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Drawing Ink and watercolor wash Life in general Mexico Painting People Photos Sketchbook Pages

Dia de los Muertos Celebration (Day of the Dead) Oakland

Aztec Dancer wearing animal head, fur and feathers
Aztec Dancer waiting; wearing animal head (coyote? wolf?),  fur and feathers, ink & watercolor, 8×5″ (drawn from Micaela’s photo, not on site)

LOUD DRUMMING! Brilliant Colors! Aztec Dancers! Smoke from sage (and other “herbs”) and grilling meat! LOUD Bands! Dancers! LOUD Spanish radio stations broadcasting live! Sugar skulls! Costumes and painted faces! Marigolds everywhere!

I followed the man in the sketch above after he finished dancing, trying to get a photo or a sketch of him and failed, meanwhile losing my fellow sketchers in the crowd. Micaela managed to get a photo which she let me use for this sketch.

Blessing with sage smoke and feathers, ink & watercolor, 8x5"
People of all descriptions lined up to be blessed with sage smoke and feathers, (drawn from my photo, not onsite) ink & watercolor, 8×5″

It was the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in East Oakland and I felt like I was in Mexico. Spanish was the  language heard everywhere. Families came to celebrate and honor their loved ones who had passed on with beautiful altars filled with marigolds, fruit, religious imagery and mementos of loved ones.

1948 Chevy Decoto Fleetline,  ink & watercolor, 5x8" (drawn on site, painted at home)
1948 Chevy Fleetline, drawn in ink on site, painted at home (5×8″)

I was finding it difficult to sketch at the festival since it was so LOUD my ears hurt and so crowded we kept losing each other. Being tall, I didn’t want to stand in front of someone’s booth or altar and block the view. Then I found the wonderful old low rider car show at the edge of the event which was much quieter and less crowded. I set up my stool and started sketching directly with a Micron Pigma pen.

People stood behind me and watched me draw. They said nice things about my sketch, including the owners of the car, Jose and Denise, even though my sketch turned their meticulously restored, beautiful work of art into a jalopy.

My first car when I was in high school was a ’49 Plymouth (it was already an antique) and looked a lot like this sketch. To get to school in the morning my sister would have to push it until I could “pop the clutch” to start it. Then she’d run after me and hop in. I was afraid to tell my dad that it wouldn’t start on its own—I thought I’d broken something but it just needed a new battery. I was sad when the motor died.

Boy who likes to draw cartoons watched me sketch
Boy who likes to draw cartoons watched me (in blue hat) sketch

This young man stood behind me and watched me draw so I offered him a notebook to try his hand at sketching the car but he declined. He said he didn’t know how to draw cars but liked to draw cartoons. I said I didn’t know how to draw cars either, but just did it anyway.

There were booths selling decorated skulls made of sugar, beautiful little skeletons in fancy dress, paper cut-outs, hats, jewelry and even paintings on black velvet of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis as skeletons.

Aztec Dancers, brush pen ink
Aztec Dancers, brush pen ink
Sugar skulls, little skeleton ladies and a view looking down from BART tracks when we were departing
Sugar skulls, little skeleton ladies and a view looking down from BART tracks when we were departing
Painted faces everywhere
Painted faces everywhere
Sugar candy skulls
Sugar candy skulls; they added your name on top for free
Pretty skeleton dolls
Pretty skeleton dolls
Aztec Dancer
Aztec Dancer
One of the amazing altars at the festival
One of the many amazing altars at the festival

13 replies on “Dia de los Muertos Celebration (Day of the Dead) Oakland”

What a fun bunch of pictures. Your last couple of drawings in particular are so full of energy and movement. Love them all! I would have found myself sneaking away to the car show too I think. Really fun to read post Jana. Thanks
Jennifer

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Thanks for the nice comments Jennifer. I agree that the sketches done on site have more energy and movement than ones drawn from photos and they’re more fun to do too, unless the subject leaves or moves too much to capture. Jana

Sketchblog: JanasJournal.com Website: JanaBouc.com UrbanSketchers-BayArea,blogspot.com

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The first time I heard of Day of the Dead my 26 year old son returned from an extended trip to Mexico with ten small skeleton-like figures. He is now 38 and the figures are still in his old room upstairs. I think he attended a celebration very similar to what you describe. I really enjoy your watercolor, pen & ink sketches. The colors are so fresh & eye-appealing and you draw SO well. Thanks so much for sharing!

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And thank you for that great story. And for your very kind words about my work — fresh is something I am working towards but feel a long ways away at times so thank you for saying that! Jana

Sketchblog: JanasJournal.com Website: JanaBouc.com UrbanSketchers-BayArea,blogspot.com

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Hi Jana, Thanks for sharing all the images of the Oakland celebration of El Dia de los Muertas. Fantastic scenes and colors. That is most generous of you to include all those wondrful inmages, makes you feel like you were there. I’m so glad you were there and your sketches are great and lively.

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Thanks Nancy, I’m glad you enjoyed it. It makes the time spent sorting and prepping the photos and writing the post worthwhile. Sometimes it can take me hours to do a post so knowing it was read and enjoyed helps a lot! Jana

Sketchblog: JanasJournal.com Website: JanaBouc.com UrbanSketchers-BayArea,blogspot.com

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Hi there. I saw very similar skeleton dolls in Phoenix and would love to purchase some for a family member. Do you know who the artist is? Thanks!

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