Saturday, October 8, 2016

Cultural Appropriation and Dia de los Muertos

Here we go again, Every year I am asked where I stand on this topic and every year I send messages to the individuals asking much like I am about to write right now.

Here is my personal stance on this. Growing up in a third generation Mexican American family who was not big on celebrating Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, I didn't really have a great understanding for what the holiday really was about until I hit my college years. It was then, that I became exposed to more people of my Chicano culture and began to embrace the beauty of my culture and traditions on my own.

I absolutely loved the idea of celebrating the life of my lost loved ones with so many others during this time of the year. It made me feel close to them again. I felt a sense of love and peace. I could mourn and be sad and in the same moment laugh at all of the wonderful times we've shared.

When you lose a loved one the sadness never really goes away, it just becomes easier to live with day by day. Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that embraces death, mocks death and laughs at it. It's a way to accept the inevitable and be good with it. It's a beautiful holiday that happens to fall around the same time as the U.S. holiday Halloween.


Dia de Muertos originally was a holiday celebrated by the Aztecs over 3000 years ago. When the Catholic church moved in on their land they moved the original summer holiday to coincide with All Saints day and All Souls day. The first day is considered Dia de los inocentes (Little Angels day). It is believed that the gates are opened between the living and the dead on the 1st so that los inocentes or angelitos (departed children) can come back to visit us. November 2nd Dia de los Muertos the gates are opened again and everyone else can come back. Because everyone else can come back, los malos or bad souls can come back too, so we paint our faces as skulls so that the bad spirits will think we are dead and leave the living alone. Now, I'm going to stop right here for a second because to be honest with you I do not personally believe that souls of the departed can come back at all and this is why... in Genesis 3:19 God says this about death "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” and in John 11:25 Jesus says this about being born again "Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and in John 14:2-4 Jesus says this about Heaven  My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

La catrina-

Now back to the tradition of dressing up and painting our faces as Calaveras or Sugar Skulls. Dressing up as La Catrina became an important part of the Holiday in the early 1900's when Jose Posada created her image and called her La Calavera Garbancera, It described a person who was ashamed of his native indian origins and dressed imitating the French fashion of the day and wearing lot's of Makeup to make their skin whiter. Artist Diego Rivera soon after created a painting called Sunday evenings dream where he named her La Catrina. Thanks to Diego Rivera and Jose Posada the skeleton lady soon became an iconic image in Mexico's culture and tradition in Dia de los Muertos.

Dia de Los Muertos VS. Halloween-

Let's understand why the two holidays are different. Mexicans from Mexico and Mexican Americans who were born in America mostly agree that the two Holiday's should not be intermingled. In Mexico the traditions are very sacred and respected. Dia de los Muertos is a way to show respect for the loved ones we've lost. Altars are built in the homes with photos, food, drinks, papel picado, caveleritas de Azucar ( colorful, beautifully decorated happy skulls made from sugar), incense, Pan de Muerto and fruit. They are each decorated with love and care sometimes months in advance. Graves are decorated with candles and Marigold flowers because the scent of the flowers is believed to guide the spirits back home.

 If you know anything about Halloween you would understand that it is about dressing up in scary costumes which include witches, spiders, webs Jack O' Lanterns and skulls to go trick or treating or at least that is how it's been adapted for the last 250 years or so in America. This has nothing to do with a night of remembrance and respect for the dead and this is where cultural appropriation starts.

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, defined cultural appropriation as follows:

“Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else's culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture's dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It's most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.” (excerpt from Race Relations)
 If you are not Mexican and have decided to paint your face as Calavera or Sugar Skull, then you must understand what that means by showing respect for the tradition. Using it as a costume for Halloween is not necessarily being respectful and is seen as offensive to some who celebrate Dia de Muertos. You can't take an element from someone's culture held in such high regard and turn it into a costume without offending some people from that group. Take for example the indigenous people of America, It would be seen as offensive to some if you showed up in a feather headdress and said you were Tanto for Halloween. There are no webs, no spiders, no Jack O Lanterns, no pumpkins, no witches, nothing dark, scary, bloody or gorey in regards to Dia de Muertos. It is all beautiful and happy.  To incorporate any of these elements can be seen as offensive or disrespectful.  

