Intro: I would like to thank Jonni for the opportunity to write another guest post, for the chance to share some my ideas with you all and possibly inspire in the same way I’ve been inspired by this community of Artists.
If you’re like me, then you probably have many projects going at once. Working on them when time allows and prioritizing them depending on the time of year. I had another, much bigger, project in mind for this year but as it does, life gets in the way. I’ll continue to work on it when I can but for now I’d like to share with you how to make Giant 2’ Gingerbread Men to stand among your holiday decorations or to hang from the ceiling and watch over you and your loved ones.
This design was just a freehand sketch, as the traditional gingerbread shape is instantly recognizable. I originally made this project as a gift, then when interest started to show, I started working on a design that could be batched out depending on demand.
Like with most projects and production runs, the initial figuring out the details is what takes a little bit of time. I made quite a few notes on this one seeing as there was much more needed than just the shape and design. I started the master pattern with a piece of poster board folded down the middle.
I then drew half of the design and cut it out. When unfolded, the pattern was symmetrical on both sides. I then went over the whole shape and put back in a few imperfections to give each one a little bit more character rather than looking like they were made by a machine. This step is just getting the master pattern done and transferred onto some thin wood to keep the design consistent with each piece cut.
I used 7/16th OSB Wood for the base of these for durability. You can very easily just use thick cardboard for this step and the rest of the tutorial applies just the same. I would advise using two layers of cardboard so that your piece keeps it’s shape when the other steps are added.
The following measurements are based off of the 2’ design I went with. It seems to be a perfect size. Of course, you can adjust these to whatever size you wish. Make ornament sized one or go for broke and make a life-size one. That would be something to see. Hmm, add that one to the list.
Gingerbread Men Basic Measurements:
- Head Width – 8”
- Arm Span Width – 16 3/4”
- Waist Span Width – 6”
- Leg Span Width – 13”
- Bite out of leg Width – 3”
- Measurement from top to bottom is just about 2’ high.
Finally, the big bite taken out of his foot can be placed anywhere you wish. Maybe someone got to them and took multiple bites. It’s really up to your imagination.
When your pattern is finalized and looks the way you want it, attach it to your wood or cardboard. This step is the same, whichever material you decide to use. I attached my pattern to the blanks I cut beforehand and used the jigsaw to cut out 2 blanks at a time. I cut the bite mark out with great care and left hard points because you will lose a little bit of this detail when the PM and effects are applied and this prevents you from losing too much.
I made a half dozen stands to hold the pieces all the way through the process. It seems I’m always just setting things down wherever I can and sometimes that gets in the way of productivity, especially when multiple pieces are involved. It’s nice to involve elements that you don’t get to do that often into your projects. I usually try to add at least one technique or trick that I’ve never tried before to add to my set of skills. At the very least, you got to try something different.
These are a relatively straight forward design with the exception that they needed to be able to be used vertically and horizontally for the PM’ing and Painting process and especially for the drying times. They can be moved out of the way or even hung without fear of damaging the final piece and the process is repeated with each additional piece. I’ve included some of the quick little 5sec sketches I made to show the before and after. Everything doesn’t have to be an elaborate design, sometimes the simple ones are the best.
This next step is giving your Gingerbread Men some details and character. This step is when you can start (or continue) having some fun. Especially with this design, you’re going for a mix between real cookies and a bit of a cartoon-y feel.
You can go as crazy or as traditional as you wish, whichever way you decide. I went sort of down the middle but wanted the details to look really authentic. So I tried a few techniques to give a real texture to it and to give the icing a nice thick feel just as the real stuff would be.
I used a few very thin pieces of foam (great stuff sprayed days in advance so it does not expand when you don’t want it to) I usually keep a small crate of foam pieces around so I don’t have to wait for days every time I want to bulk something up.
I also used some regular cardboard and foil to get the other details I wanted. Then used some hot glue to attach it to the areas needed. I’ve experimented with putting the details on after the piece has been textured but I’ve found it’s better to add the details at this step. You can always add whatever details you wish afterwards, depending on the time you have.
TIP: You may choose to cover your piece in masking tape before PM’ing. I used only hot glue and a few pieces of foil tape (hvac) and had no trouble with the PM sticking to it or lifting, but this is something to keep in mind.
Once you are happy with the details, it’s time to lock it in place with a coat of Paper Mache.
This step is always a fun one for me because the design is now locked in place. One of the great things about Paper Mache is that you can always change something here and there with relative ease. Knowing that, at least I’ve found, frees you up to take more chances and push the medium without the fears and doubts that usually accompany bigger and more advanced projects.
I used the blue shop towels torn into smaller pieces that I normally use. They are all roughly the same size and you can customize them depending on your needs. They are perfect for going around bumps, curves and corners without wrinkling like the bigger pieces can do.
I went into detail in my How to make a MONSTER tutorial on what goes into the PM GLUE that I use, so I won’t go into it here. You can easily find it and I’m sure you know Jonni has just about everything you need on her site. Side note: I’m looking forward to using the PM Clay recipe in a bigger project, I’m trying to see how close to photo-real you can get when making human faces. Back to it.
