Years ago I saw some amazing garden gnomes in San Francisco shop; rude gnomes mooning you or doing rude gestures. I've always wished I had bought one and have not seen them anywhere since. So, on a recent trip to the dollar store when I saw 99 cent gnomes, you bet your green thumb I snapped one up! I figured if I were going to experiment with a DIY naughty gnome, this was the right price.
To be clear about the content of this Ible, I removed the gnomes existing left arm and replaced it with one that is flipping the bird (I like to keep my neighbors on their toes). If you do not care for rude gestures, you may wish to stop here. I have censored the middle finger in some of the flagship photos with the parental advisory sticker, but be aware as you click through that it would have been impossible to keep it completely hidden while documenting the process well.
This Ible will help you modify a cheap garden gnome to convey just about any gesture you please; peace sign, wave, nose picking, holding a new prop, etc. The methods here are simple, the materials are pretty beginner friendly, and you can turn out a custom gnome over a weekend.
Step 1: You Will Need...
A cheap pre fabricated Garden Gnome --Check your local dollar store's garden section or keep your eye on end of summer clearance at places like CVS.
Various Files --At least one rough toothed, slender round and flat files highly recommended as well.
Safety Goggles and Dust Mask --improvised version could be sunglasses and bandana, though I highly recommend the real deal for full coverage.
Smooth On Free Form Air Clay (comes in parts A and B)
Sculpting Tools -- silicone tipped, plastic, or wooden tools can provide different benefits.
Craft Acrylics --use colors that will blend to match your existing gnome
Stiff Bristled Paintbrush
Green Flocking Powder (optional)
Craft Adhesive --I like Crafter's Pick
Spray on Clear Coat Sealer (optional)
Step 2: The Pre-Fab Base
I started with this gnome, purchased from the 99 cent store. The label gave no clues as to his material make up. He was not heavy enough to be cement, but did not feel light enough to be pure plaster. He did feel 'cheap" enough that I was fairly certain I could take his arm off with a hack saw.
Safety Note: When sawing a material that is apt to produces dust, always use protective eyewear and a dust mask. In a pinch, at least do sunglasses and a bandana over your face. You want to prevent particles from entering your eyes and lungs. Prevention pays off, especially if your material is not labeled and could potentially contain something hazardous.
Step 3: Limb Removal
The first phase of this project was a bit out of my comfort zone because I don't typically use any tools larger than a craft blade. Using something as large and dramatic as a hack saw was a little scary at first, but also kind of exciting. I felt very Dexter.
I decided to remove the arm in smaller sections to minimize my effort (unsure how dense the material would be) and to avoid risk of bend the saw blade.
Starting at the elbow, I sawed inward toward the gnome's body. Stop before you are sawing into the torso.
Make a second cut about an inch below your first. Angle the cut so that the end points connect. A triangle section of arm will be removed.
Repeat as needed to remove chunks of the arm. I left the cap of the shoulder intact as an attachment point for the later sculpt. Based on your end pose, you can decided whether keeping the shoulder is helpful to you or not.
When I got to the end of the sleeve nearest the hand, it made sense to turn the gnome vertical and saw downward. This allowed me to remove a slimmer piece while getting as close to the torso as possible.
Step 4: Filing Down Existing Features
Using a file with both and rounded and flat side, I took down the rough edges left where the arm had been and also minimized the hand that used to touch his hip.
No need to file to perfection here. In fact, leaving some rough tooth behind will help your clay adhere and provide a more organic painting surface later.
Step 5: Sculpting the New Arm
In the interest of keeping the new limb light, I chose Smooth On's Free Form Air Clay. I really like the texture, versatility, and working time of this stuff for a variety of projects.
SOFF is a two part product that you mix in equal parts A and B. Knead together until the mixture is a uniform light gray.
I took approx 3/4 of the mixture and rolled a chubby tube for the arm.
Attach one end to what is left of the shoulder.For smooth transitions, I like to dip my finger tips in water and then work them over the place where the two materials meet. The water breaks down the clay a bit, helping it get right into the grooves and pours of the faux stone.
Depending on the new arm position, you may wish to add a little extra clay to the back or underneath to help support the bulk and reinforce attachment. Keep these areas on the thin side, but realize you can file and sand when the clay dries to perfect the shaping.
Use your fingers and palm to blunt off the unattached side, making a clear end to the sleeve shape.
Step 6: Sculpting a New Hand
Start with a ball roughly the size of the gnome's other hand.
Use your fingers to pinch out a pinky finger and a thumb, sort of like the "hang ten" sign. These are the digits easiest to pull from your original hand ball without distorting the overall shape much.
Roll the remaining three fingers from your mixed air clay. Check against the original hand to see that width and length are in the right ball park.
Lightly press each finger into place on the hand.
To eliminate the seam where the finger meets the palm, gently run your finger tip over the connection a few times on each side. The warmth of your hand combined with the moisture of the clay will cause everything to merge pretty easily. *NOTE: Avoid adding much water to this part of the sculpt. Too much water can cause things to get blobby and you could lose the definition between fingers.
Carefully curl or bend fingers into your desired position. Make sure the hand looks good from both front and side views, and that your intended gesture is clear.
