Mexican Papel Picado (paper-cutting) October 27, 2007 4:12 PM
Jerome's Class Learned about Mexican Culture & about the El Dia de los Muertos Holiday
"Day of the Dead" is the Mexican holiday for remembering and honoring deceased loved ones and ancestors. An important part of the tradition is laying out altars (called "altares") to relatives. The holiday is celebrated annually on November 2nd.
Jerome led a team of fifth-graders charged with turning their social studies class's three ArtHouses into El Dia de los Muertos folk art shrines. To make authentic decorations, they chose to learn one of Mexico's most popular and distinctive folk arts: "papel picado".
A second group selected and arranged Day of the Dead offerings ("ofrendas") within the three altars. Ofrendas usually contain religious items, candles and incense, photographes, sugar-candy skulls, toy skeletons, and favorite toys, foods and beverages, and clothing of the loved ones. They often also include marigold flowers. A third group made a small banquet to learn about authentic Mexican foods.
Papel picado is a particular style of paper-cutting with its own traditions. The art originated in pre-Columbian Mexico. Aztecs used mulbery and fig tree barks to make a rough paper called "amatl". The art blossomed when tissue paper became available. Papel picado artisans usually layer forty or fifty leaves of tissue and then punch designs with special chisels called "fierritos". Sheets of papel picado are hung along strings as banners called "banderitas".
Papel picado is made for many other celebrations besides Day of the Dead. Different celebrations call for different colors and motifs. Day of the Dead paper-cuts are usually purple (for pain), white (for hope) or pink (for celebration). Since the 1930's, most Day of the Dead papel picado artwork has shown skeletons in funny scenes. These were inspired by the art of José Guadalupe Posada, a very well-known engraver of cartoons. Religious symbols are also popular. The scenes sometimes say something special or personal about the ancestors' lives, but more often they're just colorful and imaginative decorations.
How to Make Mexican Papel Picado:
We recommend making papel picado scenes symmetrical down the middle like Jerome did. Lay a sheet of regular paper flat. Put two or three layers of tissue on top of it. (Hint: they can be different colors.) Then fold the stack in half down the middle. With stiffer paper on the outside it's much easier to cut and also you can sketch and plan your design on the cover. Jerome's other trick is to make a parallel crease near the opposite edge. The second crease helps hold the paper sandwich together.
What differences can you see in the designs above? In the design on blue tissue every hole is symmetrical. The design was cut entirely with scissors, so extra folds were necessary. Every cut-out starts at a folded edge or at the edge of the paper.
Although it's possible to make all cuts with scissors, elaborate designs are much easier with a sharp razor knife (as evidently done on the other two designs). Put an old magazine under the paper so you won't cut into the table.
Be careful and remember: (1) You can't make "islands" of paper. (2) You have to be careful because you can't "erase" a cut. (3) It's best to plan carefully so you won't have to alter your design as you go. When you're all done cutting, flatten creases carefully before removing the cover because the individual sheets of tissue will be very fragile. As with most art, it takes practice, so don't get discouraged. Have fun!
Kid's Korner: Papel Picado October 27, 2007 4:17 PM
Making things out of colored tissue paper has long been a Mexican folk tradition. One of the common names for the material, papél de China, or Chinese paper, gives us a clue as to its origin. Paperwork was apparently among the imports that poured in from the Orient on the annual Pacific treasure fleet that plied its way between the Far East and Acapulco, laden with such exotic goods as silver, ivory, spices, and porcelain. Once the craft arrived in Mexico it became the basis for many important and widespread folk art forms.
There are examples of papel picado dating back to the early 20th century. Cut from colored tissue paper to simulate lace, papel picado can be seen hanging from Day of the Dead altars and around graves during November. Also during Christmas and other celebrations the papel picado decorates indoor and outdoor festivities in Mexico.
Papel picado is a form of "folk art," meaning that it is a popular traditional art form handed down from generation to generation. In Mexico template patterns cut the designs into stacks of colored tissue paper producing many paper cuts-outs at once from a single pattern.
Materials: 8" x 10" sheets of colored tissue paper, stacked and folded in half like a book Scissors Straight pins String Glue Pattern
Directions: Pin the pattern to the paper taking care to place the center edge of the pattern on the folded edge of the tissues. Cut into the pattern and tissue first around the edtes to make the border. Then cut out the large "negative"shapes by first puncturing the center of the areas to be cut out and then following the outlines. The small geometric shapes can be cut out by first folding on the dotted lines and then cutting the solid outlines.
When completely cut, unfold and separate the tissues. Fold each tissue along the top edge about 1/2". Apply glue to this flap and wrap each tissue around the string, pressing the glue into the string to secure.