By Jessica Simmons, author of the blog Very Pinteresting

For years I did the typical “themed” Christmas tree. Every ornament and adornment for our tree was red or gold, and I only used white lights. I thought it served the purpose of being both festive and elegant. However, it wasn’t “fun.” Enter my oldest son, Christopher, and his masterfully created ornaments. Over the years, he’s made everything from a reindeer out of shelled peanuts, light bulbs and puzzle pieces to snowflakes out of out of construction paper and glitter. A few years ago, my husband, jealous that none of the ornaments on the tree had his own special artistic touch, decided that all of us should paint a ceramic ornament. We had so much fun, that we did it the next year, and the next. And just like that, a tradition was born. Good bye elegant-but-boring themed tree, hello homemade holiday memories.

Each year, we visit a local paint-your-own ceramic shop to paint ornaments. It is, by and large, Christopher’s favorite holiday tradition. We used to take hours lingering in the shop, deciding what we were going to paint, choosing our color palettes, checking out inspiration from other patrons, and just basically enjoying our family date. But that all changed when my youngest son, His Majesty, was born. He is now 21 months old. Lingering in a shop with breakable items? Not a wise idea. To protect him, other patrons, and the breakables from harm, we keep him confined to his stroller while we paint, and the only thing that His Majesty dislikes more than the car seat is in fact, the stroller. In addition to that, the boy loves to paint, which introduces the next part of the dilemma, in that the longer we stay, the more he demands wants to paint. So, these days, we plan our themes in advance, know what we want to do when we walk in the door, and get right to work. The race is on!

To prepare for our annual ornament making date, I surfed Pinterest for ideas on what to do for His Majesty’s project. Last year, we made a Christmas Tree out of his sweet little handprint. He was 9 months old at the time, and it was nothing short of a Christmas miracle that I was able to get a relatively clean print.

Being that last year’s attempt went so well, and the fact that this may very well be the last year that his little hand will fit on the ornament, I decided that I should definitely do something with his print again. A few months ago, I pinned a bunch of handprint art from Meet the Dubiens, and one of their holiday ideas was for a handprint reindeer. It looked as easy as the handprint tree, and didn’t have a lot of detail or colors, which made it perfect for our race against the meltdown. Christopher chose to paint a snowman on his ornament, and my husband paid homage to the bionic garden that occupied much of our year, and our refrigerator space.

We changed it up a bit and visited a new ceramic shop this year, The Square Palette, in the heart of downtown Graham. (Have you paid a visit to Graham lately? It’s pretty reminiscent of Mayberry when the streets are decked out for Christmas. Super cute. A $3 movie theater, an awesome consignment shop, several eateries, and now a paint your own pottery studio.) The Square Palette, we discovered, is owned by a real, true to life artist by the name of Martha. She is available to help you create your masterpiece, give guidance, and make suggestions for color choices, themes, media, and anything related to the creation of your pieces. She also runs workshops. It wasn’t crowded when we visited, so she stood right by with us, helping to make sure that His Majesty and my creation turned out perfectly. She also gave Christopher a print out with inspiration for making the perfect snowman.

I started with a plain round ornament with a 9 inch circumference.Then, I painted the entire thing green, for a base color.

If I had not painted a base color, the rest of the ornament would have just been white after it was fired and glazed. Since I was painting the “reindeer” brown, using green for the base color was ok. Layering dark over light colors is preferred, otherwise the light colors won’t show up as well when the piece is completed. I did 3 coats of green paint, letting it dry in between coats. Martha recommended that I do multiple coats to get a rich color, and she helped me by using a blowdryer to speed the drying process along.

After all 3 coats were dry, I used a sponge to cover His Majesty’s hand in brown paint. (I used a brush last year, but Martha thought a sponge would be the best method to achieve good coverage. Since handprint art is generally a one shot deal, I listened to her. She’s an artist, after all, so who am I to second guess her?) You want to apply the paint nice and thick, to the palmar surface of the hands and fingers. While the paint was still nice and wet, I pressed his hand firmly to the bulb, and held it in place for a few seconds to allow the paint to rub off. Once you make contact with the bulb, don’t move the position of the hand, or you will smear the paint. Just press and hold.

When you are done, carefully pull the hand back from the ornament. You should have a nice handprint.

Remember though, it’s recommended that you do 3 coats of each color to achieve the best result. So, using your brush, apply 2 more coats of brown paint, right over the handprint that you just made. Fill in any sparse areas and darken up the print so that it shows up clearly after the piece is fired. Also use the brown paint to add your antlers (and your tail, which I fortunately remembered to add at the very last minute!).

After the extra coats of brown paint dry, you can use a thin brush to add any detail to your reindeer.I accented his antlers in black, added an eye, and a red nose.

I also like to add the year, so that we can remember when each piece was painted. You can stencil it, but I tend to make a mess with stencils, so I just free handed it. Go over your accents a few times to make sure that they come out nice and bright for your end result.

While the little guy and I were busy doing the handprint, Christopher and my husband were busy doing their own ornaments. Here is Christopher painting his snowman.He did some pretty good detail work, didn’t he?

We were in and out of there in an hour, meltdown avoided. Martha fired our pieces and I picked them up 2 days later.

The very first picture at the top of this post is His Majesty’s handprint ornaments from this year, and to the right is his ornament from last year. You can really tell how much he’s grown from the size of the palms. Bittersweet…

So, there you have it. How to create a handprint reindeer. You could do this on paper, or on card stock for your holiday cards, or you could do it on a canvas, like I did with for a footprint Halloween decoration. It’s a pretty easy project to do with any medium, and it will be fun to look back and see how much your little majesty has grown as the years pass. Christopher loves looking back at all of his homemade ornaments. It’s far better than any themed tree I am capable of pulling off, and it’s much more sentimental to reflect on all of the keepsakes made during holidays passed.