Dia de los Muertos :: First Passage
Preparing the Books
All three of my Dia de los Muertos altered books started as large sized board books that I got on sale from Barnes and Noble's children's department. Each book's front and back cover was sanded, as were the first three pages inside. Then the sanded cover and pages were painted with gesso to hide the original text and illustrations.
Next I carved the niches on the right side of each book. I
made a template for each page using an old file folder, and then I measured
and penciled out the shape I wanted for each niche, making sure that they were
correctly centered on the page. I used a pencil to lightly trace around the
template onto the book page; then, the hard work of cutting through the pages
begins. I cut each page one at a time using my giant exacto blade, not a namby-pamby
craft knife. This exacto blade has a fat handle and a lot of heft. I
cut one niche each day because my wrist and arm cannot take much more than
The Cover - First Step
I usually wait until the very end to wrap the cover papers around the book, but I was waiting for some supplies to arrive, so I decided to do the covers next. All the book covers have been wrapped with torn pieces of Mexican bark paper that my husband gets for me from work. He builds furniture and uses it to cover the pieces he makes. When he's done, they cover the bark with varnish which gives it a smooth, satiny sheen that looks like marble. I tore this unfinished bark paper into pieces, and using my Golden Soft Gel medium, glued the pieces all over the front and back covers, turning the paper under around all of the edges and along the top and bottom spine opening. Then I let it dry. I did the second step, adding the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe at the very end, so I'll tell you how I did that at the bottom of this page.
One of the prevalent images connected with the Day of the
Dead is the skeleton or
La Calavara. You see them in mini-altars, wearing the costumes of everyday
working people or dressing up in style with fancy hats, veils, and boas. They
the humor and fun of the Day of the Dead
celebration and are meant to represent the relative who has passed away. So the
next step in creating my altered books for Dia de los Muertos was to make my
Dia de los Muertos :: Second Passage
Collaging and Painting the Backgrounds
My next step in creating my altered books for Dia de los Muertos was to prepare the background of the pages. I have a
very old Spanish language textbook with lovely small etchings and all Spanish
text. I wanted to use these images in the background. So I scanned and printed
them on brown rice paper. I love this paper because it's a little thicker
than tissue paper, has a aged, brownish color, and melts right onto the page
when I use fluid matte medium to adhere it. I have put some of these image
on my Spanish Clipart page. Feel free to use the images in your
own art work.
Dia de los Muertos :: Third Passage
Decorating the Pages
You can see from the pictures that there are a lot of
things happening on these pages. I wanted them to be wild and colorful.
I usually play it pretty safe with the
colors I use in my art, so I wanted to break-out of my shell and try color
combinations that I wouldn't ordinarily use. I spent a lot of time on the
internet looking at examples of Mexican
folk art and textiles and Day of the Dead altars to get a feel for the kinds
of colors that might be found in their celebration of Dia de los Muertos.
I also used a color wheel to give me ideas
for which colors would work best together. I wanted each book to have its
own color scheme, so I also considered how I could avoid repeating big
chunks of color and still have the books blend
together as a unit.
Glitter :: Behind each niche I put a sheet of colored card stock on which I had glued cheap, chunky glitter in red, fuchsia, and turquoise. I had often seen bright glitter used to decorate the background of Dia de los Muertos tableaus of skeletons. Usually I'm very restrained in my glitter usage; here I felt free to cut loose with the crass sparkle.
Loteria Cards :: Loteria is a Mexican game similar
to our Bingo. They still produce cards with vintage style images. I picked
cards that suited the colors and theme of the particular books.
I bought the cards at a local Mexican supermarket so much cheaper than
I could have bought them online! Believe me, I checked.
Imitation Tin :: I love the look of the tin niches and
retablos that are made in Mexico, so I decided to try and imitate the look.
I purchased aluminum tape from the hardware store. After I had
glued all the pages together with my soft gel medium, I wrapped the inside
of the niche with the tape which has a very sticky adhesive on one side.
I also put a border of the tape around each
opening. I made a template of the design I wanted to draw around the border
and laid it on top of the tape. I used a pencil and traced over my design.
Then I removed the template and went back
over the pencil marks with a stylus, making the marks as deep as I could.
Silk Flowers :: The Mexicans like to decorate their Dia de los Muertos altars with bright orange marigolds and chrysanthemums. I tired to capture that feeling by buying cheap silk flowers from Michael's, cutting off the plastic stems, and gluing them along the border of the book.
Sugar Skulls :: One of the reasons the Mexicans create
these beautiful altars for Dia de los Muertos
is to try to entice the spirits of dead relatives to their homes. They
decorate the altars with candies, hot cocoa, and toys for the departed
children, and alcohol, candy, bread, cigarettes, and anything
else the adult relatives enjoyed while alive. They also buy and make sugar
skulls which are molded out of a sugar batter and decorated with colorful
icing. I made my own small version of these by
shaping and baking skulls out of polymer clay. After they had cooled, I
covered them with clear fine German Glass Glitter, which is often used
to give a snowy effect to primitive-style crafts. I love the
way it makes my skulls look like they're covered with sugar. I colored
each skull using a tiny brush and acrylic paint. It was a little nerve
wracking painting on top of the glitter, but it was a lot
of fun making all those cool skeleton faces.
Quotations :: Each of the quotations in the book was from a book of Mexican proverbs. I typed them on the computer and printed them on blank pages from the back of one of my antique books.
Vintage Photographs :: Two of the pictures were from my collection of vintage photographs. The other one I found on the internet. I printed them on heavy matte paper and cut around them with deckle scissors. Many Day of the Dead altars contain the photographs of departed friends and relatives.
Paper Banner :: Another traditional Dia de los Muertos decoration is the papel picado, brightly colored tissue paper panels of varying sizes that are cut into intricate designs and strung across the room or altar. I purchased mine online, but after seeing one, I think next time I would try and make my own.
The Cover - Final Steps
The last thing I needed to do for my book was finish
the covers. I had wanted to have a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe
as part of the inside of each book, but it just didn't work
out. Instead, I decided to use her image on all three covers. First I drew
a simple line drawing of her on white paper with pencil. When I was
happy with the image, I went over the pencil lines with black ink. Then I scanned
it into the computer, made a few changes, and resized the image to fit
the cover of my books.
I wanted the image to blend in with the bark paper, so using 2" wide Safe Release
Painters Masking Tape from 3M, I taped a piece of bark to a piece of card stock.
sure I placed the bark paper
over the center of the card stock where I knew the image would print. I printed
out three copies of my drawing and then colored each one using colored pencil
and adding individual details with black
pen. I dabbed acrylic paint around the edges of the torn paper so it would stand
out on the page and glued one picture to each cover.
Here are some places on the internet that will give more information and ideas for your Dia de los Muertos altered art:
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