Tag Archives: Black & White

Skullavera showcases unique ceramic skulls at Melbourne’s Day of the Dead Festival

All the skulls in the photographs are produced by Skullavera

Last Saturday, I attended a Day of the Dead Celebration in Melbourne that featured a range of hand crafted skulls, printed t-shirts, altars, traditional Aztec dancing, Mexican street food and face painting! The event was located at the Trust Bar and Restaurant in Flinders street that was full of visitors with their faces painted as the Mexican sugar skulls, it was fascinating as there were so many different patterns and designs!

It was interesting to see how each person had interpreted the Mexican sugar skulls, some had used colourful face paint while others had decided to go with a  minimalist approach. Furthermore, I did find the event particularly fascinating as I have never been to a Day of the Dead festival in Melbourne and the event was quite different to what I was expecting! At first the venue was rather crowded, although I throughly enjoyed watching visitors passing by with their sugar skull face paint!


As I was walking through the venue, there was one stall that had captured my attention. There were a range of colourful and illustrative skulls that were displayed onto a wooden surface along with a selection of skeletal figurines including Frida Kahlo and Marlyin Monroe. These hand crafted skulls featured elaborate and decorative designs that are quite unique compared to the other ceramic skulls that I have seen throughout the city of Melbourne.

These incredible hand crafted skulls are produced by a company known as Skullavera that is currently based in Sydney, Australia. BME Melbourne have conducted an interview with the artist who explains that the skulls are inspired by Chicano / latino tattoo designs as well as “the Mexican Drug Cartels.” 1 Each skull features a completely different style, there were so many different patterns, designs and illustrations, in fact the stall at the Day of the Dead celebration was definitely vibrant and decorative.


In a way, the artist applies a unique and distinctive style to the ceramic skulls, the level of detail and craftsmanship is incredible! The illustrations provides each skull with a unique characteristic, these models appear to have an individual personality, a personal style!

While there were bright and colourful designs available, there were other skulls that featured a range of black and while illustrations, the stall at the Day of the Dead Celebration in Melbourne featured some extraordinary ceramic skulls in all different shapes and sizes, I was seriously tempted to buy one for myself!

The official Skullavera blog does mention that the hand crafted skulls are inspired by the Day of the Dead celebration; from a personal perspective the ceramic skulls do feature both Mexican and European influences, there are various designs that do remind me of Western popular culture. 2 The way the skulls were displayed do feature similarities to a traditional Mexican altar that is usually installed during the Day of the Dead in order to welcome spirits to the celebration, as referenced by Maria Herrera Sobek. 3


In fact the display in general was creative and inspiring, it was seriously hard to walk past the stall without taking a dozen photos, I was in awe for at least 30 minutes, I just could not take my eyes off these hand crafted skulls! I f you haven’t seen Skullavera’s work, then I would strongly suggest to visit the Facebook page or the blog, there is some incredible work displayed online.

For those who have never even heard of this Day of the Dead Celebration in Melbourne, I would recommend buying a ticket for next year! As if you can go wrong with beer, tequila, nachos and ceramic skulls all in the same venue? While the event itself was crowded to begin with, the works on display were definitely worth seeing!

1. BME Melbourne, “Skullavera Interview”, June 28th 2013, http://www.bmemelbourne.com/bmeinterviews/skullavera-interview/ (accessed 5/11/13)
2.  Skullavera Official Blog, http://skullavera.blogspot.com.au/ (accessed 5/11/13)
3. Sobek, Maria Herrera (ed) “Altars” in Celebrating Latino Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Cultural Traditions, Volume 1 (California: ABC – CLIO, 2012) http://books.google.com.au/books?id=bDIwZ8BieWcC&pg=PA423&dq=traditional+mexican+altars+

Other References:




Christmas Present Making in the Process!


