Mexican Culture, Tradition and Macabre

El Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead depiction

We all come from different places and different cultures.  You may not agree with the traditions of where you come from, but it’s important to at least be aware of them. I’d like to share one of mine with you.

I’m Hispanic and I continue to follow my Mexican and Puerto Rican customs out of love and respect.  Like a typical Hispanic person, I am Roman Catholic, I value family and music, and I am very familiar with El Día de los Muertos, also known as The Day of the Dead.

Celebrating our dead ancestors is not only important because it keeps their memories alive, but it also gives us hope that we won’t be forgotten when we’re gone. Despite the skulls and death, El Día de los Muertos is a happy and beautiful holiday.

Sugar Skull

Day of the Dead Traditions

Many people make sugar skulls to identify and honor each deceased family member.   The skulls are then decorated with paint and frosting, jewels, fruit and feathers to create a cheerful atmosphere. This symbolizes the belief that we are dreaming in life and truly awake when we die.  It’s a celebration of the continuation of life, even though our ancestors’ bodies are no longer living.

The altar is the center-point for each family, and can be set up inside the home or at the cemetery.  This ritual is celebrated differently depending on where you are, but the point is to choose a central area for the spirits to meet. The altar usually incorporates the four elements of nature: earth, wind, water, and fire.

Day of the Dead Alter

  • Earth is represented by crops.  People leave a feast of fruits and vegetables for the souls to eat when they arrive.
  • Wind is usually represented by something that moves easily if air is blown near it, such as tissue paper.
  • Water is offered in a container for the souls to quench their thirst.
  • Fire can be found by candle.  Each burning candle represents a soul, and any extra candles represent forgotten souls to ensure all the deceased are recognized.

Day of the Dead parades can be found in Mexico and parts of the United States.  Dancing, live music and dining are all typical activities that occur during a celebration.  If you ever find yourself near a celebration site, don’t be afraid to participate.  The opportunity to witness other cultures’ traditions is one I wouldn’t pass up.

Day of the Dead Art

Portrait by Sylvia Ji

Portrait by Sylvia Ji

Sylvia Ji is one of my favorite artists.  Her work is feminine with shadows of beauty, decay and power.  She seems dedicated to mixing her techniques with cultures different from her own.  The exploratory approach she takes is admirable and the paintings she produces are breath-taking.

Skeleton Painting by Jose Posada

Calavera Catrina by Jose Posada

Jose Guadalupe Posada was a Mexican engraver and illustrator in the late 1800s.  Although he worked on many projects with different job titles,he’s most famous for his calaveras (Day of the Dead skulls) and humorous paintings of skeletons interacting with the living.

Sugar Skull Tattoo

Sugar Skull Tattoo

Artists everywhere are embracing death.  I was pleasantly surprised at how many tattoos, paintings and sculptures I found that were created by non-Hispanic artists.  An area of expression that I’ve come to love is skeleton make-up.  People are so much creative. The concepts, shadowing and color are endless!  I could look at this stuff all day.

Thanks for taking some time to learn more about the Day of the Dead. Please enjoy more artistic ways to experience one of my favorite holidays with the photos below. What is one of your favorite holidays that isn’t so popular in the U.S.?

Day of the Dead beauty shot

Imperial Trio by CaptainMagnificent on Etsy. See?! The Day of the Dead is even mixed with American pop culture icons. How cool!



The Music of Macabre and Building a Brand

Musical Nightmares

This week has been all about the music for me.  Nine hours of sleep doesn’t cut it at this point of exhaustion.  In order to stay focused and keep my sanity, I listened to a lot of music.   Fortunately, I came across one of my all-time favorite childhood soundtracks: Walt Disney’s Fantasia.  Below is a video of Night on Bald Mountain. This scene from Fantasia captures a terrifying night in which Chernabog’s demons come out to play in the dark.  It is one of my absolute favorite songs from one of my childhood obsessions.  (I used to pretend that I was the wizard’s apprentice and ran around demanding the broom to do my chores.)

