Drawing Day of the Dead to learn about Mexican Culture
I love celebrating Dia de Los Muertos; I love drawing the Day of the Dead as a way to celebrate and learn about this tradition. There are so many beautiful things to draw from Papel Picado to La Catrina and Sugar Skulls. Students love learning about the day of the dead too.
Celebrating Halloween is exciting and some students can be quite sad when it is over. However, Dia de Los Muertos is right after Halloween! Therefore, the celebrations can continue in your classroom! It is wonderful to celebrate the Day of the Dead in November. The traditions, excitement, and bright colors that the Day of the Dead celebrations enriches learning.
Day of the Dead Activities
Alongside art projects, we love to watch short clips from Pixar’s Coco film in class. It is beautiful to see the animated Papel Picado and to see the streets full of celebrations.
I have been wanting to make directed drawings about Day of the Dead for some time. This is the year! I worked alongside my husband to create 8 directed drawings for students to enjoy. My husband grew up in Mexico City, and I have enjoyed learning about this holiday from him.
Celebrating the Day of the Dead through Directed Drawings
Drawing Day of the Dead: Classroom Display
Combine these 8 drawings together to create a beautiful display or ofrenda in the classroom. Cut out each directed drawing and collect when complete. The teacher can cluster the marigolds together to decorate the corners of the bulletin board. Next, add the papel picado along the top of the display. Lastly, fill the inside with the collection of beautiful illustrations of pan de Muertos, sugar skulls, candles, Xoloitzcuintli, and La Catrina!
Drawing Day of the Dead: Mini Booklet
Another great way to present the final artwork is to have each student make their own mini-booklet of drawings. Students can collect each drawing and save them. Share information about each item with students so that they can learn about the significance of each drawing. Additionally, students could add notes about the drawings on the side of their paper to remember the significance of each drawing. If students are painting the images, it is helpful to cut out the drawing and paste it onto colored paper to make a beautiful presentation. Sometimes students become frustrated if the paint goes outside their drawing lines. Cutting the artwork out creates a clean final presentation and makes their paintings stand out!
Drawing Day of the Dead: Drawing Center
When doing a larger craft as a class it is helpful to have something to keep students busy so you can help others. Directed drawings are perfect in this scenario! Students can work independently on a directed drawing as the teacher monitors a painting station, or works in small groups with students. These directed drawings make a great drawing table activity for students when they are done their work early.
Drawing Day of the Dead: How to finish a Directed Drawing
If you are wondering about tips on how to finish off the Day of the Dead directed drawings so that students’ work looks complete and beautiful check out my blog post on a Thanksgiving Turkey directed drawing. Lastly, it goes into detail on simple tips for the student work to look finished and beautiful: Turkey Directed Draw
Drawing Day of the Dead: 8 Images Celebrating the Day of the Dead
How to Draw a Marigold Day of the Dead
First, when teaching students how to draw a marigold Day of the Dead, it is helpful for students to start with the inside of the flower and then work their way toward the outside petals. When coloring the petals, have students select a darker orange for the center of the petals and blend it into a lighter orange or yellow as they work their way to the edge. This will help create depth in their drawing. Lastly, encourage students to blend 2 kinds of green for the leaves.
Information about the Marigold
La flor de cempasúchil is a yellow-orange color. It is often used to decorate the ofrenda (altar) and the paths leading from the road outside the houses to the ofrenda. The path of flowers guides the souls towards the ofrenda.
The name cempasúchil is derived from the náhuatl word cempohualxochitl that means “20 flowers” or “many flowers.” Náhuatl is a language used by the Aztec civilization.
How to Draw La Catrina
When teaching students how to draw La Catrina, provide them with an outline of the skull shape first. Young artists can sometimes become discouraged if they cannot get the initial step right and then this affects the rest of the drawing. Next, show students to draw the hat and then work the way down the body. It is fun to decorate La Catrina’s dress and hat with bold colors. Before asking students to complete their coloring, look at beautiful parades, and sculptures of La Catrina to examine what colors are often used.
Information about La Catrina
La Catrina was created by a Mexican cartoonist José Guadalupe Posada around 1912 to be a critique of the Mexican middle class that aspired to be like the Europeans and hide their indigenous roots. The artwork was made for a newspaper as a political cartoon.
She is now used as a representation of death during Day of the Dead celebrations. La Catrina has become an important element during this celebration. She is often represented in statues, in figurines, and people dress up like her too.
How to Draw the Day of the Dead Dog
There are some simple tips to help students learn how to draw the day of the Dead Dog, Xoloitzcuintli. Again, it is very helpful to provide students with the skull shape and part of the body. This enables students to have a strong start and a reference point for completing the next steps.
Remind students to be patient with themselves, especially when trying to draw the hind legs. Help students see the curve shapes within the leg. It is helpful to model this step on the board and show students that you sometimes need to erase the lines a few times to improve the shape. Remind them that erasing lines is a part of art, and everyone needs to change things as they go sometimes.
