How to Make a Nativity Ornament with a Styrofoam Half Ball
One of the most familiar sights of the holiday season is the nativity scene. It comes crafted from many materials from primitive materials like corn husks and wood to more contemporary materials like glass and metal. There are also Christmas ornaments that come in the shape of a half sphere with paintings of the beloved scene. These ornaments are hard to locate and expensive when you find them. However you make a replica of these same ornaments using easy to find materials like paint, a half SmoothFoam ball, fabric trimmings, favorite nativity scene scraps and a few easy steps.
Select a half SmoothFoam Ball.This foam is the harder solid form that has a smooth feel to it. The ball can be any size. SmoothFoam is used here because it's durable and doesn't crumble or scratch as easy as the regular Styrofoam. Also, the finished project will not collapse from the inside under the weight of the trimmings, coverings and if you press on it too hard or sit, or step on it by accident.
- If the ball is not already halved, get a saw or serrated knife saw it in half. It doesn't have to be perfect. Look for a seam line that perfectly divides the ball in half equally, and cut along that line as straight as possible. Saw and sand the uneven cuts and edges with sandpaper as needed.
Improve the texture of the surface on the curve side (optional).SmoothFoam has a "fake Rolex Watch" or reptile egg texture not really suitable for Christmas. There are countless ways to do this.
- If the ball is to be completely covered with glitter move on to next step.Same for anything that'll cover the texture.
- Cover the ball with plaster, speckle, molding paste etc. Get creative with textures using various methods and techniques.
- Get sandpaper and rub it against the foam. Do this until the original texture is not seen.
- Different grades of sandpaper produce different textures on the foam. Also, experiment with other scrapping tools like nail files or wire brushes.
- Coarse sandpaper will give the foam a rough rocky look.
- Medium sandpaper to fine sandpaper will give a more sugary or sandy textured ball.
- Ultra fine sandpaper can give a very fine smooth texture like a pearl.
Cover the curve side of the ornament with glitter, paint, (optional).The ornaments here were painted but other items and techniques can be used. Unless using the flat side as a background for a lacy or open design nativity scene leave this blank. Make sure this covering is suitable for attaching the nativity scene.
- Paint the SmoothFoam Ball curve side with good quality gold acrylic paint. Good quality acrylic paint is thick like toothpaste or butter and sticks to the foam ball nicely. Find these in the Fine Art section of the craft stores or in an art supply store. Liquitex© Acrylics is a good one. There are also many water-based inks and gel mediums which also are safe for the foam. Bad quality acrylics are watery and runny making a dripping mess. Also, they have a tendency to peel off even after drying out or slide off the foam as well.
- For rough balls and glitter paint:Daub paint from the tube on a section and spread the paint over with the brush over half or fourth whatever suits you the best until that section is covered. Let that dry and repeat the step on a different section until the ball is covered. For white spots that are peeking through dip a soft brush in paint and push the paint into the crevices that are what is peeking through. Let dry.
- For smooth pearl balls:Put a small dab of paint on the top the dome and with a sponge brush press down and drag the paint to the bottom. Go to another spot and repeat until the ball is covered. Try also a very soft bristle brush but this will not be as smooth as the sponge brush and leave stroke lines in the paint finish. Let the paint dry. Once it dries use the ultra fine sandpaper or a scouring pad and gently rub the ball buffing out paint lines bumps until it's perfectly smooth. Wipe the crumbs with a soft brush or cloth and repeat the painting process and buffing again and again until the ball get's a reflective quality like a pearl when dry.
- Another good idea is pinning beads, buttons and other decorative things to the ball until the curve edge is completely covered. Try covering the curve edge with fabric.
- Reference other Wikihow articles, books, craft blogs, websites to find lots more Styrofoam covering ideas.
Cut a nativity scene out and paste it on the flat end of the ball.Use a thick, heavy duty glue that won't melt the foam. If using hot glue use the low temp versions or settings. Some glues just don't work. So experiment on scrap foam and paper before using on the main project.
- Look around for nativity scene pictures in a number of religious books, children's religious books, magazines or in Christmas songbooks. You can find religious Christmas cards. There are many decoupage stores online that sell gorgeous German embossed paper and printed napkins. Another good idea is to find nativity fabric or jewelry and pin/glue that on as well. Also look for nativity art on the web to print and download.
- Some Christmas cards have a glossy finish that can distract from the picture. Remedy this with some card de-glossing solvent sold in craft stores.
- Some stiffer and thicker papers and cards like in some children books are difficult to cut. Use heavy duty scissors or a crafts knife.Try copying them via machine or just use the thinner and softer ones instead. Also resizing to the perfect size on the printer/computer can be a hassle.
- Some thicker cards are really a number of thin layers that can be peeled apart.
- Thicker as well slicker, glossy papers don't stick easily to foam directly. Try roughing the back up before gluing with sandpaper for better adherence or glue it on a rougher paper that'll adhere to the foam better. Also press down on the paper for a few minutes to let the glue get a chance to grab and set.
- As for positioning the picture on the ball, there are many ways to do this:
- Trace the circle of the ball on the picture after measuring and editing the elements you want in the picture on the ornament. Trim the circle a wee bit smaller and glue.
- Cut out figures from the picture and glue them on the painted background alone or as a college.
Seal the ornament with sealant.This will keep the paint and pictures in good condition. This will protect the paint and pictures in case there are mistakes with spilled glue and having to remove the trimmings for whatever reason. The materials can be moved without having the paint or the picture peeling off with the washing off of the glue or removal of the trimmings. The sealant will also help keep the ornament from looking beat up, spills, and peeling paint.