Musical Branding Trends

Masked Band Members

Slipknot Band Photo from Blastro

Since I was listening to so many different bands, I noticed how different they all look.  Some fit the “scene” look,  others wear masks or make-up, and a few are just  cartoon characters.  It got me thinking about branding and reputation for musicians.  Exactly how do they figure out what the best look will be for their market?  Or is it that they actually dress and act like they do in real life?  Maybe it’s a combination of both.

Music branding trends come and go, but there are a few that may just stick.  Mike Boris, svp/executive music producer at McCann Erickson says that social networking with advertising, marketing and public relations companies help build a foundation that a band can leap from.

“The biggest trend [in 2009] was the use of social networking: Artists are being discovered and in turn working with brands. Bands are also becoming popular well before they get a label deal. If a band has an online following of a few hundred thousand fans, it is like a focus group. With the whole music business changing, artists are looking to our industry more than ever, and beyond that 30-second spot, bands can synergize with our brands like never before. (Via Web films, behind the scene’s footage, additional songs, product giveaways, contests, etc.)”

Band Photo from

Hollywood Undead poses by a gate

Another trend that I’ve noticed has been the use of songs that aren’t on the Top 40 list for TV commercials.  A lot of my own favorite bands and songs have been featured in automotive commercials or spots for Apple products.  Commercials are a great way to get exposure.

Managing Reputation is Important

When there’s not much you can do in the way of big name connections, you always have your online presence.  Managing your online reputation is more than just replying to comments, updating information, and talking about the location of your next gig.  It’s about engaging with your audiences, whether they be fans, industry leaders, or venue owners.  Below you’ll find a list of tips for managing your online brand and reputation.   Unless your band is one who wants a bad rep and plays the villain, these next few bullet points will be useful.

  • Let Someone Else Say It- If you can find a Tweet, blog, or article by someone else that captures what you’d like to say, link to it.  It’s better to align with a third party than to push all of your messages at people.  Pretty soon, they won’t listen anymore.
  • Unify Digital Properties- Link your MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Deliscious page and any other social networking sites together.  It’s an effective way to reach a broader audience, and it’s easier to update and monitor everything.
  • Leave Your Ego Behind- When hecklers and D-bags attack you with insults or threats, it’s best to either ignore and delete the messages or CALMLY respond without any hint that it affected you.  Remember that the internet is a free marketplace and anyone will be able to see your responses…
  • Know Your Audience- Your audience is made up of different segments.  It’s impossible to cater to all of them at one time, so we have to divide them up.  One group may not respond the same way as another group so it’s important to tailor messages according to characteristics of each group.
  • Don’t Wallow or Gloat- If you win a music competition or suck it at a tour opener, don’t obsess over it.  Airing dirty laundry or repeated self-praising will only cause people to lose respect for you.  Just keep it simple.

Macabre Spotlights Non-Traditional Art Materials

Found Materials

Found Material in Macabre

A William Hundley Photo downloaded from Flickr

Acrylics, oil pastels, chalk, pencil, clay, markers, water color and paper mache are all materials we’d expect an artist to use.  Found materials are non-traditional media which are not meant for artistic use but are intended for a different purpose entirely.  For example, one wouldn’t expect bed sheets to be used as an art medium or for an artist to use ball-point pens on canvas.  It’s meant to be something you just come across, not something you’re looking for.  I have this box-o-crap that holds a plethora of odds and ends for my crafting collection.  I found a broken pair of aviators on my way to class last fall that I want to turn into something cool.  It may work for a shadowed face or something… I’m still brainstorming.

Blood Art

If blood makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this section.  Casey, aka The King of Unpop Art,  uses rattlesnake blood to paint.  In an interview conducted by Valerie Christopher, a contributing writer at Suite101, Casey says his preference for rattlesnake blood is nothing special.  He hunts them, eats them, and uses their blood for artwork.  He calls it “creative recycling.”  When asked about the satisfaction of blood painting, Casey replied,

I get satisfaction from knowing this type of medium gets ridiculed by the conventional “art world,” not to mention how much it disgusts the stuck-up, art snob douche-bags that think they are authorities.

