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DIY: Make Your Own Day of the Dead Calavera Prints

Día de los Muertos is a very creative time of year for my family. We love to incorporate calaveras, Catrinas and sugar skulls into our Day of the Dead celebration in the form of art and crafts. Colorful, unique, playful and thoroughly Mexican, the skulls symbolize mortality and the constant cycle of life and death.

I love the idea of making a design I can use over and over again. I’ve had fun making stamps such as this DIY sugar skull kitchen towel using something as simple as carving into a potato. This time around, I wanted my design to be more permanent. I’ve always wanted to learn the block printing technique, so I gave it a try using inexpensive materials that can be easily found at most local arts and crafts stores.

What you’ll need to make calavera block prints:

  • Speedball Speedy-Carve block
  • Carving tools
  • Brayer
  • Block printing ink
  • Also: pencil, paper, black marker, white cardstock
Photograph by Denise Cortes

Sketch out a design on a piece of paper and transfer it onto the carving block. Or, you can freehand sketch it, like I did. Don’t worry about pencil marks because you will be carving it out anyway. Start simple, drawing a basic skull shape. You can always add smaller details as you go along.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

As you begin the carving process, try to remember that you will be carving away all of the negative space of your design, which will be the mirror image on the carving block. Sometimes it helps to color in the negative space with a black marker so you will know what to carve away.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

Always carve away from the body when using the carving tools for basic safety. Shallow cuts are all that’s necessary — if you’ve cut down to the base of the carving block, you’ve cut too far. Once the basic design is in place, feel free to add more lines and shapes to make your calavera more interesting visually.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

Once you're satisfied with the design, you can begin to make prints right away. Pour a small amount of block printing ink onto a clean surface. Roll out the ink with the brayer tool until it's smooth and there's an even coat of block printing ink on the brayer itself.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

There are two ways to make a print: Place paper directly on top of the printing block and press firmly, or you can place the printing block on top of the paper, like I did here.

Photograph by Denise Cortes

I made several prints from one coat of block printing ink, using simple card stock. I loved the results!

Photograph by Denise Cortes

Creative tip: Let your kids color the prints with markers, then let them decorate your home with the whimsical calaveras.

Photograph by Denise Cortes
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