How to Decorate a Sugar Skull Pumpkin for Día de los Muertos

Use bright paint and ordinary pumpkin-carving tools to transform a faux pumpkin into a colorful Day of the Dead display.

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours
  • Skill Level: Kid-friendly

The iconic sugar skull design is often used as a decoration during Día de los Muertos. The colorful skulls are put out during the celebrations to honor loved ones who have passed and recognize the lives of living family and friends. Whether you're hosting a Day of the Dead gathering or decorating your home, try making your own sugar skull to display this year.

The holiday begins at midnight on October 31 and painted pumpkins and jack-o'-lanterns have become a popular way to display the iconic design. If carving a sugar skull pumpkin stencil seems like a daunting task, you can create part of the design with paint instead. Traditionally, bright colors are used because it's believed that they symbolize an individual's vibrant life. Use our free stencil to transform a faux pumpkin into a gorgeous decor piece for your celebration—we'll show you which basic shapes to carve and show you how to detail the rest with dramatic paint colors. Don't forget to add accessories! We gave our sugar skull pumpkin a crown of rainbow faux flowers.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • 1 Knife
  • 1 Scissors
  • 1 Pencil
  • 1 Paintbrush
  • 1 Awl
  • 1 Hot-glue gun

Materials

  • 1 Assorted faux flowers
  • 1 Spray paint
  • 1 Faux pumpkin
  • 1 Acrylic paint
  • 1 Clear tape
  • 1 Paint pens
  • 1 Battery-operated tea light

Instructions

  1. Paint Flowers

    Before you begin decorating your pumpkin, you'll want to prep the flower crown so it has time to dry. Pick up a bunch of faux flowers that look like marigolds (the official flower of Día de los Muertos) or use wood marigold flowers and use spray paint ($10, Michaels) to paint them in bright colors. Work in a well-ventilated area and apply light coats of paint until each flower is covered; we used about 10 flowers to decorate the pumpkin. Set these aside to dry while you begin carving your sugar skull pumpkin.

    Related: Quick and Easy Painted Pumpkins to Try This Year

  2. Prep Your Pumpkin

    After prepping the faux flowers, it's time to decorate your pumpkin! You can carve and paint a real pumpkin, but we recommend using a faux pumpkin ($10, Oriental Trading Co.) for this project so you can reuse it. Start by cutting a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin—ordinary pumpkin carving tools will work just fine on the faux version.

    Print out our free sugar skull pumpkin stencil. Cut it out along the pattern edge to create a circle template. Position the template as desired then draw a pencil circle about one inch wider than the template. Use white acrylic paint ($3, Michaels) to paint the circle white.

  3. Carve Pumpkin

    Once the paint on the pumpkin is dry, use a knife from a pumpkin carving kit ($7, Amazon) to cut out the shapes of the stencil. Tape your template to the pumpkin, then use a pencil to draw the shapes on the pumpkin; you'll paint or cut these later. Then, use an awl ($10, Amazon) or a thumbtack to poke holes along the sugar skull pumpkin carving lines.

    Remove the stencil and carve along the dotted lines, pushing all the pieces out as you go. Wipe the surface of the pumpkin to remove any dust, then use a small brush to paint the remaining shapes with bright colors.

  4. Paint and Carve

    sugar skull pumpkin stencil design painted on a faux orange pumpkin decorated with faux marigold flowers
    Matt Clark

    When all the shapes are carved or painted, go back over the design with a black paint pen, adding outlines and decorative dots. Once you're happy with how the design looks, hot-glue the dried flowers in a crown around the top of the pumpkin, place a battery-operated tea light ($5 for six, Walmart) inside, and display your painted sugar skull pumpkin.

Related Articles