I tried to find some photos of his work which according to the interview include some high profile serial killers and Alex from The Clockwork Orange, but I couldn’t find any photos that are of good quality.  If you’d like to learn more, visit Casey on his Myspace page.

Vanessa Tiegs is another artist who prefers to paint with blood, but not just any blood; her menstrual blood.  According to her website, Vanessa was a professional ballet dancer.  She went on to college where she discovered a new passion in design, model making, and architecture.  It wasn’t until after beginning her master’s thesis titled Spiraling Moon: A System for Menstrual Insight, did she start painting with her menstrual blood.  She uses the unconventional paint to create pieces that represent femininity and strength.  Below is a video compilation of the pieces from Vanessa’s Menstrala collection. 

Mixing the Madness

It’s not likely that we’ll stumble upon some new medium that has yet to be used.  There’s a guy who uses poop and urine to create his work… I doubt there’s much more that could top that.  It’s not about discovering something new, it’s about mixing materials to create something different.  We all have a story, we all have different ways of communicating, so why not experiment a little bit?


Stronghold by Real Rotten Candy at DeviantArt

This photo is a great example of mixing art media.  We have some acrylic paints, some hair, latex, plastic, a freakin’ fork and so on.  Nothing too extreme here, yet just look at the outcome.  It’s disturbing, well executed, mysterious…  It’s open for interpretation.  That’s the beautiful thing about art:  It means something different to everyone.

Reuse Repaint Repeat

Instead of trashing unused materials. toss them in a box for future use.  My junk box is full of odds and ends including, guitar strings, bubble rocks, sculpting wire (I don’t sculpt), mixed glitter, shoe laces, feathers, butterfly stamps, beads, toilet paper tubes, and a plastic skeleton-shaped lollipop stick.  As soon as I use anything in that box, I’ll be sure to post a photo on here.  Until then, happy recycling!!

Macabre in Young Entertainment

Find this at

Vampire by Rebecca Roo

From Vamps to Virgins

Vampires have been a huge part of American horror since the dawn of silent films.  Since arguably the first vampire film, Nosferatu (1922), writers and directors have been reinventing the blood-sucking monster.  In recent years, the vampire has lost its fear factor.  All of a sudden the male vampire has grown a conscious and developed a set of morals that says killing human beings is wrong.  Our generation has gone from From Dawn Until Dusk and Blade to Twilight.  It may work for now, but I hope it ends soon.

The concept of the virginal male vampire is something that’s driving teens and women crazy.  He has an old soul (because he’s hundreds of years old), he’s in great shape (because vampires don’t eat food or age), and he’s wealthy (because he’s had decades to make bank).  What’s not to like?  It’s a little bit too much romance and not enough horror for my liking.  Traditionally, vampires are sexual predators thirsting for human life and power and today’s vampires do the same thing, but with less action.  The female still lusts for the vampire, which leaves her incapable of grasping reality, but instead of essentially being raped and dried of blood, she becomes restless and contemplates suicide.  What a great message for today’s youth… NOT!

Vampire Vision

Critics wonder if Hollywood’s vampire obsession will lose its appeal.  Ever since Twilight‘s Edward Cullen invited himself into our bedrooms, it seems like a slew of other vampires have crammed themselves into our homes.  The vampire craze shows no loss in momentum as these shows fill up prime time television.

Macabre TV Show

True Blood Series Cover

  • True Blood- Sounds like a teen vampire soap opera to me.  The show centers around a teen waitress who falls in love with a vampire.
  • Vampire Diaries- Just another teen vampire soap opera.  The series follows a love triangle between a young female and two vampire brothers in a small town haunted by super natural beings.
  • Being Human- I actually watch this one.  Three super natural roommates try to find a place in the human world as they deal with their “conditions.”
  • Blood Ties- A Canadian show based on another vampire novel about a private investigator with bad eyesight and her professional/personal partnership with a vampire.
  • Moonlight- Also about a vampire who works as a private investigator.

