In what ways do you think your society's traditions and beliefs have impacted your work as an artist? How different do you think your artwork would be if you had grown up in a different place in the world? Is there any particular celebration or tradition that you find particularly inspiring?
As human beings, we will always carry with us a certain degree of influence from the countries we have lived in and the people we have lived with, especially during our formative years. I consider myself extremely lucky to have lived most of my life in a country that, not only has produced amazing artists of all kinds, but has a rich and unique culture full of color, symbolism and joy. Mexican Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead has always been one of my favorite yearly celebrations and, this year, I decided to use it as inspiration for a few watercolor illustrations.
In this post, I will explain a bit about this wonderful celebration and the story behind the well-known Catrina character. Also, I will show you step by step how I go about drawing a human skull and why it is so important to have, at least, a general understanding of the underlying bone structure when drawing a face. I've included a free downloadable PDF at the end for you to print if you wish to practice with it! : )
A Day to Honor the Dead and Celebrate Life
The Day of the Dead is celebrated each year on the second of November, coinciding with Christianity's All Soul's Day. This important celebration is a mixture of both indigenous rituals and Christian beliefs. Way before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mexico, the native indigenous people living in the area already had ceremonies that revolved around death and the natural cycle of living things. Since prehistoric times, the Aztecs and other indigenous groups used human skulls in rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. When the Spanish arrived during the XV century, they were horrified by the pagan rituals they witnessed and later on sought to spread Catholicism amongst these people. Eventually, customs of the Spanish started mixing together with those of the different indigenous groups.
On and around the second of November each year, Mexicans remember their deceased family members in a variety of ways. Graves are visited and decorated with flowers. Elaborate altares (shrines) are created in homes to invite the souls of the dead back into the world of the living. Also, beautiful parades are organized in which entire communities are invited to celebrate together. On this day, death, which is usually something that is feared and associated with negative emotions, turns into something joyful. Mexicans pay homage to death with both respect and humor, celebrating both the past and the present simultaneously. Even though the whole idea of inviting the dead to visit us, and celebrating death in general may seem like a pretty morbid idea, the point of this day is to understand that death is an eventual part of life and to use this as a reason to enjoy ourselves while we are still here. El Día de Muertos reminds us to not only be more appreciative of life moments but to take advantage of the time we have.
The Day of the Dead and Halloween are often compared, but there is a fundamental difference between the two celebrations. Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve was a festival created to mark the end of harvest season and the beginning of the “dark half" of the year. It was thought that, on this day, the walls between our world and the spirit world became thin enough to allow ghosts to pass through and damage crops. Halloween focuses more on our fear of mortality and the spookiness of the unknown. On the other hand, the Day of the Dead is more about remembering loved ones who have passed away, celebrating their memories instead of mourning their loss. Instead of treating death as something dark and frightening, it is about seeing the positive aspects of the living cycle and laughing in the face of death.
Shrine for the Dead and Symbolism of Objects
When a family sets up an Altar de Muerto for a deceased loved one, there are certain things that have to be taken into account. Each object included symbolizes a particular element and the location of the objects within the shrine also has a meaning. Usually, an altar is made up of objects that call to the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). Because the objective of an altar de muerto is to lure the deceased back home, it usually includes objects specific to that person, so that he/she feels the desire to make the long and hard travel back from the underworld.
Here is a general list of the things that are usually included in an Altar de Muerto:
1. Levels (steps): Altars usually are made up of two to seven levels. The lowest levels represent the underworld and the Earth, while the higher levels represent celestial dimensions.
2. Arch: An arch symbolizes the entry to the underworld and is adorned with flowers and fruits.
3. Symbols for natural elements: Papel picado, which consists of cutting intricate designs out of delicate and colorful paper, represents wind. A glass of water is placed to represent this element and also to calm the spirit's thirst after the long travel back home. Candles are placed throughout to represent fire and to help light the way back home. Finally, seeds and fruit are included to represent earth.
4. Variety of aromas: Prehispanic cultures used to burn a type of incense created from the resin of Copal trees in their rituals. The smoke and aroma produced from burning Copal was thought to purify environments and keep away evil spirits. People now-a-days use either Copal or other kinds of incense in their shrines. Other aromas are produced by herbal infusions and flowers like the Cempasúchil (Marigold). The Cempasúchil is a bright yellow flower commonly used to help guide the spirits back home through both sight and smell.
