Clay and Copper Geometric State and Mountain Ornaments

Sidenote: our first little studio apartment was featured on Thrift Core yesterday!  Take a little stroll down memory lane and remember that time we squished the two of us and our cat into an itty bitty studio for over a year!  Good times.  Thanks Van!

The holiday season is upon us, which means ornaments are back!  In the past few months, I have received a few emails from folks interested in the Oregon Love ornaments I made a few years back, which got my wheels turning thinking about new ways to make some state ornaments.  I wanted to go more modern and (dare I say?) even a little trendy with a cool geometric design, and I decided to class these puppies up with some high end touches like leather and copper leaf:

I am officially in love with my new creations.  They are all listed in our Etsy shop, so check them out and pick yourself up a gorgeous ornament for your Christmas tree!  Please please pin them, share them, get the word out!  I'm dying to sell a bunch of these this holiday season.

I chose a selection of states to make for the Etsy listings, but I could also make any other state or even a whole country.  I love how Etsy added "variations" to their listing system, so people can choose different options and finishes from one listing; I put the states I already have, and then an "other" option for those who want to leave a note with a different choice.

I am going to give more general DIY instructions than usual for this project, partially because I think you should just buy one from me, but also because this is honestly a rather advanced project.  I'm all for sharing and being open, so I still put together a rundown of the steps, but if you can't fill in all the little details on your own I wouldn't really recommend attempting this one, unless you simplify it a lot.  That said, I can never stop myself from writing more, so there's still a good amount of advice here.

This project requires a bit more in the way of materials than my normal gig, so if you don't already have this stuff, the start-up cost is rather steep.  My tools included:
- a couple paintbrushes, a larger one for acrylic paint and a smaller one for copper leaf (as a painter, I already have an unnecessary amount of brushes, so I picked from that assortment)
- white acrylic paint (again, I already had some quality Titanium White paint, from way back when I used to use acrylics in high school)
- Liquid Leaf in copper
- deerskin leather cording
- 20 gauge copper wire
- various pliers for working with the wire (I already had some jewelry making stuff, and ended up using these three: needle-nose pliers, bent-nose pliers, and a wire cutter)
- Crayola Air-Dry Clay
- some serious patience and great fine motor skills!

That last one is definitely key.  Can I just say, OOF.  I literally spent hours doing fine precision work.  In the future it will be faster, because I was figuring it out as I went along and had to spend lots of extra time making changes and adjustments to my process, but still.  Fair warning.

I started out by using the same clay technique as last tim (DIY post here), except this time I used air drying clay.  The first time I made ornaments I was working as a teacher with free and easy access to a kiln and clay; this time around, I could use the kiln at Chris's school (as long as they had room and we're already doing a firing, which isn't as often as I would like), but it would add a lot of time and extra energy to the process and I would have to buy my own clay (I probably could have figured that out, but it doesn't seem like normal clay is sold in small portions at art supply stores).  I had been curious about trying air drying clay, and I figured this would be a good opportunity.  It works pretty much the same as regular clay, and my ornaments were totally dry and ready to paint in about 2 days.  They are a little more breakable than regular fired clay, but once they're all painted and such they seem sturdy enough for regular ornament use.

The photo above shows one of each type of ornament I made once the clay was all dry and ready to go, along with the little triangle stencils I cut out of a brown paper bag that was in my recycling.  I ended up only using the small one, but it was nice to test out some different sizes with the stencils.  You'll notice there are some clay triangles there, too... I decided to add a new shape other than just states using the same techniques, so I made a set of three different triangle sizes to be sold as a set.  The idea was they would be like simplified mountains.

The actual next step is to paint each ornament white with a layer or two of acrylic paint.  That step isn't actually represented in these pictures, because I figured that out later.  More on that discovery in a moment, but if you're actually doing the DIY, now is the time to paint.

Then I figured out where I wanted my design and very lightly traced it onto my ornaments with a super fine point pencil.  This picture also shows another step that got cut once I figured out the paint thing: the middle ornaments actually have a clear sealer painted on the design under where the copper leaf would go.  Since the ornaments will actually already be painted white at this stage, no sealer is necessary.  Using the Liquid Leaf, I very carefully painted several coats of copper onto the design, allowing the stuff to dry completely between coats.  Steady hands are the name of the game here, as there doesn't really seem to be a way to erase mistakes.  This stuff smells super toxic and apparently contains a chemical that could cause cancer (though only according to the state of California... silly other states, pretty sure if it's carcinogenic in CA, it's the same everywhere else), so definitely make sure your ventilation is good.

The copper leaf is super metallic and awesome, but it's hard to appreciate the shiny-ness in straight-on photos, so here's an angle shot where you can really get the full effect!  Originally I was just going to use metallic gold craft paint, but then I was like "nah, gold leaf will be so fancy and cool!", but then I read the directions for gold leaf and decided that sounded like too much work, so I went with the liquid stuff.  It is thick and crazy and puts velveeta to shame (in my head I was just going "liquid gooooooooooold!" while painting, because that's seriously what it looks like).  At the last minute I decided to go with copper instead of gold, because I like how warm the color is, and I think it's a little more interesting than plain gold for some reason.  Plus the copper wire looked killer against the leather.

