Monday, September 4, 2017

Getting Ready for Dia de los Muertos, or For Gringos, Halloween!

     Oh how I have learned to love color. Dia de Muertos 

     (Day of the Dead) celebrations was a colorful feast for the eyes!

   I became fascinated with all things Southwestern when my Mom moved to New Mexico when I was in college. Born in Ohio but coming to Oregon when I was 5, the influences of Northern Europe and northern United States tend to side on greens, more greens and lots of green. Winters are dark and gloomy, very black and white. There could be fall colors but I remember mostly gray skies and green trees everywhere. The Pacific Northwest isn't all that different from Germany and Scandinavia.
    When she moved to New Mexico during my sophomore year at Oklahoma State, my return to my New Mexican home that May was like she had moved from the verdant green Northwest to the Sahara Desert. It was a shock. Oklahoma was certainly warmer than Oregon but forests were replaced by amber waves of wheat ... and cattle of course. Lots of cattle and corn.
    New Mexico was an unknown. We could see the hills in tones of red, brown, tan and at certain times of the day pink, purple, rose. The Sandia Mountains at sunset turned watermelon pink with deep yet rich purple shadows. It was unlike anything I had ever seen. I was hooked. That summer, after a class at UNM, we traveled nearly every day. Sure, up high there were forests but it was but an accent to all the earth tones that surrounded us.
    Santa Fe and Taos were colorful but their Old Towns, like the one in Albuquerque, offered Native American, Hopi-Zuni-Navajo and many other tribal arts as well as a wide selection of Mexican arts in colors and color combinations like I had never seen before. I was hooked.
    As for most of us, life gets in the way. I worked for K-mart after two years in the Peace Corps. I came home to New Mexico and eight months later was transferred to California where I have lived ever since.
     Here was the Halloween wreath

      I decided to decorate.
    After a marriage and two kids later, starting my own business, I slowly rediscovered my passion for art. Some would say graphics design was artistic ... and it was but it was not art! I bought a cheap birdhouse at Michael's, got some paints and slowly developed a style based first on Pennsylvania Dutch motifs and learned a few more along the way. One of my favorite haunts was Olivera Street, the original site for Los Angeles, and its mostly Mexican crafts. The explosions of color slowly entered my palette as I continued to visit the shops and study the colors. They certainly were not color combinations I had been trained to use.
   Halloween may be popular to Northern Europeans but Latin cultures honor their dead November 1st and in Spanish is remembered as Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead with a unique and distinctive artistic style.
    I have a neighbor, whom I discovered moving into my new condo, who loves to decorate for Halloween. In fact I have noticed that craft stores have far more Halloween items for sale and that people are spending far more time decorating for Halloween than I ever remember. Wandering the aisle at Michaels I checked out their Halloween offerings. I wanted to decorate myself so checked out the "blanks" that I could decorate. This cutout wreath seemed like the perfect door hanger. I can't remember what I paid for it but probably with my 40% off coupon not more than five bucks. I probably put in $500 in time and effort even at minimum wage!
Laying in the colors.
    Since I didn't just want all white skulls and bones, I checked out a variety of images on Google, to get colors and possible motifs to decorate all the bones with. I decided that leg bones would remain off-white but each skull had to have a color. Ah, but what colors? Looking at many images there didn't seem to be one or two you had to use, there were many.
    This, I discovered was the easy part. However, I also didn't want to introduce too many colors so base colors were often used on detail and designs of the skulls keeping a sort of relationship within the entire wreath. 
Here are the skulls all sketched in!
   The next step after all the base colors were painted was to pencil sketch in the designs of each skull. This alone took an evening as I wanted to be sure each one was different. Back to Google to see what had been used. I then penciled in a different design on each and every skull. Sixteen in all.
    Then, after all this, began the hardest part ... painting in all the details of each and every skull. I used many of the same colors that were used on the skulls tying them all together but making sure that no design was repeated exactly. Mostly using a liner brush I would start with one skull, paint, then move on to the next. I didn't always use the same color on each one and of course had to avoid one with the same base color. 
     Applying the base colors to the 
     other skulls to tie them all together
Colors all in place!!!
   Once I went through the base colors I was free to add all the additional colors I wanted to complement the colors I had already used. I added greens, creams for flower petals, gold and silver highlights, Sharpie liners even red metallic hearts for a big of bling.
   I took hours doing this listening to audio books, watching movies on my iPad or listening to country & western music as I became lost with colors lovingly applied with a #2 liner brush and even smaller and thinner ones to get the detail right.
   Sometimes I smeared paint, the contact glue came out in blobs but finally, I got all the colors painted, Sharpie details in place and was ready for the final step ... creating depth with shadows.
    The final result (the first image in the blog) shows how using shadows gives depth to what would otherwise be a flat image. Not bad but still, flat without any depth.
    I think this shows that you can take a ho-hum something and with imagination and effort can create something that you might never have expected from racks of things hanging on hooks in the craft store. There's still time ... get with it!!!

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

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