 As an artist I am asked frequently to paint Sugar skulls for clients on Halloween. I don't say no, I take it as an opportunity to share the history and beauty of the Holiday with them. Because I come from a family who didn't really hold onto the tradition I understand wanting to learn about it and embrace it and so it has been my mission to help educate those who even show a mild interest in the holiday and tradition of such a beautiful culture. Why wouldn't you want to celebrate the lives of your loved ones through their departure? Accept death and not be afraid of it? 
 I ask you to consider showing respect for the Mexican culture this season by staying true to the beauty of the Holiday and learning about the history. It's not about painting your face as a Sugar Skull as part of a costume for Halloween and instead it's about a celebration of life through death. I urge you to go to the grave sites or a Dia de los Muertos celebration and experience the reality and beauty that is Dia de los Muertos.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pink kitty face painting mask

When it comes to painting cats I prefer to paint mask style designs for a few reasons.

1. I feel like they are sexier on women. They take on sort of a venetian style or feel and cats always make women feel playful and sexy.

2. They look adorable on kids. Enough said. Kitty or Tiger masks win hands down as adorableness overload every time.

3. There is less of a chance of messing it up. How often have you painted a full face Tiger and the child immediately presses their lips together before the paint has dried and ruins the lips? When you skip the muzzle kids can still eat and look cute through the entire party.

4. Speed. Masks are always great when you have a ton of designs to paint. I am not by any means a super fast painter in fact, I prefer to stay between 10-15 designs per hour but, I can tell you this, skipping the muzzle means cutting the time by at least a quarter and you still get a wow from everyone when you're done.

Those are my reasons and of course if you've ever taken one of my face painting classes you will remember me saying "Always complete the look".  Don't forget to line the eyes and add a pretty lip color to match if it will complete the look of your design.

 In this design I used a multi media technique which I always tend to do because I feel like I can get a more dimensional look when I mix makeup mediums.

 Here I used not only aqua paints but, eyeshadows, pigments and glitters (Glitter used here is Violeta by Sugar Face and Body Art) and yes before you even ask I do this on the job too. It only takes a few seconds to add a pretty pigment on top of or instead of water activated makeup.  I hope you enjoy this look and are inspired to create your own version.

Happy Painting my friends,


Let's get social:


Snap   Shawna Del Real

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Face painting student group

 A while ago I created a private group on facebook for current and former face paint and Makeup students of mine to join. A place where we could talk about things I have taught in my face painting and Makeup workshops across the united states.

 I created this group with the intention of continuing to mentor and help anyone who has taken a makeup class with me to be even more successful in their creative journey. In this group I post items I have used in class, give makeup tips and tricks, post helpful guides  and sometimes students will just have questions regarding something we went over in class that they just need clarification on or maybe just need to hear again. This helps other students as well because some may have similar questions and are able to find the answers they are looking for in one place.

 I really enjoy seeing artists grow as I feel that if you are not growing you are not really living up to your full potential. I want to continue to grow in all areas of my life and art fills a big part of my life therefore, I want to help others fill that part of their life as well. I believe it's important to feel supported and lifted up by those you respect and consider your peers along this journey so, if you have taken a full day workshop with me and are not in this group please add me as a friend on facebook and I will add you to this group. I have just recently posted a custom palette I created and purchased from Frend's Beauty before my Dallas Sugar Skull Makeup workshop. I have listed all of the colors and order I have them in my palette in this post.

 Every evening I pray with my children before I put them to bed and ask God to help us to be a blessing to others each day. My journey on this planet is short and I want God to use me in a way that glorifies Him. I know that through face painting I have found a way to reach and bless so many people. I hope you will find a way to use what gifts you have been given to not just support you and your family but, to nourish and bless others as well. Do what you love and make that work to bless others everyday.

Quotes from "The purpose driven life" daily inspiration- 

A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God shaped life is a flourishing tree
Proverbs 11:28

Blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by the long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Glitter and Glam Makeup Los Angeles Workshop

Have you been loving all of my Glitter and Glam posts? Well, now you can learn how I create these beautiful glittery face paint and Makeup looks in my Glitter and Glam workshop here in Los Angeles, California in what may be my only Southern California workshop this year.

Join guest artist and instructor Ronnie Mena and myself as we teach how to use traditional Beauty Makeup, Face Paint and Glitter to create beautiful glamorous looks. You will learn the importance of proportions, color combinations, consistent line work and placement. You will also learn different application techniques for creating flawless photo ready work. The goal of this class is to leave you feeling inspired with a new set of skills and techniques you can apply to your own work.

This class was designed with the working artist in mind. You should have a basic and fundamental knowledge of either face painting or beauty makeup.

I cannot wait to share the fun with you. Cost of this workshop is $150 per person.
Email me at to reserve your seat in class.

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