Introduction: Make a Gnome Ornament—Out of Clay!
If you have ever wanted to create a gnome ornament but have had no clue where to begin, you have found the right Instructable! Using polymer clay and a few simple tools and supplies, you can create this cute gnome for your home or give it to your family or friends!
Sentences or phrases that are underlined also have corresponding pictures. Words that are bolded are manufacturer recommendations or warnings.
Polymer Clay (I used Super Sculpey)
Flat Surface (I used a glass cutting board)
Glass Baking Dish (or a cookie sheet)
Oven (or Toaster Oven)
Razor or Knife
Roller or Pasta Roller
Water and Paper Towels (not shown)
Strong Adhesive (I used E6000)
Items that are optional:
Pallet (for paint)
Sculpting Tools or Dental Explorer Tools
Clay Softener (to remove fingerprints
Beading Wire and Pliers (to make an eyelet)
Wire Brush (for texture)
Step 1: The Foil Base and Bulking Out
First, we need to do some prep work in order for our sculpture to bake correctly. We need to preheat our oven, make a baking foundation, and make the interior of our sculpture. Follow the instructions from your clay manufacturer for the proper temperature for the clay you are using. I am using Super Sculpey, so I preheated my oven to 275°F.
Now, we need to make sure that we can support the sculpture while we are making parts to add to it and especially while it is baking. This sculpt should be supported from underneath because if it were laid flat, it could develop a flat spot, so we will support it in the oven with a foil base and a toothpick.
Take some aluminum foil and crumple it up, making a flat bottom, raised middle, and flat edges. It should look like a small island with a mountain in the middle and a flat coastline. It needs to be wider at the bottom than at the top, but also needs some elevation to prevent the beard from touching the bottom of the baking dish.
Poke a hole into the top of the base with a toothpick, being careful not to go all the way through the base. The toothpick will eventually be poked into our sculpture to hold it up while it is baking. Set the foundation aside.
Next, we need to make the interior of our sculpture so it can bake evenly. If the clay is too thick, it might not bake evenly. So the simplest way to bulk out our sculpture is to take some aluminum foil and make a ball. This will be the gnome's head.
Then take another piece of foil and center the ball in it, wrap the foil around the ball, and twist it to make a point. Almost like wrapping a piece of candy. If it is too long, bend and twist the foil, breaking it off short of what you want the final hat length to be. This part will be the bulk of the hat.
Step 2: The Head and Hat
Now that the structure of the sculpt is done, we are going to cover it with a layer of clay.
Start by conditioning your clay by either kneading the clay for a few minutes in your hands, or you can use a pasta roller by passing it through several times on its thickest setting. Regardless of how we condition our clay, it should be soft and malleable when we are done.
Now we need to make a sheet of clay so we can cover the head and hat. Roll out some clay with your roller about 1/8 of an inch thick. Alternatively, you can run it through a pasta roller on the second-thickest setting.
Place the foil bulk near the edge of the clay and wrap the clay around the hat and the head. It is okay if it overlaps a little. If the clay tip of the hat goes beyond the foil tip of the hat, don't worry. It won't be too thick to bake.
Smooth out any overlapping clay with your fingers and round out the head as best as you can. Add clay and smooth out, if needed, to make the hat connect directly to the widest part of the head, almost like an ice cream cone. The head does not need to be a perfect sphere since the head will be covered in hair. Once you get it covered, roll the sculpture to smooth out the hat.
You will notice that, as you roll out the hat, there will be a natural line that forms around the circumference of the head. If it isn't noticeable, that is okay. Find the widest part of the head and take your toothpick, or another sculpting tool, and make an indented line all the way around the middle of the head. This will be where we will place our beard and hair.
Set it aside for the moment.
Step 3: Making the Beard and Hair
The beard and hair are made the same way but have different shapes and lengths. We start with another flat sheet of clay, so use a roller or a pasta roller. It is the same thickness as the sheet of clay we used to cover the foil ball and hat.
Let's start with the beard. Decide the shape and how long you want the beard. To measure how wide it should be, gently lay it against the head along the indentation line so it roughly covers half of the head. Cut out that shape, which should look like an upside-down triangle or trapezoid.
