INTRO: Every year each member our family gives each other a new Christmas ornament. This year I wanted to try giving something a little more personal than the typical store bought ornaments. After flipping through several pages on Pinterest I was inspired to make this little snow diorama in a glass ball, featuring cutouts of my daughter inside it.
(NOTE: This list includes what I used. There are plenty of substitutions for some of these and I will try to indicate that where appropriate.)
- Glass Bulb Ornaments (I bought an inexpensive box of 9 bulbs at Target. Where ever you get yours, I recommend buying more than 1 bulb so you have spares.)
- Photo of person/people you want inside the ornament (I used Adobe Photoshop to help create my photos, but Photoshop is certainly not required. See step 4)
- Miniature pine trees (My package of miniature pines is shown in step 2. You can find them at JoAnn Fabrics, Michaels and various other hobby stores.)
- White sand (I found mine at JoAnn Fabrics. There are some substitutes for this, see step 2: "A Note About the Snow")
- Baby Powder (For the snow on the tree. There are some substitutes for this, see step 2: "A Note About the Snow")
- Brown clay (This may be optional. I only used a tiny amount, but it may not be needed at all.)
- Workable Fixative Spray (Available at art stores. There are substitutes for this, see step 2.)
- Super glue (I used Loctite - Gel Control, but the exact brand/type is not important.)
- Elmer's Glue (or any similar generic school)
- Mod Podge (This may be optional. I only used a tiny amount, and it may not be needed at all.)
- Aluminum Foil (There are substitutes for this, see step 1.)
- Scotch tape (or any similar generic)
- Xacto knife & cutting board
- Tweezers (the longer, the better!)
- Wire cutter (or similar device)
- Something to hold the miniature pine trees while you spray them. I used 2 planks of wood and a vice. (See step 2.)
- disposable cups (3 or 4)
- disposable spoons (2)
Step 1: Making & Putting the Snow in the Ornament
Rip off 2 squares, fold each one in half, wrap the sides around into a cone, make sure there is a small opening at the tip, and finally use the tape to keep the funnels together.
IMPORTANT: Make sure the end of your funnel is smaller than the opening of the ornament. The whole point of the funnel is to keep the glue from running down the insides of the glass. If your funnel doesn't fit inside the ornament it won't do any good.
Mix the School Glue with Water
In one of your disposable cups, mix the glue with water. I didn't measure out how much of each to use, but I estimate roughly 60% glue and 40% water. The reason for this step is that if you squirt in the school glue directly it will bead up and your white sand (aka. fake snow) will stick to it and you won't get a nice flat ground to put your tree and people on.
Mix it all together with one of your disposable spoons.
Place the Glass Ornament in One of your Cups.
This will keep it vertical and prevent the ornament from becoming lopsided. (I didn't discover this until after I started pouring the glue-water mixture.
Pour a Little of the Glue-Water Mixture into the Ornament
Use one of your funnels for this. Be very careful not to get any of the mixture on the walls of the ornament because it will run down the side and mar the finished product. You only want to lay down a small layer of the glue-water mixture, see the photo to see how big my first layer was.
Pour a Little of the White Sand into the Ornament
Use the other funnel to pour the white sand into the glue-water mixture. Use your other disposable spoon to get a small amount of the white sand (see photo). As the sand runs down the funnel, you can rotate the glass ornament slightly in order to get the sand everywhere that the glue-water is.
Repeat the Previous 2 Steps To Build Up the Snow Layer
Alternate layers of the glue-water and the white sand. I only put in 3 layers.
Dry the Glue in the Oven
I tried letting the glue air dry, but even after 3 days it was still runny. To speed the process, put the ornament into the oven at around 200 degrees Fahrenheit. If you leave it in there for at least 3 - 4 hours it should become dry enough.
Step 2: Preparing the Tree
Exactly how tall is up to you, but you'll probably want the top to be lower than the neck of the opening in the ornament.
Cut the Tree
Use the wire cutters. After cutting, the tree will have a few scraggly little green fluffs that you'll want to clear out so that the bottom of the tree looks nice and neat.
A Note About the Snow...
For my ornament I used white sand and paper powder to simulate snow. In looking online I found a myriad of different techniques for creating fake snow. I choose these materials because they were readily available and I liked their look, but a Google search for "diorama snow" turns up lots of possibilities. AVOID USING ANY FOOD PRODUCTS AS SUBSTITUTIONS. Flour or Corn Starch will eventually turn yellow and start to attract bugs, although Salt might be a viable option.
Place Tree in Holder (Do this outside)
Start by putting the tree in some sort of holder. The purpose of this is to prevent getting fixative spray on yourself, and so that you can look at the tree from multiple angles to make sure the snow is evenly coating the tree. If you don't care about that, you can probably hold it in your hand, but it will be difficult to turn the tree without making a mess.
Spray Tree with adhesive (Do this outside)
I used Workable Fixative because I had it available. Any clear-drying adhesive spray should work just as well. Make sure to spray the tree from multiple angles and at close range so that there is a lot of adhesive, evenly coating the tree.
"Poof" the Baby Powder on the Tree (Do this outside)
You can just pour the powder onto the tree, but making the powder "poof" is way more fun. Again, make sure to get the powder as evenly distributed onto the tree as possible. Don't touch the powder after it's applied since it will ruin the natural look of the "snow" on the tree.
Wait Several Minutes to Let Fixative Dry A Little
I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to wait longer between coats, but I was impatient and didn't want to wait.
Lightly Shake the Tree to Remove Excess Powder (Do this outside)
Not all the powder on the tree will be glued, so you want to get the extra off. I recommend lightly shaking the tree and taping the tree holder against a solid surface to knock off the excess. You won't be able to get all the excess off, but you will be able to get a majority off.
