A fluttering banner dancing in the wind. The vivid colors of marigolds and sugar skulls. The rich aroma of tamales at a Day of the Dead celebration. Papel picado brings the spirit of Mexico to life through vibrant paper art. These ornately cut banners add pops of color, imagery, and symbolic meaning to any fiesta.
Making papel picado by hand is a longstanding folk art. But you can easily recreate the magic at home with downloadable templates. In this guide, we’ll unlock the history and symbolism of papel picado. You’ll discover how this ephemeral art form sets the mood for Dia de los Muertos and other festivities. With a library of templates showcasing calaveras, flowers, birds, and other traditional motifs, you’ll learn how to craft papel picado from paper or tissue. So grab some bold sheets and get ready to infuse any event with the soul of Mexico!
Table of Contents
What is Papel Picado?
Papel picado, which translates to “punched” or “perforated” paper, is a traditional Mexican folk art that involves cutting intricate patterns and designs into colorful tissue paper. These delicate, lace-like banners are often displayed during festive occasions such as Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), weddings, and other celebrations. The vibrant sheets, typically strung together, flutter in the wind, adding a touch of festivity and embodying the spirit of Mexican culture and tradition.
Papel Picado Templates
Papel picado are colorful paper cutting decorations for Mexican and South American celebrations. Papel picado templates allow people to easily make these ornate decorations. The templates transform plain paper into festive works of art.
Papel picado templates contain outlines of traditional designs like flowers, birds, skulls, and more. People trace or draw over the templates onto tissue paper. The designs can be cut out by hand or using a die cut machine. Multiple sheets with cutouts can be strung together for hanging.
Papel picado templates allow for creativity in coloring and arranging the tissue paper cutouts. They provide an easy shortcut compared to designing patterns freehand. In minutes, templates yield stacks of vibrant papel picado ready for any fiesta. Friends and family will be impressed with the elaborate decorations made with the help of papel picado templates.
The History and Cultural Significance of Papel Picado
Origins: The art of cutting designs into paper or fabric predates the arrival of the Spanish in Mexico. Indigenous civilizations, like the Aztecs, used bark paper known as “amate” for various purposes, including ritualistic ceremonies and record-keeping. Upon the Spanish arrival in the 16th century, European paper-making techniques melded with these indigenous traditions, giving rise to what would evolve into papel picado.
Evolution: In the initial stages, papel picado was crafted using chisels and top-quality paper, but the art saw an evolution in terms of materials and techniques over the years. By the 20th century, the craft had grown in popularity and was mass-produced, with artists using steel punches to create patterns on tissue paper, allowing for faster production and greater detail.
- Festivals and Celebrations: Papel picado is ubiquitous during festivals. Its most prominent display is perhaps during the Day of the Dead, where the vibrant banners depict skeletons, flowers, and scenes of joy, representing the transitory nature of life. The fluttering paper, with its fragile nature, echoes the ephemerality of life itself.
- Symbolism: The colors and patterns of papel picado often carry specific meanings. For instance, during Day of the Dead celebrations, purple denotes mourning, white symbolizes purity, and pink celebrates the dawn. The designs, too, are symbolic, representing the interplay between life and death, joy and sorrow.
- Community and Unity: Crafting papel picado, especially for significant events, often becomes a communal activity. Families or community members come together to create these decorations, reinforcing bonds and celebrating shared cultural heritage.
- Rites of Passage: Beyond festivals, papel picado adorns events marking life’s milestones. From baptisms to weddings, these paper banners bear witness to the celebratory and sacred moments in an individual’s life, reflecting the vibrancy and depth of Mexican culture.
Recognition and Preservation: In recognition of its cultural significance, papel picado was declared an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. Artisans across Mexico, especially in states like Puebla and San Luis Potosí, have continued the tradition, often passing down the skills through generations. Workshops and schools today aim to keep the craft alive, ensuring that the beauty and significance of papel picado remain an integral part of Mexico’s cultural tapestry.
Where is Exactly Papel Picado Made?
Papel picado, as a traditional Mexican folk art, has its roots spread throughout various regions of Mexico, but certain towns and states have become especially renowned for their craftsmanship in this delicate art form.
San Salvador Huixcolotla, Puebla
Perhaps the most notable hub for papel picado production is the town of San Salvador Huixcolotla in the state of Puebla. Often credited as the birthplace of this art, Huixcolotla has an enduring legacy of producing some of the finest papel picado. Skilled artisans in this town have passed down the craft through generations. Here, papel picado is not just a decorative item but a way of life, with many families relying on its production for their livelihood. The town’s deep-rooted association with papel picado makes it a go-to destination for those seeking authentic and intricately crafted banners.
San Luis Potosí
Another state that has earned a reputation for its papel picado craftsmanship is San Luis Potosí. Craftsmen in this region often incorporate local themes and stories into their designs, adding a unique touch that distinguishes their work. The region’s papel picado reflects a blend of traditional motifs with localized nuances, making each piece a narrative of cultural interplay.
