Wednesday, October 27, 2010

day of the dead

This week is my last with the 3rd graders for a while. I wanted to do something that utilized the skills we had focused on for the first three weeks together while doing something in the spirit of the season. There is a gallery called Subtext in San Diego and they are putting on a show celebrating the holiday of the Day of the Dead.

To quote their website, "The meaning of El Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) is simple but poetic: As long as we remember our dead, they will live forever. The moment we forget them, then they are truly gone."

There was an image on their website that was abstract in style, but still used light and dark values to make the image look 3 dimensional and it totally caught my eye. The image is very striking...
The artist who made the image is Simon Varela. He is a freelance artist that has worked for Pixar and Dreamworks, among others. He creates drawings that inspire animators in their drawings of different characters. This work is an interesting departure for him. Most of his images are much more realistic. Through my research of Simon and his work online and through the gallery, I was eventually put in direct contact with him. He was very enthusiastic about the students using his work for inspiration. He was very generous with the information he provided me and in the amount of time he took to respond to my email inquiries.

The students and I checked out examples of his work and then I walked them through creating their own interpretations of Simon's painting. I've been very impressed with the three dimensional qualities of the students versions.

This lesson is a jam packed hour. It's really tough to squeeze all the steps in to it. 3 of my classes throughout the day have flexibility with their end time. I have found that an extra 10 minutes goes a long way.

With this lesson students used construction paper crayola crayons. They are specially made to work well on darker color papers. 

1. draw and cut out jacket shape from black paper
2. glue in place
3. draw skull shape and features in pencil
4. add areas of dark value with black crayon- adjusting hand pressure to make lighter and darker values
5. add areas of light value with white crayon- adjusting hand pressure to make lighter and darker values
6. add color to irises of eyes
7. draw border in pencil
8. add background color
9. add border color


  1. Simon and I went back and forth a few times with emails. I think his last message to me sums up the way he feels about the 3rd graders' work.

    Thank you!! They look great!!! It's amazing!! I'm so glad I could help!!! I'll be checking the blog ! Thanks again!!!

  2. This is an AMAZING lesson!! I'm doing my example as we speak, and I'm so excited to be doing it in my art classroom. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Just wondering if you had more images of his work you could email me, I'm searching online with not too many results. Thanks!