A few weeks ago, Donnisha asked for some tips for making the 7-hr paper mache bluebirds into Christmas tree ornaments. What a great idea! I wrote the bluebird tutorial almost exactly 1 year ago so folks would have a fast, easy way to create a present for someone who loves handmade gifts. (I think most of the bluebirds actually ended up on wedding cakes–a use that had not occurred to me until I read your comments.)
Today’s post is all about little bluebirds that can hang from a tree. They look almost exactly like the ones I made last year, but the one I made today took 4 hours instead of 7. If you wanted to, you could probably make enough for a small Christmas tree in half a day.
I cut down the time with two new techniques. First, I used my paper mache clay recipe instead of torn paper strips and paste. The clay goes on in just one layer, and it doesn’t need to be sanded because it goes on smooth. (You only need about 2 tablespoons of paper mache clay for each bird. The recipe will make about a quart, so you can make lots of birds.
Then, I found a way to hold the birds so the entire surface could be covered in one go. That cut down a lot on drying time.
I know you figured this out already, but all your birds don’t have to be blue. Canary yellow and cardinal red would look lovely on your tree.
So – here’s how to make the new 4-hr Bluebirds:
For each bird you want to make, form a teardrop-shaped ball from 1/2 of a page of newspaper and wrap it completely with masking tape. (If the sheet spans two pages, you would use only 1/4 of the sheet). Tear another 1/2 page of newspaper into four pieces and use one of the pieces to make a flattened ball for the head.
Tape the two balls together to form your bluebird. The pointy end of the teardrop-shaped ball is the tail end.
This part is going to seem a little rude, but it really does help. Take a sharp stick, (I used a 6″ long bamboo skewer), and poke it into the underside of your bird. It won’t hurt, I promise.
Cut out two triangular wing tips and one M-shaped tail from a scrap of cardboard.
Tape the tail on first , and then tape the wingtips so wing tip overlaps the other.
Cut a triangle out of light cardboard for the beak. Use the kind of cardboard they use to make cereal cartons. Make the triangle about twice as long as you think the beak should be, and cut tabs in the wider end. You’ll use these tabs to tape the beak to the bird.
Crease the beak so it has a ridge down the center. Clip off the sharp point, as shown. Tape the beak to the bird.
Now twist a thin wire into a loop and securely tape the ends to the bird’s back, leaving the loop free. You could also use fishing line, a twist tie you used to find in a carton of garbage bags, or heavy thread.
Mix up a batch of paper mache clay. Follow the instructional video you’ll find here. The recipe makes more clay than you need for one bird, so be sure to keep the left-over clay in an airtight container. You can use it tomorrow for another project.
Use a knife to apply the clay in a thin layer to the paper and masking tape form. Start with the underside and work up. Your clay only needs to be about 1/8″ thick. Smooth the clay as much as you can so you won’t need to sand it later. If necessary, you can dampen your knife.
Be very careful when covering the cardboard details – the edges of the cardboard need to be covered. Use your knife to make the lines around the wing tips nice and straight. Don’t use too much clay or you’ll lose the details.
I have a resident art critic helping with this part…
When the entire bird is covered with a thin layer of clay, pour some dried beans in a cup and push your stick down into them. You can now make some more birds, or go have lunch. Your birds will need to dry completely before you paint them. Put them over a heat register or radiator, or place them in an oven set no higher than 150° F (65° C). (The plastic in the glue will burn at a higher temperature, and the fumes probably aren’t good for you.) My bird took 2 hours to dry in a warm oven.
When your bird is dry, mix up about 1 tablespoon of joint compound and 1 teaspoon of white glue. You’ll have these on hand because they were used to make your paper mache clay. Then mix in enough blue acrylic craft paint to give you the color you like for your bird. This will make a home-made version of tinted gesso.
Paint your gesso on the bird, leaving the underneath area unpainted. The gesso is quite thick. It will smooth out the surface and create a smooth finish for your bird, or you can go back over it after it starts to set (in just a few seconds) and use your brush to make a feathery texture. Then put the bird back in a warm place for the gesso to dry. It won’t take long.
When the tinted gesso is dry you may find spots where you can still see the white paper mache clay peeping through. You can give your bird a second coat of the original color, or you can do as I did: Mix a darker blue into your bowl of gesso, paint it on a small area of the bird, and then wipe it off. This creates a surface that seems almost luminous. Then let your bird dry a few minutes longer.
Now you can remove the stick.
Mix up another small batch of joint compound and glue, and color this batch with white acrylic craft paint. First cover the hole left by the stick, and then continue to paint the remaining underside of the bird.
Make a nice feathery transition between the blue and white by running a dampened finger over the dividing line, to bring a small amount of the white color over the blue.
The last step is to color the beak and eyes black, (I used a permanent marker pen). When the black is dry put a pinpoint of white on the eye as a reflection. I literally use a pin for this purpose – it’s much easier to dip a pin into white paint and dab on a spot than it is to do it with a small brush.
Your bird is now done. If you made lots of them, you should now have a whole flock of birds. They should eventually be finished with a protective coat of matte acrylic varnish, but it would be best to wait a day or two, just to make sure all moisture has escaped from the clay.