Sugar skulls are traditional decorative skulls created for the celebration of Día de Muertos—the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday. It’s believed that on November 1 and 2 the souls of the deceased come down to reunite with their loved ones. To celebrate, families create special altars for remembrance of the lost members and decorate them with flowers, candles, food, and little ornamented skulls made of sugar or clay—one skull for each loved one.
Because of their distinctive look, sugar skulls have become an unofficial symbol of the holiday, and as such can be created in various mediums—sculpted, painted, drawn, and even used as a special make-up during the celebration.
Drawing a sugar skull is simple and relaxing. In this tutorial I will show you how to draw a sugar skull step by step, but you don’t have to follow my instructions strictly—feel free to decorate it your own way!
How to Draw a Sugar Skull
First you need some kind of a template of a skull. It could be a photo of a real skull or a drawing. Feel free to use an illustration from my tutorial How to Draw a Skull. If you’re drawing digitally, just place it as a layer with low opacity. If you’re drawing traditionally, trace the skull to a new sheet of paper with a pencil. Do it lightly, so that you can erase these lines later.
Draw the basic outline of your skull with ink or another dark tool. Sugar skulls tend to be heavily stylized, so feel free to modify the shape as a part of your style.
Thick outlines are a good way to accentuate a shape. Give the eye sockets a flower-like edge, and outline the nose.
Decorate the borders of the eye sockets with dots to make them less empty.
Flowers are a very popular way to decorate a sugar skull! Let’s add some flowers then. Start with a round center.
To draw the petals in a regular way, first draw the borders between them.
Turn slightly towards the middle of the planned petal to sketch its shape.
“Close” the petals by adding a ragged edge.
Decorate the petals a little.
Add some darkness to create an appealing contrast.
Outline the teeth now. Again, no need to draw them realistically. You can draw them as a row of rectangles, or like a simple zip.
There’s a lot of empty space between the elements we already have. Let’s fill it with ornaments.
Any space left? Let’s add some new shapes:
Finally, erase/remove the guide lines of the skull, and clean up the lines. Even a simple decoration will look intricate if you add some variety in the thickness of the lines.
Now you know how to draw a sugar skull! If you followed this tutorial, please share your end result in the comments—we’d love to see it!
If you want to try other tutorials about sugar skulls, we have something for you:
Photo ManipulationHow to Create a Floral Sugar Skull Photo Manipulation With Adobe Photoshop
IllustrationCreate “Dia De Los Muertos” Decorations on a Skull in Adobe Illustrator
Day of the DeadHow to Make a Neon Calavera Girl Vector Portrait in Adobe Illustrator
And if you found this tutorial pleasantly relaxing, you can find similar ones here: