Categories / Inspiration

Design Inspiration from Carnivals Around the World

Check out our inspiration from carnivals around the world, if you're looking for ideas for your next graphic-design project.

Marc Schenker May 25, 2021 · 13 min read

When you hear about carnivals around the world, you inevitably make numerous associations in your head. These consist of merrymaking, festivities, and colorful design flourishes meant to leave a long-lasting impression. Revelers forget who they are for the time being and throw themselves into the communal party environment.
The roots of these events are interesting, too. Traditionally a Western Christian season of celebration that precedes Lent, carnivals usually occur in February or March (think Mardi Gras), though ones in other parts of the world can run later in the spring, summer, or fall. Activities typically include public street parties, parades, mask-wearing, food fights, mocking authority figures, social satire, and other elements of an almost circus-like atmosphere.
As a graphic designer, you stand to also gain a strong sense of inspiration from taking in the sights of these carnivals. Among the elaborate costumes and colors are textures and aesthetics that can serve you well on your next design project.
Right in the midst of carnival season, we took an inventory of all the wildest carnivals around the world and present them to you here.

Mardi Gras Carnival

Mardi Gras (also known as Shrove Tuesday in the United Kingdom) is sort of a catch-all term for a series of celebrations that take place in the U.S. and Western Europe. Of course, the most famous Mardi Gras is New Orleans’ version, which can begin on any Tuesday in early February or March and runs for about two weeks.
Two of the biggest highlights in this two-week reverie are the parades and balls (sometimes, masquerade balls) in various parts of the city. Social clubs called krewes are the organizers behind the parades, and so-called super krewes are even known to hold huge events in addition to the parades. Usually, the parade route begins in the Mid-City and Uptown districts and then snakes its way to Canal Street and St. Charles Avenue. Bourbon Street is another famous location for festivities.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (Sergey Galyonkin)

If you’re in the crowd when a parade in this city makes its way through, expect to be bombarded with throws, which are small items that parade riders toss into the crowd. They normally include:

  • Cheap toys
  • Moon pies
  • Lingerie
  • Plastic cups
  • Doubloons
  • Beads

As far as carnivals around the world go, the parades and floats here are extremely colorful, bursting with character, and elaborately designed. The costumes of both parade riders and people in the crowd are only limited by their imagination and, some would say, sense of modesty.
Check out these carnival-inspired assets to liven up your creative projects:

The Carnival of Venice

Here’s a statistic you may find hard to believe: The Venetian carnival attracts approximately 3 million tourists each year. A centuries-long tradition that dates back all the way to 1162, after a significant military victory in favor of the Venetian Republic, the carnival is perhaps most famous for the assortment of wild and surreal masks that revelers don. The modern incarnation was officially inaugurated in 1979.
Some of the more famous (or even infamous) masks include the beaked plague-doctor masks, which feature the bird-inspired nose and round eyeholes that have crystal discs, and the volto or larva masks, which are usually a brilliant white with gilded decorations and worn together with a cloak and tricorn (an 18th-century style of hat).

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons (Tracy)

The famous masks themselves have an interesting backstory. Initially, they were forbidden to be worn, along with extravagant clothing, by those of low social rank (read: almost everyone not of the nobility), during medieval times. However, when carnival season hit even back then, these draconian laws were suspended, also allowing commoners to don silk and velvet, along with the now-famous masks that kept their identities anonymous.
The fancy nature of these Venetian masks definitely sets this event apart from other carnivals around the world. The masks here are flamboyant, bedazzling, and heavily decorated with rich colors and detailed patterns. They’re usually made of porcelain or leather and are generally handcrafted so that even feathers and gems can be added to the mix.

Rio Carnival

Hands down, the claim to fame of the world-famous Rio Carnival is that it’s the largest of its kind on Earth, with an approximate 2 million people per day on its streets for the length of this festival. Usually held in Rio de Janeiro in late February, the event goes back to 1723 when the first carnival took place.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Besides the sheer magnitude of this festival, there are two other attributes to be aware of: the floats of the parade and samba, a lively flavor of music that’s rooted in the African-Brazilian style of dance and drumming.
In this carnival, the performances, floats, and entire parades are put on by the respective samba schools in an almost ritualistic sequence. Every samba school starts out with a so-called front commission that serves as the intro for the specific school and establishes the style of the parade presentation to follow. Then comes the school’s first float, followed after that by the Master of Ceremonies as well as the Flag Bearer, both meant to lead the school’s dancers. Rounding out the rear of these gigantic processions are the musicians, such as the drum lines, guitar section, and brass section.
Carnivals around the world take note: For its absolute pageantry and bombast, you can’t top the Rio Carnival.

Nice Carnival

Located in France, the city of Nice can today boast that it features one of the more spectacular carnivals on the planet. That’s quite a feat when you consider that European carnival histories first originated in Venice and then only later radiated outward to other locales on the continent.
Here, too, giant floats are the main attractions of this boisterous carnival affair, as the citizens prep for months to build these showstoppers. The way they do things in Nice is a bit different, though: When you’re in the crowd and taking in the spectacle of these floats, look for their defining feature. Huge, papier-mache puppets, which they call “grosse tetes” or “big heads,” typically adorn these floats, giving them an added, gaudy appearance.
What’s notable is the intricate detail and handcrafting that goes into each of these “big heads” on the floats. Enormous color contrast, vivid colors, and a definite caricature vibe are present in these giant creations.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Also, look for a humongous sculpture known as “The King of Carnival,” which ceremoniously presides over the festivities.
Finally, if you still have energy after taking in the spectacle of the floats and the “grosse tetes,” stick around for the so-called Bataille de Fleurs–translated to “Battle of the Flowers.” Not really a war, it’s when costumed revelers on each float begin to chuck flowers into the throngs of people stretched along the parade route.

Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife, mainly known as just Santa Cruz, is the capital of the biggest island of Spain’s Canary Islands. It’s also significant because it’s the yearly scene of the Carnival of Santa Cruz, which attracts a plethora of people. It’s considered the second-most popular carnival, as far as carnivals around the world go, right after the Rio Carnival. It takes place two weeks prior to Ash Wednesday, in February.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

What makes this carnival stand out is that it’s essentially composed of two distinct entities. First, you have the so-called official carnival. This is characterized by the participation of upwards of 100 groups, all of which are rooted in music:

  • Murgas – a musical theater group that puts on performances in the streets
  • Comparsas – a collection of dancers, singers, and musicians that performs during carnivals
  • Rondallas – a group of musicians that performs with stringed instruments

The second is the street carnival, which is more ad hoc. Here, it’s mostly comprised of people who spontaneously gather in the streets for the festivities.
The street performances can get very showy; think of some of the performances associated with Las Vegas, for instance. It’s not uncommon to see flamboyant performers dressed in vibrant colors and elaborate costumes throughout the night’s entertainment.
Here are some more carnival-inspired digital assets to inspire your next creative projects:

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is held yearly on either the Monday or Tuesday right before Ash Wednesday. It’s characterized by very vibrant costumes and passionate celebrations in the streets, along with other carnivals around the world. Music, as well, plays a huge part in this carnival, particularly calypso music (a kind of African-Caribbean music), though in more recent years, Soca music (a mix of African, calypso, and East Indian flavors) has jumped to the forefront in these festivities.
Historically, this carnival came to be due to the emancipation from slavery of the island’s inhabitants. Former slaves rejoiced in their freedom by celebrating Canboulay, a holiday that commemorated a pre-emancipation uprising. Mask wearing, the carrying of burning sugar canes, and singing and drumming were common even back then.
There’s typically an assortment of activities taking place at the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, such as:

  • Stick fighting
  • Limbo contests
  • Costumes or mas

In this carnival, perhaps more so than in others, the musical component stands out the most. That’s because musical competitions comprise a significant chunk of the program during this carnival. For example, Calypso Monarch is one such competition that’s held during this event. Being named Calypso Monarch is among the country’s greatest honors. Besides the title, a cash prize, a vehicle, and other contracts and endorsements are part of the deal.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

At this carnival, warmer and louder colors donned by the myriad of street performers—such as reds, oranges, and yellows—are very popular. You can also expect to see flourishes of exaggeration (such as feathers), for effect, on these costumes.

