Saturday, October 31, 2009

DEMO: Sugar Skulls for Day of the Dead

DEMO: Sugar Skulls

Sugar skulls are one traditional and crafty part of the traditional Mexican celebration, Dias de los Muertos, or Days of the Dead. During this time - usually celebrated from October 31 to November 2nd (depending on the part of Mexico) and adapted from ancient Aztec rituals and the Catholic celebrations of All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day - families and communities put up "ofrendas" or altars to honor and celebrate the dearly departed who come and visit. The sugar skulls are decorated, and often inscribed on the forehead with the name of the recipient - who can be either living or dead! They might be placed on the ofrenda, or given as a gift.

I learned how to make sugar skulls last year from Cathy of Bossa Nova Baby - and you can check out my post about it here! She didn't teach it this year, and I've been getting ready for a Sugar Skull Decorating party this weekend, so I thought I'd share the recipes and directions with you! It might be a bit late to prepare for this year, but you can get all the supplies you need for next year on this website, If you're local to Portland, OR, you can get the supplies at The Decorette Shop and at Global Exchange (they carry the molds!). Global Exchange also has stores in San Francisco and Berkeley.


To cast the skulls:

  • Sugar skull molds, like those from Trim the molds so each piece is individual and has a 1" plastic border. Skulls come in small one-part molds, as well as medium and large two-part molds.
  • 5 lbs granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup meringue powder (available from cake decorating stores)
  • 10 teaspoons water
  • Cardboard squares slightly larger than the size of the trimmed molds you're using
To decorate the skulls:

Royal Icing
  • 2 lbs powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup meringue powder
  • 2/3 cup water
  • Concentrated food coloring paste (like that found at cake decorating shops)
Additional Decorating Materials
  • Sequins, Tiny Paper Flowers, Metallic Leaves, Googly Eyes, Acrylic Gems, Thin Paper Foil, other small sparkly bits - again, many available at craft supply stores or cake decorating stores
  • Cake decorating tips and icing bags


1. Mix the ingredients together for the sugar skulls - water, granulated sugar, meringue powder as listed above. Use your hands to evenly distribute the water throughout
the sugar. The sugar should feel like beach sand, and if you press your fingers into it, it should leave a clear impression. It won't feel wet.

2. Press the sugar into the trimmed mold. Press firmly. Fill it over the top.

3. Scrape off the excess - leave the back flat.

4. Lay the cardboard over the back of the mold, and flip it over. Gently lift the mold off.
If it cracks, you may not have enough water - dump it back in and lightly mist the sugar mixture.
If it sticks to the mold, you have too much water in the sugar. Try mixing it more.

5. Let the skull dry on the cardboard for 5-12 hours, or until it's hard to the touch.
Drying time will vary depending on the size of the mold and the ambient humidity.

6. Even after 12 hours, medium and large skulls will not be dry all the way
through. You will want to hollow them out, but leave at least a 1/2 inch wall thickness
and don't scoop into the neck area. Scoop out the moist sugar - it can be reused.
Now let them finish drying - another 5-12 hours.

7. Once both parts of the two-part skulls are dry, they will need to be "glued" together. Now it's time to mix up your Royal Icing! Blend the ingredients together and use an electric mixer at high speed to mix them together thoroughly. You will want to mix the icing until the icing holds firm peaks - 5 to 10 minutes.

8. Put a 1/2 cup or so of royal icing in a pastry tube and squeeze a bead of icing onto
both halves of the two-part skull. Put the rest in an airtight container, but do not refrigerate it.

9. Squeeze both halves of the skull together. Wipe away any excess
icing that oozes out. Let it dry another few hours. This kind of icing dries like cement -
it's the same kind that is used to put together gingerbread houses.

10. Now, you're ready to decorate! You can mix icing together
with concentrated food coloring to color it. Put each color in its own icing bag. I like to use #2 round tips to get a clean precise line for decorating. Again, this stuff will dry really hard!

11. And you can use the icing almost like glue to attach googly eyes, sequins,
foil, or little paper flowers as part of your decoration.

You can save these from year to year - though they last better in dry climates than in humid ones. And, if you stick to using only edible ornaments - just icing and cake decorating gems - they are edible! Enjoy!

Edited to add: You can also use this same process to make and decorate things like easter eggs or holiday trees! All you need is the right 3-D candy mold! Locally, check out the Decorette Shop for molds you like or just google "candy molds 3D" and you'll get more results - and ideas - than you'll know what to do with!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Where these things lead . . .

I posted a while back about the classes I took at Art & Soul here in Portland this year, including one with Katie Kendrick. I did a bunch of little spontaneous paintings, and some of them have turned into other things . . .

