Something Fishy for Art Elements Ornament Challenge

six fish ornaments hanging

When I saw that the Art Elements team chose ornaments as their theme for the winter design challenge, I signed up right away. I was already planning to make some, and having a deadline never hurts when you tend to procrastinate as I do.

My original plan was to make a batch of tangram critters from polymer clay. I have a few cookie cutters that are already sort of the right shapes. I started with the fish-shaped cutter. And that’s as far as I got with my tangrams.

fish cookie cutter and two fish ornaments

The cutter that inspired the tangram fish (top center), with Attempt 1 (bottom left) and Attempt 2 (right).

For my first tangram fish attempt, I wasn’t happy with the colors I used, and I felt the overall shape needed to be broken into some smaller polygons for better effect. I liked my second attempt better in terms of the number and size of the polygons making up the fish, but I still wasn’t thrilled with the color arrangement. And I never made it to attempt number three because I got sidetracked making a different sort of fish.

Citrus stripes fish ornament

I call this one “Citrus Fish” because she’s painted in stripes of lime green, lemon yellow, and tangerine.

Two years ago I sculpted a batch of whimsical sort of primitive fish, as a custom order for my acupuncturist.  She has them hanging in her lobby and treatment rooms.  Some people who saw them, or photos of them on my social media, expressed interest so I thought I’d make more this year.

Blue green ombre fish ornament

This cobalt blue and teal green fish is loosely based on tuna, at least in the general shape.

They are super fun to make, but somewhat time consuming. I only completed six.  I really need to plan better and start making ornaments in the spring rather than late fall, and make fall-themed jewelry in the spring, not late summer, etc. Maybe some day I will get on a schedule.  Although, if I haven’t managed it by now, how likely is it, really?

vivid pink and orange tang fish

This brightly striped fish is sort of based on tangs, although I’ve never seen any in these vivid shades of pink and orange.

I used some reference photos of real fish, but did not make realistic fish, if that makes sense.  Realism is my preferred form of art, but it is beyond my abilities.  Or possibly, beyond the limits of my patience to practice and learn.  So, whimsical is what you get, with pouty fish lips and great big googly eyes in colors not found on any species in the wild.

Violet blue ombre blenny fish ornament

I didn’t have any particular species of fish in mind when I made this elongated shape with fins running the length of its body. A friend said it looks like a blenny. But, for the record, they don’t come in violet to blue ombre.

Each fish begins as a lump of crumpled aluminum foil armature, which I cover with white polymer clay to make the general body shape. I add fins, eyes, lips, and texture before curing. After the fish are cured, I paint them with alcohol inks. The colors are a little unpredictable, with some turning out much lighter than in the bottle no matter how many layers are applied. It’s a bit of trial and error.

bright striped sunfish ornament

This fish was based on a mola mola, or sunfish. In shape only. The bright teal, pink, and yellow stripes exist only in fish of whimsy.

After the inks dry, each fish gets a couple coats of matte polyurethane to keep the colors bright and true.  If I had sculpted them from colored clay, that wouldn’t be necessary, because polymer clay colors don’t fade over time.  But I like the freedom to sculpt in white and choose my colors later. I also like the effect of coloring with inks and adding a little antiquing with acrylic paints to bring out the details.

puffer fish ornament

This little puffer fish was the most challenging to make. Setting all those little spines in place probably took longer than sculpting the rest of the fish. But the end result is worth it.

That’s the end of my fishy ornaments for this challenge.  But it isn’t the end of the handmade ornaments for this theme.  Be sure to visit the Art Elements design team and other participants listed below for more amazing ornaments.  My whimsical fish ornaments are available in my shop on etsy.  It’s too late to order them as gifts for this year’s tree, but they also make fun home decor any time of year.

back of puffer fish ornament

Bye for now.

Guest Designers
Paisley Lizard  <–you are here!
Art Elements Team

16 thoughts on “Something Fishy for Art Elements Ornament Challenge

  1. Claire

    I love, love, love all your whimsical fish! Aaaaaand the puffer fish – I was squealing seeing it! I would have wanted it too, instantly! 🙂

  2. CraftyHope

    These are so, so cute! I have a thing for pufferfish, so I have to say that he’s my favorite of the bunch. But, they are all so much fun. I don’t question why you’ve gotten so much attention for them. Thanks for letting us know how you made them, but I know I couldn’t sculpt as well as you have. Awesome!

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      I was convinced I couldn’t sculpt anything until I just decided to give it a try. One great thing about polymer clay is if you don’t like what you made, you just ball it up and try again.

  3. Susan Kennedy

    I love your fish! They are so awesome, and the puffer fish is pretty cool! Great idea using foil as an armature, I never thought of that before! Thanks for the ideas! Happy Holidays!

    1. Tammy Adams Post author

      I can’t take credit for the foil armature idea. I read it in a book or saw it in a video somewhere. You could easily make them of solid clay, but with the foil, the end piece is lighter in weight, and takes less time to cure.

  4. Cathy S. Mendola

    Oh my!! I love all your polymer clay fish. The tangrams are very abstract-artsy! But those whimsical, fun little fishies are just adorable. I think the puffer fish is my favorite! Well done.

  5. Lesley Watt

    What fabulously original designs you came up with and I agree that little puffer is just too cute. Thank you for taking part in our challenge and happy holidays.

  6. Jenny

    I love that they aren’t textbook realistic. They have so much personality! We were just in Orlando at Universal Studios for vacation and there was a 9′? 10′ tall tree in out hotel – all decorated with elaborate fish… Great idea!

  7. Kathy Lindemer

    Very cute fish! Thanks for explaining how you make them. I would love to give it a try. I think that painting them probably lets you give them more personality. It looks like you enjoy make them.

  8. mischelle

    How amazing our these little guys or girls. I love them. I love everything about them: the colors, shapes, everything. I have yet to venture into poly, but the way you explain the process, it seems fun. Have a wonderful Christmas.

  9. Sarajo Wentling

    What a cute school of fish you made! They are really fun and I love all the bright colors you chose.

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