Type + Image: Papel Picado

Papel picado, loosely translated as “perforated paper,” is a folk art technique practiced in Mexico. Colorful pieces of cut paper are strung to flutter in the wind during many holiday celebrations, including Día de los Muertos, Christmas, Easter, and personal ceremonies such as weddings and christenings. Specific color schemes are tied to each of these holidays. Pink, orange, and purple, for instance, often decorate ofrendas for Día de los Muertos, while red, white, and green (colors of the Mexican flag) are used in commemorating Independence Day or Mexico’s patroness, La Virgen de Guadalupe. It consists of rectangular pieces of tissue paper cut away into intricate, repetitive designs. Simple versions can be constructed by folding and snipping with scissors; more elaborate versions require awls, chisels, and other special tools. The design emerges as the artist manipulates the negative space of the tissue paper. Experts in the craft will handle many layers of paper at once, generating extensive designs that often include motifs such as flowers, birds, skeletons, crosses, and historic figures, among others. Papel picado decorations are ephemeral, existing only during the celebration. They are typically displayed outside, where their delicate construction will disintegrate naturally in the wind and rain. This transitory existence is repeated in many of the other elements of Día de los Muertos celebrations, such as the fresh food and flowers that adorn many ofrendas at this time.

You are going to create your own papel picado triptych consisting of type & image honoring technology that has become obsolete and/or extinct or rock stars that have passed on.

Color choice is up to you and should be expressive of your subject and Día de los Muertos. We will not be using tissue paper for our project. Instead we will be using 11×17″ 24lb astrobright paper. (This will be provided.) You are free to use your own paper if you wish–be sure it is at least 24lb but not more than 28lb (or equivalent). During your exploration, remember to consider you will be creating your image across three panels. In these panels you may want repeating motifs and you will need structure across the panels to “hold” your image and type in the panels. Also remember, these pieces you create will ultimately be strung together and hung in the hallway. The technology your are celebrating is the focus and typical iconography is secondary. Stretch the boundaries of your imagination and skills of concept to challenge your representation of your chosen mechanical corpse.


  • Explore a culture and medium in which to create
  • Develop an awareness of the relationship between design and meaning
  • Increase conceptual skills through research
  • Use your hand skills to create your design


  • Start your sketches in pencil on 5½ x 8½” horizontal paper; use this size to keep the design in ratio of the horizontal 11×17″ panels
  • Finalize your design in the 5½ x 8½” size and copy it to 11×17″ white paper to create your cutting patterns (sometimes an inverted copy will help you see the positive and negative spaces more clearly)
  • Affix your white patterns to your colored stock and start cutting with an xacto
  • A paper hole punch will be used to create the holes for hanging, the string will run across the back of the panels and secured by masking tape (keep this in mind as you design, the top of the panel will need to be at least ½” wide)


  • pencil, sharpie, micron, computer
  • xacto knife (not a box cutter, not a snap-off blade)
  • scissors, if you have scrapbook type with decorative blades you may use them
  • paper punches (if you have them)
  • cutting mat
  • masking tape, painter’s tape
  • one sheet of poster board or a folder (to store your panels between classes)


  • Assignment sheet, research, sketches should be kept in a process notebook
  • Final pieces will be hung in the hallway; you will be responsible for helping to hang the work
  • Be sure to photo your panel hanging in the classroom against the white critique boards before hanging and again after it is hung for exhibit


There are plenty of resources on the web for information about papel picado and many wonderful images. Research is highly encouraged—take note of the repeating motifs, look at structure within the panels, and make note of how type is used. Using known structures you have observed for this project is ok, using a found pattern is not. YOU are responsible for creating a unique image incorporating a “portrait.”



Tue Oct 10: Begin Project / Brainstorm, Research, Sketch
Thr Oct 12: Discuss your subject / View sketches
Tue Oct 17: Critique 5.5″ x 8.5″ triptych drawings / make copies for 11″ x 17″
Thr Oct 19: Work in class
Tue Oct 24: Work in class
Thr Oct 26: Three panels are complete and ready to hang

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