Carnaval de Ponce

Puerto Rico’s Carnaval de Ponce takes place each year in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Going strong for one week, it concludes right before Ash Wednesday. One of the earliest carnivals in the Western Hemisphere, its origins go back to 1858. Interestingly, the Carnaval de Ponce takes place around the same time as the aforementioned New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, the Rio Carnival, and the Carnival of Venice. A smaller celebration, its attendance is roughly in the 100,000-people range.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

One of the unique aspects of this carnival is the presence of so-called “vejigantes,” characters from Puerto Rican folklore that are popular during carnival season. Colors like red, black, yellow, and green are traditionally associated with these characters, although today’s vejigante costumes display brighter colors in their elaborate masks. These costumes, and the performers wearing them, represent evil: They carry around blown cow bladders for noise making and even “hit” carnival attendees all throughout the festivities.
Another noteworthy tradition in this colorful carnival is the crowning of the Carnaval queen and child queen, which is a tradition that’s been taking place since 1959 and 1973, respectively.

The Haitian Carnival

Leading up to Shrove Tuesday, the day prior to Ash Wednesday, the Haitian Carnival runs for several weeks in the winter. Held in Haiti’s biggest and capital city, Port-au-Prince, this event goes by the name of “Kye Marn”; it is held in conjunction with many other Mardi Gras carnivals around the world.
One of the largest carnivals in the Americas, Port-au-Prince’s carnival runs through February, although its so-called pre-carnival actually starts in January. The city’s main carnival is defined by performances and presentations like:

  • Parades
  • Musical concerts
  • Bands

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The parades feature floats, including children taking part in the presentations. Unique to this interpretation of carnival is the putting on of comedy plays by the carnival’s participants. Of course, as with other carnivals around the world, celebrants wear masks and costumes with ornate decorations and vivid colors. The procession of floats and song and dance snake their way through the city’s streets, culminating at the Champ de Mars, the city’s large, public plaza.
As with other events of this type, music here is integral to the celebrations. If you’re ever in attendance at the Haitian Carnival, you’ll take in the sounds of zouk (an Afro-Caribbean French creole style of music and dance), Compas (Haiti’s modern Meringue dance music), and mizik rasin.

The Carnival of Barranquilla

Regarded as one of the biggest carnivals around the world, the Carnival of Barranquilla takes place each year in February in Colombia. Hosting the carnival in Colombia’s fourth-largest city has its benefits, such as the large influx of tourists (both national and foreign) that congregate here before the start of the festivities.
This city really loves its carnival season since the pre-carnival begins right after New Year’s Eve. Therefore, in effect, the Carnival of Barranquilla runs for several weeks each year.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

There are numerous events that, together, make up the pre-carnival. They include:

  • Reading the Carnival Proclamation
  • The Carnival Queen’s Crowning
  • The Children’s Parade
  • La Guacherna (an interesting, nocturnal parade featuring candles and lanterns)

Once February rolls around, the “real” carnival begins and runs for the entire four days prior to Ash Wednesday. The main carnival has its own multitude of events, running from Saturday to Tuesday, which includes:

  • Battle of Flowers (parade of floats)
  • The Great Parade (on the second day)
  • The Great Fantasy Parade
  • Orchestras Festival (concert involving a lot of national and international musicians)
  • Joselito Carnaval

The costumes at this event are wild, too. Look for the Marimondas, which are hooded characters that have long noses, vivid vests and trousers, and floppy ears.

Carnivals Around the World: Get Inspired

Carnivals enjoy a reputation for partying, social gatherings, and, in some cases, debauchery. People gather, sing, dance, and take in the epic assortment of parades and floats. In short, they’re experiences you’ll definitely remember for the rest of your life.
That’s the tourist’s interpretation, anyway.
If you’re a graphic designer, though, you may likely have a much different appreciation for these festivals. Far from debauchery and nonstop partying, they are a designer’s dream. Whether it’s the off-the-wall colors that seem to smack you right in your face, the amazing visual textures and patterns, or the elaborate masks and costumes, there’s a lot to marvel at from a pure, aesthetic point of view.
We hope that this rundown of some of the world’s best and literally brightest carnivals will serve you well as you look for inspiration for your next design project.

Products Seen In This Post:

Creative Rut Challenge
Free 30-Day Creative Challenge Calendar
Get Rid of Creative Ruts Once and for All

We have created a calendar with 30 creative activities to help you beat those dreaded blocks.

Download your calendar
About the Author
Marc Schenker

Marc is a copywriter and marketer who runs The Glorious Company, a marketing agency. An expert in business and marketing, he helps businesses and companies of all sizes get the most bang for their ad bucks.

View More Posts
Go to My Shop
Related Articles