As an artist and homeowner, Donna enjoys creating unique decorative items and holiday ornaments to welcome all to her artistic abode.
We love watching cardinals visit our backyard feeder during the winter months. So I couldn't resist making a cute cardinal ornament for our Christmas tree this year. This tree decoration features a polymer clay bird sitting in a nest atop a shiny bell. Although this tutorial shows you how to make a cardinal, you could use a photo for reference to make a variety of birds for this ornament.
A Note About Materials and Tools
You can make this ornament with just the bird sitting in a nest, without a bell. But if you choose to use a bell, make sure it is a metal bell (both the outside and the ringer inside the bell). You can check that your bell is metal with a magnet. Your bell will bake along with the polymer clay and must be metal to withstand the heat.
Do not use any kitchen utensils with your polymer clay that may come in contact with food in the future. I like to use common household items as tools, like plastic knives, spoons, utility knives, pencils, and dowels. However, you can also use clay tools if you have them.
Materials for Making a Polymer Clay Bird Ornament
- A small metal bell
- Polymer clay in a variety of colors—I like to use Sculpey clay, but there are others brands available. I mixed some of my clay colors for this project myself, but you can buy more colors to avoid mixing your own. To make an ornament like mine, you will need polymer clay in at least these colors: brown, black, red, yellow, green, and white.
- Tools for working with clay—these can be as simple as a plastic knife, plastic spoon, a dull pencil, a dowel for rolling, and a sharp straight edge (I use a hard piece of plastic, but you could use a utility knife, too).
- Wax paper or craft paper to use as a work surface
- Two small beads for the eyes (optional) and super glue
- A glass container that will hold your bell upright for baking (more details below)
Preparing Your Bell
1. Polymer clay can be heavy when baked, so you might want to choose a smaller bell for your ornament. My bell is about 1 and 1/2 inches in diameter.
2. I like working on wax paper when using polymer clay, but you can use craft paper as a work surface. I suggest having a few pieces of paper: one to put your ornament on while working, and a series of other pieces of paper to roll, cut, and mold your clay on.
3. To begin, use some scrap clay to roll a thick coil. Shape your coil into a ring to secure your bell into the upright position. Make sure your bell is level before beginning on your ornament.
Making the Nest
4. Roll out three or four coils of brown clay to begin making your bird's nest. These coils can be all the same color or different shades of brown. If you are using a small bell, you may want to use only three coils. For a larger bell, you will probably want to build a bigger nest with four coils.
Roll your clay coils to be the length of about 3 times the circumference of your bell. You can choose the thickness of your coils depending on what you think looks good on your bell.
5. Next, hold one end of all your coils together in one hand. Start twisting them together to form a thicker rope. You can twist them as tight as you want to make your nest look how you like it.
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6. When your twisted rope is complete, wrap it around the upper part of your bell. This placement will depend on your bell's design, but above the openings is best. Try to place your coil level on your bell so your nest will sit straight.
7. Overlap the two ends of your twisted coils, and cut through the center using a sharp edge. Do not throw out your leftover ends.
8. Gently push together the two ends of your twisted coil to complete the ring of your nest. Your seam does not need to be perfect. It will be covered with clay. While joining your coil ends, push down on your nest to secure it to your bell.
9. Use one of the individual clay pieces from the ends you cut off to cover up the seam where you joined your nest together. Loop a piece of the leftover coil over the seam. Press it inside the nest and under the outside edge to secure it in place. The inside does not need to be neat, but make the outside look like it wraps under the nest.
10. Use the other leftover clay pieces to make more loops around your nest. It should look like a grapevine wreath when you're done.
Making Your Clay Bird
Wash your hands and tools, and change the paper for your work surface as you change your clay color.
11. Use your red clay (or whatever color you choose) to start molding your bird's body. I used about 1/2 of my block of red clay for my bird's body.
Soften your clay and form it into a teardrop shape with an elongated tail. You can use a plastic spoon to help smooth your clay as you mold it.
12. Once you like the shape of your bird's body, you can use your tools to make some simple feather details on the tail.
13. Now set your bird's body into the nest and press it in place. Make sure your bird is sitting straight. Your bird's body should fill the nest. It is okay if there are a few small gaps, you can cover them with leaf details later. If your bird will not stick in place, remove the body and use some brown clay to make a cushion in the bottom of your nest. Then put your bird back in place and press it into the cushion.
You can also lift the tail into whatever position you choose.
Making Your Bird's Head and Face
While working on your bird's head and face, it may be helpful to have a cardinal photo at hand for reference.
14. Take a smaller piece of red clay to form your bird's head. Roll this into another teardrop shape, this time with a short tail. This tail will create the feathers on the top of your cardinal's head.
You can either attach your bird's head to the body now or wait until you have completed the face detail.
15. Mix a small amount of black and brown clay together to make your bird's mask. Roll this clay into a thin sheet using a dowel.
16. Cut a small triangle from your sheet of clay. Using your fingers, round all the corners of your triangle. Pinch the center of the top edge so it dips down a bit. Check your mask against your cardinal's head, referencing your photo for size and placement. Trim down your mask if needed.
17. Adhere the mask to your cardinal's face as above, pressing it gently in place. Place the head on your bird's body as above if you haven't already. Make sure the head is straight and secure to your body.
18. Now would be the time to attach some type of hanger to the back of your bird. I used a jewelry eye pin to form a loop and stick it in the back of my bird. You can also insert a screw eye into the back of your bird's body to use as a hanger.
Making the Wings
19. Roll out a piece of red clay using a dowel.
20. (Optional) I used a stamp to add decoration to my bird's wings, but this is optional. I pressed a large stamp into my clay, but you can just draw some simple lines to create the look of feathers.
21. I then traced the cap of a bottle to create a circle. I cut my circle out of the clay and smoothed the edges.
22. Using a sharp edge, cut your circle into two equal halves to make your wings. You can trim down your wings to make them the right size to fit your bird. Then press the wings firmly in place on each side of your bird's body. Make sure they are balanced and even on your bird.
Adding a Beak and Eyes to Your Polymer Clay Bird
23. Mix some yellow clay with a bit of red to make an orange beak for your cardinal. Form your clay into a small, short cone and place your bird's beak in place as seen in the photo above.
24. Then use a dull pencil to make two eye holes in your bird's mask. I made my eye holes large and deep enough to add bead eyes after my clay had been baked, but this is optional.
Adding Leaves and Berries As Decoration
25. You can fill in any gaps between your cardinal's body and the nest with tiny leaves and berries. To make the leaves, roll little balls of green clay into teardrop shapes with your fingers. Then press them flat with your fingertip. Use a straight edge to add simple leaf veins. Carefully place and press your leaves around your bird's body.
26. For the berries, roll small balls of white or red clay and place them on top of your leaves. Make sure they are stuck in place before you bake your clay.
Baking Your Clay and Finishing Your Ornament
27. Bake your clay according to the manufacturer's directions. I put my ornament on top of a glass container that held my bell firmly upright. I then put this on top of a cookie sheet in my preheated oven for baking.
28. (Optional) Once my ornament had cooled completely, I used superglue to place some small black beads into my eye holes to finish my cardinal's features.
I hope you enjoy this polymer clay tree decoration tutorial.
© 2017 Donna Herron
Donna Herron (author) from USA on December 19, 2017:
Thanks, Heidi! I can't believe Christmas is almost here. I'm running out of time to finish and post all my projects! Hope you are enjoying a happy and restful holiday season!! Thanks, as always, for stopping by and commenting!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on December 18, 2017:
The coolest part of this design is the wings! So cute, as always. Hope you're enjoying your holiday season. Merry Christmas!