LIke these two Bee ATC's for a swap on Swap-Bot. I also did a bunch of ATC's for Portland Open Studios Valentine's day cards, to be delivered to our friends at the press in February of 2010. And I forgot to scan them first.

And I just made a few collages, cutting pieces apart and recombining them. Here, I used a bit of a piece that had involved strategic use of a plastic doily dipped in liquid acrylic as a highlight (hence my search for my own plastic doilies. none at the dollar store, so after repeated trolling on-line, I am victorious! After several tries, I finally won an eBay auction for some this week!).

Here, more plastic doily goodness, and a tiny punched out bird that was in our class goody bag. Apparently, it's a Martha Stewart paper punch. I love the design, did an on-line search, and yes - won another eBay auction!

So - in answer to the implied question in the title, taking art classes leads to buying things on eBay.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chakra Collage, Week One: The Root Chakra

Last night was week one of my new Chakra Collage class - we were working with the first chakra, or energy center, the root chakra. Its element is earth, its color red. Check out the delicious mess we made!

There are a total of five folks in the class -
here's Patricia, Marta, and Alanna all hard at work in my home studio.

And now for some bad photos of the group's wonderful collages!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

DEMO! Easy Glass Etching

It's finally time for another step-by-step DEMO! Just in time for holiday gift making, we've got Easy Glass Etching - this is a great way to personalize or ornament glassware from Goodwill or the dollar store, make the glass pebbles you use for memory magnets even cooler, or even decorate plain glass ornaments from the craft store! I'll go over the supplies you'll want to have at hand, then give basic instructions and a few variations.


I get most of these things locally at Collage (the same folks who provide the on-site store for Art & Soul), but most craft stores will carry these basics:

  • Armour Etch glass etching cream
  • Sticker back paper (the kind you put through your home printer works great, though you can also use contact paper, to make your stencils)
  • Stickers with simple shapes (you can use the basic shape, either the positive or negative as a stencil - lines, circles, and letters work great)
  • Rubber gloves (to protect your hands from the etching cream)
  • A cheap paint brush or two (to apply the etching cream)
  • Paper Punches (to make shapes in the sticker paper)
  • Rubbing alcohol or Glass cleaner (to clean fingerprints off the glass)
  • Painter's masking tape
  • Glassware! (Glasses from Goodwill or the Dollar Store, glass pebbles or slides from the craft store, glass ornaments from the craft store - smoother and flatter surfaces are easier to work on that rough or curvy shapes)

Easy Glass Etching Basics

The designs are limited only by your imagination! Keep in mind, though, that you are basically making a stencil: the etching cream eats away at the surface of the glass, making it whiter or more opaque, and wherever the stencil is, the etching cream can't go.

1. First, take a clean glass, and begin applying stickers to create a pattern. I'm being careful not to get too many fingerprints on the glass as I apply the stickers - even the oils from your skin can act as a resist to the etching cream! You can use any kind of stickers or sticker paper to create your stencil.

2. Next, take some blue tape and block off any additional areas that you don't want to get the etching cream on. It's thick, but it's still a liquid and it drips. And anywhere it drips it will leave a mark! I've learned the hard way to make sure I have a good 1" border around my stencil.

3. Then, use your fingernail or a burnishing tool (like a bone folder or the back of a spoon) to burnish the tape and the stickers down. You really want to be sure that they're stuck down well, or the etching cream will ooze under the edge and make the edges of the design uneven. Sometimes, you can look at the sticker from the back and see where it's not adhering well.

4. Now, pull on your rubber gloves and open up that etching cream! Using your cheap brush, apply a thick and fairly even coat of Armour Etch to your glass where you want it to etch. The etching cream doesn't work as well over large surfaces (it tends to look uneven). It does better in small areas, as an accent.

5. Wait 1-2 minutes. (Wait 1 minute minimum, but know that I've let things sit as long as 5 minutes and had them still turn out ok.) You may start to see bubbles form, and that's ok - it's just a sign that the cream is working it's magic! It's a chemical reaction that eats into the surface of the glass.

6. After 1 or 2 minutes rinse the cream off in warm water. I use my utility sink for things like this; if you're using your kitchen or bathroom sink, make sure to clean it out well. You really don't want this mixing with stuff you eat or things you eat off of. The sticker paper and the tape will come off easily from the glass with a little tearing and rubbing, and won't leave any residue. This is part of why I use sticker paper instead of contact paper - contact paper is much more difficult to remove, and leaves more residue.