5. Food: It is common practice for the family of the deceased to prepare his/her favorite dishes to place on the altar. Typically, it is a Mexican dish like mole or tamales. Candies are also placed throughout the altar, which can vary from sugar skulls, chocolate and/or amaranth. Pan de Muerto , which is a special seasonal bread, is also included. This bread is made differently depending on what area of Mexico you are in, but the shapes created within it usually represent skulls and bones.
6. Salt: Salt is thought to purify the body and to strengthen the spirit when traveling to and from the underworld.
7. Personal belongings: Photographs and personal belongings of the deceased are usually placed somewhere within the central levels of the altar. Usually, family members choose to include specific favorite objects that will lure the deceased back home.
8. Religious symbols: Crosses and/or other religious symbols are usually placed on the higher levels of the shrine. It is common practice to include saint figures, virgins, and angels.
Who is Catrina?
The original Catrina character was created by José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican illustrator, printmaker and engraver, and was called “La Calavera Catrina" or “Elegant Skull". However, it was made popular later on by artist Diego Rivera in his mural Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon Along Central Alameda), completed in the historic center of Mexico City in 1947.
Even though Posada and Rivera created these artworks at different moments in history, they both used this character as a symbol to transmit social and political messages to the public during times of transition in the country. In Posada's time, it was common to see skeleton characters in newspaper illustrations humorously criticising both the actions of politicians as well as the hypocrisy found within Mexican people as the blood and social ranks of the Europeans and indigenous mixed. Posada stated once: “La muerte es democrática, ya que a fin de cuentas, güera, morena, rica o pobre, toda la gente acaba siendo calavera.” / "Death shows a sense of democracy because, at the end, blonde, dark-skinned, rich or poor, everyone ends up being a skull.”
Over time, Catrina stopped being as political and became an important Mexican symbol representing death. Today, she is known all over the world and is widely used during Day of the Dead celebrations at parades. All sorts of artworks are created by Mexican artisans that specialize in this subject year-long.
Many tie Catrina to the the Aztec's Goddess of Death Mictecacihuatl, who was considered the keeper of the bones in the underworld. This goddess was a vital part of the Aztec's month-long festivals honoring the dead. However, Catrina differs greatly from the serious Mictecacihuatl and the bloody rituals of the prehistoric peoples. This character is always smiling, dressed in colorful clothes and is unmistakably humorous.
How to Draw a Human Skull
Practicing drawing the human skull is very useful for beginner artists that are starting to draw faces. By understanding the underlying bone structure of a face, we are able to better understand proportions and locations for facial elements within the head, as well as forms and planes that will give a drawing a sense of three-dimensionality. I really recommend finding a good picture of a skull and studying its form. This will help you discern where shadow and light naturally falls within the face and your drawings will be much more effective and realistic.
Use the steps below to create an outline drawing of a skull. Once you have this down, step up the challenge by searching for a good picture of a real skull online and try placing shadows, lights and midtones in the areas you see fit. Remember I have the downloadable PDF at the bottom for you to print out and use!
Thanks SO much for visiting my site and reading this post! I appreciate it very, very much! Whether you celebrate Day of the Dead or not, I wish you a wonderful day and a fulfilling and joyful life!
Hope to see you around soon!
How to Effectively Use Other Artists' Work as Inspiration and a Great Method to Start Developing Your Own Artistic Style
Are you constantly trying to find inspiration by admiring other artists' work and find yourself copying more than you'd like? Do you feel like you are making no progress towards finding your own artistic style? Are you simply unable to produce as much original artwork as you'd like?
“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing."
In this post I will explain one of the methods I use to make sure I produce original artwork while getting inspired by other artists. This strategy is an amazing way to work towards finding and developing one's own artistic style. Plus, it's very fun!
The act of copying is a very delicate subject in the artistic field and just the word seems to put many of us on edge. I say, let's try to relax and admit that each one of us has been constantly inspired throughout his/her life by people, experiences, artwork (and by “artwork" I mean movies, music, theater, books, etc.), the environments we have lived in, advertising, and pretty much everything around us. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, has a conscious or unconscious effect on us and, therefore, on the work we produce as artists.
We have all been influenced by a combination of different things and have different likes and dislikes. This is not to say that two different artists are never going to produce similar work. There are bound to be similarities amongst us in terms of technique and/or subject matter because there are only a certain amount of techniques and subjects to work with. However, if we put in the effort to discover ourselves as artists (what techniques/supplies we enjoy working with most, what our own distinctive abilities as well as areas of improvement are, what ideas we want to put out into the world, etc.), we will eventually get to a point at which our work will be a direct representation of ourselves. This is, in my opinion, what matters most and what I am personally working towards. At this point in my artistic journey I allow myself to admire and analyze other peoples' work, but make sure that the bulk of my time goes towards looking inwards and doing my best to apply what I have learned in my own way.
