El Día de los Niños/El Día de los Libros

a Celebration of Childhood and Bilingual Literacy

Papel Picado, The Art of Mexican Cut Paper

Papel Picado means "punched paper" in Spanish. It is a traditional folk art used in Mexico to create colorful and intricate decorations for tables, windows, ceilings, altars, even banners for outdoor festivals. The designs may depict flowers, birds, angels, names, crosses, or any other kind of picture. During the Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) holiday on November 2nd, papel picado banners feature skeletons in a variety of poses.

Artisans study for many years to learn the techniques of papel picado, which in some villages are passed down from family members generation to generation. Originally, the designs were cut one at a time using scissors and took many hours to complete. Today, sharp chisels are used to cut through many layers of paper at one time, giving the artists the flexibility to change designs as often as they like.

To make papel picado, a paper pattern (patr�n) is first drawn as a guide. The pattern is laid on top of as many as 50 sheets of colored tissue paper resting on top of a lead sheet. The design is cut out using a hammer and different sizes of chisels, allowing even the most delicate and intricate patterns to be rendered by the artist. Although traditional artisans prefer to use tissue paper when creating their designs, metallic papers and plastic are also used.

To learn more about papel picado and the art of paper cutting, visit these World World Web sites:

And look for these books in your local library:

  • Mexican Papercutting: Simple Techniques for Creating Colorful Cut-Paper Projects by Kathleen Trenchard. Lark Books, 1998.
  • The Skeleton at the Feast: the Day of the Dead in Mexico, University of Texas Press, 1992.
  • The Paper Cut-Out Design Book by Ramona Jablonski, Stemmer House Publishers, 1976.
  • Magic Windows/Ventanas Magicas by Carmen Lomas Garza, Children's Press, 1999.
  • Making Magic Windows: Creating Cut Paper Projects with Carmen Lomas Garza by Carmen Lomas Garza, Children's Book Press, 1999.

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Page last modified: April 25, 2012