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On Decorating Christmas Ornaments 2017

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This year, Megan and I had decided that we wanted to turn the larger of the white trees into an ice-and-snow-themed tree. One of the reasons we wanted to do this was because we had some old ornaments that Pat had passed on to us when she moved to New York, ice fairies and ice castles and the like. Another was that we had some ornaments I had bought years ago and never used. (Ironically, this year when it came time to decorate the tree we wouldn’t find them. Oh well, maybe next year.) But even with those we would not have enough to adequately decorate a tree that size. So I went shopping. I found some vintage-style silver ornaments that I loved and bought those. Even though I adored them and had never seen anything quite like them, I did wonder if they might be a little large and clunky looking for what we had in mind, although as you will see, once they were put on the tree they looked quite lovely. But we wanted blue bulbs, and all the large ones that I could find were a royal blue, which wasn’t what we were looking for at all, and didn’t give us the variety of shadings we wanted.

So I turned to a technique we had used before of decorating clear class ornaments. Before, we’d used a variety of colors, but for this I just wanted different shades of blue and turquoise, to be combined with white. The magical thing about this technique is that you never have any idea how the ornaments are going to look in the end. You know what colors you used, but how they will blend together is a mystery, until it happens.

And this is the way it works. You buy clear glass or plastic balls. Make sure that they are blown or cast all in one piece without seams, because seams will get in the way of the flow of color. You buy some cheap craft paints (the kind that come in the little plastic bottles you can squeeze the paint out of) in the colors you want. Because this technique takes little paint, you won’t need to buy the larger bottles, and the amount of paint you do buy depends on how many different colors you want to use.

Once you have all your materials and are ready to start, you take off the lids of the ornaments, and you squeeze into the ball a very little of each of the colors you have chose to use for that ball, holding the ornament on its side so that the paint flows down along the side instead of pooling in the bottom. Be careful not to use too much, or you’ll end up with the colors perhaps more blended than you want. I got a little carried away this year, and used more paint than I needed to, but I was happy with the result anyway. John took some pictures of the process so you can see how they colors change over time. Here is a picture of an ornament shortly after I added the paint:

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After you’ve squeezed in the paint, you put the ornaments back in the container they came in, over on their sides. For the first day or two you give them a half- or quarter-rotation every few hours. After that, turn them a couple of times a day if you think of it. Beyond that, gravity does all the work, as the colors slowly spread across the surface. Here is what happened with four of the balls over the course of the first evening (John took pictures from different angles, so the balls may appear to switch positions in the photos here):

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And this is how they looked by the next day:
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When you feel the colors have marbleized enough or achieved the subtle mixed shadings you want, you simply pour out any excess paint, and let the ornaments dry for a few days before you put the tops back on them and they are ready for use. If you leave in the excess paint, the colors may go on changing for days or even weeks, and they may end up blended more then you would like them to . . . or they may develop in ways that surprise and delight you. The whole process, is difficult to predict, since it depends on how much paint you use, how long you leave it to develop, the temperature in the room, and the thickness of the paint. In this case, I used a few different brands of paint, but even though the darkest blue and the lightest were the same brand, for some reason the dark blue was much thinner, and resulted in an almost translucent midnight blue, which was fortunately much more beautiful than anything I had expected. Some of the ornaments ended up swirled in different colors, but others were more subtly shaded and blended.

This is how they look on the tree, and Megan and I are both delighted with the result.IMG_0907

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This is an easy technique that even children can do and attain sophisticated looking results. The materials are inexpensive, but because the paint is seen through the glass or plastic even matte colors take on a beautiful pearlescent glow.

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