Having said all this, let's begin!
The Artist Mishmash Exercise
The purpose of this exercise is to start pinpointing specific characteristics of other artists' work that you are drawn to, whether it's related to subject type, technique used, general mood of the piece, etc. Afterwards, you will explore how to use characteristics found in different artists' work in one same piece!
To begin you will need a phone, computer, or any other device on which to search for existing artwork, a few pieces of blank paper and a pencil. Make a list of three artists that create work you greatly admire. If you have already created a Pinterest inspiration board like I have, go ahead an use it! If not, now is the time to investigate. I really recommend keeping it at only three and trying to select artists that produce very different types of artwork. Once you have finalized your list, and perhaps read a bit about each artist if you don't know about them already, analyze several of pieces of each, and write down four to five specific characteristics that you have found in each artist's work.
a) Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)
French artist Toulouse-Lautrec was both a painter and an illustrator. He is known for his provocative paintings and drawings depicting the decadent Parisian nightlife, that he was a part of himself. He created many posters and advertisements for nightclubs including the Moulin Rouge, and elevated advertising to a fine art status. He was a skilled Post-Impressionist painter that experimented with a variety of techniques and supplies. In his posters, he made use of bold, flat shapes of color.
Characteristics of his work I really like:
-Roughness/raw quality of his work in both subject and technique
-Bold use of color, perhaps unnatural at times
-Variety of mediums and substrates used in his sketches and paintings (charcoal, pastels, oils, lithographs, graphite, crayons, canvas, paper, cardboard, etc. )
-Hand-lettering in posters
b) Hannah Höch (1889-1978)
Höch was a German visual artist that is considered the pioneer of the photomontage technique. Her work transmitted deeply rooted social and political messages regarding issues that were occurring at the time (sexism, war, etc.). Though she also worked with oil paints, she is primarily known for her bold collages created with images taken from fashion magazines as well as illustrated journals. Her work conveyed strong, important messages, but were humorous at the same time.
Characteristics of her work I really like:
-Collage/photomontage technique (I think it's quite interesting how we can take bits and bobs of already existing images and create a whole new meaning for them by combining and rearranging them)
-Charged with deep meaning about political/social issues but humorous at the same time
-Incorporation of popular elements into artwork
c) Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Hopper was an American artist that started his artistic career as an illustrator and turned into a fine artist later on. He is considered to be one of the most important realist painters of the twentieth century. His enigmatic artwork depicts the loneliness of modern urban life in America. The arrangement of elements within his compositions, as well as his amazing use of light/shadow and detail, create very visually striking pieces that very effectively create tension and emotion in the viewer.
Characteristics of his work I really like:
-Realist style but not literal copy (certain degree of interpretive rendering that makes artwork more expressive)
-Artwork tells a story or makes the audience think
-Use of color and contrast creates very striking imagery
-Feeling of mystery and solitude
Alright! Once you have your three artists, and you have listed a few characteristics of each person's work, start brainstorming ideas in which you could incorporate most of these into one same piece. Create several different sketches! You don't have to use ALL of the points you've written down, but make sure to at least use one characteristic of each artist.
Having trouble? Consider these tips.
-Start with the artist that uses subjects or styles that you have a bit of practice in already and then see how you can incorporate characteristics of the other two.
-Instead of wasting too much time thinking of the overall idea you want your drawing/painting to transmit, start drawing ONE object/person/animal/shape and add to it as you go. You'll start making connections between the elements you start adding.
-After you have learned a bit about your favorite artists, think of an idea that is personal to YOU and YOUR LIFE, and then think about how one particular artist might go about representing that particular idea.
Once you have selected an idea to work with, go ahead and start with your final piece! Remember, this is an exercise and is not meant to produce a finalized artwork. As with all types of explorations, try to have fun with it and not pressure yourself to create something perfect. If a great idea for a final piece, awesome! If not, at least you learned something new!
My final exploration piece:
After having sketched out a few different ideas, I selected one and created a composition in Photoshop using five different pictures. I used this (digital) collage as reference as I drew and painted. In this piece, I used a variety of supplies and techniques including watercolor pencils, Prismacolor Soft-Core pencils, Gamsol, watercolor paints, black gouache and even a bit of charcoal. Some areas in the painting are purposely made to look more realistic and polished than others. Finally, I did my best to create an image that propelled the viewer to think about and interpret what he/she is seeing.