I’m almost afraid to ask how many more vampire-related shows are going to pop up this year.  It’s on a downward spiral.  Have you heard of “Fantasy Biting” yet?  It’s a form of role play that teens are taking part in.  A 15-year-old Florida teenager told police she was attacked while jogging when in fact she was participating in vampire role play.  It’s blood-sucking madness!!

Other Hollywood Horror Trends for Teens

Movies and TV aren’t the only trends in teen horror.  Fashion (Hot Topic), video games, and music all fuel the teen horror fire, but today’s post will focus on Hollywood (movies) and video games (teen crack).

Vampires may have stepped out from the shadows as of late, but some other monsters haven’t been pushed from the spotlight.  Werewolves and zombies have a tremendous young following thanks to the big screen.  Movies like Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, Wolfman, Shaun of the Dead, 28 Weeks Later and Zombieland have boosted the two groups’ popularity amongst teens.

Video games have pushed the zombie frenzy to all new heights.  First-person shooter games like Left 4 Dead 2, Dead Rising, and Resident Evil have turned the gaming experience into a fight for survival.  Left 4 Dead 2 is without a doubt one of the best zombie video games I’ve ever played (Zombies Ate My Neighbors will always be my favorite), and I’ve played a lot of them.  This game is intense graphically, phonetically, and mentally.  The levels of zombie strength range from petty (but watch out because they come in enormous hordes) to powerful (this zombie is HUGE and can take a lot of lead).  Below is an intro clip from Left 4 Dead that will be sure to convince you that zombies are a threat to survival.

Is Macabre a Trend?!

Some say that these types of movies and entertainment will die off soon enough, but I beg to differ.  Horror will always be around because people are intrigued by fear.  The industry will absolutely change like it always does when new technology is available or when monsters are reworked to create something fresh.  Whether we’re talking about a Disney movie villain or a demon entity tormenting an innocent family, death is a part of life.  Without evil, how can there be good?

Most of the time I enjoy horror entertainment regardless of romance and gore, but sometimes it’s just ridiculous.  I’m tired of the virgin vampire, how much longer can Hollywood milk this?

Go Team Horror!

A Public Relations Digest for Artists

Artists can use the Internet to build a personal brand, carve out a niche, and to conduct business.  No matter the industry, everyone should incorporate public relations into their plans.  Social media is a great way for artists to connect to fans, fellow artists, and potential buyers.  Relying on mainstream media to increase popularity is about as productive as baking cupcakes by sunlight (not very productive).  Social networking sites like Delicious, Facebook, and Twitter can help artists create an online presence, get socially involved in the industry, and stay up-to-date on current news and trends.

"Public Relations" by fb 101

"Public Relations" by fb 101 can be found at

PR Rundown for Artists

Neil McKenzie’s post about PR for artists distinguishes between public relations and advertising.  The post lists public relations opportunities for artists to connect with their key publics and ways to monitor current PR efforts.  Below is an excerpt from his blog.

Some of the areas public relations address are:

  • Communication between you and your audience(s) and target customers
  • A bridge between you and the media
  • Setting up speaking engagements and involvement with public causes or charities
  • Positioning you as an expert in your particular field by being quoted and sought after
  • Building rapport with your stakeholders such as customers, employees, critics and the public
  • Refining your social media management and engagement
  • Developing third party endorsements for your art, company or organization
  • Crisis management (if you do things right you will probably not need this one – think BP and the Gulf oil spill)

Some examples of how you can use PR to tell what is going on in your world:

  • New projects, art or products you have developed or you are currently working on
  • Your shows, exhibits and where you will be
  • The hiring of new employees or opening a new studio or retail location
  • Awards or honors you have received.
  • Collaboration with other individuals or organizations
  • Community activities or groups that you are involved with
  • Panels and group discussions you participate in
  • Feature articles about you and your work
By Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Trust Agents cover

Pre-Campaign Considerations

Before jumping into your online branding campaign, take some time to do research.  Chris Brogan’s Trust Agents is the perfect book for anyone who is new to social media.  Most of us are familiar with social networking, but social media as a whole offer great opportunity to create an online presence while connecting to people.  I read Trust Agents last semester in my Media Relations and Publicity class because we were required to do a book review.  After I finished the book, I had a much broader view of social media, but I also had a much more focused understanding.  So if you’re  interested in my review, let me know and I’ll send it to you.  I’d recommend it to those who are new to social media or interested in building an online presence via public relations.


