The Mexican folk art of papel picado usually is associated with Day of the Dead. But cut-paper banners are strung in celebration of all sorts of holidays and special occasions. (For inspiration, check out the work of San Francisco-based artist Herminia Albarrán Romero.) Bright and fluttery, they seem especially well-suited for Valentine's Day.
Traditionally, papel picado is made, 50 or more sheets at a time, with small chisels. And like most of the folk arts, it takes years and years to master. But with a simple design and an approach that's scaled way back, you can make a plenty-festive string of cut-paper banners in an hour or two.
You'll need: A piece of card stock; a pen or pencil; 10 or more sheets of colored tissue paper, cut to 8.5" by 11"; paper clips, a cutting mat; an X-Acto knife or some other tool with a precise blade; scissors; clear glue; and string or twine.
Step 1: Start with a piece of card stock (Typing paper will work in a pinch, but heavier is better - you might even try an old paper grocery bag), fold it in half and draw your design along the fold. Give yourself a few inches of border along the top, bottom and sides, and keep in mind that shaded spaces are going to be removed - make sure your blank areas all connect somehow. When you're finished, cut the card stock in half on the fold. This is your cutting guide.
Step 2: Fold each sheet of tissue paper in half horizontally (I used 10 sheets per batch) and sandwich them neatly between the two pieces of your cutting guide (The piece with your design should be face-up on top). Make extra sure that the folds line up with the center of your design. For stability, bind the stack together with paper clips on all four sides.
Step 3: Cutting - use as sharp a blade as you can. But know that the tissue paper is going to want to snag and tear anyway, so be slow, don't force it and apply pressure with your free hand to help keep the paper still. Start with the smaller pieces - shortest cuts first. Don't worry too much about any rough spots. You can clean them up later with scissors, and after your banners are strung together, small mistakes will hardly be noticeable anyway. Cut out the heart shape last. When you do, you'll be left with a pile of giant heart confetti. Pretty! Remove your paper clips.
Step 4: The magic is in the unfolding. Enjoy and admire.
Step 5: Gently fold the top of one of your banners down a quarter inch. Open, and apply a thin layer of glue above the crease. Lay your twine in the crease and press the fold back down. Continue with the rest of your banners, leaving a few inches of space between them.
Step 6: Let the glue dry. Hang your banners and invite over a bunch of people who've known and loved you since kindergarten.
If you have kiddos who'd like to help with this project, try it with construction paper and a design that you can cut out with just scissors.