7. Clean with detergent and dry. The design may be tough to see when it's wet, but it will show up more as it dries. Lovely! Forget wine glass charms - decorate each glass with a different pattern! Or try one of these many variations . . .

Variation 1: Sticker Paper and Hole Punch

1. Grab a sheet of blank sticker paper, the kind you put through your own personal home printer. Punch a design out of the sticker paper using a regular paper punch. (You can also cut a design out using an exacto knife - or you can use the knife to clean up edges that don't quite punch out.)

2. Again, make sure your glass is clean! In this example, I've got a blank glass holiday ornament from a craft store. It's nice because it's kind of a cube shape, and has nice flat surfaces for etching! Then, cut out the stencil, leaving a generous border.

3. Peeling the paper off the back of the sticker, position the stencil and stick it to the surface of the glass. Burnish it down with a fingernail or a burnishing tool like I'm using here. Then, follow steps 4 - 7 from the Easy Glass Etching Basics tutorial above to apply the etching cream.

Here, I've used two different star punches to punch a larger stencil pattern out of sticker paper and apply it to the glass all at once.

Variation 2: Multiple Stencils and The Round Surface

Because of the distortion that happens when you apply sticker stencil to a round surface, and the difficulty in finding a place to hang or set it while it dries, round and really curvy surfaces present a special challenge.

Here, I'm decorating the surface of this glass ball ornament in stages. I've already put a few snowflakes on it, as you can see, and now that it's dry I'm going back and adding more in.

Start applying your stencil from the center, and work your way out with your thumbs. There will be wrinkles in the stencil, but this way you can distribute the wrinkles evenly and keep the design from getting too distorted.

Here, you can see the wrinkles as I keep working to burnish the stencil to the surface with my thumbs and thumbnails.

Then, when you go to apply the etching cream, create a little nest of aluminum foil for it to sit in. This will keep the ball from rolling off the table, or dripping etching cream all over the floor.

The Results!

Etching is subtle - not something I'm exactly known for - but it also adds an extra layer and dimension to mixed media work. Imagine etching the glass you use to frame a piece, or etching the surface of a collaged and soldered slide glass necklace. Then, of course, there is colored glass, and paints that can be poured inside those glass ornament globes . . .

Have fun!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Art & Soul 2009: The Eye Candy Edition

I didn't get to teach at Art & Soul in Portland this year, and considering the amazing classes I got to take and the marvelous teachers I met, I think it may have been a blessing in disguise!

Check out this amazing scarf I made under the tutelage of Lorri Scott . . . hand-dyed silk ribbons and other miscellaneous fibers stitched together into a glorious wrapping of yumminess!

I was a little nervous at first about the colors I chose, but then I just went with it, and I love the way the scarf turned out.

I also took a MacGyver Silkscreening Class with Traci Bunkers . . . I won't reveal any of her secrets here . . . but we made some shortcut silkscreen stencils and it was oodles of fun - though I don't think I got my fabric stretched tight enough! I made a few prints of scissors and tape on old book pages . . .

I had so much fun in Katie Kendrick's class . . . her spontaneous painting techniques are very liberating. Here's my painting station . . . it's a wonderful mess, isn't it?

And here are some of the painting starts I made . . .

And here's what they began to turn into. Katie encouraged us to look for images in the spontaneous pools, drips, and squiggles. Here, I saw a pregnant goddess figure:

And a little house on a hill:

And finally, the amazing hippo-dog, Harold:

I also got to take yet another resin molding class, this time with Jane and Tom Wynn. You learn something new with each teacher, and I'm getting a bit better at molding and casting each time. I'm loving the teeth (yup, the originals were mine) and the seashells. The hands are getting better, but still need a little work.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Art Unraveled: Part 2

Art Unraveled was awesome . . . and it's just taken me a very long time to get it together enough to post about the classes I taught! I taught two classes, Washed Up and Worn recycled rubber jewelry, and a Wax and Fiber encaustic class.

First, check out the extremely cool cuff bracelets my students made from recycled bicycle inner tubes! Wonder Twin Powers Activate!

I never got to take any pictures from the Wax and Fiber class because I didn't pack enough encaustic medium. I went by how much I use, and how much Linda Womack and I had used during her class in 2008. Yup. This was a learning experience. We ran out of medium. Twice. I had to beg and borrow from the infinitely kind Judy Wise. Twice. The next day, I rented a car, and drove all over Scottsdale, Tempe, and Phoenix buying up all the medium in town so that Judy could teach her class the next day. That was after I realized that no one in town carried damar resin crystals, so I spent three times as much buying pre-made medium. Yup. Lesson learned! Next year, I'll be prepared!