Since this post is dedicated to PR efforts, I wanted to attempt to tie it into macabre.  Most macabre work can be described as shocking, taboo, or some other word that expresses an uncomfortable feeling.  This alone could be cause for publicity in mainstream media, but who wants to wait around for watermelon raindrops?  I know I’m not going to rely on some reporter to find me.  After conducting some research, it’s quite clear that most people are unaware of what macabre is.  I mean, the first few links when typing “macabre” into Google are from definition websites.  We need to band together and connect with people.  Macabre is something to talk about, it’s something to be proud of.  Maybe it’s time for some zombie picket signs to help us break out of movie and video game entertainment.  I say we push for an American macabre museum!!  Who’s with me?!

Zombie Vector by Mark Mandu

Zombie Vector by Mark Mandu


Digging Deep into Macabre

Before we can really dive into macabre, it’s important we agree upon a definition.  Macabre translates to death.  In art, macabre is a sub-culture dedicated to grim and horror.  It’s difficult to say when macabre began because demons and spirits have been part of life since the dawn of time.  Religious literature tells us about evil, cave paintings tell us about evil, and stories from others’ experiences tell us about evil.  People always say that without a villain, it’s hard to sell the good guy’s story.  It’s impossible to imagine how we all would’ve developed without the knowledge of evil and horror.  Fear is such a huge part of how we live (or don’t live).

Macabre Beauty Shot

Macabre Beauty Shot

Fear mixed with imagination has helped create and shape the world of macabre.   Zombie portraits, gory photos, suicide depictions, dead bodies, monster attacks, alien abductions, and anything else that means death and horror to someone can be used to create something incredible.  It’s definitely a niche market.  I mean, most people probably prefer oil paintings of landscapes or black and white photos of their loved ones, but for those of us interested in the darker side of things, we have macabre.

It’s interesting to think about macabre before movies were possible.  We only had photos, paintings, and stories.  In Victorian times we had theater and costumes.  In Biblical times we had stories of Eve and the snake of temptation.  Every era brings a new perspective on evil and horror.  Now we have video games and fashion.  Each decade pushes the envelope,  I remember hearing about blood painting in undergrad.  Who knows what the next medium in macabre might be.  Hopefully this blog will help me connect with macabre enthusiasts across the globe, so we can stay up-to-date on the latest news and artists.  I just want to be in the loop.

Personally, macabre reminds me to appreciate life, to remember the fact that our time ends eventually and sometimes unexpectedly, and not to take what I have for granted.  I’m not sure if any piece of photography or painted material featuring a skeleton counts as macabre, but I plan to investigate.  I’ve always been interested in the villain, in darkness, and in horror, but I’ve never dived in beyond an entertainment standpoint to learn about it.  I watch movies, I play zombie video games, I like black clothing, but I’m missing out on a wonderful opportunity to explore grim art.

This journey down the rabbit hole of terror should nothing less than interesting.  I hope to learn about how others incorporate macabre into their lives and art, and maybe make some friends along the way.  It’s only fair to hear all sides of a story.  Art can be nice, it can be moving, it can be beautiful, but it can also be disturbing and enlightening.  The most terrifying painting I’ve ever seen is by Salvador Dali.  His melting clocks scares me. *shudder*  It makes me feel eerie and out of control.  I can’t stand it.  Maybe our own fears are what bring macabre to life?

I’m ready to figure this out.  I packed a flashlight, so let’s do this.