Grade Level

9-10, 11-12


10 periods, 45 minutes in length


Paper, drawing pencils, blending stumps, rulers, colored pencils


Pencil, Color pencils

Lesson Objectives

For the student to…

learn about how art is used to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

to create their own Calavera design.

understand how to use a grid to assist in the drawing process.

understand how color is created through layering color pencils.

apply value to further develop the portrait.

Introductory Activity

Lessons in colored pencil preceded this lesson. Students need to understand the basics of color theory and how to layer color pencils to create rich and vibrant colors that create depth. See the links in the resource section of this lesson to see what our students did to prepare.

Also, have students create a value scale to practice applying pencil strokes in a controlled manner. The first square will be the while of the paper. Each square will get a little darker by varying pressure and density of lines.

Have close-up photos of the students taken as a reference for students to work from. The teacher could take the photos or students could take photos of each other. Once taken, the photos will be converted to black and white, cropped to 6.5×9 inches, and printed onto a standard full sheet of paper, 8.5 x 11 inches. On the photo, mark every 3/4 of an inch with a red colored pencil (this will help you see it against the black and white photo). Use numbers to label the squares on the side going down and the alphabet to label the squares going across the top.

Lesson Process

Students then take a blank sheet of 9×12 drawing paper and mark with a dot the top, bottom, and middle of the page at 1-inch intervals with a pencil and ruler. Use the ruler to line up the marks and draw your vertical lines lightly across the page. Turn the page horizontally and repeat the process of marking at the top, bottom, and middle and using the ruler to align the marks and draw the lines completing a page filled with one-inch squares.

Then begin transferring the information block by block. Carefully draw what you see in each individual corresponding square on my blank grid from my photograph. The labeling system (numbers and letters) will help you keep track. Focus on where lines and shapes fall within the grid and try to avoid labeling it as a facial feature, like an eye. Think abstractly. Once you are done drawing with line and shape, go through and erase your grid lines. This is why we draw everything lightly up to this point.

Students now begin shading. Use a piece of paper to slide under your hand/arm. This creates a barrier that will help you not to smudge the pencil and dirty the page. Look to create a full range of values from the darkest darks to the whitest white to create dimension and depth in our picture. You will be applying value to only half the image, the other half will be executed in color pencil and will display a design inspired by sugar skulls and Careteas. Use a blending stump to smooth your values and apply lighter values. Study the photograph and replicate the values as close as possible.

Traditionally, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) participants and dancers used careteas, or masks, to represent a deceased loved one or an expression of themselves. In more contemporary times, participants may paint their faces. The colors are symbolic (see resources). With this project, after learning about Dia de los Muertos makeup, you will create a design on paper that will be applied to the remaining half of your Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Self Portrait and developed in color using all the color knowledge garnished earlier in the class. You can still reference the photographs to see the values that will be translated in color.


value, dia de los Muertos, Calavera, grid, blending stump, Careteas


Learn How to Color – YouTube
Learn How to Color Green Apple – YouTube
The above two links are how to work with color pencils, a lesson taught prior to the Day of the Dead Self Portraits.

Learn How to Color: Companion Worksheets by Mrs Os Art Resources
Free TPT worksheets for the above to color lessons

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) slideshow used with this lesson by the teacher.

Day of the Dead in Mexico: The Complete Guide

Using a Grid: Dia De Los Muertos self portrait part 1 – YouTube
Using a grid for Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Self Portraits
Information on careteas

This is an article on “How to Avoid Cultural Appropriation.” As the students are being respectful, learning about the culture and traditions, and are not gaining monetary value and not claiming these as authentic pieces, I hope this isn’t cultural appropriation. I don’t claim to have all the answers but encourage you to read on the topic and make your own conclusions.
Why Cultural Appropriation Is Wrong

Author & Website/Blog

Candis Marie Oberdorf

Supporting Images