Painting Your Santa

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Painting Your Paper Mache Clay Santa:

Paper Mache Santa made with Paper Mache ClayIf you read the previous post, you know how this Santa portrait mask was made. Now he’s all ready to paint. The deep texture that I put on the beard made the painting step go really fast.Use a damp sanding sponge from the hardware store to smooth your Santa. The damp sponge keeps the dust from floating around in the air. To make him even smoother, you can give your Santa several coats of home-made gesso, damp-sanding between each coat. You can find the recipe in the Art Library under the Paper Mache Recipes tab.

Step One:

First Undercoating
First Undercoating

I used a grey undercoat on the beard and the fur of his hat, and red on both the hat and the face. It looks rather startling in the photo, but it will be covered with the next colors.

Step Two:

Second Layer of Acrylic Added to Santa
Second Layer of Acrylic Added to Santa

Then I used a warm white on the beard. With an almost-dry brush, I tried to catch only the tops of the ridges so the darker grey would show in the crevices.To make a warm white, add a small dab of yellow ochre to your white paint.

Step Three:

The face was painted with Northern European flesh color (white, cadmium red, yellow ochre, and a touch of burnt sienna.) It took several coats, with variations in the amounts of the colors in the mix, until I thought he looked OK.

Hint: if you make a lot of sculptures featuring people faces, you’ll want the book Color Mixing Recipes for Portaits. I use my copy a lot, and it saves a lot of time.

Adding Details to Santa
Adding Details to Santa

Step Four:

Next,I gave Santa some rosy cheeks and a pink nose (he spends a lot of time out in the bright, cold snow, after all). The eyes are a light grey-blue, to match his overall color scheme, and to give him a Nordic look.

Laugh Lines and Eye Highlights Added
Laugh Lines and Eye Highlights Added

Step Five:

After the cheeks and eyes were painted on, I sealed Santa with a coat of matte acrylic varnish. When that was dry, I mixed up some of the same varnish with just a few drops of burnt sienna and one tiny drop of ultramarine blue, so the mix was a very thin brown. I brushed this over the sealed Santa, allowing the pigment to flow into the deeper laugh lines and around the eyes and nose. I then finished covering the rest of the beard and hat, and the very light brown helped to bring the colors together. These two coats of varnish will make it easier to wipe the dust off Santa next year.

I added two white highlights to the eyes, used my glue gun to attach a wire hanger on the back, and he’s done.

Santa, Finished
Santa, Finished

If you make a Santa of your own, please come back and show him off. I’d love to see how your Santa turns out!

43 thoughts on “Painting Your Santa”

  1. Hello Jonni – artist extraordinaire!!

    Have you thought of having a Santa Mask Contest – starting right now!!?
    Don’t you think it would be great fun to see who can come up with the top Santa – kind of like a Santa beauty contest crowning the “best” Kris Kringle King of Christmas and having the artist be his best elf-helper?” Let me know what you think.

    • Interesting idea, Joanne. I wonder how many people associate masks with Christmas, though. Maybe a Christmas ornament party? It might be fun to do another reader-contributed ebook, like the practical paper mache ebook we did a few years ago, but with holiday paper mache this time.

  2. You know, just because its almost Easter time it doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate your Kris Kringle. He’s just as happy and gorgeous as a Santa should be. I have a question for you though – how does the pottery clay hold up under the pressure of applying the paper mache, without losing original detail and shape?

    As the clay is probably still in the elastic stage you can lose some of it in the application. Do you wait until the clay is leather hard and just lightly apply your clay? If this is the case, then I guess careful application can result from any number of paper armatures.

    • Hi Joanne. I had to go back to that post and look at the photos to remind myself how it was done. I wish I’d done that a few hours earlier, because it would have saved me some work with my latest project. Sigh…

      I put the plastic wrap (the step I forgot, and wish I hadn’t) over wet clay, and started the paper mache clay right away. The wet clay holds up fine if you use a light hand while adding the air-dry clay over the plastic, and because it’s still wet and malleable it’s really easy to pull it out when the air-dry pm clay is dry. That way, you don’t have to worry at all about undercuts or getting wet clay trapped inside your work.

      • Hi Jonni – Okay sounds good but wouldn’t it be also useful to wait until the clay is leather hard? The wet clay technique is versatile and makes the artist’s job easy since it is so malleable – so thanks for the tip, but let me know if you’ve tried using the clay at the more mature stage.

  3. Hello,

    Was wondering if the varnish is enough for your pieces to become outside friendly; if not, what sealant would you recommend for the ‘clay’?

    • I have not yet been courageous enough to leave anything outside, except for one poor old tortoise I made and coated with Spar varnish. The sun cracked the varnish, but the paper mache clay underneath didn’t melt, like I expected it to.

