Kerry wanted to make a piñata for her high school senior class’s all-night graduation party, so we went with the school mascot, a purple jaguar. I took this photo when we thought the jaguar was finished, but we’ll add one final touch before it’s done.
These are our initial sketches. Our cat anatomy obviously needs work. I don’t think real jaguars wear army boots, but maybe they do – jaguars live deep in the jungle so I guess nobody knows for sure.
The body starts as two punch balls balloons. The jaguar is facing to the right in these pictures.
After covering the punch balls with papier mâché, we connected them with a newspaper bridge and layered papier mâché over it to form the skin.
We sculpted the head using a balloon, a nose made from card stock, a bottom jaw of cardboard, and cheeks made from small balloons. The head is too round, but we don’t realize that yet.
The mouth is sealed off with papier mâché because at this point we hadn’t planned on making the eyes light up. Eventually we’ll have to cut that away so we can hide the circuitry in the head.
The tail had to be detachable in order to transport the piñata to the party.
We anchored part of a wrapping paper tube in the jaguar’s body, and slid another one into the tail. Then it was a simple matter of sliding the tail tube into the body. It was a tight enough fit that friction held the tail in place.
We messed up the legs a few times before we finally got them right. Since the legs have to support the weight of the piñata, we reinforced them using thin cardboard from paper towel tubes. We didn’t take any pictures of the process, but the legs were made pretty much the same way we made them for the Space Mouse and the Rainbow Zebra.
To make the neck we took some excess dried papier mâché pieces and taped them on as a bridge between the body and the head, then layered papier mâché over it. On the near side of the neck in this picture you can see the dried pieces taped on before the papier mâché is added.
The body has three candy compartments: one in the chest, one in the rump, and a smaller one in the belly section in between. The head is a fourth candy compartment.
The piñata was closed up again and the weak spot cemented over with papier mâché. After the decorating was finished we cut new doors in the same places for filling the piñata. I never did take a picture of the entire papier mâché sculpture before decorating, but it had the powerful jungle cat shape that we were going for.
Decorating with snipped crepe paper. I always start at the bottom and work my way up.
We got this far before we realized that the balloon head was way too round. I took a knife and cut off the sides of the head, then closed the holes with papier mâché and continued decorating.
The sides of the head are not entirely smooth, but that’s okay. The snipped crepe paper will hide that. The jaguar’s chain is a plastic garden chain spray painted gold. Kerry made these fangs and pressed them in place for testing, but she didn’t like them. The fangs are a focal point of the jaguar and need to be more dramatic.
When we fluffed up the purple crepe paper and added the black spots, the surface was too rough. It looked okay when viewed straight on, but when viewed from an angle the pattern of spots got lost in the purple fluff.
The solution was to grab a pair of scissors and cut all the crepe paper shorter so the black and purple didn’t interfere as much with each other. You can see the finished buzz cut in the photos of the finished piñata.
The eyes lit up using a circuit with two flashlight bulbs powered by two 9 volt batteries. The circuitry was hidden in the head, accessible through the mouth. Notice the black triangle nose here, made of crepe paper – this was our first attempt at a nose, but we didn’t like it and ended up replacing it with another one.
We pulled the light bulbs out through the eye sockets and stuck them through some small cuts in the ping pong balls.
To turn the eyes on and off the circuit included a switch that was hidden on the back of the jaguar’s neck. When the purple crepe paper was fluffed up, the switch just looked like a spot.
The eyes glowed bright enough to show up in daylight.
The batteries would only light the eyes for 20-30 minutes before going out, so we had to make the circuitry accessible in order to replace the batteries when needed. To do this we attached the red felt mouth only at the top and bottom. The felt could be pulled out to access the circuit, then pushed back in place afterward.
Kerry made the fangs out of polymer clay and coated them with glossy nail polish to give them some shine. We shaped the new nose more like a real cat’s nose and used purple felt to match the purple felt on the paw pads and the ears.
At this point we thought we were finally done!
But the more we looked at it, the more the 2013 sign just seemed a little flat.
Adding glitter to the signs was a last-minute decision, and it was barely dry before the first showing of the piñata. The glitter added a lot of festive pop to the piñata. The photos here don’t do it justice.
We finally finished the piñata about an hour before a senior awards ceremony where it was to be displayed.
The next day was graduation, and after that… the party!
Kerry and Colleen primp the jaguar piñata shortly before the party. They’re fluffing up the crepe paper, straightening out squashed sections, and making minor repairs where the crepe paper was damaged during transport.
Kerry and Juli stuff the piñata with loot. Kerry is filling the head through the mouth, and Juli is filling the three body sections through a door in the back. Fully loaded, the piñata weighed about 50 lbs.
Fifty pounds is a lot of weight to lift, so we used a movable pulley system to make it easier to raise and lower the piñata during the smashing.
And so it begins! Notice how wide the circle of spectators is. It won’t stay that way…
Wham! Bam! Smash! Thomas on the attack! Abdulkarim delivers a blow! Savannah of the Jungle hunts jaguar! All the while the circle of spectators closes ever tighter.
The piñata was already hurting when Phillip’s number was called. The head and torso had already been looted, and only the haunch remained. Altogether the piñata lasted through about 20 batters, dispensing its loot in little bursts along the way pretty much exactly the way we hoped it would.
As a joke, Kerry made a prank piñata stick that was wrapped in pipe insulation to make it less effective, but the kids were hitting so hard that we ended up using that stick almost the whole time.
After the dust had cleared, Kerry commiserated with the scattered remains of the jaguar piñata. It’s okay, they both had fun.
Jag swag! Kids have always taken souvenir pieces of the piñatas, so this was no surprise. Other students took the paws and the mouth.
The purple jaguar took longer to build than any piñata we’ve made before. We were really happy with the way it came out and also with how it broke apart, so this one goes in the win column. It’s gone now, but the jaguar piñata left lots of good memories behind. Best of luck to the LBJ and LASA Class of 2013! Go and do great things!