Thank you so much for visiting and reading! I'd ABSOLUTELY LOVE it if you took a minute to comment below about what message/idea you took from my exploration piece! Let me know what you come up with yourself! Cheers, friends!
Lately I've been trying my best to absorb as much as possible about what it takes to succeed as an artist. I am SO incredibly grateful for all the artists and experts out there willing to put out information for us to learn from and apply in our careers. As artists, most of us are responsible not only for continuously producing good art, but of promoting it as best as we can and dealing with everything else that comes from selling a product (numbers, money, taxes, etc.). There's just SO much! Is it worth it in order to do what we love and living life on our terms? Totally! Nonetheless, there's a lot of learning involved and if it wasn't for all of these incredible, helpful people putting all that information out there, the learning curve for us new artists would be a lot steeper. I love listening to these talks as I work (yay for multitasking!).
The following five podcasts are by far my favorite. They all offer large libraries of episodes to choose from and their topics range from motivational to practical. I hope they will help you as much as they have helped me.
1. Accidental Creative
Accidental Creative is a group dedicated to helping creatives thrive by providing workshops and many other useful resources.
Click here to listen to the episode released yesterday titled ¨Avoiding the Comparison Trap¨.
2. Creative Pep Talk
I find Andy J. Miller extremely inspirational and I quite enjoy his more intimate approach to podcasts. He combines interviews and personal stories in his episodes.
Click here to listen to the last episode titled ¨You Are More¨.
3. The Jealous Curator
105 episodes of inspirational interviews with artists and creatives.
Click here to listen to this wonderful episode titled ¨If It Scares You, Do It¨.
4. Art Marketing Action Podcasts from Alyson B. Stanfield (ArtBizCoach.com)
As artists and freelancers, we have to be our own promoters. Alyson Stanfield is an expert at Art Marketing and puts out a lot of useful information for us.
Click here to listen to choose from 189 different episodes on iTunes.
5. Artists Helping Artists
This is also a very helpful podcast in which artists talk about the business side of art as well as other practical tips.
Click here to listen to the interesting episode titled ¨20 Lists Artists Should Keep¨.
Good morning, afternoon or evening, wherever you are!
I found this video today and it moved me so much that I just had to post it here. It is so inspiring!
Click on the YouTube banner image below the video to check out more from Omeleto's YouTube channel. They have pretty interesting stuff!
Today I came across the work of this amazing ink/watercolor artist named Peter Sheeler. I highly recommend watching his process and work through his YouTube channel (you can get there by clicking on his name above). Lately I have been working on improving my own artistic skills and trying to find my own style. To do this, I am drawing everyday and trying to pinpoint what it is that catches my attention about the work and process of other artists. As much as I admire people that produce super realistic/hyperrealistic work, there's something about art that is slightly sketchy and raw that I really love. There is a lot of personality in Sheeler's work.
Ohara Hale is a multitalented artist with a very fun, whimsical style. Her work includes fine art, illustration, animation, and graphic design. I love the way she is able to integrate illustrations into logos!
Check out more of her stuff at http://cargocollective.com/hale and visit her tumblr site at http://oharahale.tumblr.com/.
Amy van Luijk is an illustrator and textile/stationary designer who currently lives in Berlin.
To view more of her wonderful work, visit her site at: http://www.amyvanluijk.com/
Visit the artist's website at: http://www.mathiole.com/
Miki Sato is a Toronto based illustrator that creates layered, three-dimensional illustrations using pieces of textiles. I find her work unique and extremely inspirational.
To view more of the artist's incredible work, visit: http://www.mikisatoillustration.com/
Bessermachen put together two of my favorite things in the world (pin-up art and chocolate), when they created these lovely
tin boxes for Chocolates with Attitude. To create their pin-up girl illustrations, they kept as faithful as possible to the way it was done in the 50´s, by first photographing a model and then painting over the picture to recreate the desired effect.
They decided to give each type of chocolate an ¨archetype¨, represented by the image of a specific girl and general design.
I think the idea and the execution is amazing!
Dana Tanamachi is a graphic designer and custom chalk letterer that lives in Brooklyn. The following work was created without the use of stencils or projectors. Impressive, huh?
To view more of the artist´s work, visit www.danatanamachi.com
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