Whether you're an adult or a kid, piñatas are a lot of fun at parties, and being able to design your own makes destroying it with a bat feel a lot more special... or it might just make you feel sad and guilty... but exercises in non-attachment are always healthy, right? So let's painstakingly make something beautiful and then destroy it for candy! What do you say!?
A great way to make a piñata is to use paper mache. Paper mache is cheap and easy to work with so it's a perfect medium for something temporary. For my piñata, I'm going to make an owl, because I love owls and it's an easy shape. There are a lot of ways to make a piñata with paper mache, but we are going to be using a balloon as the base of ours, so if you want to create something other than an owl, it's best to choose a design that has a round shape. Other great options are things like fish, muppet heads, disco balls, the death star, giant flowers, the heads of certain world leaders... ahem... you know, whatever you think would be fun to hit with a bat!
If you're looking for more instruction in the ways of paper mache, you can also check out my free Paper Mache Class!
Step 1: Tools and Materials
- Newspaper, newsprint or blue shop towels
- Crepe paper
- All purpose white flour
- Masking tape
- Acrylic paint
- Strong twine
- Mixing bowls
- Measuring cups and spoons
- Airtight container or ziplock bag
- Craft knife and extra blades
- Paint brushes
- Pencil and paper
- Drop cloth or other plastic cover
- Immersion blender (optional)
- Oil of cloves or cinnamon (optional)
- Candy or something else to put in your piñata
- At least 2-3 days for working + drying
Step 2: Make a Simple Flour and Water Paste
Making the flour and water paste for paper mache is so simple it's almost needs no explanation. There is also no exact ratio of flour and water, you just have to test as you go.
In a large mixing bowl, start by mixing:
1 cup white flour
1 1/2 cups water (warm water feels nice and can help the ingredients blend, but isn't necessary)
You can blend this mixture together with just your hands. Stir it, mush it and run it through your fingers until it is as smooth as you can make it, with very few lumps.
If you want to get it really smooth, you can also use an immersion blender. I like doing this, but it's not absolutely necessary.
Once your paste is blended, it should have the consistency of thick creamy soup.
If it is too thin or too thick, add more flour and water and mix again.
Step 3: Make the Base of the Pinata
Forming over a balloon is the classic paper mache project, you might have even made the ever popular "pig with toilet paper roll legs" in a classroom, but just because it's a simple method, doesn't mean it's not worthwhile. Depending on how you add details to your basic shape, you can make some great projects by using a balloon. Balloons are also useful armatures because they are smooth and can easily be popped and removed later.
To create my owl piñata, I'm going to inflate a medium sized balloon, then use masking tape to cover the tied end of the balloon, flattening the point. Be careful because if you try to pull masking tape off the balloon, it will POP!!
With a plastic drop cloth spread over your work surface and your paste mixture and paper strips prepared, start spreading strips onto your balloon. The smaller of the two mixing bowls can act as a base to hold the balloon upright while you work.
Cover the entire balloon with one layer of strips, rotating it so you also cover the bottom section that's in the bowl. Pull the strips tight and smooth them as you work. If your strips aren't laying flat along the curve of the balloon, you might want to tear thinner strips.
Now you have to ask yourself a question: Who is going to be hitting this piñata? If you are making a piñata for adults or teenagers, you will want to make it stronger than one for a little kid's birthday party. More layers means a stronger piñata, so for kids cover the balloon with 3-4 layers, for adults use 4-5.
Step 4: Dry
Leave your pinata to dry overnight in a well ventilated area. You'll need to flip it part way through the drying process so both ends are exposed to air.
Try to keep it in a place where the temperatures don't fluctuate too much. Expanding and contracting air can cause the paper to crack around the balloon as it changes size. If you've put at least 3 layers of paper on your balloon, this shouldn't be a problem, but less than that, and things like this can happen.
If your paper does crack, you might be able to repair it with a few new strips of paper, but the expanding balloon can actually distort the shape of the paper like mine did, it which case, it's kind of ruined :/
Step 5: Add Simple Shapes and Details
When your balloon shape feels dry enough, you can start creating the details of your owl. At this point, the paste doesn't have to be absolutely bone dry because we are going to let the whole thing dry one more time before we finish it.
You'll also need to have your candy or whatever you are going to fill your piñata with ready to go.
On the top front of the balloon, draw two large circles next to each other, these are going to be the circles around the eyes of the owl. Don't make the holes too close together. If you can find a container with the right sized opening, this can make a good guide because drawing circles is hard!
Now take your craft knife and cut out each circle.
Don't cut into the middle of the circle because we are going to use the pieces we cut out too. If you are a kid working on this project, have an adult help you because this cutting part can be a bit tricky.
Reach into one of the holes and pull out the balloon.
Use a sharp object or you craft knife to make two small holes about 6" apart in the top of the piñata. At this point, I think it's important to reinforce the inside of the piñata with cardboard where the string is going to go so it doesn't tear through the paper when you hit it. Then take your twine and feed it though the cardboard and through in one small hole and out the other, tying them together a few inches up and leaving a lot of extra string.
