Heirloom Holiday Decorations - Hand Painted Christmas Ornaments

When I was a little girl, I was told that Santa brought the tree on Christmas Eve. Late at night while we were all tucked in our beds dreaming childish dreams of toys and sweets, he slid down the chimney with a beautifully decorated evergreen.

When we awakened on Christmas morning, it would be there in a corner of the living room, lights twinkling, gleaming glass balls and hand painted Christmas ornaments adorning every fragrant bough.

I still remember the Christmas I discovered Santa didn't bring the tree while we were sleeping. I must have been only three or four, but I recall getting up late that Christmas eve to get a drink of water. Halfway down the hall, I peeked over the banister and saw it! The most beautiful tree I had ever seen! ...and there were my parents busily adding the finishing touches.

Ink & Watercolor Wash Ornament

I probably would have passed on unheeding had they just shooed me back to bed, but I suspect my father was secretly growing weary of their annual marathon tree-raising, for after one look at my wondering face he turned to mother and exclaimed that at least they wouldn't have to put up the tree in one night anymore - and they never did. From that night on, it became a family event.

Though I was crushed to learn that it was my parents who put up the tree each year, and not "the little fat man in the bright red suit", I was wildly impressed with the sparkling wonder that my parents created every year - and in only one evening.

One of the best things that came out of my "discovery" was that afterward, we got to help decorate the Christmas each year.

We created all manner of red and green paper chains and folded paper ornaments. One year we strung popcorn garlands on the tree - It seemed to take forever to make even one long strand!

I'm sure almost every grade school teacher we ever had taught us how to make at least one or two new ornaments each year, and each year, they would be exclaimed over and dutifully hung on the tree.

We also had some old family favorites that were brought out each year and hung on the tree.

It just wasn't Christmas without the wax candle ornaments - several evergreens with snow-tipped branches, a black Santa boot, and a little brick chimney complete with a Sants and his bag - carefully arranged on the fluffy blanket of cotton-batten "snow" Dad laid around the foot of the tree every year.

The candles were never lit, of course. They were lovingly tucked away once the tree came down, only to re-emerge the following December to once again grace our living room.

Among the many ornaments with which we gifted our mother over the years were

  • safety pin angels,
  • sequin-spangled angels,
  • tiny crocheted-doily angels,
  • pipe cleaner angels, (Do we see a theme developing here ?)
  • and walnut shell angels,
  • as well as paper mache snowmen, and pierced-foil snowflakes, to name but a few.

Some years ago, while working as Classroom Manager for a craft store chain, I came across a line of lovely unpainted, porcelain bisque ornaments.

Color and Background removed to show pen sketching

Round or oval, they featured a raised garland of holly leaves and berries.

I experimented with different pens, paints and techniques before settling on my faithful, waterproof Sakura Micron pens.

I used acrylic paints, a set of watercolors, and a spray sealer to decorate and protect my ornaments, completed a few samples,and offered my first class in Hand-painted Christmas Ornaments.

It turned out to be one of the most popular ornament classes we ever held.

Waterproof pens for drawing on plaster ornaments

Watercolor sets - excellent for painting bisque ornaments

We used a technique similar to the Ink & Wash cards. Before class, the ornaments were sprayed with sealer to prevent finger marks.

The first step was to carefully paint the embossed design with acrylic paint. Several opted to use green and red for the holly and berries, but another popular option was gold metallic paint.

After the acrylic paint was dry, the center of each ornament was given two coats of acrylic gesso as a base for the watercolor washes. Once each student had selected their design, they transferred the drawing to the center of the ornament using graphite paper.

Using waterproof pens, the students inked the transferred designs, following the examples provided, and the finished samples. After completing the drawing, the ink was allowed to set-up for a few minutes, then the water color washes were mixed and applied.

As the ornaments had been sprayed, it was quite simple to remove any washes that were too heavy with the corner of a piece of paper towel.

Watercolors are sometimes difficult for beginning painters to control, so acrylic paints may be used instead. By treating them like watercolors, - mixing very light washes and painting them one over the other as each previous wash dried - we were able to build up the colors in layers,  for a lovely, translucent effect.

Completed Ornament: Pen Sketch & Watercolor Washes

This lovely oval ornament and the tree ornament below were coated with several layers of acrylic enamel.

The gold decorations were added using metallic paint after the final coat of the enamel was dry. Then the leaves and berries were outlined and the shadows added using a waterproof Sakura Micron.

I love the new acrylic enamels. They are so easy to use and are soap and water clean-up, making them great for children to use.

One caveat to that is kids do require adult supervision because the paints will stain clothing and furniture if it is not wiped up immediately.

Hand-painted Ornament with gilding

© 2009 RedElf

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16 comments

Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

How lovely those ornaments are! I'm a Hindu married to a Catholic and Christmas celebrations are a new addition to my life - but I enjoy them hugely. It's such fun to add something new to the tree every year. I wonder if I could try my hand at making ornaments this year and turn out something remotely eye catching! :)


Nelle Hoxie 7 years ago

Thank you for these great Christmas decoration ideas. They are truly beautiful.


Enelle Lamb profile image

Enelle Lamb 7 years ago from Canada's 'California'

You are so multi-talented! The ornaments are lovely, and your tree must look absolutely beautiful! I started my own little Christmas tradition - every year I buy one (sometimes two,) ornaments for my tree. My family has kindly helped me with that buy sometimes gifting me with a new addition which promptly gets added Christmas morning.

Great hub! Gets me into the Christmas spirit!


GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 7 years ago from USA

RedElf - Nice articfle. The handmade items are always the good ones. Gus


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada Author

FP, how lovely to have such a wonderful mix of traditions in one family! You must feel very blessed. As a woman of many talents you would most certainly be able to make something quite lovely - I have no doubt at all.

Nelle, thanks so much for dropping by! I am so glad you liked them - they were great fun to make.

Thank you, Enelle. My tree this year will be a bit different, so it will be interesting to see how it works out. It's really more of a tree-shaped ornament display. I may have to do something creative with garlad...

Hey there, Gus! I still have a paper-bag Santa my son made in Kindergarten - you are so right!


Paradise7 profile image

Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

Beautiful, as always, Red Elf!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada Author

Aww, thanks so much Paradise7!


C.S.Alexis profile image

C.S.Alexis 7 years ago from NW Indiana

Very nice share and in time for others to use before the season is on. Great job here.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much, C.S.Alexis. I really appreciate your stopping by to comment!


jill of alltrades profile image

jill of alltrades 7 years ago from Philippines

What beautiful pieces! Thank you very much for sharing. It's a good reminder that Christmas is just around the corner.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 7 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks, jill of alltrades. So glad you enjoyed them!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much for your comments, marcallum - I have posted them here without your link ;)

Marcallum 9 hours ago

I am always happy to see a touch of originality in this increasing generic retail world.


MsCookM profile image

MsCookM 6 years ago

What is actually great with heirloom ornaments is that you have a lot of good memories to remember and pass on by. Nice hub!


RedElf profile image

RedElf 6 years ago from Canada Author

Right you are, MsCookM - and that is the whole idea ;)


jeremytorres profile image

jeremytorres 5 years ago

Wow! They are really beautiful.Heirloom ornaments are something to treasure.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada Author

Thanks so much, jeremytorres. Hand-painted ornaments are such a fun family craft, too.

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