While Puebla and San Luis Potosí are particularly recognized for their papel picado traditions, it’s essential to understand that the art form is practiced across many regions of Mexico, each bringing its flavor and style. From the bustling markets of Mexico City to the quieter towns in Oaxaca, papel picado can be found adorning stalls, homes, and festivals, each piece telling a story of its origin, the hands that crafted it, and the cultural tapestry of the region.
How to Make Papel Picado: A Step-by-Step Guide
- Tissue paper (or other suitable paper types)
- Scissors or craft knives
- Pencil or chalk
- Templates or stencil designs (optional)
- String or ribbon for hanging
- Small hole punch
Types of Paper: The most commonly used paper for papel picado is tissue paper because of its lightweight and easy-to-cut nature. However, other types of paper such as plastic or thin metal sheets can also be used, especially for more durable or outdoor banners.
Tools and Equipment:
- Sharp scissors: for cutting out larger shapes.
- Craft knives: for intricate designs.
- Cutting mat: protects surfaces when using craft knives.
- Stencils or templates: to guide your designs.
Step 1: Selecting Your Design Begin by deciding on a design for your papel picado. You can draw your own or find a template online. Designs can range from simple geometric patterns to intricate illustrations like flowers, animals, or scenes.
Step 2: Preparing the Paper Lay your tissue paper on a flat surface. Depending on the size of your desired design, you might need to cut the tissue paper into smaller squares or rectangles.
Step 3: Folding Techniques Fold your paper in half, then in half again, and so on, until you reach the desired size. The number of folds depends on the complexity of your design and the size of the final piece.
Step 4: Transferring the Design Using a pencil or chalk, lightly trace your chosen design onto the folded paper. If you’re using a stencil or template, place it over the folded paper and trace.
Step 5: Cutting Tips Start by cutting out the larger shapes with scissors. For intricate parts, use a craft knife. Always cut slowly and carefully to ensure precision. Remember, the more folds in your paper, the more repetitions of your pattern will appear on the final product.
Step 6: Unfolding Once you’ve finished cutting, carefully unfold the paper to reveal your design. This step can be magical as the intricate details come into full view.
Step 7: Displaying Using a small hole punch, create holes at the top corners of each piece. Thread a ribbon or string through these holes to create a banner. Alternatively, you can glue or tape the top edge of each piece to a longer string or stick.
Unfolding and Displaying: As mentioned in Steps 6 and 7, unfolding reveals the magic of your design, and you can display your artwork by hanging it using ribbons, strings, or even affixing it directly to walls or surfaces.
- Practice on simpler designs first if you’re new to papel picado.
- Use a sharp craft knife for cleaner cuts.
- If you’re working with kids, supervise them closely, especially when using craft knives.
- Remember, it’s not about perfection. Each piece of papel picado is unique and carries the charm of handcrafted art.
Papel Picado Design Templates
Papel picado, a revered Mexican folk art, exhibits a myriad of designs that resonate deeply with cultural, personal, and contemporary themes. While the art has traditional roots, its evolving nature has embraced new designs and motifs over the years. Here’s a detailed look into various papel picado design templates:
Traditional Designs: These are the classic, time-honored designs that have graced papel picado for generations.
- Birds and Flowers: These natural motifs, often symmetrical, depict the beauty and vibrancy of Mexico’s flora and fauna.
- Religious Symbols: From depictions of the Virgin Mary to crosses, these designs are often used during religious ceremonies and festivals.
- Scenes of Daily Life: Illustrations might include people dancing, farming scenes, or local landscapes, representing the rhythm and essence of everyday life.
Day of the Dead Symbols: Central to papel picado during the Día de los Muertos celebrations, these designs are both poignant and celebratory.
- Calaveras (Skulls): These aren’t somber; instead, they are lively, often adorned with flowers and intricate patterns.
- Skeletons: These can be depicted doing everyday activities, dancing, or playing musical instruments, emphasizing the joy of life and the continuity of existence beyond death.
- Altars and Candles: Representing the offerings made to the departed, these designs honor the spiritual essence of the day.
Wedding Themes: For matrimonial celebrations, papel picado often showcases romantic and festive designs.
- Doves: Symbolizing peace and love, they’re a common motif for weddings.
- Hearts and Bells: These classic symbols of love and celebration are often interwoven with flowers and ribbons.
- Bride and Groom: Illustrations of couples, sometimes even showcasing them within ornate frames or amidst blossoming nature, add a personal touch.
Festive & Holiday Patterns: Beyond the Day of the Dead, papel picado is used for various festivals and holidays.
- Christmas Themes: Designs might include the Nativity scene, stars, or bells.
- Easter: Eggs, crosses, and springtime flowers are prevalent.