Originally I planned to spray the whole things with acrylic gloss finisher to make them all shiny, as if they had been glazed.  So I did that to my first batch of states and triangles, and then sadness ensued.  The natural clay color, which had been pretty close to white turned a yucky off-white yellow color, and the copper got a reddish glow to it that just wasn't very nice.  I also actually preferred the more matte look of the clay against the metallic copper, so something definitely had to be done.  I still wanted to put something on the plain clay to seal it and make it a little stronger, and to make it feel more high end than just plain clay, so I tested out some white acrylic paint and it worked like a charm.  I did test spraying the gloss on top of the white, and it stayed bright white, but I ended up deciding against that because of the copper and my preference for the matte look.

Obviously I also decided to add more triangles (this time open in the middle, just to make my life more difficult), but you can see the difference between my first attempt (on the left) and the final product with the white paint done first (on the right).  I actually went back into all the glossy ones and fixed them by sanding down the gloss a bit and carefully painting over both the white and the copper.  Not recommended.  So many hours.  But at least I didn't waste any clay.

The hanging mechanisms are rather tricky to make, but I really wanted a high end look, and I just love how they turned out.  I tried a couple different methods first, but the best combination involved tightly wrapping the wire around the ends of a leather loop, bending a little geometric loop (looked cleaner than a circle), and tightly pinching it all together to keep it firmly in place on the leather.  The bent-nose pliers are my favorite for this, though I also had to use them in combination with the needle-nose pliers on a few bits.  This part is definitely tricky and took some practice to get it right, but now I can consistently make awesome little loops.  One of my first attempts was a bit more complicated, but I think it would look awesome in a bigger form as a necklace, so that might be a future project.

Here are the cord's copper end bits up close, so you can get a better idea of how they fit together.

Then I made little rectangular (actually they're more like isosceles trapezoids to be quite specific--wider at the base and narrower at the top) copper wire loops to attach the ornaments to the leather cords.  They're kindof like split key rings, but with corners, and not as tightly squeezed together.  I had to make the shape, then bend it open to carefully attach it to the ornament, and then press it back into place.  It takes some finagling.  Then I can add a cord just like you would with a key ring.  I made cords in both brown and black, so this way I can easily switch out the cords depending on what color people want, but leave the copper loop in place, since that part is more difficult to attach.

And there you have it!  After a few hours (and days for drying time) of work you're done!

Here are my finished mountain triangles, for sale on Etsy here.  As you can see, they needed longer copper loops, since they have a pointy top.  They are awesome as a set; subtle, but very cool.  I think they would not only make great ornaments, but you could also use them as gift tags for super fancy wrapping jobs!  You could just slip your ribbon through the loop to attach them to the package, then write your to and from message with a fine sharpie on the white.  You could really do that with any of the states, but the triangles seem to lend themselves to that purpose more readily.

And from behind, they are clean and simple.  I love how the clay shapes always have a little of that slightly irregular handmade look, but they still look quite polished with the leather and copper pieces.

Massachusetts ornaments for sale here!

I LOVE how the designs turned out on the states.  I chose the states I did partially for personal reasons (I grew up in Oregon, went to college in New York, lived in Massachusetts with Chris for three years, and was born in and just moved back to California), and partially trying to think about who is buying state ornaments (we all know Texans love Texas... plus most of these states have huge populations).

New York ornament for sale here!

I found the one evergreen tree in Ojai and stole a couple of its lower branches for the photo shoot.  It was on the corner of one of the busiest intersections in town, so it was a little awkward... but I needed festive greenery!

Oregon ornament for sale here!

I was trying to explain the triangle thing to Chris the other day, which turned out to be all too easy.  I told him how I feel like "geometric," "triangle," and "mountain" are buzzwords right now (especially when they're all combined), and just about every other front page treasury on Etsy is somehow related to that, so I went to see what was on Etsy at the moment, and BOOM.  Geometric triangle mountains was the theme of the current front page.  Chris was amused, and my point was proven.  Also, metallic things.  Perfect for the holidays.

So, yes, I'm totally trying to play into the current trend, but I do really love these.  I think the sharp angles of the triangles play nicely off the organic shapes of the states.  They kindof give the feel of showing geography in a way, even though they're not exactly placed where there are real mountains in some cases.

Texas ornament for sale here!

I also think these lovelies are a much more stylish take on the classic state love concept.  Just about every state thing out there has a heart on it somewhere (and obviously I'm down with that because I made Oregon ornaments with huge hearts!), but these are more subtle and fancy.  Obviously you love your state if you're hanging a state ornament, so why not make it less literal and more of a creative statement?

California ornament for sale here!

And now I'm dying of hunger and desperately need food, as I foolishly decided to get this post done before lunch.  I'm rather stubborn and refused to stop even though it's now after 2 pm.  So hungry!

Anyway... what do you think of my new ornaments?  Do you like what I'm calling the geometric triangle mountain trend?  What do you think about copper vs gold?  Have you ever used air drying clay?  Liquid Leaf?  Are you a state love kinda person?

And remember, we would be SO grateful if you would share this with anyone you think might be interested, or pinned a picture or two to Pinterest!  You guys are the best :)


  1. They're beautiful, I'm sure they'll sell well! Pinned!

  2. Congratulations your ornaments are featured on Design Sponge!!!! I spotted them as soon as I opened the page! Yay!

    1. Holy moly, thanks for letting me know!! I'm so excited right now!!!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...