When you’ve got a good even coat of PM on the entire piece, set it aside to dry. TIP: Make sure you wrap the towels around the edges onto the back. I like to go at least an inch, inch and a half to make sure it has a good bond and won’t separate from the edges. If you have the time, you can just do the entire back, which is probably best if you’re using cardboard. Also use cool air as opposed to heat for drying in most cases I’ve found it yields better results.
Once your PM coat has dried thoroughly, it’s time to give your Gingerbread Men some texture. I used wood putty for this effect. You can use Joint Compound to get a similar result, but I’ve found it doesn’t hold up as well as wood putty for this application. It should work fine for smaller pieces. Play around with it until you’re happy.
I used a 1” chip brush and stippled the wood putty on the entire piece. I was sure to dab and not brush it on to get the nice texture and to avoid it looking flat. The other great thing about using the wood putty is that once it has dried, you do not have to sand or do anything else after this step and can go right into priming it. If you are not happy with parts, you can lightly sand and reapply the putty until you get the desired result. With this design, randomness is your friend, so you really can’t screw it up.
Just look at a batch of real Gingerbread Cookies. Just have fun with it. If you’re unhappy with the results, blame me. If it comes out better than expected, take the credit. Win-Win!
TIP: Don’t apply putty on the high spot ie: the eyes, the bumps that will get icing on them, they are not part of the gingerbread and need to be somewhat smooth.
Now is the time to seal the exposed part of the bite mark with some sort of sealer. I brushed on a very light coat of Waterproof wood glue so it wouldn’t crack the paint when applied on top. You can use whichever sealer you wish, Modge podge, etc. Avoid using Reg PVA as a raw sealer because it will cause the covering paint to crack. A cool looking effect when meant, but that’s not what we’re going for here.
Now it’s time to prime your piece. I used a thicker paint that will last longer on these but regular acrylics are more than fine (for indoors obviously, I do plan on making outdoor ones but that involves another few steps which are not needed on these indoor decorations) I mixed some White KPVA with some Black to make a nice light Grey.
TIP: I’ve always liked this tone for priming pieces because It will give it a nice uniform look and also let you see any imperfections or things you don’t like without harsh shadows. Don’t make the primer too dark or it will dull the final piece when you paint the details. You’re looking for a mid-tone Blueish-Grey color.
After the primer has dried and you’re happy with your Gingerbread Men, you can start the final painting process with a layer of a darker brown. I used a base of White KPVA and tinted with Nutmeg and Burnt Umber. Give it a good even coat, front and back and let it dry.
It’s now time to give your Gingerbread Men they’re final color (aside from shading and details). I used a mixture of a few colors to get the rich, almost pumpkin pie color for the main coat.
TIP: You want this color to not be too dark especially when you add shading and highlights, you want a nice color to come through and give it that 3D look.
Here is what I used:
- 1pt – Sun Kissed Peach
- 2pt – Golden Yellow
- 3pt – Nutmeg
- 2pt – Pumpkin Orange (gloss)
- 1pt – Apricot
You can play around with these colors until you get the desired effect. Then give your piece a full coat and allow to dry.
Shading and Highlights. I used a cheap $20 Airbrush filled with some watered down Burnt Umber to go around the shapes and give it some depth and shadows. Make sure you hit the edges but don’t go too dark unless you are looking for a burnt cookie effect. To each their own.
If you don’t have an airbrush, or access to one, you can mix up a wash of Burnt Umber (and water) and brush the shadows in, try a couple passes and you should get a similar effect.
ICING: I mixed up a few different White Acrylic paints until I got a nice thick paint that felt like real Icing, maybe a bit thicker.
TIP: DO NOT USE KPVA on this step as it can cause the paint to crack and ruin the smooth effect you’re trying to achieve. I applied two coats to make sure it stayed in place and acted as real icing would.
The next to last step (besides sealing your piece) is going over the icing (once dried) with a very light, very thin light tan wash. This should be applied very lightly and allowed to just sit in the small recesses of the icing. I used a piece of paper towel to dab any drips. This step is to add another bit of realism to your Gingerbread Men, and to knock some of the high spots down from the bright icing. Make sure to not overdue it. A little goes a long way.
Congrats, You’re Finished!
The only thing left is to decide where your Gingerbread Men will spend their time. I have made two options for the one’s I’m making.
Option #1 is a small stand behind the leg (pictured on the right). This will enable your piece to stand anywhere you wish.
Option #2 is hanging them from the ceiling (pictured on the left). Just a few small hooks and some fishing line allows you to hang them pretty much anywhere you want. This option gives them a cool effect as if they’re floating when the fishing line disappears.
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed making these with me and displaying them in your decorations. This is a great project to do with friends and loved ones. Thanks for hanging out with me and I hope you all have a Happy and Safe Holidays.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy Making