Tag Archives: Mexican Sugar Skulls

Entry into the 2013 Kodak Salon


Photograph by Charlotte Pridding, 2013

This year, I submitted one of my photographs into the Kodak Salon, a photographic competition that is exhibited at the Centre of Contemporary Photography in Melbourne, Fitzory. The Kodak Salon encourages a range of photographers to submit their own work into this annual competition, the photographic prints are exhibited at the CCP gallery for at least three to four weeks.1

The Kodak Salon is based in Australia and there are twenty different awards across various disciplines. According to the official CCP website, the Kodak Salon is inspired by a particular style used in Paris during the 1800’s, many galleries and exhibitions in France would display the artworks across the wall from top to bottom.2

There were some amazing photographs on display and there were a few artists that have incorporated the skull into their own work. I decided to submit a print I had produced at the very start of this year, the title of the work ‘reassurance’ features a photograph of myself at the beach with a skull painted onto my face.

The photo was inspired by my Honours research project that explored the growing interest in the skull within Melbourne’s urban / street culture. I started to develop an interest for the Mexican sugar skulls that I discovered in many bars, restaurants, shops and galleries across Melbourne. These colourful and decorative ornaments inspired me to create a series of black and white self portraits that depict my own personal perspectives of the Mexican sugar skulls that are commonly associated with the Day of the Dead Festival.

Once I completed my degree, I continued taking photographs of myself in various locations in order to discover my own interpretations of death and the depiction of the skull in the contemporary visual culture. I’m still searching for a specific answer, which has been rather difficult as my own personal interpretations do change on a daily basis.

I decided to enter the photograph of myself at the beach that questions what happens after death, what happens when the human body deteriorates? Does everything suddenly turn to darkness or do we move from the living world to a completely different place? It’s really hard to tell as there isn’t one definite answer, how can we define death if we have never experienced it before?

Of course everyone has their own interpretations, I’m hoping these photographs will hopefully provide the answers to all of my questions. ¬†So that pretty much summarises everything at the moment, I’m currently working on another project at the moment that I would love to share to you all once I’ve completed everything, so stay tuned! ūüôā

If you would like any further information please click on the links below.



Other Links



Armageddon Expo at the Melbourne Show Grounds!


Photographs by Charlotte Pridding, works produced by anonymous artist / designer at Armageddon Comic Con

Last weekend, I attended the Armageddon Comic Con in Melbourne for the very first time! There were many enthusiastic visitors dressed as super heroes, anime characters and even zombies, I must admit the costumes were incredible!

I remember walking past someone dressed as Batman, the experience was quite surreal as the costume appeared extremely similar to the one that was used in the movie. You can obviously tell that there were quite a lot of people at the comic con that have devoted a lot of time and money into they’re costumes, although this is adds to the overall experience.

Gruesome Masks at Armageddon Comic Con, 2013

So there was a massive building in the middle of the Melbourne show grounds that was full of comic books, dvd’s, costumes, outfits and other novelty items. There were so many different booths and I wasn’t too sure where to start, there were various comic book artists that were also exhibiting some of their work, which was really interesting.

While I was wondering around all the different booths, I have noticed that the skull was printed onto almost everything! There were synthetic skeletons, skull printed t-shirts, bracelets, wallets, bags and broaches, there were skulls left, right and centre!

There was one booth in particular that immediately captured my attention, in fact I started to take loads of photographs, I just couldn’t help myself. This booth displayed a range of grotesque masks and three-dimensional skulls that would be perfect if you were producing a horror film.


Skulls and Castrated Head

These skulls were rather sinister and there was synthetic blood dripping down the sides, that also provided quite a macabre appearance. At the very front of the booth, there was one skull in particular that was displayed right next to a disembodied head that is synthetic by the way! The display was rather interesting, although it was disturbing at the same time, it’s not every day you see a reproduction of a castrated head or a zombie clown mask!

The castrated head was quite realistic especially the blood and the gash wounds, the level of realism was rather unsettling. Both the severed head and the skull do remind me of the Momento Mori, they both resonate notions of death and destruction, although I am more disturbed of the photograph I have taken to be honest!


Creepy Zombie Clown Mask

I didn’t quite catch the artist’s name, although the level of detail and craftsmanship was just incredible! there were two life sized zombies right opposite the booth that appeared quite gruesome and realistic. The Armageddon Comic Con really does demonstrate that the skull is a very influential icon in contemporary design and popular culture, almost every single booth sold skull merchandise.