21/12/12 – Black & White Sugar Skull One

Copyright Charlotte Pridding

On the 21st of December, I decided to decorate a sugar skull as a christmas present and I also decided to create black icing for my design. I was quite surprised as It has taken quite a long time to create an icing that was jet black, in the past the icing has turned into a dark grey. I finally created the perfect mixture and each time I decided to decorate a skull, the easier it is to decorate the actual mould.

This skull in particular was rather time consuming due to the fact I had decided to incorporate quite a complex and detailed design. At 10pm at night, I had finally finished decorating the skull and I happily wrapped the gift in some colourful Christmas wrapping paper. Personally I believe there is nothing better than receiving something that is hand made and plus I get to expand upon my own skills!

The sugar skulls feature so many interesting designs, they just look great in the house or on top of the book case. While the icing is quite time consuming, I do throughly enjoy the process as the sugar skulls do provide the opportunity to be creative. Considering most sugar skulls are usually very colourful and vibrant, I thought it would be interesting to work with black and white. Through the process, I am hoping to apply the Mexican sugar skulls within a Western / European context.

Sugar Skulls Part III

21/11/12 – Sugar Skulls in Black Calavera Exhibition 

As part of the exhibition, I also installed a section where visitors were able to decorate their own sugar skulls. I personally believe that is important for the viewer to actually interact with the works and to understand the various patterns or designs that are used for the sugar skulls. I also though that this particular section would add entertainment and excitement to the exhibition.

I created some sugar skulls that were then installed onto a separate plinth and the sequins, ribbons and icing sugar were placed onto a smaller plinth with a list of instructions. To me the whole process is making and decorating the skulls, I really wanted to share this experience with the visitors that walked into the gallery space. While decorating the skulls is an important process, enjoying the experience and having fun is the most important element within this particular activity. So grab some sugar and starting constructing your own skulls, not only is the process entertaining but you will also have you own hand crafted skull!

Constructing Altar

21/11/12 – Black & White Altar 

Once the photographs were installed, I had started to construct the altar that was also included into the exhibition. The very first task was placing the black sheet on the bottom plinth and then placing the screen printed tablecloth over the top. Once the task was complete, a smaller plinth was added on top with another black sheet that was measured and cut in half. Then a smaller plinth was placed onto the very top with the other half of the black sheet and another printed tablecloth.

I then placed all of the photo frames onto the bottom and the top-level with tequila bottles filled with flowers and black paint. While building the altar, I had suddenly realised that I had drunk quite a lot of tequila this year! I had also filled cider bottles with black paint and flowers at the very top along with a large photo frame that was used as a main focal point. The back of the altar also featured photographs of myself along with bottle caps, pins, shells as well as black and white illustrations.

The paper tissue crosses and the sugar skulls were also included into the altar and the flowers were burnt with a lighter in order represent ideas of death and decay. The aim was to combine elements from the Mexican Day of the Dead along with random objects that I had an attachment with. In my own photographic prints,I had decided to dedicate the altar to this persona that I have created through the photographic self portraits. The use of black and white also reflects a Western interpretation of the Mexican Day of the Dead altars / ofrendas that are designed to attract deceased relatives to the celebration.

Maria Sobek explains that the altar reflects the three different levels to the land of the dead also known as Mictlan. Each level of the altar reflects the journey to the underworld, although I was very surprised when I had realised that the bottom of the altar was slowly decaying and the top was very clear and orderly. The altar questions what happens to the body after death and whether the departed spirits travel to a place beyond the living world. Through this particular installation, I begin to imagine what my altar would look like if I was dead.

Sobek, Maria Herrera -, ed. Celebrating Latino Folklore California ABC CLIO, 2012.

Paper Tissue Crosses Inspired by Amor Y Locura

18/11/12 – How to Make you Own Paper Tissue Cross

While visiting a Day of the Dead store , Amor Y Locura on the corner of Gertrude street, I had noticed a bunch of colourful and decorative crosses made from tissue paper that were displayed on the front door. I decided to replicate the cross from black and white tissue paper for the altar within the Black Calavera exhibition. The crosses would be perfect for the Day of the Dead celebration and they do work well with altar like constructions. I have provided instructions below for anyone who is interested in making paper tissue crosses.