      I do intend to try moving something outside this spring. I’ll be following the advice of several readers, who suggested first coating the dried paper mache with deck or concrete sealer, then painting, then giving the sculpture several coats of a varnish with UV filters. I don’t know yet how long a sculpture would last if it was treated this way, but it will be fun to experiment.

        • Hello!’

          Adorable project with great follow-through (that last step is MY stumbling block).

          If you want to try creating projects for the great outdoors, have you considered using sign-painters paint (“One-Shot” is one available brand, among others, that I use for signs) or car enamels? They are meant to be out in the UV. One caution with mixing One-Shot red with white to form a tint – the red is REALLY fugitive even with a UV protector over all. I not longer paint signs with a home-made mixture, but stick to pre-mixed colors instead. Happily, the friend for whom the sign was carved likes the weathered, fugitive character of the red tint. Whew!

          Sign paint is available at large art stores like Pearl’s or at shops that specialize in sign painting supplies. I don’t recall ever seeing it at craft stores. If you can’t find it locally, it’s always available by order. Sign painting brushes are beautiful, usually hand-made, and work elegantly (flexible, especially for thin lines and fine details), but can be very expensive.

          Car enamels are available from stores that specialize in supplying house painters and car painters or available by order. These paints have a wide selection of colors and appearances, like shiny, matte, metallic, and glittery.

          Carry on!

  4. Respected Jonni,
    Good day to you !
    I have been watching quite a lot of your videos on You Tube. And so this Christmas, I decided to make a Crib using paper Maché technique. Thanks-be-to-God for your instructional videos. It helped me to craft my first creation using paper Maché. I hope you’ll appreciate this creation.
    Here’s the link :

    P.S. You may post the video on your blog. My intention is that the people may know that your videos are truly helpful to the very beginners.
    Wish you Merry Christmas and Faith-filled New Year.
    I am certain , you are a nice person. Atleast, I can feel that watching your videos- continue being nice and inspire others to be nice, too.

  5. You really are an artist Jonnie- I want to know how you got Santa’s eyes to get so soft and sweet looking- the way Santa should look! Merry Christmas- thanks for sharing.

  6. Oh Jonni,
    You are so talented. I love you work and appreciate all the sharing you do with us. Thanks for being you Jonni you have helped me improve so much and always answer so many questions from everyone. I know you spend a lot of your time teaching us and helping us so again THANK YOU SO MUCH! Merry Christmas Jonni and the best of luck in the New Year 🙂

  7. Dear Jonni,
    OMG, your work is so fabulous. My girlfriend, Sharon and I are going to play today with your recipes. Sharon and I do murals together, I am attaching one we did for a soup kitchen in Detroit, but today we are going 3D!!!!! I hope you can stay warm in South Dakota. We are right beside Detroit, so I think we will be getting snow soon too.

    • Ann, That’s a lovely mural. I would love to see how it comes out when you do your 3D version!

      And yes, it is a bit cold here in SD, but I think you’re getting most of the snow. Stay snug.

  8. Oh, I love him, Jonni. How funny that you started out with a pink face undercoating. I wish I could see more of the burnt sienna varnish glaze that you added on top. The wet sponge sanding, does that only work on the paper mache clay? I’m guessing it won’t work on the original paper mache paste recipe. Thanks for sharing and yes, hang him up soon. He seems like a jolly addition to your holiday decor. Glad the storm has passed and the dogs are alright.

    • No, you can’t wet sand the traditional paper strips and paste. But it does seem possible to smooth out the paper mache clay after it dries, although it does take a bit of work. It’s still easier than really sanding, though.

      I took a closer photo of the eyes, so you can get a better look at how the glaze worked. I like the way it came out.

  9. Hi Jonni,
    Your Santa is outstanding! When I look at him, I expect his nose to twitch and her him chuckle.
    Thank you so much! You truly an inspiration.

  10. Jonni, your Santa turned out looking just the way Santa should look. I have made more than 30 Santa figures but not one that can be hung on the wall so this is a project I can see myself working on as a future project after seeing how wonderfully yours turned out. Happy holiday~

  11. Santa looks awesome! I love your work and appreciate your sharing with us all. I used your mask book to learn how to make a Halloween mask for my eldest son and a butterfly mask for my daughter. I used some glow in the dark paint on both for some Halloween oomph! They were both a hit, and I hope to find some time to make more. My son proudly displays his mask on his bedroom wall. Love being on your email list. Thanks again!

      • By the way, I can see why your son is proud of his mask. I don’t get to see the photos when I first answer comments, which explains why I didn’t mention that in the first reply.

        • Thanks so much, Jonni! I was just telling my husband about posting the photo. I’ve never been brave enough to post my own work in a public forum, but the instruction and examples you provided in your book were that good. Thanks again!


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