There were visitors that even painted their faces in order to replicate the Mexican sugar skulls and there were a range of artists / designers that have frequently used the skull in their own body of work. The gruesome masks and the synthetic skulls were definitely my favourite, their sinister and grotesque nature were substantially different compared to everything else that was for sale.

If you are looking for some extra information, there are a few links attached below. If you are interested in the next Armageddon Comic Con, there will be another one in 2014!



In Front of the Mirror

10/2/13 – Inspired by Carrol Jerrems, Butterfly Behind the Glass, 1975

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to apply the makeup and face paint in front of the bathroom mirror. I didn’t realise how hot and humid it was outside so I just locked myself in the bathroom for a couple of hours. It’s quite strange when I look at my own reflection in the mirror with all the makeup on, on the other side there’s another person, another version of myself staring back at me.

The makeup appropriates the Mexican sugar skulls via black and white photography that allows me to realise that I have a skull hidden beneath a layer of skin, just like everyone else really. Basically I am using the shape of my own skull as the canvas, it’s actually strange to realise that I have painted a skull on top of another skull. When I look into the mirror, I see two different skulls, one that is internal and one that is external.

The makeup provides the realisation that one day I will eventually die, one day I will be buried into the ground to decay and disintegrate, it’s all a natural process of life. The image is inspired by Carol Jerrems, a contemporary photographer who explores “women’s liberation” in the 1970’s and “social inclusiveness for street youths” as referenced by the Monash Gallery of Art.

There was one photo in particular that captured my attention, “Butterfly Behind the Glass” features Red Symons from Skyhook applying makeup in front of the mirror. The juxtaposition between the two faces does create an interesting effect and the photo also portrays a level of movement especially in Symon’s gestures and facial expressions. I was drawn to the dark makeup around the eyes and the cheekbones, in a way the makeup does remind me of a butterfly.

I am also interested in the way Symon’s is looking at himself in the mirror, in fact Jerrems’s photography is visually interesting! I decided to appropriate Jerrems image with some makeup brushes, eye shadow and liquid eye liner; I hope to develop my technique and style the next upcoming weeks. It was way to hot to even walk outside, so I decided to execute my idea within my very own bathroom.

Carol Jerrem’s a Photographic Artist, Monash Gallery of Art, 2013, Accessed 18/2/13,¬†http://www.mga.org.au/exhibition/view/exhibition/119


Black & Yellow Skull Continued…

7/2/13 РLong Lost Photographs of Skulls are Found at Long Last! 

For the past few days, I’ve been trying to make room on my SD card; while I was flicking through the files on my camera, I found photographs of the yellow and black sugar skull I had decorated last month. I then realised that I had completely forgotten to save the photographs to my computer so I quickly transported the files into a another file so I wouldn’t loose them forever! I didn’t even realise I had photographs from last month, but I am glad I now have the files so I can now upload them onto Black Calavera. In one of my previous posts, I explained how I accidentally made black icing sugar instead of purple; I seriously wasn’t going to let this mistake ruin my opportunity to decorate some sugar skulls. I decided to go along with it, at first I was seriously doubting the consistency of the icing sugar, although I was pleased with the composition between the black and the yellow.


Most of the time I just create random designs, I often create the first thing that enters my head. Every time I try to plan or organise a design for the sugar skulls, the icing sugar explodes everywhere and I am then forced to seek other alternatives. It all has to do with the temperature and the consistency of the icing sugar, if those to aren’t right, then there’s always a lot of cleaning up to do. Runny icing sugar is just a disaster, once it pours from the zip lock bag, it doesn’t stop, seriously, you sit down expecting to decorate a sugar skull, instead you find yourself in a pool of icing sugar.


If you are prepared to get messy, decorating the sugar skulls is really fun! The sugar skulls have become a canvas for me, if I have an idea I just applying them to the sugar skull. It’s not too easy either, you must a steady hand in order to control the icing sugar otherwise you could end up with a skull that looks like a Jackson¬†Pollock painting. Actually come to think of it, that would be rather interesting!

