Piñata Tutorial

Nothing livens up a party like violence and candy. All the better when it’s impeccably thematic. Paper mâché and cardboard are cheap and easy to work with. Master a few basic skills and you can make any kind of piñata you want. 

 

Let’s examine the Pokémon piñata and the Mustang as an examples here, just because I took a lot of pictures in the process. 

When making a piñata you have to consider more than just the way it looks. It has to:

1) have a sturdy anchor to hang/pull it from 

2) be able to take just the right amount of punishment, so everyone gets a whack at it.

GET READY: RESEARCH & SUPPLY 

 Piñatas are obviously not a big-budget build. What supplies you’ll need will depend on what exactly you want it to look like, how big it will be, and how tough it needs to be. Think it through a little, but in general you’ll probably need the following:

  • Cardboard- corrugated, but non corrugated in conjunction with hot glue can be good for shoring things up 
  • Glue/Tape- hot glue and packing tape may come in handy, but use it carefully as it can affect the strength of the piñata a lotta
  • Paper mâché supplies- The amount will depend on how much you need to cover, but for a balloon like haunter’s I would say at least 2 cups water and flour until it’s about the consistency of runny pancake batter. A lot of this is preference but as long as there is flour and water it will generally work. Personally, to that ratio I would dissolve about 1/4 cup salt into the water first, whisk the flour smooth and squeeze in about half a bottle of Elmer’s glue. Salt helps it dry faster and glue makes it stick/bond better  (I’ll do a paper mâché MATERIALS post in the future).
  • Crepe paper- party streamers or gift tissue paper 
  • Paint- you may want to paint some elements. Spray paint or any kind of craft paint will work. 

 Think about what you want to build and what you want it too look like. Do some sketches. Think about the color of streamers you’ll want to find. Look at the shape of the main portion of your subject. Is it more round? Do you want to do a  2D-block profile like the Trump above, or a more filled out design like the Mustang? Get inspired by some other peoples designs. Make it memorable. 

Step 1: Main Form/Chamber

Once you decide on a subject, the first step is to build the main form and candy chamber. I normally start the main form either out of a cardboard form or a paper mached balloon. It’s very specific to the design, but you really just need anything that holds the basic shape you are going for. If you’re not good with 2D to 3D patterning (like using cardboard for the Mustang form) you can try just using balloons and masking tape or crumpled newsprint to get the shape right, then paper mâché untill it’s the right strength, cut it open and rip out the filling you used for your form. This can be a little tricky too, and you have to make sure the form doesn’t get soggy and deform while you mâché it, but experiment and see what works best for you!
      

STEP 2: Anchor and Form

Now it’s time to think about where and how to place the anchor. Despite how light cardboard and paper mâché can be, it’s easy to forget about the weight of the candy and the inertia of it being hit and jerked around. You don’t want your piñata to be knocked off the rope, still intact, on the first hit! I recommend using an entire coat hanger and building it into the frame of the piñata. Also, if you use the hook of the hanger as the point of anchor, bend it to a small loop and twist it back around itself so it won’t simply get straightened. 

      

You may also need to consider the weight distribution of your candy. You need to place the anchor where your subject will balance correctly. For example, I stuffed the front and back of the Mustang with crumpled newspaper so candy wouldn’t slide to the ends and make it tip nose up/down. I also accounted for the weight of Haunters hands so he wasn’t looking up/down, but with a sphere, it’s pretty fool-proof. 

Additionally, I think it’s a good idea to make segments in the candy chamber so that when it is eventually breached, all the candy doesn’t dump in one shot and end the fun. Both hands and the top 4 spikes on Haunter all contained goodies, and the main body had 3 chambers. Keep your friends swinging until there’s nothing but a wire on a rope!

STEP 3: Final mâché Layer

Paper mâché is the standard in piñata construction for a lot of good reasons. It can hold a form with fairly few layers, but add enough and it’s tough as concrete. You could just tape or glue a form together from cardboard and decorate it, but that makes it difficult to determine the strength. Different tapes have different adhesion to cardboard and different tensile strengths. Packing tape, for example, sticks great to cardboard but even a few strips could make your piñata almost indestructible.  On top of that, almost all tapes have a surface that resists water-based glues, so puting the crepe paper finish on would be difficult with any tape still exposed. Meanwhile almost any glue or paint will stick to paper mâché. 

For all those reasons, I normally end up using cardboard or posterbaord to construct some of the features, but always throw on at least one layer of paper mâché at the end.

STEP 4: Details

Some features will be better to just paint or attach after the fact, rather than try to collage them into the crepe paper finish. Things like eyes, teeth, tires, licence plate, etc. can be more recognizable when done separately. It just depends on the level of detail and realism verses traditional piñata-ness that you want. 

 

STEP 5: Filling

Now is usually when I would suggest filling the piñata with your stuffing. Tailor the filling to the occasion or participants. Candy is fine, but far from the only thing worth picking up off the ground. As an example, the Haunter piñata was for a long-time friend’s 21st so it had a nostalgic memorabilia like Halo figures, punching balloons, some favorite candies and Pokémon cards… but also scratch-off tickets, Primetimes, lots of shooters and the Pokémon cards were part of a drinking game. Get creative! Throw in t-shirts, cash, gift cards, chapstick, fireworks, mustard packets. Whatever. The important thing is to know your audience and don’t put anything delicate in it. 

STEP 3: FRilling

Of course, the most quintessential part of any piñata is the frilly crepe paper. I’ve used gift tissue paper cut into strips before (for a dollar you get about 5 colors) or just a few rolls of party streamer. Either way, get some strips about 2 inches wide by 2 feet long. Cut into the sides halfway every inch, so that they are half cut into frills and half intact along the entire 2-foot strip. You can stack about 10 layers of streamer before cutting slits, to save time. Now you can glue the slits on like roofing tiles. Start at the bottom of the piñata and run a bead of Elmer’s glue down the uncut side of a strip, then just lay it onto the paper mâché. It should stick pretty easily. Repeat, placing the next layer so the cut frills over lap the uncut portion of the previous layer. Keep the strips horizontal and break them when you get to areas that are painted. Its important to be careful with the craft glue because it’s very noticeable when dried onto exposed crepe/tissue paper. I also thought it was a good idea to paint Haunter white first, just because the purple streamer might let darker newsprint show through.

 

Continue layer by layer until it’s perfect.

 

Good. Now go smash the s*** out of it. 

 

 

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