These Xoloitzcuintli dogs turn out so cute. One way to complete the art piece is to get students to color the bones with white wax crayons and then paint the dog with a watercolor wash! The paint will not stick to the wax crayon.
Information about Xoloitzcuintli
The Xoloitzcuintli is a hairless dog who is believed to be the companion who guides the souls through the afterlife. Xoloitzcuintli is seen as a protector of the souls.
On the Day of the Dead, Xoloitzcuintli guides the souls back to the ofrendas to see their family and eat the food left out for them.
How to Draw a Sugar Skull
Learning how to draw a sugar skull is tonnes of fun! Again, a skull outline can be very helpful to scaffold the learning in young artists. This is also a great activity to talk about symmetry. Have students repeat the same shape on each side of the skull.
Encourage students to leave a space for a name on the forehead of their skull. The drawings of sugar skulls are very detailed, however, the edible sugar skulls have simpler details. It is also fun to show students what sugar skulls look like. There is more information and photographs on this website: Sugar Skulls
Information about the Sugar Skull
The sugar skulls are used as a decoration on the ofrendas. They are also be given to people as gifts. Sugar skulls often have the name of the person written across the forehead. People either write the name of the person they are gifting the sugar skull to or they write their own name. They are used to remember the deceased in a lighthearted way.
These sugar skulls are sold by street vendors, corner stores, department stores, and bakeries. They are made of sugar and icing and are hollow in the middle. They are decorated with colorful icing.
How to Draw Candles
A simple directed drawing to do with students is to show them how to draw candles. Candles are a very geometric shape. Learning to draw cylinders is also helpful for math!
Teach students to create the illusion of light on the candles by using white blended with their candle color towards the top of the candle. Next, as they show them to blend the color darker towards the bottom. This will make it look like the flame is glowing!
Information about Candles
Candles represent light and hope. They are lit in honor of the deceased. People can place as many candles as they like on their ofrendas.
People keep the candles lit for the duration of the celebration or longer. They change the candles as needed. A variety of styles of candles on the ofrendas.
How to Draw Papel Picado
I love teaching students how to draw papel picado. These are beautiful when cut out of tissue paper too, but sometimes that can be a bit tricky for younger students. By drawing papel picado students learn about the traditional motifs used on these beautiful banners.
Information about Papel Picado
Papel Picado is used as a decoration for Day of the Dead. They are made out of different colors of tissue paper carefully cut into images. The Papel Picado had different designs, often featuring flowers, skulls, birds, candles, and crosses. They are used to create a happy atmosphere with their bright colors of orange, purple, and green. They are typically hung for a few weeks while the ofrenda is up.
How to Draw a Photograph Display
Displaying photographs is an important part of the celebration and that is why I included them in this directed drawing pack. Students could draw just the frame and leave it blank. However, it could be fun for the class could paste historical figures from Mexico into the frame as a way to learn more about Mexican culture.
Information about the Photograph Display
On the ofrenda, people place photos of the people that the ofrenda is made for. It is a way to remember family members and to communicate to the souls what ofrenda is theirs to enjoy.
It is typical to remember the person by also including things that the person liked or items that symbolize who that person was such as their favorite book, their reading glasses, or anything that they liked or used a lot. Additionally, people also place the favorite fruit, foods, and drinks of the deceased on the ofrenda.
How to Draw Pan de Muertos
Initially I was skeptical when my husband said I should include how to draw pan de Muertos. I thought “how can I draw bread, it will just look like a blob.” However, this was super fun to make. Warning: looking at photographs of Pan de Muertos will make your mouth water!
This directed drawing involves very simple circular shapes. First, observe with students how the lines at the back are shorter to create an illusion of depth. After that, it is tonnes of fun to add dots for sugar on top of the bread. Lastly, students could also glue bits of salt on top, or add a small amount of glitter to make your bread look extra yummy!
Information about Pan de Muertos
Bakeries make Pan de Muertos in October and November for the Day of the Dead celebrations. It is a sweet bread, flavored with anise and orange. The bread is sprinkled with sugar. It has a circular skull shape in the center, and bone shapes decorating the sides. People enjoy eating this bread during the celebration. In addition, they place some bread on the ofrenda for their deceased relatives to enjoy.
Final Tips for Drawing Day of the Dead
Introducing cultural significance is so important when drawing Day of the Dead. I hope this information helped provide some insight into each element. If you are looking to dig deeper into the cultural significance check out this website: Day of the Dead. Most of the information on this page comes from my husband, we also used the website link above to provide further information.
I always include a template of how to do the first shape in my directed drawing resources. I have found that students feel so successful and independent that way! Check out my directed drawings on Day of the Dead featured in the photos on this page, available on my TPT store!