Home and Garden: Handpainted Christmas Ornaments

by Lori on November 29, 2010

I spent most of this past weekend, hauling boxes into and out of my garage and storage area (a closet under my stairs).  It was time to pack up the fall decor, give the house a thorough cleaning and begin pulling out all of my Christmas decorations.  Each year, I do this with anticipation and dread.  I have a lot of decorations, and it takes me a few days to get it all done.  My tree alone takes me a number of hours to complete.  But it’s a labor of love especially when I open each box and reminisce when I see items that have immense sentimental value.

These are some of the remaining Christmas ornaments painted by yours truly when I was a senior in high school.  A family friend got me interested in painting when I visited her family the summer before.  And when the holidays rolled around, I found a local supplier who was able to provide me with these bisque ornaments.  My parents bought me my first set of paints as a gift and fronted the money for the first ornaments that I bought.  My mom took a few of the first ornaments with her to work and people started asking if I would like to sell them.  So I decided to start a little holiday business and make myself some spending money.

This one was painted for J after we started dating.  It’s dated 1992 which is about 10 years after my little business venture folded…from pure exhaustion.  I painted my heart out filling orders from friends, neighbors and co-workers of my parents.  My mom was my salesperson.  I made a lot of money for a high school kid.  And I enjoyed every minute of it. 

This is one of my favorites, but then again, I have a lot of favorites in this series.  I painted this one in 1992 as well.  I remember being on winter break from college and pulling out some ornaments to paint and give as gifts that Christmas.  I’m glad I had the forethought to keep this one.

I am not sure who designed the molds for these, but their faces are adorable and I could see why they were so popular.  This guy is need of a little repair work.  Some of the puffy paint that I used for snow and fur has chipped from his hat.

Here’s a look at the backside.  So much detail, but I love detail work.  I hope I still have the patience and eyesight for the tiny details.  Just looking at them now reminds me of the neck ache I used to get while painting.  I set everything up production-line-style, painting all the same ornaments color by color, until they were done.  It’s very fulfilling to think back on that time and remember how I made it all work.

Along with the few painted ones that I kept, I have a plastic tub with at least 50 unpainted and partially painted ornaments.  While this holiday season is packed with plans and activities, I will be ordering another set of paints to begin making my way through this stock next year.  I have been schlepping this tub around to each house I’ve lived in, and it’s time to paint these up.  The majority of them will be individually packed for my kids so they can each have a set for their own Christmas tree.

This was probably the best selling one of the entire bunch: two mice sleeping in a stocking.  I can’t believe I didn’t keep one of my originals.  If I am not mistaken, my parents have one for their tree.  Maybe I can do a little switch-a-roo when they’re not looking!  I really is a true favorite, and I feel like I can paint it with my eyes closed.  I had to have painted at least 30 of this style alone.

This was the other big seller.  A little sleeping mouse in a mailbox.  When these ornaments were made, a liquid clay (I think it was called slip) was poured into a mold, allowed to set, removed from the mold, seams cleaned away from the ornament, and fired in a kiln.  I got them after that and painted them with Duncan acrylic paints.  After being given a quick spray or two with a high gloss finish, I sold them for $8 to $10 each.  That was a steal back then considering how much time it took me to paint each one.

Unfortunately poor packaging and 4 moves later, these guys are showing a lot of wear and tear.  I can Crazy Glue two of them back together, but the one in the middle is beyond hope.  But I found an unpainted one at the bottom of the plastic tub and it’s still intact!  After a little internet detective work, I found a company that currently sells these ornaments in sets from $10 to $12.  I believe I paid 70 cents per piece back then, so the prices haven’t gone up that much in nearly 30 years!

It’s so disappointing to see this knowing how much time and effort was put into every step of the process.  These ornaments are fragile like china, and I want them to be around for a long time.  Once the new ones are painted, they will be individually wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap to preserve their longevity. 

So precious, so memorable, so treasured.  I hope my kids will feel the same way about them one day.  What are some of your most treasured holiday decorations?

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