Now it's time to fill up your piñata with candy or whatever you've decided to put inside it.
When it's full, take the two pieces you cut out of the eyes and stick them back in the opposite way! This creates sockets for the eyes! Use masking tape to tape the edges together, and don't worry if they don't match up exactly, we are going to paper mache over this again.
Now lets add some simple details that will make our owl look like an owl. If you want, look at some pictures of owls for inspiration. Adding ears, wings, a tail and a beak will definitely help him look owlish. Add as much detail as you want and have fun with it!
You can cut and fold a piece of cardboard for the beak and tape it onto the owl’s face.
To get the right shape for the forehead and ears lay a piece of folded paper on top of the face and draw a rough shape with a pen. Then cut out the shape and unfold the paper. Traced the shape onto cardboard and then tape this piece onto the piñata. You don’t have to worry too much about making the tape look neat because you are just going to paper mache over it anyway.
You can make wings that are sitting down against the body of the owl, or wings that are open like mine. To create wings like mine, you can look at pictures of owls and draw a rough wing shape onto cardboard. Cut it out, then make some cuts and folds and tape them together to add some shape and dimension.
You could also just make a flat wing, but I it’s really quite easy to manipulate the cardboard like this to create something with a little more shape.
If you try to just tape the wings into place, they will flop around and not be stable, so you can cut slots into the body and insert the ends of the wings, then tape them into place.
Use the same strategy to add the tail, cut a simple shape out of cardboard, then attach it by way of a slit cut in the back of the owl.
Prop the owl up on some bowls, then start adding strips of paper mache over the new details of the face, wings and tail. At this point you could start using blank newsprint if you wanted to give yourself blank canvas to paint on later.
It can be a little tricky to get the paper mache around all the angles, points, and curves you’ve created. Use small strips of paper for the detailed areas, and don’t worry if it all looks perfect, you are going to smash this thing in the end anyway, right?
It’s also a good idea to reinforce the areas around the string with quite a few layers of strips so that when you are hitting your piñata, the whole thing won’t fall before the rest of it breaks open.
Once again, let your project dry overnight before you move on to decorating.
Step 6: Decorate With Tissue Paper
There are a lot of ways to decorate a piñata, it really just depends on how complicated you want to get.
the traditional way is usually to cover the whole shape in fringed strips of paper streamers or crepe paper, but you can also paint a piñata, or decoupage it, which means collaging it with decorative paper and glue or ModPodge. I actually even like the look of the plain newspaper here, but to show you some of the options for decorations let's paint our owl and add some paper details.
Look at pictures to decide what you want your owl to look like. If you want it to look like a snowy owl like I did, you can start by painting the whole thing white with acrylic paint. If you didn't add a layer of blank newsprint to your owl, you'll need to add about two or three coats of white to cover the newspaper print.
At this point you can also to paint in your owl’s eyes and its beak.
Once the paint has dried, you add some feather details with crepe paper. It's nice to have two kinds of crepe paper for this design, rolls of narrow streamers and longer pieces in black and white.
To create small feathers for the chest, take a piece of your streamer paper about 3 feet long and fold in half, then in half again until it is about 3 inches long. Use your scissors to cut a jagged edge along the bottom of the streamer, without cutting into either end.
Unfold the strip and you’ll have a strand of small feathers. Do this with both the black and white streamers.
Take some white glue and pour it into a disposable cup and add a small amount of water. Cut a short strip of your white fringe and, with a paintbrush paint some glue onto the owl near the bottom front where you want to stick the strip. Stick the top edge of the strip down and paint more glue over the top.
Add another row of white, then a shorter overlapping row of black.
Keep working your way up, alternating rows and making them wider and then narrower as you go.
You can also add some paper around the eyes of the owl to mimic the very small furry feathers on the face. To do this use the same folding method but cut just the edge of the streamer in a very fine jagged line. Cut wedges of this strip and glue them around the eye. You can start with a row of black, then make the rest white.
Use bunches of the same cut strip to fill in around the nose, and add some whiskers on each side of the beak, and in the ears.
To add long flight feathers to the wings, cut individual pieces out of the larger crepe paper and glue them down onto the wings. To cover the top ends of these feathers you can also add another white strip of the same cut streamer you used on the chest.
You could also add some similar long feather pieces to the tail if you like.
You could get as carried away as you wanted with adding crepe paper to your piñata. Cover the whole thing if you like! I just decided I liked the way it looked with only a few touches of paper, so I stopped here.
Step 7: Destroy!!
And now, for the exercise in non-attachment. If you have the heart, use your piñata to add excitement to a festive gathering... or if you aren't feeling homicidal, just hang it somewhere and look at it instead. I eventually did destroy mine, but I felt a little bad about it. However, the great thing about paper mache is that you can always make another one easily and cheaply!
As you can see from this project, creating some fairly complex shapes with paper mache is really quite easy, and how you choose to decorate your creations can make all the difference. The techniques I used to make this project can be used to create all kinds of projects, not just piñatas. If you've created your own version of this project, post an 'I Made It' below to show us what you've come up with!
If you're looking for more detailed instruction in paper mache techniques check out my free Paper Mache Class!