Skull Makeup Tutorial Inspired by Pixar’s Coco

k7for2glzmz8mqdcanmhPixar’s Coco is about a little boy who crosses into the colourful Land of the Dead in order to resolve a family issue. To celebrate this movie’s release, and to learn a little more about the culture behind it, I visited local makeup artist Tammy Fonseca, and had my own transformation into a Catrina.

Dia de los Muertos is a national holiday celebrated in Mexico on the first two days of November. On November 1st, the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead is believed to be thinnest. It is an occasion to celebrate your dead loved ones – not a time to be sad or scared, but to be joyous, as you would be on a birthday. Families make altars called ofrendas that are decorated with marigolds, photos, and ornate sugar skulls. They might bring gifts to their loved one’s grave, basically all the deceased’s favourite stuff. If you were visiting my grave, you’d have to pay music way too loudly, and toast with extra-dry martinis in my honour. If I was visiting my grandmother’s grave, I’d wear knit slippers and say shitty things about my mom. It’s just a nice way to remember the person you loved by doing the things they loved. You laugh and tell stories and play music.

If you get dressed up, a calaca is a skeleton, a calavera is a skull, and a calavera de azucar is a sugar skull (which is a frosted, skull-shaped treat made from sugar paste and colourfully decorated). The most famous calavera of all is “La Calavera Catrina,” a high-society skeleton lady dressed in a big flower hat, from a 1910 etching by Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada. It was meant to remind us that money or no, we’re all the same in death. She has become the most iconic symbol of Dia de los Muertos. Since death is viewed not as an end but as the continuation of life, dead relatives are not mourned by celebrated. Painting your face as a calavera or catrina is a way of telling death you aren’t afraid.

This Mexican ritual is a loving tribute to their ancestors but is also an essential part of aa95ddf7325204f319fad2427ee0bd0c--book-of-life-sugar-sugarkeeping the old ways alive and vibrant in their culture today.  So when we watch a movie like Coco, or the similarly-themed The Book of Life, we can think about where this dazzling imagery comes from, and know that each of the bold colours in Coco’s vibrant palette means something:

Yellow – Represents the sun &unity; like in death, under the sun, we’re all the same

White – Represents spirit, hope & purity.

Red – Represents blood and life.

Purple – Represents mourning, grief and suffering.

Pink – Represents happiness.

A face with lots of purples may therefore be a tribute to someone more recently passed, or gone too soon, whereas a face of pink might mean that their loved one’s suffering is alleviated in death and the family is ready to celebrate and honour their life’s accomplishments.

Tammy is an accomplished makeup artist who got her start studying architecture. Now she draws blueprints of faces before she begins painting them. It took her 2.5 hours to paint mine.


Tammy has been making people beautiful for a long time but started painting skulls when she was inspired by an episode of American Horror Story (The Walking Dead has also inspired her – guess what else she paints?). Aside from your typical horror, she’d love to get her hands on a comic book movie to really make her mark, and her dream is to work on a Cirque du Soleil production.

Tammy’s favourite celebrity makeup looks are Kate Winslet and Liz Taylor. A lover of art, she of course finds inspiration all around her, and when I asked about the temporary nature of her work, she was nonplussed: “people and bodies are my canvasses.” True, and yet I felt true sorrow when I watched it rinse down the drain of my shower. Her work has been featured in Imira and Luxe Ottawa Magazine. She looks to beauty bigwigs Lisa Elbridge, Vanessa Davis, and Argeni Pinal for inspiration.

I was really pleased to have met Tammy and to experience what it’s like to sit in the makeup chair and become someone else. Now it looks like I belong in the world of Coco, which is out in theatres this week. Feel like seeing how the sausage is made? You can watch a slideshow here.

21 thoughts on “Skull Makeup Tutorial Inspired by Pixar’s Coco

      1. D. Wallace Peach

        The Day of the Dead artwork on/of skulls is often beautiful. A combination that that in some ways goes against the grain but in others ways exquisitely honors the cycles of life. Now, zombies… they’re just fun. 🙂


  1. Wendell Ottley

    Great informational post and the slide show was very cool. I first learned about this holiday a few years ago when the art teacher at the school where I worked had the kids do projects based on it. It’s really fascinating stuff made even more so because The Book of Life, a very good movie, was just hitting theaters. I’m looking forward to seeing Coco. Thanks for this, and should you speak to Tammy, tell her she’s awesome.


    1. Jay Post author

      It’s great to be able to use something as innocuous as a movie as a teaching opportunity. We can really escape down the rabbit hole of another culture and it doesn’t even have to be a documentary.


  2. raistlin0903

    Always cool to get background information on something 😀 I had actually some knowledge of this as it has been featured on quite a number of films and tv series. The slideshow was very cool to watch as well. Truly a terrific post 😀


  3. Danny W

    that was a great article and i likedthat the focus was on culture and the talented tammy. As far as death i am seriously afraid of it.mexican culture isvery inclusive they have mothers day fathers day childrens day dead peoples day they have patron saints for all kinds of things and they always share their food with you. White people like myself think children are a pain in the ass and if you come to my house unannounced back the hell away from my apple crumble


  4. J.

    Amazing! An incredibly interesting ‘holiday’, huh? I first got interested in it after seeing the second Crow movie (the only good thing to come of that experience).

    Anyhoo, it’s really interesting to see the makeup come together, too! That’s pretty impressive! Dude, you have jewels for teeth! 😃



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