POMONA, Calif. — Artist Judith Bautista, also known as Kahlovera, transforms her model into a sugar skull to honor loved ones who have died with every stroke of her brush.

Often, during the transformation, she said people start to open up and talk about the loved ones they have lost.

What You Need To Know

  • Judith Bautista started face painting as a teenager but has been an artists her whole life

  • She's known as Kahlovera

  • She uses her art to teach clients about Dia de Los Muertos

  • She learned about Dia de Los Muertos through her mom

"It's an intimate experience, they're sharing something that's meaningful to them and I feel that what I do is meaningful for me so I'm sharing what I do with them," Bautista said.

She started face painting as a teenager, but she has been an artist her entire life. Bautista started drawing as a child growing up in Boyle Heights.

Her name is a blend of the last name Kahlo for her favorite artists Frida Kahlo and Calavera, which means skull in Spanish.

Her mother also was an artist, and so one could say Bautista's talent was inherited.

Bautista said her mother "loved art; she could make anything into art, so she inspires me daily still." 

Her mother died four years ago. It is through her mom that she learned about Dia de Los Muertos. The two-day holiday in November is mostly observed in Mexico, when families remember their departed and celebrate their lives.

For Bautista, the months before Dia de los Muertos are her busiest as she transforms people into sugar skulls at local festivals. While she is painting faces, she is also teaching and sharing her knowledge about the day of the dead.

When she is not transforming people into sugar skulls, she also works as a face painter for birthday parties, something she said she really enjoys. She also designs Jewelry.

Jaymi Manzo, who has modeled for Bautista several times, said she grew up seeing people painted like sugar skulls for Halloween over the years.

"At one point I do remember not seeing anything wrong with it. I was pretty naive and when I started talking to Judith more about it, you should not even be wearing sugar skull makeup and incorporate that with Halloween makeup," Manzo said. 


Bautista said while it's something she tries not to do, it really starts as a conversation between her and the person sitting in her chair.

"It's an opportunity for everybody to grow from it but yeah, definitely, it's not a lesson and it's not required and there's no fee," Bautista said.

In sharing her knowledge, she has helped spread awareness so that more people learn that Dia de los Muertos is not a somber occasion but a celebration of loved ones.

To find out more about her art, visit www.kahlovera.com.