- It's a good idea to seal finishes with glitter so the glitter doesn't fall off the ornament leaving it bare or end up all over the place.
Trim the edge of the flat side with decorative trimmings.Make sure the trimming fits around the edge easily. Gathered lace ruffling makes a really pretty edge. Also make sure to cut enough length of trimming to go around the edge and extra before gluing. It's easier to cut away an extra inch than having to add that missing inch later. Although sometimes with stretchy materials like organza that keeps on bunching back together, it's good not to measure the trimming but cut a nice edge of the trimming and glue and apply the trimming to the ball first then cut the excess off.
- A grand effect is created by placing a very wide lacy or pleated fringe (1 to 2 inches wide) around first then a narrower denser one on the inner edge of the first framing material.
- If the trimming is slick (like cords made of silk or satin) and/or refuses to stay in place use sewing pins or stud earrings with ends dipped in glue stuck through that trimming in a series to hold it in place. You can also add beads or sequins to give the pins a decorative touch.
- If you placed trimming on the ornament and find a mistake in measuring and the ends don't meet up or there's an ugly frayed edge on the trimming. Get a large flattened bead, sequin, rhinestone, and glue or pin it over the ends. You can also pin large beads or smaller sequins, rhinestones in a series to cover the edges.
- Pay attention to how the trimming is constructed. All gathered materials like organza, lace, satin will have some form of thread going through the center that is holding the the rows of ruffles together. If the number of rows is one, glue the threads with the ruffles facing outward and press on the center for a while. Press the thread or the center of the trimming not the ruffles to avoid destroying them or having them get clunked up with glue.
- Be gentle when pressing on trimmings with sequins. Also try not to destroy any threads holding the sequins or it'll rip and send sequins flying everywhere. Don't touch individual sequins with glued fingers or the sequin will likely rip it's thread that holds it. Press on these with a wood, plastic or waxed item that the glue doesn't stick too.
- When doing ruffles or lacy trimmings use an amount of overlapping. Just try as much as possible to make the thread rows or other decorations match up.
Attach an loop for hanging (optional).Use one of many ways to attach a loop for hanging if the ornament is to be hung.
- Dip a decorative straight pin in the glue or add a bead to the pin press almost all the way into the ball. Take a cord or ribbon and tie in a bow or slipknot around the pin beneath the bead then press the pin into the ornament. You can also pin through the hanging material or through the knot of a ribbon or cord.
- Press a hairpin or jewelry hook into the foam deeply. Dip the pin to the glue first before inserting. Leave the loop or hook poking out. Hook an ornament hook through this loop like a tradition glass ball ornament.
- Repeat the first suggestion only pressing the pin all the way into the ball then filling this indentation with speckle and smoothing it out. Allow the spackle to set and cure before hanging.
- Instead of hanging these ornaments try displaying them in a plate mount then place them on the mantel, shelves, or as part of a tablescape. Consider hanging from chandeliers, sconces, nails, and from the ceiling. Or display them in a bowl with glass balls as focal points.
- Always experiment a paint or glue product on the foam to see what results on a piece of scrap paper and foam. This way you know what to expect and rather or not to use a certain glue or paint on an ornament. There are some water-based glues and paints that also aren't safe for the foam.
- Try to keep the coats of paint thinner. The foam needs to breath and heavy coats may melt the foam. Also, thick coats will crack, not stick to the foam and warp as well as not be able to take the glue well or be slower to dry. However, this varies via brand of paint and the room temperature.
- Metallic acrylic paints start milky and dull colored when wet. They turn shiny and brilliant after being completely dry.
- Use other creative variations. The theme can be anything Christmas. Paint the ball in other metallic colors. Mix Copper with Gold paint to get Rose Gold. Mix Silver and Gold Paint to get White Gold. Embellish the ornament with a tiny bow on the ornament frame or attach a tassel on the bottom. Consider making them using SmoothFoam Eggs.
- Keep the width of the trimmings in scale with the size of an ornament. A large ornament will make a single tiny baby lace trimming look lost. Wide trimmings can easily swallow up and overwhelm a small ornament.
- Look for trimmings that show the picture off best and go with its style. If the scene has flowers palms or Old Masters feel to it use very ornate trimmings. Angels and doves can really look nice with a lacy frame.Use also colors that contrast or harmonize with those in the pictures. Use this mindset with the texture of the ball as well.
- Give your ornaments a sense of continuity by selecting pictures with similar artistic style or backgrounds.
- Choose pins whenever possible that match the color of the ball or contrast to it. You can always spray paint pins to obtain a color that suits the ball.
- Make sure the wire and pins can support the weight of the finished ornament if hung. Some trimmings weigh more than others. Use thicker wires for heavier ornaments and dip them in glue and push firmly into the ball so they don't slip and slide out the ornament.
- Keep Styrofoam away from heat! It's very flammable and gives off fumes when heated. If using a hot glue gun or hot wax for vanishing make sure its low temp or lukewarm and won't burn the foam or the materials on it.
- Some glues will dissolve the foam and give off fumes as well. Also, the glues themselves can be flammable, be irritating and harmful to skin or eyes, the fumes can be very harmful to health if inhaled.
Things You'll Need
Half SmoothFoam ball
Nativity scene picture cut out
Gold acrylic paint or any other paint safe for foam.
Decorative trimmings: braids, cording,
Glue safe to use on Styrofoam
Additional stick pins, earrings sequins, ribbons
Additional covering materials for foam like glitter, beads, plaster, if desired.
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