From the moment you don the blindfold, a palpable excitement builds in the air. Cheers and laughter belonging to close family and friends compete with your heartbeat as you swing not once, not twice, but multiple times until the crack of paper mâché finally gives way. Following an eruption of gleeful screams, you fall on your knees and join in the frantic chase for colourful pieces of sweet treasure. It’s memories like these that have elevated the piñata into a beloved childhood ritual. Ingrained in it are scenes of outdoor birthdays and family get-togethers that are becoming rare in today’s digital age. But that’s about to change. Meet a pair of Vancouver creatives who are bringing back the piñata in a big way.
From their home studios, Thalia Antonio and Whitney Lesiuk are the co-founders of Las Piñatas, a company specializing in bespoke versions of the classic party accessory. Merging traditional construction methods with 3D cut-out character design, these whimsical conceptions were born out of a pursuit for creativity. “I think it’s just one of those things where we were having a conversation about not being given the opportunity to be creative in our day jobs,” says Antonio over the phone. For the full-time graphic designers, Las Piñatas offered them the freedom to invent from their imaginations and work with their hands.
The pair met as freshmen at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary before relocating to Vancouver. Originally from the seaport city of Coatzacoalcos (hometown of Salma Hayek), Antonio had a childhood filled with piñata crafting; for Lesiuk, who grew up in the interior of British Columbia, her mother was quite artistic and demonstrated a love for sewing, making costumes, and even piñata-making. “We’re from different upbringings, but we share the same artistic interest,” says Antonio. “I couldn’t ask for anyone else to work with me. She’s really incredible.”
Unlike most piñatas made today, which are covered in entire flat sheets of coloured tissue paper, Las Piñatas products proudly resemble the authentic versions from Mexico. Smaller strips, not sheets, are applied with white glue one at a time. Bearing vertical snips throughout, this layering ensures a feathery look, bringing dimension and life to the final result. Antonio and Lesiuk have successfully mastered this technique to bring to life whimsical Mounties, seagulls, and even miniature versions of Canuck heroes Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
As for the filling, they leave it up to their clients’ preferences. From rubber ducks for a baby shower to handwritten notes for a wedding, there’s a plethora of ways to personalize each person’s piñata. “I don’t know if I’ve been any prouder of any of my other work before,” Antonio admits. “As an artist, I do something and then I eventually want to get better at it. Whereas with the piñatas, I make it and I’m still so proud of the very first couple we made.”
Confident with the positive response received so far from friends and the public, Las Piñatas is hosting a retail pop-up. Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, Vancouverites can drop by Thisopenspace’s The Playground in Chinatown on May 5 and 6, 2018 to see the colourful piñatas in the flesh—or should we say in the paper.
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