Luminarias are traditional Mexican Christmas lanterns made from a tea light or candle set in sand inside a paper bag. Also known as farolitos (which translates to “little lanterns”), these festive lanterns became particularly popular in New Mexico. Over the years, they’ve grown quite popular in America beyond just Christmas celebrations, and nowadays you’ll often see them set out at Halloween to illuminate those October nights.
I’ve always really liked the soft glow they create, so I decided to try my hand at creating some in miniature scale for Halloween!
In order to hide the wires from the battery-operated light set, I created the brick walkway, and I’m thrilled with the overall result.
This tutorial uses really simple materials – some of which you can get on the cheap at the dollar store – so I hope you enjoy!
Basic Tools & Materials:
Most crafters are likely to have the items on this list on hand.
- Acrylic paint in shades of red, brown, black, beige
- Paint brushes
- X-Acto blade or other sharp utility knife
- Aluminum foil
- Quick dry tacky glue (I like Aleene’s)
- Masking tape
These materials are more specific to this particular project.
- Set of LED lights from the Dollar Tree
- Foam board from the Dollar Tree
- Bone folder or ball stylus
- Low temperature hot glue gun – these are made specifically for using with foam (mine is made by Woodland Scenics)
- Templates (optional)
A quick note about the lights and foam board:
For this project, I picked up a set of battery-operated orange LED lights from the Dollar Tree. They also had purple for Halloween.
For only $1 per set, they are perfect for this project! Each light set has 10 lights, but of course you can use other types of lights if you don’t have access to a Dollar Tree. You’ll just have to adjust the overall measurements for the walkway to accommodate the number of lights and/or length of the wires.
Safety Note – Fire Hazard: Because the luminarias are made of paper, it’s important that the lights you use do not run hot. LEDs are a good choice for this reason, but for safety’s sake, whether you use the LEDs or another kind of light, don’t leave them on and unattended for any length of time.
I also really like the foam board from Dollar Tree for projects like this because it’s super cheap, and it’s easy to peel the paper off. Again, you can use different brands, but I’ve found the Dollar Tree foam board is easier to work with.
How to Make the Miniature Brick Walkway – Part 1
The finished piece measures about 4″ wide and 8″ long to accommodate 10 luminarias.
If you’re going to use my templates, go ahead and print them out so we can get started!
Get the Brick Walkway Template here.
Let’s start by preparing our foam pieces for the brick walkway since this is the base for everything. You will need to cut 6 pieces that measure 1″ wide by 8″ long (the wall pieces) and 2 pieces that are 4″ wide by 8″ long (the walkway pieces). It’s important that you use a fresh, sharp X-Acto blade so you don’t rip and tear the foam.
Take one of the 4″ by 8″ walkway pieces and cut a hole measuring 2″ wide by 6″ long – this leaves 1″ around on all sides.
Peel the paper off both sides of each foam piece.
Next, let’s add our brick pattern! You can use my templates as a guideline, or you can create your own designs. I made my bricks about 3/4″ long and 3/8″ wide. Start with 2 of your 1″ by 8″ wall pieces. These will be the top layer of the brick walls on either side of the walkway.
I used a bone folder to create my brick patterns, but you can achieve the same effect with a ball stylus.
Mark the brick pattern on these two wall pieces, and make sure you don’t forget the sides! You can ignore the bottom of these strips, since you won’t be able to see them.
For the remaining 4 of your 1″ by 8″ strips, you only need to create the brick pattern on the sides. The easiest way to do this is take a pencil and mark every 3/4″ next to a ruler, then go back with your bone folder and create the vertical brick lines. You’ll want to offset each row of bricks, so stagger these measurements slightly to create that effect.
Next, crumple up a piece of aluminum foil into a ball. You’ll use this to add texture to all of your foam pieces. Lightly press the foil into the surface of each wall piece in a random pattern. Don’t forget the sides, but again, you can skip the bottoms since you won’t be seeing them once they’re glued together.
Now we’ll repeat the process for the brick walkway. You’ll notice that I didn’t create the brick pattern all the way to each edge because those areas will be covered up by the walls. You will, however, want to create the vertical brick lines on all four edges.
Again, texture the top surface and all four sides with your aluminum foil ball.
Now, we’ll work with our last foam piece – this was definitely the trickiest part of the project and required a lot of trial and error to figure it out! You’ll need your light set handy so you can measure and test the placement of the wires. I created this last layer to conceal the wires from the lights, and it worked out quite well.