Next, we press the edges of the clay so that it doesn't look freshly cut.
To add texture, first decide if you want both sides to have texture. If you want both sides to be textured, the side currently facing up will end up being the back of the hair or beard. The back is the best place to practice texturing!
Use a toothpick or a sculpting tool (sometimes called a dental explorer tool) to make wavy lines and crisscross them. Drag the lines all the way to the bottom edges of the clay. You can attempt to use a wire brush to add more texture, but it is not needed. A toothpick does tend to leave little bits of clay, so wipe the toothpick off frequently, and use a spare piece of clay to pick up those little bits of clay.
If you want to have two sides to the beard, this is where we flip the clay. Use the toothpick, a sculpting tool, or the razor to carefully lift the edge so it can be lifted and flipped over. Repeat the texturing process on the other side.
Once you have the texture the way you want it, you can leave it as it is or you can use a toothpick or a sculpting tool to press down through the clay on the edges to make it look more like hair. Use the texture lines to be your guide on where to press. You only need to press through about 1/8-1/4 of an inch into the beard. Finalize the shape of the beard here, taking off sections from the sides or bottom if needed.
To add the beard to the head, lift the clay off the cutting board carefully using a razor or a tool to lift up a section. Lay the beard along the indentation line we put around the circumference of the head. Use your thumb or fingers to smooth the top of the beard onto the head. It does not need to be perfect as we will be adding the brim of the hat later. Use a toothpick or a sculpting tool to continue the texture of the beard onto the head. This helps disguise this addition of the beard. Don't hesitate to press the beard out from the back if it happens to get bent downward while you are working with the clay.
Before we start on the hair, we need to add the toothpick to support our sculpt so we can safely bake it. Use a toothpick or a sculpting tool to make a hole in the bottom of the head and add a toothpick. Now we can put the toothpick into the hole in the foundation we made in Step 1. Set the sculpture aside while we make the hair.
Use the same technique to make the hair. Decide the width, length, and make a wave pattern on the bottom. Texture one or both sides. Add the hair on the back of the sculpture the same way we added the beard and continue the texture onto the head.
Step 4: Brim and Nose
We are over halfway there! Now we need to make the hat brim and the nose!
Using that same sheet of clay from earlier, use the razor or knife to cut an even strip of clay to make the hat brim. It only needs to be about 1/4 inch wide and long enough to go all the way around the head. Cut one end of the brim square, then, starting at the back of the head, wrap it all the way around, where the indentation line used to be (along the top of the beard and hair). Cut it flush to butt up to the other side of the brim.
Using your finger or thumb, blend the seam of the brim together, then, gently rub the bottom of the brim (but do not blend it into the beard or hair) to make it thinner and more natural-looking. Now, as we did with the beard and hair, blend the top of the brim into the main part of the hat. If you find that your brim is sliding down, don't be afraid to blend it up into the hat before thinning the bottom edge.
Check to make sure the beard and hair texture continues up under the hat. Use a toothpick or a sculpting tool to continue the texture under the brim, if needed.
Now for the nose. Using the handle or a bend in a sculpting tool or paintbrush, make an indentation for the nose right under the brim of the hat, in the center of the beard. You might even want to push the brim of the hat upwards a little where the nose goes so it appears as though the hat is resting on the nose. Roll a small ball of clay and gently press the clay into the indentation.
Look at what you've done so far! Now we just need to add the hole for the eyelet, remove any fingerprints, bake it, and paint it!
Step 5: Add a Hole, Check It Over, and Bake
Now we need to add the hole at the top so we can add an eyelet later. From my experience, it is best to make the hole and glue the eyelet in, rather than bake the eyelet directly in the clay.
Use your eyelet threads to determine what size hole you need in the top. Use either a sculpting tool or a toothpick, make the hole in the top of the hat, slightly larger than the diameter of the eyelet threads. It needs to be a little larger so we have room for the adhesive. Make sure it is straight up and down or you may need to bend your eyelet (before you glue it in, but after you paint).
