Tag Archives: Work in Progress

Day Four, Blogging 101: Identify your Audience, Exploring New Elements


This particular assignment encouraged me to examine the audience, demographic and the readers who may visit the blog. This is a very interesting exercise that involves writing for an intended audience or reader in mind, although I dedicated two days to brainstorming in order to determine, who is reading Black Calavera?

While I don’t have a particular person in mind, I hope to share the research I’ve undertaken over the past few years with the outside world. Now that I’ve switched to my focused state of mind, I would imagine the ideal reader as a skull enthusiast or an artist with a strong interest for skulls.

The second component involves introducing a new element to the blog and I wondered whether there is something new I can possibly explore that is different to what I’m familiar or comfortable with. I was intrigued to explore illustration or drawing that is something that I haven’t practised for about a year now. For two whole days, I sat beneath the heater with a pencil and an old sketch book that was recently discovered in the bottom of a cardboard box; this basically summaries the length of time I haven’t practised my sketching.

With two to three attempts, a sugar skull illustration was finally created! I can be rather picky, although the objective of the exercise involved experimenting with a different medium and the test determined that I can push beyond my comfort zone.  With additional practise and persistence, the sugar skull illustrations will improve over time. This is the starting point anyway and the sketchbook will hopefully provide new ideas for upcoming projects.

Why Sugar Skulls?

The designs are incredibly inspiring and there is a fascinating cultural association with the Mexican Day of the Dead Festival that is unbelievably admirable and highly creative. For those who are unfamiliar with the Day of the Dead, this vibrant celebration welcomes the spirits from deceased friends and relatives through decorative altars, sugar skulls and other creative events, as referenced by Regina.M.Marchi.1

The sugar skulls are highly colourful, although I’m intrigued to explore the decorative designs in black and white. Another fascinating subject, is the interpretation of death and how would one describe this ambiguous subject? This is something I’ve questioned over and over again, although death is one of those mysterious occurrences that is a natural process of life, although the thought is relatively daunting at times.

I’ve actually awakened from a good night’s rest and realised that I perceive the world through my own point of view and one day that’ll eventually disappear, when death approaches. This is actually difficult to explain, although I experienced a sudden wave of anxiety when I realised that there is an ending, there are some things in life that are unavoidable and death is one of them.

So where do we go from here? Good question, well I would love to explore how others interpret death, perhaps this’ll transform into an exciting new project, you’ll have to wait and see.


1.Regina.M.Marchi, Day of the Dead USA, The Migration and Transformation of a Cultural Phenomenon (USA:Rutgers University Press) p.26 

Work in Progress: Death and the Photographic Image

About a couple of weeks ago, I began to draw a skull onto my face with some black eyeliner, eyeshadow and a very pale foundation. This is my first attempt in about two years and I thought I would practise applying the makeup onto my face before I move onto something more elaborate. I decided to take a few test shots around North Melbourne in order to search for the most appropriate locations and backdrops for a potential photo shoot. Back in 2013, I have taken some self-portraits at the beach in Airey’s Inlet and I thought it would be interesting to take some photographs within the city.

I began to question whether the makeup impacts my perception of death and the human skull? As soon as I create the eye sockets, I begin to realise that death is inevitable, unavoidable, yet so ambiguous; the end of life will eventually occur and my skull will eventually surpass my very own existence.

At times, I am slightly perturbed by the idea, although there are certain stages of the makeup process, where I’ll concentrate on the actual design or the application. There are times, where I won’t think about death until I’ve taken the photograph, as I have the time to go back and reflect upon the overall process. It really depends on my mood or my surroundings, as my interpretation in regards to death changes on a daily basis.

I decided to take some photographs / self-portraits opposite the train station, as well as an empty alleyway that I discovered on my way home. I decided to take some test shots and I intend to revisit the same location for the photo shoot, I was surprised with the results and I was pleased with the photograph next to the train tracks, hopefully I can expand upon this particular idea.

When I viewed the photographs on my computer, I began to realise that the images capture a younger version of myself, I have aged since the time the photo was taken. The overall concept has invited me to consider the idea that every day, every month and every year is another step closer to death.


In one of my previous posts, I briefly mentioned Susan Sontag’s publication, ‘On Photography’ that explores the camera’s ability to capture one’s own mortality.1 According to Sontag, “photography is the inventory of mortality. A touch of a finger now suffices to invest in a moment with posthumous irony.”2 Sontag’s theories have invited me to question whether my self-portraits will continue to exist after my death?