- National Holidays: For occasions like Mexico’s Independence Day, designs might feature national symbols like the eagle or the flag.
Modern and Contemporary Designs: As the art evolves, modern motifs have found their place in papel picado.
- Abstract Patterns: Geometric designs, waves, and non-traditional patterns suit contemporary tastes.
- Pop Culture: Icons from movies, music, or global symbols are sometimes incorporated, reflecting the fusion of cultures and the global appeal of the art.
Customizing Your Design: While there are countless templates available, creating a custom design allows for personal expression.
- Personal Symbols: Incorporate symbols that have personal meaning, like family crests or favorite animals.
- Names and Dates: For events like birthdays or anniversaries, integrating names or significant dates adds a personal touch.
- Sketch and Iteration: Start with a sketch, refine it, and experiment. Consider symmetry, balance, and how the design will look when cut out.
Guide to Preservation and Storage of Papel Picado
Papel picado is a traditional Mexican art form that involves creating intricate designs on sheets of tissue paper or plastic. Given the fragile nature of these materials, especially the tissue paper versions, preserving and storing them properly is crucial to ensure they last for future celebrations. Below is a detailed guide on how to properly care for and store your papel picado.
Cleaning Papel Picado
Papel picado can collect dust or become soiled over time, especially if displayed outdoors. Follow these steps to clean them:
- Gentle Dusting: Before you start any cleaning process, use a soft brush or a feather duster to gently remove any surface dust. Do not rub or apply pressure, as this can tear the delicate paper.
- Spot Cleaning: If you notice a small stain or spot, use a clean, white eraser to gently try to lift it. Do not rub too hard or you risk tearing the paper.
- Avoiding Liquids: It’s crucial to avoid using any liquids, including water, on papel picado. Tissue paper especially will dissolve or deform when wet. If you have plastic papel picado, you can use a slightly damp cloth, but ensure it’s not too wet and test on a small area first.
Storing for Reuse
To make sure your papel picado remains in good condition for reuse, follow these steps:
- Flat Storage: Lay each piece of papel picado flat between two sheets of acid-free tissue paper or wax paper. This will prevent colors from transferring and protect the delicate designs.
- Rolling: For larger pieces, or if you lack flat storage space, you can gently roll the papel picado around a cardboard tube, making sure to interleave with acid-free tissue paper to prevent sticking or color transfer.
- Avoid Folding: Folding can create creases that are hard to remove and might weaken the paper.
- Keep Dry: Store in a dry place away from direct sunlight, moisture, or extreme temperatures. Moisture especially can damage the delicate paper and lead to mold growth.
- Use Archival Materials: If you want to ensure the longevity of your papel picado, invest in archival quality storage materials such as acid-free boxes or envelopes.
Repairs and Maintenance
Accidents happen, and sometimes papel picado may tear or become damaged. Here’s how you can repair and maintain them:
- Mending Tears: Use a thin piece of clear tape or acid-free archival tape to mend any small tears. Make sure to apply the tape on the backside to keep it as inconspicuous as possible.
- Flattening Creases: If your papel picado becomes creased, you can try to flatten it under a heavy book. Lay the papel picado between two sheets of wax paper or acid-free tissue paper and put a heavy, flat object on top. Let it sit for a few days.
- Replacing Strings: If the string or thread that holds the papel picado banners together breaks, carefully rethread the pieces using a needle. Ensure you use a strong and durable thread to prevent future breaks.
- Regular Checks: Every time you take out your papel picado for use, give it a quick visual inspection for any new damages or signs of wear. This proactive approach can help you address small issues before they become larger problems.
Can I use a papel picado template for digital design?
Yes, many graphic designers scan or recreate papel picado templates digitally to use in digital artworks, animations, or web designs. Just ensure you’re not infringing on anyone’s copyrighted design.
How do I ensure my papel picado doesn’t tear when cutting?
Make sure your cutting tools are sharp. Also, ensure the tissue paper lies flat and is secured, perhaps with small weights, so it doesn’t move while cutting.
Are there modern takes on the traditional papel picado design?
Absolutely! Many contemporary artists incorporate traditional papel picado techniques into modern designs, reflecting various themes from pop culture to current events.
How long does it take to make a piece using a template?
It varies based on the intricacy of the design and the artist’s experience. A simple design might take only a few minutes, while complex designs could take hours.
Is it okay for people outside of the Mexican culture to create papel picado?
Yes, as long as it’s done with respect and an understanding of the craft’s cultural significance. It’s essential to approach it with a sense of appreciation rather than appropriation.
Are there workshops or classes I can attend to learn more about making papel picado?
Many cultural centers, libraries, and art schools offer workshops, especially around significant festivals like Day of the Dead. It’s always a good idea to learn from an experienced artist if possible.
Can children make papel picado?
Yes, with supervision. There are simpler templates designed for children, and safety scissors can be used to prevent accidents.