This design worked for the 10-light set I used, but if you’re using anything different, I’d recommend testing out the placement and measurements on a piece of scrap paper first.
Each light is placed approximately 1-1/2″ apart, starting about 1″ in from the bottom, and about in the middle of the 1″ strip on the left and right, so take a pencil and mark these spots on your foam base.
Once you’re happy with the placement of your marks, take your awl and carefully punch a hole through. Make sure the holes are big enough in diameter for your lights to fit through. In fact, now’s a good time to test fit your lights and make sure that you have enough wire to work for this pattern. Follow the photo above for placement: your first light (the one closest to the battery pack) will go in the bottom right hole, then you’ll go across to the bottom left hole with the second light, etc.
If everything fits so far, now we’ll cut out the places for the wires to run. I did these cuts freehand, but the channels are about 1/4″ in width. If you follow my photo above, you should have enough room to tuck the wires away.
Now, we need to punch our holes through the brick walkway and the six wall pieces. You’ll want to make sure everything lines up properly so the lights can be inserted from the bottom piece all the way up through the walkway and the three layers of brick wall.
At this stage you might want to dry fit again, so here’s what I would recommend: grab some masking or painter’s tape and tape your brick walkway to your base. Then, stack three wall pieces on either side and tape those in place, too. Now, you can insert your lights, pressing the wires into the channels you cut out, and make sure everything is looking good before we start to glue pieces in place. Now, remove the lights and tape, and on to the next step!
It’s really important that if you use a glue gun, make sure it’s a low temperature glue gun made specifically for use with foam. Foam does NOT like regular hot glue, in my experience. If you don’t have this, just use tacky glue (and wait patiently for it to dry)!
Assemble all of the pieces with thin lines of glue between each layer. If you’re not careful, you can end up with thick globs that create unsightly gaps between the layers. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. 🙂
The glue gun isn’t particularly forgiving, so make sure you get everything lined up quickly. Or, if you want a little more freedom to make adjustments, just use the tacky glue since it takes a lot longer to set up, giving you time to work with it.
Once everything is glued in place and fully dried, see if you want to add any more texture with the foil. If not, we can start painting! A few tips on painting on foam: you’re not going to get full coverage in every tiny little nook and cranny unless you’re very heavy handed with the acrylic paint, and we don’t want that! Go for one or two lighter coats instead, and don’t worry, our dark washes will help fill in some of the spots your initial coats of paint might miss.
I started with an application of a greige color called Driftwood. I painted everything this color, but I especially made sure it got into all the “mortar” lines. Let dry.
Next, we’ll work on our actual brick color. I blended together Alizarin Red with Raw Sienna for a nice brick shade, but you’re free to create whatever color you want here! Brush your brick color over every surface, but this time, don’t concentrate on the mortar lines. Again, let dry thoroughly.
See what I mean about the paint not getting into every crevice? But that’s exactly what we want! Next, I mixed up a dark wash. This is a VERY watered down mixture of black and Burnt Umber. You’ll brush this on pretty liberally, and you’ll see it pool up in some places and fill in those cracks and crevices. Keep a clean paper towel handy so you can blot up the excess – you can always add more dark wash, but you can’t take it away once it’s dry!
Here, you can see the wash hasn’t dried yet, but look at how it’s bringing the texture alive! Once you’re happy with your dark wash and it’s completely dry, we’re going to dry brush on some highlights. I used the same color from before, Driftwood, with just a touch of white added to lighten it up.
When you dry brush, you want to make sure your bristles barely have any paint on them and use a very light brushing motion. The highlights give the brick even more texture and visual appeal, but go easy on the dry brushing and don’t apply it everywhere. Trust me.
Once everything is dry, you can go back and add a little more dark wash here or there, or add some extra highlights if you so desire. You can even add a few little mossy spots like I did. Just take some PVA glue and model railroad foliage and apply it (sparingly) in some of the crevices and mortar lines.
Time to add the lights! We’re nearing the finish line for the walkway!
I used my low-temp glue gun again here to secure my wires in place, but you could tape them down instead, if you’d rather. My goal here was to ensure the wires stayed flat, and it worked out really well. The walkway is completely flush with the tabletop.
This should give you an idea of how much of your lights should be sticking through at the top.
Our walkway is done! The hard part is over, and now all that’s left is creating our luminarias. Since this is already so long, I’m splitting the tutorial into two parts, so check back tomorrow for the instructions for making our little Halloween lanterns!
If you decide to try this mini project and have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below or contact me. I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial so far!