Saturday, November 1, 2014

Dia de los Muertes

We are honored to have Susanna Schwab 
join Altered Pages for 
dia de los Muertes History and Art
Dia de los Muertes History
More than 500 years ago, when the Spanish Conquistadors landed in what is now Mexico, they encountered natives practicing a ritual that seemed to mock death. It was a ritual the indigenous people had been practicing at least 3,000 years. A ritual known today as Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. The ritual is celebrated in Mexico and certain parts of the United States, including Arizona.

Celebrations are held each year in local communities and at Arizona State University. Although the ritual has since been merged with theology, it still maintains the basic principles of the Aztec ritual, such as the use of skulls.

Today, people may don wooden skull masks called calacas and dance in honor of their deceased relatives. The wooden skulls are also placed on altars that are dedicated to the dead. Sugar skulls, made with the names of the dead person on the forehead are created as an art form and may be eaten. The skulls are used to symbolize death and rebirth. The skulls were used to honor the dead, whom the Aztecs and other Meso-American civilizations believed came back to visit during the month long ritual.

Instead of fearing death, they embraced it. To them, life was a dream and only in death did they become truly awake. The pre-Hispanic people honored duality as being dynamic. They didn't separate death from pain, wealth from poverty like they did in Western cultures. To make the ritual more Christian, the Spaniards moved it so it coincided with All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day (Nov. 1 and 2), which is when it is celebrated today.


I can assure you, that never in my life did I ever expect to color a skull! Since I have a huge respect and usually keep a distance around the subject of "death". I avoid confrontation with things related to it.

When I saw the skull Jean Moore was offering on the Altered Pages FB page and I fell in love with the design. I did some research on "dia de los muertes" and was very impressed and touched by the way the Mexican culture celebrates it. They come together, cook some food, play music, sing and dance.  They believe during the celebration their departed loved ones will come back to join them in peace and joy. I started to think: how would I personally welcome any of the people I lost in my life, and I realized it wouldn't be with fear or grief, but with thankfulness to have them a few moments again.

With that uplifting background, I could look at the picture in front of me in a total different perspective. I started coloring and creating and had hours of pure fun and pleasure.

 I knew very quickly two things about it: it shall be colorful and sparkling. I had some neon colors in mind and a lot of bling! Structure paste was used for the background and teeth to give it a little "boney" effect. I worked with gelatos, IKEA paint for kids (mainly the neon colors) and with several gel glitter pens.  I also used stickles, glossy accents, glitter glue and glitter powder. 

For the eyes, I took some black shiny sequins. For the teeth some white beads were used, which gave them a spooky appearance.

I can say that working this intense with that skull and the tradition of the Mexican culture in the back of my head somehow changed my perspective to death. Maybe death is really like someone once said: You basically go just into a changing room and choose another outfit. If I can choose mine would definitely be colorful and sparkling as this sugar skull!   ~ Susanna Schwab



See more of Susanna's Art on her blog:  Art & Weise
Connect with Susanna Schwab on Facebook HERE!


  1. Thanks for sharing the history with us! It's great to see the viewpoint an artist is using for a specific piece. Your skull has so much detail! Love the photos showing the process.

  2. I steer away from death too and didn't have any idea what this holiday was really all about. Thanks for sharing the history. Love how colorful and all the little details of your project.

  3. Great history lesson and I love the skull - fabulous!!! The sequins and beads are the perfect finishing touches. Really adds such dimension and depth. Beautiful! TFS!!

  4. A fabulous rendition of that sugar skull! The history behind them is always enlightening, and I thank you for sharing it with us. You did an absolutely wonderful job on this piece. TFS

  5. This culturally important day is beautifully rendered by You Susanna, Thanks for your lovely artwork.

  6. I so love learning about traditions from different parts of the world, your skull is beautiful and I loved seeing all your detailed photos. TFS.