Have I managed to capture my own mortality through these self-portraits? As I mentioned before, the self-portraits have invited me to explore my ageing process, while the person in the photograph remains young forever, I’ll continue to age everyday until I face the inevitable. The end of life and the beginning of death is such a natural, yet disturbing idea that I do find particularly fascinating and perplexing.

Sontag does explore some very interesting concepts relating to the connection between death and photography. The author refers to Roman Vishnic who has taken photographs of the ‘ghettos in Poland’ during the early 1930’s and Vishnic realised that the people / civilians would eventually ‘perish’ or disappear.3 Sontag explains that “photographs state the innocence, the vulnerability of lives heading toward their own destruction, and this link between photography and death haunts all photographs of people.”4


I agree with Sontag’s theories, as I am haunted by this particular idea and it’s often strange to realise that the people in the photograph or the image will eventually die, everyone will die at some stage including myself.5 In a way, the self-portraits resonate a connection to death and mortality, although I have wondered what would happen to the image if I destroyed the physical surface of the photographic print.

I decided to take a closer look at my self-portraits and I realised that the photographs were very smooth and I decided to destroy the physical surface of the print in order to establish a closer connection to death. I decided to crumple the images and rub the paper together; as a result the ink from the printer tarnished certain areas of the images and the experiment successfully created a distressed effect.

In 2012, I decided to destroy my images using water, cello tape, paint and chalk in order to present the notion of decay and disintegration; I have decided to continue the project in order to determine whether these ideas or concepts have progressed since the beginning of 2012.


I do prefer the distressed images, as they successfully establish a greater connection to death. I cannot imagine death as a smooth, perfect or pristine image, I imagine death as a body slowly decaying or disintegrating into a decomposing corpse. I believe the images can be destroyed even further in order to establish this particular style, at the moment I’m just exploring different concepts.

Ripping or crumpling the photographic portraits distorted my self-image and the backdrop, when I viewed the images in the laneway, I noticed that the colour has changed to a brown / sepia tone. I actually prefer this particular effect and the change of colour adds to the level of decay, maybe it is possible to find a connection to death through monochromatic or sepia tones.

I have often questioned what happens to the body after death, can the photographic image portray the process of decomposition? This is what I intend to explore over the next few weeks and sometimes it is really difficult to destroy something you’ve created yourself, although it would be interesting to see what happens over time, will these images change in some way? I am really interested to see where this project will take me, this is all I have for now but stay tuned for further updates!

1. Susan Sontag, “On Photography” (USA: Penguin Group 1977) p.15
2. Sontag, “On Photography” p.15
3. Sontag, “On Photography” p.15
4. Sontag, “On Photography” p.15
5. Sontag, “On Photography” p.15

Black & White Self Portraits in Mirror


17/1/13 – Do the Black and White Photos Appropriate Death?

So I have been replicating the sugar skull imagery through the application of makeup and face paint. In these series of self-portriats, I have decided to stand in front of the mirror and take photographs of myself with the face paint. This process is easier then extending my arms in the air in order to take a photograph; I do actually have a tipod but for some reason, I can’t achieve the same results.


I don’t really use the tripod for my own self-portriats, I often like to experiment with various angles and compositions. Just holing the camera is easier than using the tripod; I just keep taking the photographs until I find at least two or three that I am pleased with. The photographs are inspired by Australian photographer, Sue ford who exhibited 47 black and white self-portriats at the Monash Gallery of Art in 2011. Ford’s most important works, including ‘Self-Portriat with Camera’ examine’s the artist’s own identity and self image.


What I do find fascinating is Ford’s an personal statement about her works that is also cited by the ‘Brummels Gallery of Photography, 1974″. Ford explains, “In Time Series I tried to use the camera as objectively as possible. It was a time machine. For me it was an amazing experience. It was until I placed the photograph of a younger face beside the recent photograph that I could fully appreciate the change” (Sue Ford)

It is interesting see the artist ageing through her own self-portriats; In a way, photography does take you back in time, photography documents a younger version of the self. It is quite a strange feeling when I look at myself in my self-portriats; the person in the photograph isn’t the same person I am today. I am constantly ageing, each day is another step closer to death.


This particular idea questions whether the living body is dying each day? In a way my portraits represent death; they represent a person that no longer exists. I’m older than the person in the photograph, I’ve actually aged since I have taken the photograph, I am no longer the same person that I used to be.

