Wednesday, February 2, 2011

papel picado.

Perforated paper, baby. It's all about the perforations. Or cuts. Many, many cuts.

Papel picado is a traditional Mexican art form that is often used to celebrate different holidays throughout the year. They may be seen individually, but they are often times strung up in groups to make long banners.
Artists will make a pattern and then use it to cut many tissue paper sheets at once.
Depending on the design, this process from blank tissue to completed design can take up to 30 hours!

I have done this project with 3rd graders. I use it to introduce art from Mexico, since our school has many students with family there and I also do it to introduce them to a number of art elements.

We look at the types of shapes present in some papel picado designs. Often times you see both geometric and natural shapes in the designs. Students will have to use both in the designs they create.
We look at how many of the images are the same on both sides if we fold the designs in half. This revisits balance and symmetry, which they learned about in 2nd grade.

We also discuss color families- analogous colors. 2 primary colors mixed to make a secondary color. This isn't apparent in the designs we look at, but it will be present in the students' designs. I show them an example of what they will do and then we get started.

Students get 8 squares of paper. 4 are background sheets, 2 are another analogous color, and 2 are the final analogous color. I modify the traditional papel picado technique to create an image with more layers.

Students fold the sheets in half and draw natural images that start out on the folds. They add geometric shapes coming in from the other sides. After cutting the shapes out they tuck 2 of the background sheets into the cut design and trace a border that is smaller than what they have already cut out. This gives the designs a nice pop from the larger sheet they will arrange their pieces on.

After all the pieces are cut out they glue them together and arrange them on a bigger sheet of paper to create an even bigger symmetrical design. We talk about rotating the pieces in different directions until they come up with the design they like best.

Each one of these designs comes out unique because of the directions they rotate their cut pieces and because of the variety of natural shapes they chose to draw.


  1. this is great! Terrific for pos/neg space... I really enjoy seeing what the kids accomplish! :)

  2. I wanna be in your art class! What fun your students are having while learning the elements of art.

  3. We just finished a cut paper project (called Japanese Notan) where kids worked with symmetry and darks/lights. This would be a good follow-up for them. Thanks for sharing.