I’ve been working on a design for a sugar skull tattoo for a friend. This is a working image, just a doodle. I don’t mean for it it have a black background, I’m just playing with shapes and images.
It’s been quite fun playing with the imagery and got me to look into the history and beauty behind the sugar skull.
So, what’s a sugar skull?
Sugar skulls are closely associated with the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations held on November 1st and 2nd. That’s the Catholic holiday of All Soul’s Day. You know it because it used to be called All Hallow’s Day and the day before, October 31st was All Hallow’s Eve or Halloween.
The idea is that on November 1st the souls of deceased children come back to earth to visit relatives followed by adults on the 2nd. This isn’t in keeping with traditional Christian tradition but shows and interesting blend of the native culture with that of the Europeans who came and settled (conquered) in Mexico.
And here is where I defer to the experts with an excerpt from this awesome site: mexicansugarskulls.com
“Sugar Skull Tradition
Sugar art was brought to the New World by Italian missionaries in the 17th century. The first Church mention of sugar art was from Palermo at Easter time when little sugar lambs and angels were made to adorn the side altars in the Catholic Church.
Mexico, abundant in sugar production and too poor to buy fancy imported European church decorations, learned quickly from the friars how to make sugar art for their religious festivals. Clay molded sugar figures of angels, sheep and sugar skulls go back to the Colonial Period 18th century. Sugar skulls represented a departed soul, had the name written on the forehead and was placed on the home ofrenda or gravestone to honor the return of a particular spirit. Sugar skull art reflects the folk art style of big happy smiles, colorful icing and sparkly tin and glittery adornments. Sugar skulls are labor intensive and made in very small batches in the homes of sugar skull makers. These wonderful artisans are disappearing as fabricated and imported candy skulls take their place.”
Sugar Skull Tattoos
Tattoos of decorated skulls have a lot of similar meaning to the sugar skulls people eat as permanent reminders celebrating the lives of the loved ones e’ve lost. As with anything in our popular culture, they have grown and developed in their own ways. Less traditional images may have some fun or comedic images worked in whereas traditional images may be steeped in the history of the Day of the Dead.
Here are five of my favorite designs.