The self portraits have invited to explore my own interpretations of life and death. While the photograph documents my own presence, my own physical existence, my bodily being is permanently absent. Is absence an indication of death? I’m still trying to think of an answer for this question, so stay tuned! Enjoy the photographs!

Monash Gallery of Art, “Time Machine, Sue Ford”, Accessed 25/1/13, http://www.mga.org.au/exhibition/view/exhibition/86

“Time Series, 1977″, Brummels Gallery of Art, August 16 – September 9, 1974”, Sue Ford, Accessed 25/1/13, http://www.sueford.com.au/TIMESERIES1974.html

Sugar Skulls inspire Black & White Self Portraits

14/1/12 – Work In Progress

Last week, I decided to practise my makeup style for my own self portraits; over the past few months I have been using makeup and face paint in order to replicate the Mexican sugar skulls. The black and white portraits were apart of my honours research project that explored my own personal interpretations of death. Throughout the project, I discovered that the absence of colour did impact my own emotional response to death; I then began to explore the way the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration differs from Western / European interpretations of death that is often considered as a subject of fear and anxiety.

I’ve decided to continue with the project and I have used my sugar skulls as a source of inspiration. I have been making my own sugar skull moulds and decorating them with icing sugar; the blue and orange skull I had created has provided inspiration for my self portraits. I have replicated the floral patterns around the eye sockets; this particular design did contrast with the dark backdrop.

So I did have a small problem while I was applying the makeup; my eye pencil actually snapped in half and I had to used a liquid eye liner to finish the job. The liquid eye liner was quite difficult to use although I did manage to complete the design towards the end of the day. Once I had completed the makeup, I decided to sit in front of the backdrop I have made for myself and I started to take photographs.

So many people have asked…how do I take the photographs of myself? Well I have tried to use a tripod, for some reason the photographs never seem to work. So I just hold the camera and I continue to adjust the settings until I am able to take a photograph I am pleased with. The photographs are quite dark but that is what I like about them; it is the darkness that instantly reminds me of death.

Blue, Yellow & Grey Sugar Skull


15/12/12 – Practising Sugar Skull Decorating 

Since it’s only a few days away till christmas, I thought I would decorate a sugar skull for my supervisor. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to practise on my sugar skull decorating skills with the royal icing. I must admit decorating a skull with icing sugar is quite challenging, the icing has to be the right consistency for your design to work properly.


I thought painting was difficult, using icing sugar as a paint brush is highly complex, especially when the mixture doesn’t exactly stick into the right place. So what do I do in this situation? I just keep going until I achieve a design I am pleased with. Decorating the skulls has made me realised how much time and effort goes into these sugar skulls especially for the Day of the Dead Celebration.


As many of you know by know I have been using black icing sugar but I decided to use a range of colours. For this skull I decided to use blue, yellow and grey, the design was quite spontaneous, although I am pleased with the colour combination. Over the summer holidays, it is my goal to perfect the art of sugar skull decorating, heck it may even take a few years, it’s a process that I enjoy so much I just cannot stop myself!

Stay tuned for my pictures of the sugar skulls!

Copyright Charlotte Pridding.

Work In Progress: Blue and Yellow Sugar Skull

10 – 11/12/12 – Decorating Sugar Skulls: Practise!  

So today, I decided to decorate a sugar skull that I had created for my exhibition. As I was searching through the very back of my closet, I had found a few sugar skulls left over, I carried them to the garden along with the icing sugar and I began to decorate the mould. For some reason I could not find any black food colouring, so I did wonder whether I was able to make black with red, green and blue. The icing wasn’t black although the colouring did produce a pale grey that I decided to use anyway.


I just used one bag of royal icing and I divided the mixture for the red, blue, green and yellow icing. The icing was quite thick and the temperate did not help my situation, although I was able to spread the mixture with a paint brush. I just planned the design at the spur of the moment, the blue and yellow icing do compliment one another and I thought the skulls would make excellent christmas presents.


The skull isn’t completed quite yet, all I have left to finish is the back of the mould and the teeth. I do intend to practise on the sugar skulls I had created last month ,decorating the mould’s is quite challenging as the icing sugar has to be right consistency otherwise the mixture will be quite difficult to work with. As long as the mixture isn’t too runny, I can always work with the thick icing sugar, the actual mixture I had produced actually delivered some interesting results, the icing features a textural / tactile quality that compliments with the actual sugar skull mould.