To refine the individual fingers, use a silicone tipped clay shaping tool for softer/ rounder edges or a plastic clay knife for very defined crevices.
A tool with a hard edge is helpful for some final details, like putting the inner elbow crease on the sleeve, or cleaning up excess clay on the torso.
Allow the air clay to dry for 24hrs to ensure full bond and no moisture at the core of your added limb.
Step 7: Refining Shape With Files
As you may have noticed in the last photo of sculpting, my shoulder ended up being a bit bulky.
To match the gnome's other arm, which has a relaxed, sloping shoulder, I filed the dry piece significantly with a rough toothed file. Don't worry about the irregular surface a rough file leaves behind. This can help your paint job integrate with the rough faux stone surface of the original gnome parts.
Focus on the bulky area when filing, but remember to change up your angle to ensure you get an organic curve that wraps around to the front and back. Stop and look at your project from different views to ensure you keep the form organic.
Use your smallest round files or sandpaper to carefully fine tune the shape of any extended fingers. Do not strive for slender digits, as those will be at risk of breaking easily. Rather, just look to smooth out any unwanted sharp/ squarish edges or shave down any slight bulk that might be taking away from your hand pose.
Work the file or sand paper back and forth lightly. If you use sand paper, do NOT wrap around the finger and pull. Excessive force could damage your piece.
Use a stiff paintbrush to remove dust from the crevices of your sculpture.
Step 8: Painting
Painting method will be a matter of personal preference, as well as the ultimate display environment for your gnome.
A quick, full coverage means of monochromatic painting would obviously be spray painting the entire piece. Some paint brands offer faux stone sprays that deliver flecks of several shades, but typically I don't care for these as you lose some depth of form and personality. The uniformity of the flecks usually creates a feeling of artifice.
Since I like the faux stone paint job my gnome came with, I chose to emulate that look on the new arm using craft acrylics. Fortunately, the Smooth On Air Clay is already a nice light gray on which I can apply highlights and shadows.
Learn from your Mistakes/ Misconceptions: My initial base color was 2 parts white, 2 parts black, and 1 part sky blue. I tried the touch of blue thinking that my stone was a cooler forest type stone color rather than a warmer desert stone color. As the 4th photo reveals, my assumptions about color where incorrect --my gnome's gray was actually warmer and more yellow than I had eyeballed it to be. Fortunately craft acrylics are pretty forgiving and you can just cover slight mismatches like this with your improved color mix.
1 part goldenrod yellow +1 part black to the existing mix gave me a more accurate base color.
Base color + 1 additional part black made the shadow color. Use a small, stiff bristled brush to scrub the shade down into the deep creases and definition between fingers.
Base color + 2 parts white and 2 parts yellow = highlight color.
Use a dry brush technique to apply the highlight in a way that creates natural dappling.Tap out the brush tip on a piece of scrap paper to eliminate excess liquid, then tap the surface of the sculpture with the stiff bristled brush tip.
Turn the piece as you work to view from all angles. Apply paint with a light touch and build on your highlights in layers to avoid overdoing it. Your roundest places (like the top of the shoulder) and the areas you want to feature (your new hand gesture) should have at least more layer of highlights than the rest of the arm so you get maximum depth and draw the eye where you want it to go.
Step 9: Moss Flocking (optional)
My dollar store gnome came with some faux moss patches and adding a touch of this back into the new limb really ties it all together.
The original moss looks to be something like the "turf" you might buy for a toy railroad setting. Since toy railroads are one of the few craft hobbies we don't do in this household, I decided to use flocking as a reasonable substitute. It is not as coarse as the original moss, but to a casual viewer it will present the right touch of green.
I find Martha Stewart flocking to be easy to work with and fairly blend able to get custom shades. The original moss was somewhere between "fennel" and "evergreen".
Shake flocking powder into a small mixing cup. Swirl around to mix shades, if needed.
Use a fingertip to apply a thin layer of craft adhesive to your would-be mossed area. I like Crafter's Pick for it's high viscosity; the flocking (or glitter, or whatever particulate you're working with) will stick right where I place it and stay there.
Dip a clean fingertip into the flocking cup and pick up particles. Press your finger onto the adhesive.
Dab flocking on in layers to create a natural, randomized look where some spots are thicker than others.
Do NOT sprinkle the flocking over the adhesive as you would in most other projects. The result will looks too even and lightly dusted to read as moss.
Step 10: Outdoor Clear Coat Sealer (also Optional)
To protect your paint job from the elements, apply a satin or matte clear coat to your finished piece.
Spray one all over coat.
Wait 10-15 minutes.
Apply second coat.
Display gnome proudly in your garden, preferably in a location with good moisture drainage. Excessive exposure to water could take a toll on your additions over time.
Step 11: Done!
Your gnome is ready to greet the world...in whatever special way you've designed!
I decided my gnome's full name is "Fuggoff Buttgarten". I'm pretty sure the UPS guy will think he's hilarious and that our neighbors will continue to wonder what's wrong with me...if the hacksaw Dexter ensemble wasn't enough already.
If you mod your own gnome, send me a picture in the comments below. Have suggestions for other great gnome names? Share them!
Third Prize in the
Beyond the Comfort Zone Contest