What you will Need…

At least two thin pieces of Wood, medium-sized. I would recommend buying the packets of wood that you use for constructing wooden aeroplanes, you can buy these packets at Bunnings or just visit your local hardware store. I you cannot find them, just cut the wood with a saw into at least two separate pieces.
PVA glue
Tissue  or crepe paper, I would recommend buying at least 3 – 4 packets. (You can choose any colour you like)
Stanley Knife
Cutting Board


1. If the wood you are using is quite thing then you can cut the wood in half with a cutting board and a stanley knife. If you have bought the wood used to create the model aeroplanes, then the wood will cut very easily with a sharp knife.

2. Make sure the horizontal cross-bar is smaller than the vertical piece of wood that you are using

3. Cut the tissue paper for both the horizontal and vertical planks of wood and use scissors to cut the edges in order to create a textural appearance

4. Attach the tissue paper to the front and the back of the wood and wait for the glue to dry

5. Attach the horizontal cross-bar to the vertical piece of wood with PVA glue and wait for the glue to dry

6. Rip pieces of tissue paper and scrunch them, they will begin to look like flowers

7. Attach the scrunched up pieces of tissue paper onto the cross with PVA glue and wait for the cross to dry for a couple of hours.

I decided to use black and white tissue paper for the crosses, although the absence of colour does remind me of Western / European understandings of death rather than Mexican. The black tissue paper that I had used for the flowers do appear similar to dead roses and the design reminds me of something you would see in a Tim Burton film. In a way the cross and the absence of colour reminds me of death compared to the colourful or vibrant creations within the Day of the Dead store in Melbourne.

Creating Sugar Skulls for Upcoming Exhibition

17/11/12 – Black & White Sugar Skulls

At the moment I have been creating sugar skulls for the Black Calavera exhibition; decorating the skulls is a very interesting process and the method / technique is directly influenced by Ben Starrs Sugar Skull Recipe. In total, I have created 17 sugar skulls, once I had started making them, I just couldn’t stop and Sean assisted with the overall process. Creating the sugar skulls with egg whites is quite a straight forward process and once they set, the skulls become rock solid.

Decorating the skulls was quite time-consuming and applying the icing sugar to the mould was quite difficult to begin with especially if you are using zip lock bags. Once I had decorated two or three, I was finally able to apply the icing without spilling the substance all over the place, it just takes quite a lot of practise and patience. I had realised that if you cut the bags on an angle, it is much easier to spread the icing onto the skull, I do not have experience in baking nor patisserie, so I did learn quite a lot throughout the process.

Instead of using bright, colourful icing, I decided to choose black and white in order to determine whether the absence of colour can alter my interpretation of the Mexican Sugar Skulls. While the decorative designs reminded me of the Day of the Dead, the use of black and white also reminded me of Western / European interpretations of the skull, in a way I had achieved my goal! At the beginning of the year I had planned to construct an exhibition based upon Mexican and European representations of death as well as the human skull. In this particular process, I had realised that the black and white icing sugar had provided the sugar skulls with another interpretation or perspective.

In my very first attempt at decorating the sugar skulls, the bag exploded everywhere, as a result the entire skull was covered in black icing sugar. At first I wasn’t too sure, once the icing had dried, the skull featured some very interesting effects. It was like the skull had been drenched in tar or cement and the skull featured a grotesque appearance compared to the other skulls. I decided to decorate the skull in white icing and sequins in order to reflect similarities to the Mexican Day of the Dead. Covering the skull in black icing definitely features a strong contrast with the other skulls that I have produced; next time I shall add black food colouring to the mixture in order to produce a batch of black sugar skulls.

If you would like any further information in regards to Ben Starrs Sugar Skull recipe, click on the link below.