Blue & Orange Sugar Skull

11/1/13 – New Colour Combination for the Sugar Skull

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to decorate another sugar skull with orange and blue icing sugar that I had made from the food colouring I had purchased from the supermarket. This is by far the best design I have produced so far, as the icing sugar is the ideal consistency; the icing isn’t too thick or runny. I was able to apply a even layer of icing sugar to the mould, even the colour of the icing sugar is brighter than the previous batch I had made last year.


I am a fan of complimentary colours, this may explain the reason why I am interested in Pop Art, so I decided to use orange and blue for the design. I didn’t really plan the design, I just decided to make random patterns and decorations, there wasn’t a specific plan or direction. To be honest, I don’t think there ever is a specific plan and when I do have one it does change the last minute, especially if the icing is too runny.


I was actually inspired by the last sugar skull I had decorated; I had created large floral patterns around the eye sockets. I also used the icing sugar to create small dots in order to create different patterns; while the icing I had used for the first sugar skull was rather thick, the icing I had made for the second skull was smooth and relatively easy to use.


I’m quite pleased with the results and it did take a while for me to get used to the icing sugar. I’ve decided to take some photographs on the side table opposite the window: I thought the texture within the wood make make an interesting backdrop. The skull doesn’t really contrast with the wooden table; perhaps I’ll try a dark backdrop. Stay tuned, there will be plenty more sugar skulls on the site in the next couple of weeks.


Kirsztianna’s Amazing Wall Sculptures


Winter Muertita by Krisztianna 

5/12/12 – Krisztianna’s Project

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine had forwarded some images of Krisztianna’s amazing wall sculptures via Facebook. Krisztianna is an artist who ¬†has designed a series of sculptures that do appear similar to the Mexican Sugar Skulls. There is limited information in regards to the artist’s work, although the creations / designs that are currently displayed on Krisztianna’s website do contain similarities to the Mexican Day of the Dead Celebration.


Spring Muertita 

According to the artist’s own website, there are at least four sculptures within the collection that represent the four different seasons of the year. This is quite an interesting concept and each sculpture does feature a different design; the level of detail is incredible and the bold colours are definitely eye catching. The reference to the skull face painting and the floral headdress may reflect Mexico’s cultural heritage with the dead; I remember attending a sugar skull workshop a few weeks ago and the young lady had said that flowers, especially marigolds are a significant part of Mexico’s Day of the Dead.

hd_65c0416f1a6ea923b9aa2bab9f0f78b9Summer Muertita 

What I do find really interesting is the way the sculptures / installations have been displayed, the remind me of those deer plaques that are usually mounted to the wall. Krisztianna’s work applies the Mexican Day of the Dead with some creative and innovative concepts; the overall installation / display is aesthetically pleasing and the decorative illustrations do provide a high level of inspiration!


Autumn Muertita 

Krisztianna’s work has also been posted to my friend’s blog, Possibly Useless, I would definitely recommend visiting the site if you are interested in art, design and illustration.¬†http://possiblyuseless.tumblr.com/post/36196644776/fer1972-wall-sculptures-by-krisztianna-so


New Store in Geelong, Juggernort sells Skull printed T-shirts and Accessories

4/12/12 – Who Are Sullen Art Collective?

On one of my christmas shopping trips, a friend had introduced me to this new retail store in Geelong, Juggernort. As soon as I walked into the store, all I could see were skulls. There were skull printed t-shirts, dresses, crop tops, singlets, wallets, stickers and even corsets! Even the walls were covered with skulls along with advertisements and posters for Sullen clothing.

So what is Sullen clothing? I didn’t even know this brand even existed until I walked into this store. Sullen is an American brand that distributes a range of t-shirts and accessories for men, on the other hand Sullen Angels is designed for women, this particular brand does use the skull for the majority of their own collections and outfits. According to Sullen’s official website, the brand is inspired by tattoo art and fashion ‘subcultures’, such as “punk, rock and hip hop”. (Sullen Angel Website, 2011)

I was in awe and I had never seen so many skulls in the same room! The t-shirt designs were very creative and artistic, they’re not just a t-shirt with a skull, they actually feature various patterns, colours and compositions. I literally wanted to buy everything in the store, most of the t-shirt designs were inspired by the Mexican sugar skulls as well as the Day of the Dead face painting.

