“Advent is concerned with that very connection between memory and hope which is so necessary to man.
Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child.
This is healing memory; it brings hope. The purpose of the Church’s year is continually to rehearse her great history of memories, to awaken the heart’s memory so it can discern the star of hope.”
– Benedict XVI
Advent has become my favorite season, for exactly that sweet combination of memory and hope that Benedict XVI talks about. And for me, Advent is not complete without visual, physical, tangible signs and preparations filling my home.
I have been looking for some time for a nativity set that we all like and can afford. I’m picky, and my family is too. When preparing for the birth of Christ, everything has to be as lovely as possible. A cheap Target nativity set just won’t do for me. (Though I do recognize that the perfect can be the enemy of the good, and I pass zero judgement on you if you are content with your Target nativity set.)
It hit me, on Thanksgiving this year, as I looked at the simple, beautiful, handmade stations of the cross figurines in our church, that I would make my own nativity set!
And so I dug into my inner 6 year old and started playing around with clay.
I used an air drying clay that I found at a local craft supply store. I could have looked online for the best quality of clay, but I wanted to support local and so I used what they had available. So far I am happy with the results, although I can make no statement regarding the longevity of this nativity set!
Here is what I used:
- DAS air drying clay.
- table knife
- acrylic paint
- paint brushes
- paper clip
Armed with my table knife and a cup of water, I set to work.
I started with Mary, and began by making a rough body shape like so:
Then I used a knife to form a chin/face:
I then used the knife and my fingers to push down from the chin to get the arms going.
Throughout this process, I had been dabbing my fingers and the knife into the cup of water to keep the clay workable.
I rolled some clay snakes to build up the arms, and added a little clay to make amends for the chest I had just flattened…
Next I moved on to the veil, but I would recommend continuing with the body until you are happy with the arms, hands etc. because it gets tricky to work with these while trying not to squish the veil.
Anyways, for the veil I flattened out a piece of clay:
and placed it on Mary’s head:
The veil tore a little:
…but this was easily smoothed over with the flat side of a knife and a little water.
The back of the veil was too long, so I trimmed it with the knife, and then..
…folded it and smoothed it under.
*Note: throughout this process, with all the pushing, Mary began to slump a little. I just kept carefully straightening her out again.
Back to the arms, I worked on smoothing and shaping them out. You’ll notice the clay is glistening…it is really helpful to keep it slightly wet as you work.
I made the arms to be like long sleeves…
…and then added little balls for hands.
Then I worked at smoothing Mary all out, mostly with water and my fingers.
Then I set her aside to dry and began working on Joseph!
I followed the same process with Joseph, beginning with a vague torso and head shape.
But before doing the chin, I defined his shoulders a little:
And actually instead of a chin I gave him a beard.
Then I shaped up the rest of his a little.
And I started defining his arms like this:
And like this:
Joseph was also getting a little slouchy so I had to keep on straightening him up too.
Then I rolled him out a staff.
And gave him some hands.
For baby Jesus, I made a little bowling pin shape, making sure he could fit into Mary’s arms.
And made him a little blanket…
…and wrapped him up.
Then I made a manger.
I started by rolling out four sticks:
Cut in some indents…
And crossed them together:
I cut out a rectangles of flattened clay:
Folded it, and set it into the crossed sticks:
Jesus should be mostly dry, so make sure he fits in the manger:
I left all four figures out overnight to make sure they were good and dry, and then I painted them!
I went with Our Lady of Guadalupe colors for Mary:
And working-man brown for Joseph:
His hands fell off 🙁 But I will glue them back on…when I buy some glue…
I used a paper clip end for the eyes, just dipped it in paint and set it straight down where I wanted the eyes. I messed up for both Mary and Joseph, but I used a damp paper towel to wipe it away, and then painted over that area with a flesh tint/white combo.
Baby Jesus does come out of his manger, I just forgot to take a picture of that…
But isn’t he cute?
I am so happy that I have nativity figures this year! Now I just need to decorate their little corner of the shelf with greens and lights…
What do you think? Would you try making your own nativity figures? Do you have any other DIY nativity figures that you want to share with us?
Happy Advent to all,