Introduction: Sugar Skull Mask

About: I'm a graphic designer from Canada. I love creating things, whether it's digital or something more tactile. I also enjoy writing, reading, learning, and hanging out with my dogs.

I've always loved the aesthetics of sugar skulls and what they represent. I wanted to create something inspired by the Day of the Dead for Halloween.

We had some leftover leather from some chairs, which I wanted to repurpose. This is my first attempt creating something with leather so I wanted to keep it as simple as possible and not spend a lot of money on tools. Since I didn't have to purchase the leather, this entire project cost me less than $25 CAD.

Step 1: Gather Materials and Template


I created my template on illustrator. Feel free to use the template I've created. If you'd like to create your own, one tip I learned was to slant your eyes upwards a bit so that when you form your leather you don't end up with droopy eyes.


  • Leather
  • Paint
  • Eyelets
  • Ribbon
  • Artificial Flower


  • Foam Head
  • Scissors
  • X-Acto Knife
  • Eyelet Tool
  • Tape
  • Hammer
  • Wire Cutter
  • Glue Gun

Step 2: Cut Out Template and Mark Leather

I cut out my template and taped it on the foam head to see where I needed to make adjustments. As it turned out, the lips were too far apart from the nose. I just folded my template to correct that error.

Then, I taped the template onto the leather.

Transfer Template

There are much easier ways to transfer your template onto the leather, like transfer paper. I didn't have any transfer paper and wanted to keep my cost low so I got inventive.

Instead, I used a regular ball point pen and pressed really hard while tracing the template. Since I knew I intended on painting over the leather, I was fine with the pen going through the paper. You may want to consider a different approach if this isn't your intention.

Once I finished tracing my design, I cut around the outside of the mask giving me my basic shape.

Step 3: Define Lines and Score Leather

I retraced the line impressions with a ball point pen.

After all my lines were marked, I scored the leather with an X-Acto Knife. I would recommend practicing on a scrap piece of leather so you can get a feel for how hard to press.

Step 4: Soak Leather

Leather connoisseurs can tell you that there is a science to this process. My method is much less sophisticated, but seemed to work well.

I placed my mask in warm water. When you first place the leather in the water you'll see a lot of bubbles. When the bubbles stop, take the mask out of the water.

Brush away any standing water, and wait until the leather lightens slightly. Once this happens, you can begin working.

Step 5: Emboss Design & Soften Edges

There are a lot of quality tools to do these tasks, but I used the tip of a wooden soon, a butter knife, and the wrong side of a leather stamp.

We had purchased these leather stamping tools in the past, but all of my attempts to use them correctly failed terribly. Please, if you know how to use them correctly, let me know in the comments below.

While the leather was wet, I used the tip of the wooden spoon to soften the edges around the eyes, nose, and other edges.

Then, I used the wrong side of the leather stamp to emphasize the lines I previously scored with the X-Acto Knife. I used the butter knife to emboss the flowers around the eyes and the lips.

This step was probably the most time consuming.

Step 6: Set on Foam Head - Let Dry

Yup - This step is as simple as it sounds. Take your mask and place it on a foam head. I MacGyvered my foam head with tape and paper towel rolls so the head faced upwards. Form your mask around the nose and eyes. All you have to do now is patiently let it dry. It takes about 24 hours to dry fully. A simple way to test is if you touch it and it's cold, it's still drying.

There are other methods out there, such as using an oven to fast dry the mask. From what I've read, using an oven will make the leather harder which can be beneficial depending on your design.

I actually love the way the mask looks in plain leather. In the future, I think I'll design something that doesn't use paint.

Step 7: Add Eyelets for Lace

I marked where I wanted my eyelets to go, the made a small "X" with my X-Acto knife. Better to go small at first and cut larger later.

I pushed my eyelet through the "X" I made, and positioned it on my eyelet tool. Just follow the instructions on the box, it's very simple.

If I were to do this again, I would have put my eyelets in before I molded the mask.

Step 8: Paint Your Mask

I used an acrylic based paint for the white and pink. I started with base coat of white. I actually did two coats of white.

Once your white paint has dried, add your pink (or whatever colour you've decided to use for flowers and lips). I had originally intended to use a red paint, but opted for pink so there would be optimal contrast between the flowers and black lines.

After everything is dry, outline everything in a black paint. I actually used an oil based paint pen instead of a traditional paint. When choosing your paint, remember that oil based paint can go on water based paint, but water based paint can't go on oil based paint.

Step 9: Finishing Touches

Feed your ribbon through your eyelets to support your mask.

For the flower, use wire cutters to remove the flower at the base from the stem. I decided to use hot glue to secure it to the mask. I debated sewing it on, but this way the back of the mask stays flush. Also, the hot glue melts the plastic at the back of the rose to better secure it.

Step 10: In Conclusion...

This technique is fairly simple for beginners, and I should know since I am a beginner. I'd love to hear any tips you have on how to streamline this process.

Halloween Costume Contest 2015

Participated in the
Halloween Costume Contest 2015

Leather Contest

Participated in the
Leather Contest