Repeat the last 3 steps, 3 or 4 times
I only put on 3 or 4 coats.
Let the Adhesive Dry Overnight
Step 3: Inserting the Tree
To make it fit through the neck of the glass ornament, squeeze the branches inwards and upwards (towards the top of the tree). You want the branches to bend upwards because once inside the glass it will be easier to fold the branches back out. Plus upward branches are more realistic. Some of the baby powder will fleck off, but not enough to matter.
Put Super Glue on Base of Tree
A nice dab should do it. (See photo)
====== OPTIONAL ======
Place a tiny ball of brown clay onto the base of the tree.
I did this because after a few days the clay will dry and provide more support for the tree. There will be less chance of the tree leaning after the ornament is put into storage.
NOTE: I made this step optional because you might be able to get away without it (I didn't try). If you don't use the clay, be extra careful to store the ornament vertically during the rest of the year.
Put Super Glue on Brown Clay
This will be the part that attaches the tree to the ornament. (See photo)
Begin Stuffing Tree into Ornament
Your main worries at this point are:
A. Avoid getting super glue on the mouth of the ornament
B. Getting tree branches tight enough to fit through
You may need to apply quite a bit of force, try to do it in a controlled manner.
Finish Inserting Tree Using Tweezers
In order to precisely place the base of the tree into the center of the ornament I used tweezers to guide it to the final touchdown. Once it was in place, I pressed the tree firmly into the dried sand and glue to make it stand on its own.
NOTE: Depending on how long you let your white sand and glue dry, when you press the tree into it you may find it slightly soft or spongy. This should not affect the final outcome.
Step 4: Preparing Photos of the People
Ultimately how you want your ornament to look is up to you and you will have to plan accordingly. The look that I wanted is pictured in the intro so I will talk about achieving that.
A. First measure the size of your glass ornament. - Mine was about 2.5 inches in diameter.
B. Size the person in your photograph such that they will be the correct height for your ornament when printed onto a photo that's 4 inches high.
For example: Since the glass ornament was 2.5 inches, I made my daughter just under 1.5 inches high on the final photograph.
How I Accomplished It:
I used image software (namely Adobe Photoshop) to accomplish this, but unfortunately Photoshop is not widely available. There is a wide variety of free / open source software that you can use to do the same thing, (for instance: GIMP) but detailed instructions for that are beyond the scope of this tutorial.
With careful planning you should be able to accomplish the same thing "in camera." In which case I suggest taking many photographs of your person, each one at different sizes inside the camera frame. See the section below about "Appropriately Scaling Your Person" for more details.
First: I took photos of my child in the poses I wanted. (Depending on your child, this may be the most difficult step of all.)
Second: I opened the photos in Adobe Photoshop, erased the background, and made the background solid white. This step is not necessary, but it will make it easier to cut out the photos with the xacto knife later.
Third: I scaled down the picture such that my daughter would be a little less than 1.5 inches high on the 4" x 6" photo. (See section below for more details.)
Fourth: Since I wanted to make several ornaments, I cloned the pictures of my daughter several times on the same image so that I wouldn't have to get a lot of copies printed.
Fifth: I had the image printed by a photo service. (Namely Walgreens since they are close to my house.)
How to Appropriately Scale the Person In Your Picture:
No matter what process you use to create the photograph(s) you are going to cut out, you will need to think about how big the person will appear on a 4" x 6" photo. Since I wanted my daughter to be about 1.5" tall, she would have to take up about 35% of the frame from top to bottom. (Note: 35% is roughly equal to 1/3 as long as you are not picky and/or a math major. So if it helps you to visualize it, my daughter had to take up about 1/3 of the distance from top to bottom.)
I got the 35% number by taking my desired height (1.5") and dividing it by the height of the photo (4"), and then multiplying by 100%.
For Example: If you were to get a glass sphere that's 6 inches in diameter, and say you wanted your person to be about 2 inches tall. Then you would take your desired height (2"), divide it by the height of the photo (4"), and multiply by 100%, to get 50%. That would mean that your person should take up about 50% (aka. "half") of the height of the photo.
Q: What If I Hate Math And Have Image Software?
Use the image for this section as a template, and then go have it printed on regular 4" by 6" photo paper.
Step 5: Placing the People in the Ornament
Unfortunately there's no shortcut for this. Use a very sharp blade, take a lot of time and be very careful. (It also helps to have multiple copies of the photos you're using.)
Apply Mod Podge (OPTIONAL)
I applied the Mod Podge to both sides of the cut out. I did this hoping that it would help preserve the colors in the photograph, but I have no real evidence that you need do this at all.
Trim Your Person's Feet
with the Xacto knife. The point is to make your person stand up the way you want rather than leaning to one side or the other.
PRACTICE Placing Person Inside the Diorama!
After the glue is on it's tricky to get more than 1 shot at this. Practice getting your person composed correctly without letting the feet touch the glass or tree. There will be super glue on the feet and you don't want the glue getting on the glass or the tree if possible.
Apply Super Glue to Bottom Edge of Feet
Use a few small dabs. Try to make the dabs sit on the edge rather than the front or back of the cutout.
Place Person Inside Ornament
Carefully use the tweezers. (Again, the longer the tweezers the better.) Avoid getting any of the super glue on the rim or inside of the glass ornament as it will show up after it dries.
Hold the Person in Place for 30 Seconds to a Minute
Make sure your person is composed exactly how you want them. After this time, the super glue should be able to hold the person on its own and you can pull up the tweezers.
Repeat Last 4 Steps For All People In Your Diorama
Allow Super Glue to Dry Completely
Sit Back, Relax, and Admire Your Handywork