I will be creating more sugar skulls in the upcoming weeks and I shall post some more images of the most recent sugar skull once it’s completed, stay tuned!

Photography Competition & Other Projects

Charlotte Pridding, Mictlantecuhtli, 2012

10 – 15/11/12 – What has been Happening in the Past 5 Days?

So I do usually post everyday, due to the amount of work I have at the moment, I have only been able to blog every second or third day. I’ve just decided to discuss what I’ve currently been working on in the past 5 days, but I’ll be up to dat after next Tuesday, the Black Calavera exhibition will be finished. I am actually very nervous, although I’m very excited!

Anyway, I decided to submit one of my photographs into a competition in Melbourne at the Centre of Contemporary Photography. I had the photo professionally printed, mounted and framed, although I had completely forgotten to take a photograph of the final results before I handed the work over to the gallery. I’ve just uploaded the image I entered into the competition but next time I’ll remember to take a photograph for the blog.

The Kodak Salon is an annual competition that takes place each year at the Centre of Contemporary Photography in Melbourne that provides artists / photographers the opportunity to submit their work. I decided to use my photograph of me appropriating Mictlantecuhtli (Goddess of Death in Aztec Mythology) This is one of my favourite photographs I have taken so far and the darkness definitely adds a contrast with the makeup I have used.

I had received mixed responses from the people at the picture framers and the gallery assistants. While some had said the photograph was dark and morbid, others had said how much they love the Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead. It all depends on what the person is interested in, I suppose.

I’m attending the opening night next week where they will announce the winner for the Kodak Salon, but I shall keep up all updated, wish me luck!

Charlotte Pridding, Mictlantecuhtli II 2012: Photo copy placed under hot water for 5 minutes, changed the colour of the photograph from blue to pink and green. Front of the Photograph.

Other Projects

Test # 1

Moving on to another project, I have decided to manipulate various copies of the same image with water which produced some very interesting results. I have been trying to use water, cello tape and paint in order to manipulate the surface of the photographic prints in order to present ideas of death, decay and destruction.
I decided to put one of my photograph’s under hot water until the surface began to deteriorate. I had accidentally printed the photograph blue and I decided to use it for another experimentation, the photograph began to change colours which was really interesting.

The back of the Photograph. The water produced two different images on the front and the back of the photograph. 

The most interesting effect is the fact that the water has produced a different effect on each side of the paper. The paper was also scrunched in order to create a distressed appearance to the photograph, I do appear rather creepy or even mysterious. I almost appear to be submerged into water and my left eye has been completely distorted from the water, this photograph almost reminds me of the old woman from Snow White or even a character from a horror film. It’s surprising what you can make from a single sheet of paper!

Charlotte Pridding, Mictlantecuhtli II 2012, Photograph with Cello tape. 

Test # 2

In photograph, I had scrunched the paper and layered the entire surface in cello tape, these materials provides the images with a textural surface that is quite effective. I do appear dark and very sinister in this photo, the modifications definitely enhances the notion of death and destruction. My self images has been distorted to the extent where I have to hold the image on different angles in order to view myself in the photograph.

The reflective surface of the cello tape does make it quite difficult to see the detail within the original image, which is quite effective in a way, the photo provides a level of ambiguity. I almost appear to be emerging from the darkness into the light, it almost feels like I am looking at a un living version of myself. The cello tape definitely adds a distressed, morbid appearance, in a way I’ve achieved what I had aimed to do in the first place.

More Sugar Skull Photographs

6/11/12 – Sugar Skulls Part III: Two Weeks to go until the Exhibition! 

Considering I had so much fun at the sugar skull workshop, I have decided to upload some more pictures. We even designed boxes for them so we could carry them around the city! Anyway, it was a bright, sunny day and I thought that I would quickly take some photographs before I went to work. So I have been super busy trying to finish off my essay and the rest of my work, although I will begin to post on a regular basis once the exhibition is completed, only another 2 weeks to go!

Thesis Completed!

5/11/12 – Black Calavera presents The Mexican Day of the Dead Celebration and the Economy of the Skull in Popular Culture. 

53,876 views, 111 followers and 102 comments later and I finally completed my thesis!. At the beginning of the year, I decided to start a research blog just to document all my notes and visual observations for the written thesis as well as my honours project, I never thought that Black Calavera would grow this much in the space of eight months! Each day I have been collecting images of the skull in fashion, advertising, photography, contemporary and graphic design; these images were meticulously posted to the blog on a day to day basis. now i’m completely obsessed, I now have a skull collection that is continually growing each week!


