Black and White Mexican Skull


2/9/12 – Makeup 
Technique / Style 

Yesterday I decided to create a Mexican skull with the theatrical makeup that I had bought at the beginning of the year. I have decided to work in black and white, although the base colour was quite challenging. I had used death grey for the base although the colour was quite dark and I had applied a white setting powder over the top. I did have to layer the setting powder in order to create a white base colour and perhaps I need to find something lighter than the death grey.

I also dabbed the setting powder onto my face with a small powder puff in order to prevent any streaks in the makeup. It did take a very long time to layer the makeup and I had also used a large brush to blend the makeup into my face. I had used a dark eye liner to create a very faint outline around the eyes, nose and mouth. I remember the last time I had tried to create a Mexican skull and I had create very thick outlines that eventually smudged into the base makeup.

I had used a black eyeshadow for the eye sockets that has created some interesting tones and textures. From my previous attempt, I had tried to use a dark supra colour that is very difficult to remove especially if you make a mistake. The supra colour is similar to a liquid eye shadow although it is very thick and it does require a high level of patience when you are removing the makeup from your face.

A normal eye pencil is ideal for the patterns especially the circles around the eye sockets and a liquid eye liner can sometimes make the strokes too thick. I used another eye pencil for the mouth and I used a very thin layer of the supra colour for the lines. Finally I added black lipstick to my lips in order to cover the white particles from the setting powder and I had applied grey eye shadow around my cheek bones, forehead and chin. The grey eye shadow had provided definition to the makeup and I had also applied different patterns for the finishing touch.


I have been researching different designs on the internet and a friend had also sent me some images that have also become a source of inspiration. I have also been sketching different patterns and designs that I have used for the makeup. At the moment I have been attaching all of the sketches to my wardrobe door that has allowed me  to generate different ideas and concepts for the makeup. Instead of attaching the sketches to a folio, I am now viewing my work on a regular basis that has stimulated a different perspective or interpretation of my own work.

I had applied the different patterns and designs to the base of the skull that is then applied to the style of the makeup. I am not very good at drawing faces but for some strange reason I can draw an outline of a skull. I have been trying to ask myself what is Black Calavera and what does Black Calavera mean to me? Well my aim is to combine the style of the Mexican skulls with Western or European interpretations of death.

According to Regina Marchi, the Mexican Day of the Dead is a sacred tradition that honours and commemorates the deceased in comparison to other Western cultures who are afraid of death. Marchi quotes “In mainstream U.S society, death is a topic to be avoided  – a kind of obscenity not to be uttered in the public”. My main objective is to provide my own interpretation of Mexico’s cultural celebration of the dead with reference to European and Renaissance Art.


Now that summer has arrive, the light is ideal for taking photographs especially in the morning and the afternoon. I had decided to take some photographs in front of the bathroom mirror although the images do appear blurry. I managed to find a spot right next to the window that increased the aperture speed. The dark recliner chair had also been used as a backdrop that enhanced the different patterns and designs within the makeup.

The light had also provided my face with a very pale complexion that created a very striking composition with the backdrop. From my recent visit to a gallery, I was advised to wear silver or sterling earrings that would add some interesting effects to the image. In some of the images the love heart earrings did become the main focal point that also offered a dynamic composition with the makeup.

I had also tried using a black or a dark jacket as a background in order create different textures within the image. I have also tried to include different props within the image such as flowers from the garden or the hand crafted Mexican Skull. The images have been inspired by two contemporary photographers that I have been researching over the past few weeks. My camera is usually set to Adobe RGB and I transfer the photographs to greyscale through the channel mixer.

1. SUE FORD: According to the Monash Gallery of Art, Sue Ford has created a series of self portraits during the “Feminist Movement” in the 1970’s. From my visual observations, Sue Ford captures most of her photographs in black and white while standing in front of the mirror. I had shown my photographs to my supervisor who had suggested that I research the works of Sue Ford. Ford stares directly towards the viewer with the camera that is nestled between her hands. One could argue that Ford’s photography is quite nostalgic that also reminds the viewer of the artist’s previous existence.

2. ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE: Mapplethorpe had created a self portrait with a silver skull that questioned the artist’s presence and mortality. Robert Erberwein quotes “Robert Mapplethorpe’s ghostly face, which appears in a self photograph of him holding a cane with a skull on it’s top, became a defining image of a man dying from AIDS” (Erberwein) The surrounding space invites the viewer to concentrate on Mapplethorpe’s face and the metallic skull that is placed on top of the walking stick.

I have attempted to create a similar style and I had used the navy blue recliner chair as the backdrop that had emphasised the makeup around the eyes, nose and mouth. Unfortunately the hand crafted skull that I had used was too pale and perhaps I could use a silver skull for the next photo shoot.


In my previous attempts I have come to the conclusion that the black and white photographs have generated more of an emotional response compared to colour. The photographs have also encouraged me to question my own mortality and my own physical existence. I have also asked myself….what does my skull actually look like and what does the makeup actually mean?

I have tried to combine the decorative designs from the Mexican Day of the Dead with the macabre. One could argue that the makeup that is associated with the Day of the Dead features similarities to the sugar skulls through the love heart shaped nose, the circles around the eye sockets and the image of the cross that is placed on the very top of the forehead.

According to Elizabeth Carmichael and Chloe Sayar the Spanish conquest in the 16th century had introduced “catholic symbolism” to the indigenous community in Mexico. The majority of skulls and skeletons from the Day of the Dead often feature religious iconography, such as the image of the cross. (Carmichael & Sayar,2003) I am not catholic nor christian although I kept asking myself what does the cross mean to me? How does it feel to have a cross on the top of my forehead? I’m not exactly sure although I do intend to create other makeup styles in order to determine my own interpretations of life and death.

Carmicheal, Elizabeth, and Chloe Sayar. The Skeleton at the Feast: The Day of the Dead in Mexico.  Texas: Texas Press Printing, 2003. 

Monash Gallery of Art, “Time Machine: Sue Ford”, Monash Gallery of Art, (Accessed 1/9/12)

Robert Eberwein, Armed Forces: Masculinity and Sexuality in the American War Film (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2007) p.152

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