‘Tis the season for all things holiday, including decorations. If you love unique ornaments, especially ones that are personalized, I have such a great project for you! I just finished making painted polymer clay ornaments that are featured in the November/December 2017 issue of Cloth Paper Scissors, and they’re so fantastic—luminous and textured and gorgeous. You have to make these for the holidays, keeping some and giving some as gifts. They are truly magical.
Doreen Kassel’s article “Heartfelt Holiday Ornaments” was the inspiration for these pieces. Doreen’s ornaments immediately captured my attention not only because of their beauty, but also what she uses to color them—oil paint. Who knew that oil paint and polymer clay were a match made in heaven? Doreen’s secret to making the color so brilliant and saturated has to do with how she layers the paints, which is the coolest technique.
The process starts with white polymer clay and clear glass ornaments—don’t use plastic or they’ll melt when you bake the clay. I conditioned the clay and rolled it out to about 1/16”, then applied it to the ornament. Doreen has a great technique for patching the clay onto the glass, which is super simple and results in a smoother, more even layer.
When the ornament is covered, look for items that will make interesting texture in the clay, like rubber stamps, mark-making tools, mesh bags, leaves—you can get really creative with stuff you have around your house.
I used, from left to right, a cat brush, a wood-mounted rubber stamp, a cling-mounted rubber stamp, and a silicone clay shaping tool (I later added divots to the last ornament with a clay tool). And yes, that is an actual cat brush. Those little bristles make great marks in clay—just make sure yours is clean and free of Fluffy’s fur, which could stick to the clay.
Creating texture is an important part of what makes these ornaments so intriguing. Texture is not essential for the base layer, but it will add so much dimension and interest to your piece.
For the focal design, I created familiar motifs: Christmas trees, leaves and berries, poinsettias, and hearts. You can cut designs with clay cutters (canapé cutters also work), or by hand; the latter lends a great rustic look. I also stamped some words with rubber stamps, then cut them out and applied them to the ornaments as well.
Creating clay embellishments is your opportunity to personalize the polymer clay ornaments by including the recipient’s name or monogram, or featuring a special design that’s meaningful to them, incorporating their favorite colors—there are so many ways to make these unique. Apply the embellishments by pressing them gently onto the base clay layer—that’s all it takes to make them stick.
Bake according to the clay manufacturer’s instructions. I baked mine in a designated toaster oven, and since the ornaments were a little large, I watched and rotated them to make sure they didn’t burn.
When the ornaments are cool, it’s time to add color. Doreen’s fantastic technique starts with a base layer of burnt umber mixed with an oil paint thinner. Make sure you read the article to see how much of each you need to mix, and also the type of thinner that Doreen recommends. This layer should look like you’re spreading chocolate sauce on the clay, but don’t worry about the dark shade! Pounce the brush into crannies and crevices to make sure the paint reaches all the low spots.
In the next step, you’ll rub much of it off with a soft cloth, leaving a beautiful warm brown color. The more you buff the more the color comes off, but you’ll notice that it stays in all the crevices. This is why adding texture is so important—that dimension is part of what makes these pieces unique. This is where I started to appreciate (and stopped being nervous about) working with oil paint, as opposed to acrylic. Oil paint has such a richness and depth to it, and the open working time is a huge plus. You can add and subtract paint all you want, and the results will be so beautiful.
No need to wait for the paint to fully dry—once you’ve buffed it, you’re good to add the next layer. Here’s what mine looked like before I started painting the embellishments:
I used fairly traditional holiday shades of reds and greens, mixing the paints until I found shades I liked. Since I was making four ornaments, I mixed enough paint for all so I wouldn’t have to stop and mix more batches. Using a small liner brush worked great for painting the various embellishments. If some paint happened to go where it wasn’t supposed to, I removed as much as I could with a cotton swab, then repainted and buffed the area with the original color. After painting, these ornaments will need to cure for a few days, and then they’re ready for your tree, mantle, or garland.
You know the great feeling when reality exceeds expectations? That’s this project. Seriously, you have to make these. Even before I finished painting them my colleagues were making dibs on which ones they wanted. So please, get the November/December 2017 issue, some clay, glass ornaments, and some oil paint, and make these amazing polymer clay ornaments. All the instructions are in the issue, and you’ll get to see Doreen’s designs, plus a special bonus piece she created that you cannot miss.
I hope your holidays are filled with color and creativity!
If you love working with clay, learn about five types of clay that are perfect for three-dimensional art in this blog post!
If you’re looking for more great information on clay projects, or for handmade holiday items, check out our great resources!