Introduction: How to Make a Ceramic Animal Christmas Ornament

I enjoy making these ceramic animal Christmas ornaments for gifts. You can really give them a personality of their own. They are really easy to make and start from a simple pinch pot:)

Step 1: Materials Needed

You don't really need a whole lot more than clay and your hands for this project, but a few other things will help make it a little easier. A small bowl of water, a rubber rib, a sponge, and a couple of tools for smoothing and decorating-such as a needle tool or modeling tool, will also come in handy.

Step 2: Starting the Pinch Pot

Start with a small amount of clay, about 3/4 to 1 pound is plenty, it will grow quickly. You can use a larger amount, but the ornaments tend to get a little heavy. Roll the clay between your hands to form a nice round ball shape. Next, just like Little Jack Horner, press your thumb into the center of the clay ball, going almost to the bottom of the ball, but be careful - you don't want to go all the way through. You want to leave about a 1/2 inch of clay at the bottom.

Step 3: Pinching/Opening the Ornament

Holding the ball of clay in one hand for support, use the other hand to gently squeeze the clay - "pinching" it between your fingers and your thumb. This is a small, gentle movement. You don't want to squish it with all your might. The goal is to evenly expand the ball shape, leaving a wall of clay that is about 1/4 inch think. You want to start at the bottom of the ball of clay and work your way up, rotating slightly after each pinch. Pinch, rotate, pinch, rotate.

It is also important to use slightly more pressure on the outside of the ball than on the inside. Meaning, don't get too over zealous with your super strong thumb. By keeping more pressure coming from the outside, you will maintain the ball shape. If you find that your ball seems to be growing into an ever spreading bowl shape, you are pressing harder from the inside than the outside. Adjust your pressure and you should be able to bring it back in.

Step 4: Expanding the Ornament

Continue gently pinching and rotating to expand the ball. I usually always have the ball supported with one hand and pinch with the other. Once you have a large enough opening, you can do this how ever feels natural to you. Use your fingers, thumbs, toes, or whatever works for you. Just be careful to use gentle motions.

When nearing the edge, it is helpful to keep it just a little thicker than the ever expanding body of your ball of clay. The little bit of extra thickness helps to keep it from expanding out into a bowl shape. Think about having a draw string on a bag. You want to keep your clay ball cinched in, and having a little extra thickness aids with this.

Keep pinching and rotating until you think your ball is about 1/4 inch think and as uniform as possible.

Step 5: Surface Cracking

Because your hands as well as the air are constantly drying the surface of the clay out, you will begin to see some surface cracking as your ball of clay really starts to expand. This is totally fine as long as the crack does not go all the way through the wall of the clay ball. I like showing the process and most of the time tend to leave these cracks, again, as long as they are not compromising the integrity of the wall. But if you want a completely smooth ornament you can very easily smooth them over with a rubber rib. Sometimes it is helpful to dip the rib in some water and then smooth, just adding in a little bit of extra moisture.

If you find you have a crack that goes all the way through, you can easily repair it. Take a small pinch of clay, put just a drop of water on it, plug the hole/crack with it, and smooth everything over well. I usually put my plug on the inside of the ball as I find it doesn't show as much, but it is totally fine to plug from the outside as well.

Step 6: Finishing the Opening

The opening of this ornament is going to be the mouth of our animal. You can make the mouth as large or as small as you would like. I find that after getting my ball to the size I want it, the opening tends to be a little bigger than I would like. To make the opening smaller, simply make a small tear in the edge and fold it over onto itself, essentially make a sort of "dart" in the clay. You can repeat this several times around the rim to get the opening the size you want. Smooth everything out with your fingers, then use a little bit of water to add some moisture for workability and make it super smooth.

Once you have finished the opening, set the ornament aside to dry out/set up just a bit - maybe 10 to 20 minutes. This slight drying helps the ball hold its shape a little better and makes it easier to add the details. I usually set mine on something soft or squishy so that it doesn't get a flat side from setting on a table. Bubble wrap works really well, but you can use anything really.

Step 7: Details, Details, Details

Everything is in the details!! Roll a few small balls of clay between your hands. These will be the eyes. I usually roll out several sizes so that I have a variety to choose from. For the nose, I pinch a small amount of clay in a triangular shape. I do this for ears as well. Again, I make several so that I can pick and choose as my animal starts to take on some personality.

Step 8: Make a Face

Once your details are made and your ball of clay has stiffened up just a bit, we can go ahead give this ornament some features and watch its personality grow. I usually start with the nose. Looking at your ball and the "mouth" opening, decide what is the top of the head. Now you know exactly where the nose should go. To make sure that the clay details attach well, we need to score/scratch the surface of the clay ball where we want to stick it. A needle tool works great for this, but you really just need to rough the surface up just a tad. Add a drop of water onto the scratch marks and press the nose onto the ball. It helps to support the inside of the ball with a finger and press the nose into it really well.

Repeat the process for the eyes and ears. Make score/scratch marks where you want to put them, add a little water, support from the inside and stick them on really good.

You can use a modeling tool (or really just your finger) to smooth out any edges that you want smooth and go over the seams of the facial features just to make sure that everything is attached well.

Once the "face" is on I also go back and very gently, pressing from the inside, puff out the cheeks/jowls just a bit. This keeps it from having a flat face and just gives it a bit more life.

Step 9: The Final Details - Bringing It to Life

Almost done! The final details are really what bring your critter to life. Using a needle tool (or a pencil works well too) add pupils to the eyes, whiskers, ear details, spot, dots, or any other marking that your animal might need.

I use fairly minimal details on mine - nose, eyes, ears - but you could add other details such as arms or legs, or maybe even a little tail:) You could also change the shape of the facial features to mix it up a bit too - almond eyes with eye lids, a carrot like nose, add some eyelashes, whatever you can imagine. Get creative!!

Since this is an ornament and ideally it should hang from the branches of your lovely Christmas tree, don't forget to make 2 holes in the top. You can thread a nice piece of string or ribbon thought these, make a loop, and tie it off so that your ornament will hang. It is also possible to put a metal ring through these holes in which you can attach a regular ornament hook too. This is a little trickier, but can be done with some needle nose pliers and some practice.

Another option is to make a small coil of clay, form it into a loop, and attach it to the top of the head (see next picture). However, since the clay loop is small it is quite fragile, even after firing, and often tends to break. My experience is that the two holes and ribbon are a better option.

Step 10: Dry, Fire and Finish

Once you have all of your details done, set your finished animal ornament aside to dry completely, then bisque fire. I usually Raku fire these. I not only like the look it gives them, but it also keeps them on the lighter side so they don't weigh the tree branches down. But you can absolutely fire them to the correct temperature of your clay.

Once bisque fired, you could also paint them with acrylics or water colors, or whatever paint you like, and they would be great. You are only limited by your imagination:)

This is my very first Instructable and any feedback would be very welcomed:) Thanks and happy making!!

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