My parents had always had this amazing ceramic Christmas Tree that would be set out each year, you know the kind, where it has all the holes all over it and you insert the little plastic bulbs into it and there was a single bulb inside the tree that illuminates all the bulbs. We had this tree for as long as I can remember and it wasn’t until I had asked if they were still interested in it, that I learned that my Grandma had actually made it herself, and that they weren’t parting with it anytime soon.
Well that got me looking online and seeing that most were going for $50 and above, and I knew they wouldn’t be the same even tho they would’ve filled the want for having one, but they wouldn’t share the feeling that one from home would, that was until I found that you can buy the trees by themselves and make it yourself still.
Well friends that is what I did.
I went on a massive online search high and low to see what options were available, and there’s quite a few, ranging in sizes and designs, in fact I learned a little history of them along the way as well.
Back in the 50s and 60s it was getting more and more common that there was ceramic classes, and many moms and wives were taking these classes in their open time. (I’d like to think a few guys were there too, but hey I can only go by what I found, but at least I’m bringing it back for the man). They’d be making pots, keepsakes, dinner sets and the sort to have for their families and friends.
In most of these classes as it neared the holidays a lot of the participants would be making different gifts for their families, and some of the more advanced students would start to make these ceramic trees. There were several different companies that produced the different trees and most of those designs are still used today, even tho most of the original producers and companies are no longer available.
Well as we neared into the 80s and 90s more and more women were going to the workplace and that lead to a decline of not only the ceramics classes but also the production of a lot of the designs that were available, making those originals that have been passed down all the more rare.
Well I decided that I was going to start my own tree to have and enjoy with my budding family for years to go, and well why not show you all a bit of how to make it as when I was looking I couldn’t find anything for a good tutorial online, just tons of people wanting to sell you the stuff or the one they made, so lets get on with the DIY part of this.
What You’ll Need
- Ceramic Tree
- Acrylic Paints
- Plastic Bulbs
- DecoArt Triple Thick Brilliant Gloss Glaze
- Lamp Repair Cord
- 25 w Light Bulb
- 2″ Keyless Socket
- Steel Locknuts
- Steel Pipe Nipples
- Steel Locknuts & Rubber Washers
- SPT-2 Switch (on/off switch)
- Paint Brushes
- Wire Cutters
So as I was searching all over the internet looking at all the available blank ceramic trees available I found that JoAnn Fabrics happened to have one that was a pretty reasonable price, as it was $20 regular price, but they were having a 50% off sale that week so I was able to get the tree for only $10, and I wasn’t the pickiest about the tree I got, I just wanted it soon and easily available, so I stopped by after work and picked it up, and I am very pleased with it, as it has some pretty great sculpting as well as the size and design worked out to be perfect for what I was wanting, but online you can find one to fit your needs as well, click the Joann link above to see the one I got.
This set came with 2 pieces both the tree and the base, but no lights. I searched the store for them but they didn’t have any available, but after a quick search on Ebay I was able to have a set to me within a few days (get at least 70 as there’s a ton of little light holes on this guy, more for a larger tree)
I ended up just using four different colors on the entirety of my tree, but use your own discretion, these were just the cheap ones you can get at Michael’s for a great price, usually $0.69 or less depending on the day.
I started by doing a full application of Hunter Green all over the tree, starting with the bottom and allowing that to dry, and then working my way up the tree. Make sure you keep you brush covered in paint to make sure you get all the indents and designs to fill out the full tree.
After the tree was completely covered, I went back and made sure to paint inside each of the bulb holes to make sure none of the white of the ceramic showed through. I then started on my second coating of paint this time I went over the tree with the lighter Holiday Green I had. When doing this coating I made sure to get another full coating and get into each of the breaks in each of the branches as I wanted this to stand out the most, and doing it over the darker green allowed for some great details in brush strokes and added some more depth to the tree.
I then once finished with the Holiday Green, did a final overlay of the Hunter Green only this time doing a dry brush technique, making sure to get most of the paint off the brush and just doing light gentle strokes over the branches, making sure to let the lighter green indents stay light, which really topped off the tree. The lighting in the pics above is pretty bright but you can see it better in later shots.
For the base of the tree, I started with a full painting of the red skirt around it all using a nice Bright Red paint, I then came back and did a covering of the leaves with first the Hunter Green and then a light drybrushing for the details with the Holiday Green that really made the leaves pop. Then using the same Bright Red paint I added the berries to the leaves, making sure to use a nice stiff small brush to make sure the detail wasn’t lost and I didn’t lose control while painting.
Then using some painters tape, I taped off everything around the top, leaving the bottom of the base as I wanted this to stick out more, and I went over the red with the Bright Gold, which as I painted seemed like it was watered down and almost runny, but in the long run once it all dried I really loved the effect it had and couldn’t be happier, you have to love the happy accidents.
Once I was done with all of the painting I then used the DecoArt Triple Thick Brilliant Gloss Glaze that I found at Michaels as well, and gave both the tree and base a good couple of coats to them, now it does say to way 24 hours after spraying and I do recommend this as it does remain tacky for a while and this way you won’t leave fingerprints in the glaze. And make sure to do both the tops and bottoms to help protect your work.
Once this was all done it was time to wire it up. Starting with the 2″ socket I screwed in a steel pipe nipple that would fit through the hole and allow enough space for the nuts and washers. I took this and first put a rubber washer over the top of the hole on the base, and then underneath used both a washer and a steel locknut to keep it nice and tight.
I then fed through the power cord as the base had a hole on the back and then through the nipple as they allow the cord to pass through, you then just have to hook up the cable to the two screws on the socket, follow your instructions on the socket and chord as each will be different.
I then decided I wanted an on/off switch so I didn’t have to unplug it each time I used the tree, and that was easier to attach then I thought. You’ll just use a blade to separate the two wires on your chord, and one of those you’ll cut bluntly, no need to remove insulation on it, but I did remove about another 1/8 of it to make sure they don’t touch, and then you unscrew your switch, feed the connected wire over the top area and then just slide the cut ones on the bottom (there’s a separation to keep them apart) and then you re-screw it down, there are prongs that get into each of the wires to allow the current to pass when you flip the switch.
Once that’s all done, it’s time to test it out and decorate.
Once I was sure all of my wiring was completed it was time to decorate, now I had ordered a set of plastic bulbs on Ebay for about $10 for 72 of them and a yellow star and I used almost everyone of them with only a handful left over. Make sure to space them out just like you would your normal tree to spread the colors out, or you can order just single colors if that’s your thing, remember this is all about what you like or want so only use these directions as a roadmap, but if you want to deviate from the course all the more to you, that’s the fun of these types of projects. But when you’ve got it how you like it, it’s now time to light it up.
I really couldn’t be happier with how this project turned out, and it looks amazing sitting up on my table, my son loves to just stare at the lights as this is his first introduction to the holiday, sure he is only a month and a half old so he still has no idea what’s to come, but what better way to show off the wonders that it all brings and to have something that will be with us all for years to come.
If you or your friends happen to make one yourselves, send us a picture of it and I’d be happy to add it to the list, or if you’ve already got one that was passed down through the years send it as well, we’d love to see all the great designs and styles of ceramic trees there are out there.
If you have any questions on the process I’ll always be here to help and just ask away.
Hope you have a great holiday.