DIY Craft Tutorial: How to Make Decorative Clay Birds
These pretty clay birds are easy to make using polymer clay and some handy household tools. These birds can be made in any size or color and used to decorate your mantle, garden decor and flower pots, door decorations, wreaths, or your Christmas tree!
These decorative birds can be made with polymer clay or air dry clay. I used Sculpey brand polymer clay, which is baked in a conventional oven to harden. Sculpey is a soft clay and easy to form into different shapes.
I also like to use household materials as my clay tools, so that these projects do not require special equipment. If you have clay tools, you can use those as well. Important: If you are using household items as clay tools, do not use these items in contact with food after using them with your clay.
My birds are about 3 inches long by 2 inches high. For each bird, you will need:
- about 3/4 of a block of Sculpey clay - I mixed clay to make the colors for my birds, but Sculpey comes in a wide variety of colors.
- buttons, pen caps, and other items to use as stamps in the clay. Look around your home for interesting items that will make imprints in your clay. You can also use ink stamps.
- the tip of a pen, or similar item, for making small holes in the clay
- an old credit card, plastic knife, or similar item, for making lines and cutting your clay
- a plastic spoon for smoothing the clay
- an old rolling pin, or a clean can from the recycling bin, to roll the clay
Directions for Making a Decorative Clay Bird
I made a few of these clay birds, including three sitting on a natural branch. You can follow the directions below to make birds for any purpose or placement.
1. If you'd like to make your bird sitting on a branch, the first step is to select your natural branch. I chose one with some curve for interest and some smaller branches coming off of it. Make sure the branch you choose sits even against your tabletop and does not roll or fall over into a different position.
Before beginning, you can paint your branch or wrap it in ribbon to add more color to your bird display.
To Make a Sitting Bird:
2. Take your 3/4 of a block of clay and start kneading it until it is soft and pliable. If you are mixing colors to make a new color, this kneading will blend the two colors together. Continue to work your clay until it is soft and your colors, if necessary, are well mixed.
3. Take your working clay and break off a ball that is about the size of a quarter. Put it to the side for your wings. You will shape the body first.
4. Take your larger piece of clay and using your hands, start to shape it into something like a turkey leg or small squash. Make a large rounded section, and form a small section that will become the head.
5. Now start to define your shape more. Using your fingers, form a neck between the smaller head and the body. Start to smooth your clay and flatten out the sides of the body. Birds normally have rounded sides to their bodies, but we will be adding the wings separately to fill out the shape.
Begin to pull the end of the body into a simple tail shape.
6. Once your bird's body is smooth, sit him up on the base by his tail and squish him down a little to put him in a sitting position and give him a flat bottom. You might want to gently push his head down a little into his body for a more natural position.
Now put your bird's body carefully to the side and start making your bird's wings.
7. Take your ball of clay and roll it out to a round circle that is about 3/16 of an inch thick.
8. Using your credit card or a plastic knife, cut your circle in half.
9. Taking one half of the circle, use your fingers to gently shape the clay into a flat wing shape. I like to shape my wings this way so each set is different, but you can also go online to find a drawing or photo of a bird and trace or copy the shape of their wing.
10. Once you've got one wing shaped, you can use it as a template to form the other wing. Put your wings back to back to make them the same size and shape. They don't have to be perfectly the same, just close.
11. Now you can decorate each wing, working one at a time. For the wing above, I used a button to stamp the rounded section of the wing, and used a credit card to make longer lines for the feathers. I used a small screwdriver to make shorter lines for more detail.
Once you've decorated one wing, make the same design on the opposite wing. If you don't like your decoration, or if you mess up, roll your clay for your wings into a ball and start again.
You can also use a larger stamp to imprint on your clay circle and form your wings after stamping.
12. Once your wings are finished, put them to the side and start the finishing touches on your bird.
Begin to shape the gesture of the bird's body. If you want your bird to be sitting on a branch, place the clay bird on the branch and press down gently to make an indent or notch where the bird will be grounded on the branch.
Then using your fingers, begin to pull gently on the front of your bird's head to form a beak. Change between pulling from the top and bottom, to pulling from the sides. Continue these pulling motions until you form a beak in the shape you want.
I also wanted my bird's head turned, so I carefully twisted his head before shaping his beak.
Take your bird off the branch and complete the body.
13. Shape your bird's tail as you wish. You can continue to pull it into a shape, or pinch it off and use your clay to form the tail separately. If you form the tail separately, you can stamp it with a similar design as the wings. Once you have the shape and design to the tail complete, you can gently press it into the stump you left when you pinched off your clay. Smooth the transition from under the tail using your fingers or a plastic spoon.
14. Take a pen cap or dull pencil and carefully make an eye on each side of the head. Try to make the eyes even on each side.
15. Now, working with one at a time, gently place your wings on your bird's body. Take one wing and decide on the placement on the body. Press just lightly to keep this wing in place. Now put the other wing on the other side of the body. Make sure they are placed evenly and in the same spot on each side. Once in position, press a little harder in the shoulder area of each wing, being careful not to smudge your stamp design. Blend the edges of your wings into your birds body.
16. Bake your polymer clay bird according to the manufacturer's directions. Before baking, check that your bird's beak is still shaped as you want it and that your bird's body doesn't have any dents or marks.
17. When your bird and baked and cooled, you can adhere him to your branch or other surface using hot glue.
To make a more elongated or resting bird:
1. Follow the directions above through Step 5. Instead of sitting your bird upright, continue to shape the body by flattening the sides, rounding his belly, smoothing his neck, and pulling his tail. Then begin to shape the head and beak.
2. Once your bird is shaped, make your wings as above. Attach them to the body and add final details to the tail, beak, and eyes. Then bake the bird according to the clay package directions.
Ways to Decorate Your Clay Bird After Baking
You can add more decoration to your clay bird after baking.
1. You can paint polymer clay after baking with acrylic paint.
2. You can also color your clay after baking with colored pencils. In the example above, I colored in the depressed area of my stamped wings with colored pencil to add more detail to my bird.
You can use your leftover clay to stamp on and bake as small samples. One they're cooled, you can try different paint and pencil techniques on these clay samples before trying them on your bird.
Ways to Use and Display Your Clay Birds
Once you've made a few clay birds that you love, there are many ways to display or use them in your home and garden:
- Before baking your bird, roll a small piece of clay into a coil. Make a loop and attach it to the back of your bird as I did with my purple bird above. When you bird is baked and cool, add some string or ribbon through the loop and hang it in a window or use it as a Christmas tree decoration.
- Perch your bird in an artificial bird's nest or on a decorative birdhouse. I've posted a tutorial for making a decorative birdhouse planter or flower vase here.
- Sit him on a welcome sign or plant stake in your garden.
- Add him to a pretty wreath or to the edge of a flower pot.
- Just let him hang out on your mantle or on a shelf.
You can use hot glue or other craft glues to adhere your clay bird to most surfaces. Read your glue's label for to see what materials work best with your glue.
Copyright © 2016 by Donna Herron. All rights reserved.
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