Well…what have I discovered from the research project? The skull is popular than ever before, from window displays to billboards, the skull has become completely unavoidable. So does the skull even have any symbolic meaning anymore? In a way the skull has been reproduced to the extent where the image is removed from it’s association with death or mortality. Perhaps this reflects our fascination with death in the Western Culture or perhaps we feel the need the reproduce the skull in order to withdraw one’s self from the very idea of death.The skull appears to a commodity a commercial item that is readily accessible to a mass audience.

So what about the Mexican Day of the Dead Skulls? Well they have increased in popularity in Melbourne, Australia. In local bars, restaurants, shops around the city, I have recognised papier mache, wooden and ceramic skulls from Mexico. On the Day of the Dead, workshops such as the sugar skull work shop at the immigration museum demonstrates that both adults and children were interested in Mexico’s unique celebration with the dead.

What Now?

That is a good question. Well I only have two weeks before the exhibition and the countdown begins! I do not not want to reveal too much information at this particular stage of the project although I will make sure to post some photographs once it’s all completed. I will continue to post research onto the blog of course! and I am hoping to establish a website later on down the track. I plan to use Black Calavera for future projects including future exhibitions and sugar skull making.

There’s so many different possibilities, I don’t know where to start next, heck I still have to learn Spanish and travel to Mexico for the next Mexican Day of the Dead celebration! I’m hoping to collaborate with Sean Breasley on a couple of projects, we’re planning to design our own skull printed t-shirts, which will be awesome, I wont have to keep wearing all these baggy men’s t-shirts. If you don’t know Sean already, check out his blog, it’s really really awesome! Art and design combined into one, what more could you ask for? http://seanbreasley.wordpress.com/


I wish to thank all those fantastic people out there who have supported the blog, I can’t believe that it’s grown so quickly. I would also like to thank those who have contributed their own thoughts ideas and thoughts, I couldn’t have done all this work without all of your support! Stay tuned for further updates, there is so much more to come!

Dowling, Faye. The Book of Skulls. Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2011.

Sugar Skull Workshop

Sugar Skulls designed by Black Calavera & Sean Breasley at the Immigration Museum 

3/11/12 – First Attempt at Sugar Skulls!

Today I attended a sugar skull workshop at the Immigration museum and I was so excited, I’ve been counting down the days since last Monday! It was by far the most exciting workshop I have ever been to, we actually got to design our own sugar skulls. At the beginning, a young artist from Mexico had conducted a presentation about the Day of the Dead which was quite fascinating.

The artist had explained that the Day of the Dead is a colourful and joyous event that allows families and friends to honour the departed spirits. What I do find really interesting is when the artist had said that children are encouraged to celebrate the Day of the Dead through activities, such as sugar skull making or face painting. So the Day of the Dead is designed for both adults and children!

Sugar Skulls on Mini Altar

At  the front of the room, the artist had installed a table with items that are usually included into the Day of the Dead altar. In the Day of the Dead, that are decorated with white chocolate. I didn’t even know about this and I am tempted to make my own chocolate skulls. There was a large group of people that attended the workshop, both adults and young children were invited to decorate the sugar skulls.

There were more women than men at the workshop, perhaps the sugar skull decorating attracts more of a female audience. The moulds were placed onto the tables alon with sequins, fabric, paper, cotton and icing sugar. In order to decorate the skull you had to squeeze the icing sugar from plastic zip lock bags, the processes was quite difficult to start off with, although I did get used to towards the end of the workshop.

The icing sugar came in pink, blue, yellow and purple, the different colours created some interesting designs. My boyfriend also made a sugar skull that looks very cool, he also decorated his skull with icing sugar, sequins and feathers.

The workshop was definitely entertaining and I didn’t want to leave, I would definitely recommend this event to anyone who has an interest for the Mexican sugar skulls or for those who are interested in craft. I decided to buy a sugar skull mould from a Day of the Dead shop in Melbourne, I do intend to create my own moulds for my exhibiton. I’m not too sure how well they will work, although I shall document the process, stay tuned for further updates!

I do like the fact that the sugar skulls are a little messy, provides a personal touch to the final piece. I have currently displayed my sugar skull on the side of my bed side table, I do feel connected to it considering that I had decorated and designed the sugar skull, the work shop had definitely provided ideas for future projects and exhibition.