “The Details make the difference”, Martha knows her crafts! Don’t forget the details on your creation. I used a Black Sharpie to draw between the indentations that come with the Sugar Skull. You can let your imagination go wild here. If you mess up, you can paint over it again!

If you would like to see the full video tutorial with step-by-step instructions, here it is!

Come hang out with me on my YouTube Channel, you will find over 75 videos with tons of tutorials for all your DIY Projects, including how to Paint a subfloor to look like real wood! (My most popular video with over 160,000 views.)

Celebrating Day of the Dead with Sugar Skulls

If I peaked your interest in learning more about the origin of Sugar Skulls and Day of the Dead, here is a wonderful article that really explains the beautiful history and meaning behind this loving tradition.

Make your Sugar Skull Your Own Beautiful Creation

I hope you decide to try this out. It is one of my favorite crafts to do this time of year, and my local customers love making them too!

1 Comment

  1. Lis

    I’ve always been enamoured with Freida Kahlo and love, love, love all the colourful Mexican artwork. Thank you for sharing your beautiful sugar skulls with us.
    Happy Autumn to you & your family from Greece. ????


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