Check over the sculpture. then carefully put the sculpt (on its base) into the baking dish. If you noticed that there are fingerprints in the clay, now is the time to use a little clay softener and brush it onto the sculpt using a paintbrush.
Bake according to your clay manufacturer's instructions. Sculpey states to bake its Super Sculpey at 275°F for 15 minutes since the thickness of our sculpture shouldn't be more than 1/2 inch in any one place.
When it is done baking, make sure it cools completely before moving to the next step—painting!
Step 6: Paint and Add the Eyelet
Now we get to personalize our gnome!
Let's start with the beard and hair. We added the texture so we can have two layers, the deep, darker base-layer, and a lighter top-layer. The easiest way to get this look is by painting the base layer first.
I used Pewter Gray by Apple Barrel for the base layer. Put a small amount of paint onto your cutting board. Using a paintbrush, paint a thin layer on the beard and hair (front and back), making sure to get all of the deep parts. Let that layer dry, and then add a second, thin layer. Let it dry.
Now that the base layer is dry, we will be using a dry-brush technique to add the lighter, top layer. Have a paper towel close by and add a small amount of your lighter color to your cutting board. The color I used was White by Apple Barrel.
After putting a small amount of paint onto your cutting board, use your paintbrush to spread the paint, pressing down to saturate the bristles, but also squeezing most of the paint out of the bristles. Using the paper towel as a canvas, paint the paper towel (or the cutting board) until there is barely a trace of paint coming off. This is important, as there will still be paint left in the bristles, even though very little will be coming off on the paper towel! The goal is to have a dry brush, with a small amount of pigment in the bristles.
Using the side of the brush (not the tip of the bristles), brush the color across the beard or hair, perpendicular to the texture. The goal is to get the paint on the tops of the texture, not down in the creases. You might need to paint two layers on, depending on how you want it to look. If you accidentally get some paint down in the creases, you can attempt to scrape it out with a toothpick or a sculpting tool. Otherwise, you can try to paint the base color back into the crease.
Now, we need to paint the nose—if you want. If you use Super Sculpey, its color could pass as a skin-tone, so be careful around the nose with the paint. You can use a sculpting tool to gently scrape any paint off of the nose. If the paint you use does not come off, or if you are using a different brand or color of clay, you can use whichever color you would like to paint the nose. I chose to leave the nose unpainted.
Next, let's paint the hat. Choose the color you would like (I used Cardinal Red by FolkArt), put some on your cutting board, and paint the hat. Paint at least two layers and make sure that the paint dries between coats. If you want, you can carefully paint under the brim of the hat.Check over your gnome to see if you missed anything!
Lastly, we need to add the eyelet. Before gluing, make sure your eyelet will sit in the hole vertically. If it doesn't, you will need to adjust the angle of the eyelet using a pair (or two) of pliers. Do not attempt to adjust the eyelet after it has been glued, as it could break the top of your hat! (Alternatively, you can make your own eyelet using wire and pliers. I have found that making the eyelet is much easier as the metal is easier to move.)
Following the glue manufacturer's recommendations regarding ventilation, drying time, and use, take the threads of the eyelet and dip them into a strong glue (I used E6000). You can also use a toothpick or a sculpting tool to add glue into the hole before you put the eyelet into the hole. Make sure you like the way the eyelet is sitting, then set it aside for however long the manufacturer recommends before adding the hanger or string of your choice!
Step 7: Hang and Enjoy Your Gnome!
Now you have your very own gnome for decorating or to give to someone who loves them!
I hope you enjoyed making these as much as I enjoyed helping you learn how to make them!
Second Prize in the
Holiday Decorations Speed Challenge
2 years ago
Awesome instructions and pics! Thank you so much for sharing with us!!
Reply 2 years ago
Thank you and you're welcome!
2 years ago
What a great ornament. Lots of good detail in here. Makes me think even I could make this. Thanks for sharing!
Reply 2 years ago
Thank you! You could definitely do it! :)
2 years ago on Step 7
He's SO cute, and the pictures are GREAT! Voted. :)
Reply 2 years ago
Thank you so much!