The gentleman behind the desk was also very enthusiastic and friendly to talk to, he did point out some designs within the store that I would like. I have struggled to find interesting t-shirt designs in the women’s department, now I know where to find them! The guy within the store was also interested in the Mexican sugar skulls and it was great to see all the different products, especially the t-shirts and the singlets. Sullen have also created a unique style for their own brand; most of the t-shirts combine Day of the Dead imagery with a punk / rock aesthetic.

If you are interested in skulls and the Mexican Day of the Dead, then i would recommend visiting Juggernort in Geelong or just visit their Facebook Page for more information.


Sullen Angel Official Website, “About Us”,¬†http://www.sullenclothing.com/Sullen-Angels

URL Links for Images:




Final Day of the Exhibition: Decorating the Sugar Skulls.

24/11/12 – Sugar Skulls Part IV

On the last day of the exhibition, I decided to decorate the sugar skulls that I had displayed on a separate plinth opposite the altar and the photomontage. Visitors who had entered the gallery space had decorated the skulls with the black icing sugar and sequins that were placed within the very front window of the gallery, I must admit the sugar skulls did attract attention from people walking up and down the street. There were at least two or three people who did stop at the front window to look at the sugar skulls.

It was great to see the visitors decorate the sugar skulls and each mould featured a unique style. I decided to place all the sugar skulls back onto the plinth in order to take some photographs away from the sun. Making the icing sugar was actually quite difficult, if the icing isn’t the right consistency it can become either to runny or too solid. On one of skull’s, the icing and just spilled everywhere, although the different patterns did created quite an interesting effect.

I was so relieved once I had finally completed the entire exhibition and everyone had enjoyed decorating the sugar skulls. I’m always attracted to exhibitions or public spaces that have some form of interactivity, plus I had so much fun decorating the sugar skulls, I thought the visitors would also like to customise their own skulls. I decided to create 15 – 17 blank sugar skulls that people were able to decorate, this was a last-minute decision and I really enjoyed moulding the skulls from the sugar. The skulls that I did not use for the altar were used as part of another installation that visitors were able to engage with.

The exhibition did take a while to install, although I was pleased when everything was finally completed. The works on display were very different from what I was expecting, although the photographic montage and the altar achieved the objectives I had planned for the research project. To me, the photos and the installation work well together and they also combine both Mexican and Western interpretations of the skull, which is what I intended to do at the very beginning of the year.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who has assisted me this year especially with the written thesis and the exhibition! Whats the next step then, now that everything has finished for the year? Well I am hoping to start designing my own t-shirts, start working on a magazine and keep working on the black Calavera brand! Stay tuned for further updates!

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.


Black Milk Clothing

7/9/12 – Day of the Dead Leggings

The other day, a friend had introduced me to Black Milk Clothing who are currently selling Day of the Dead leggings. The website features a range of leggings, t-shirts, dresses, skirts and shoes that can be purchased online. The Day of the Dead leggings features a range of Mexican skulls in different colours, patterns and designs. The material or the fabric also appears to have a metallic surface that also adds to the overall design.

I am beginning to recognise that there are many companies and creative organisations who are beginning to use Day of the Dead imagery for advertising and product design. I have suddenly noticed that there are local bars, cafes, restaurants and art galleries that have introduced the Day of the Dead to Melbourne’s street culture.

According to the Black Milk Clothing website the leggings were inspired by the Mexican sugar skulls that invite the dead to the celebration. The website also refers to ancient Aztec mythology in relation to the Day of the Dead such as the “goddess of the underworld, ¬†Mictecacihuatl”.¬†(Black Milk)


I began to wonder who is Miccteacihuatl and how is Aztec Mythology conveyed in the Dead of the Dead celebration? In Skulls to the Living Bread to the Dead in Mexico, Stanley Brandes explains that the Aztecs had created bas reliefs with ancient gods and goddess that were juxtaposed with the human skull. Brandes quotes “Similarly stone sculptures representing Miccteacihuatl, goddess of the underworld and of the dead, also show the face in the form of the skull” (Brandes, 2006 p.52)

Perhaps this would explain why women usually wear the skull makeup that has become a popular representation in the contemporary culture. The Day of the Dead Leggings from Black Milk Clothing are definitely on list of things to buy and the website is worth checking out!


Brandes, Stanley. Skulls to the Living, Bread to the Dead. The Day of the Dead in Mexico and Beyond.  Australia: Blackwell Publishing, 2006 p.52

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