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Making Miniature Garden Gnomes
These adorable miniature garden or fairy garden gnomes are roughly 1/2 inch/1.25cm tall. Made from two-part epoxy putty they can be left outside in miniature gardens or in planters. We've made ours using two-part silicone mold putty to cast the repeated small parts so we can set up a range of gnomes in different poses to stock a dollhouse flower shop. If your gnomes will be mainly indoors, you can make them from polymer clay instead of epoxy putty.
These instructions are set up for working with two-part epoxy putty which is an additive process that requires a bit of time between layers. Read all the instructions first and decide how you want your workflow to go. We made the molds for repeated parts on the first day, cast some parts and made the body sections we needed firm the second day, and finally finished our gnomes on the third day. You don't need much time each day, but using this method you won't finish on the first day. Epoxy putty can be stored for at least 24 hours in the freezer wrapped in cling film if you need to keep your color for the second day of the project.Continue to 2 of 13 below.
02 of 13
We're making our miniature gnomes to stay outdoors, so we're using a two-part epoxy putty which accepts color pigments, and which can stand up to UV light with a protective coat of varnish. If you prefer, you can make indoor gnomes using colors of polymer clay. You can use basic polymer clay colors of red, blue and yellow to blend custom clay colors.
Materials You Will Need
- Two-part epoxy putty which accepts color pigments or polymer clay. We used EnviroTex Jewelry Clay, which is easy to color with a range of pigment types.
- Two-part silicone mold putty if you will be making several gnomes it is easier to cast parts.
- Modeling tools for epoxy putty or polymer clay, such as metal dental tools or silicon color shapers, and wooden toothpicks.
- Fine bent nose tweezers
- Thin gloves (nitrile from an automotive supplier work well)
- Cornstarch or talcum powder to act as a resist on your gloves—have it handy in a small open container.
- Water or fine cooking oil to smooth the putty and act as a resist on gloves—keep a small amount in a container you can dip your tools into.
- Baking parchment paper to act as a non-stick work surface.
- Pigments or paints to color your putty. We used Pan Pastels and chalks and Jacquard Pearl Ex Pigments, as well as tube artist acrylic paints.
- Baking tile for polymer clay.
- Damp paper towel or rag to clean tools.
Note: If you will be using two-part epoxy putty, take care that you wear gloves and remove jewelry before beginning. Epoxy putty can easily ruin jewelry it comes in contact with if it is allowed to harden on the jewelry. It is advisable to wear gloves as some people can develop allergies to epoxy putty. Also, make sure you cover your workspace with a non-stick paper and have water and a wet paper towel or rag at your workspace. Epoxy putty will bond to almost anything, but can usually be removed with soap and water before it hardens.Continue to 3 of 13 below.
03 of 13
Shape Simple Hands for Repeated Parts
As we will be making several miniature gnomes, and want them to be roughly the same size, but with different faces and poses, we will start our first session by making masters of the basic hand, shoe and face shapes before we start making our gnomes. As epoxy putty is a very hard material once it is set, it is very useful for making the master of parts you want to reproduce. Polymer clay is not as hard and is not as good for small master shapes as is epoxy putty.
Read instructions for working with your particular epoxy putty before beginning to determine the best working temperature and working time. Making these small master parts for molds is a good way to learn the handling characteristics of your particular putty brand.
To make these parts in your first session of working with epoxy putty, mix a small ball of your basic putty color (ours is light grey). We made a ball from very small amounts of putty to make all our basic parts. Our combined ball of putty was just over 1/4 inch across. Set your putty aside on some non-stick baking parchment for a few minutes to 1 hour to get through the sticky stage. This will vary with the type of putty you use and the temperature of your room.
Shaping the Hands
Dust your gloves with talcum powder/cornstarch or a bit of oil. Test your putty to make sure it is slightly soft but not too sticky to work easily. Most people who work with epoxy putty describe modeling with it as 'pushing' putty. You need the putty to be firm enough to work with easily. If your putty is sticky, or too soft, leave it to set up longer.
When your putty is the right consistency, roll a small ball of putty around 1/16 inch/2mm across. Flatten the ball and use a dampened toothpick or a modeling tool to gently push into the putty where you want the thumb to join the hand. (see photo). Use your tools to create a gently rounded mitten with a small tab for a wrist. Set your putty hand aside to harden completely. Make sure a pet or a breeze won't blow it away. Make a second hand with the thumb on the opposite side. If you have enough putty after you finish making the first set of hands, the boots, and the face, you can go back and use any excess putty to make extra parts for your molds.Continue to 4 of 13 below.
04 of 13
Shape the Boots
The size of the boots and hands of the miniature garden gnome helps to set the size of the head and the basic body. Try to work as small as you can, comparing the pieces you model to the ones shown in the photos here.
To shape the boots for miniature garden gnomes, take two small balls of putty roughly the same size as you used for the hands and roll them gently on your work surface to elongate them into an oblong foot shape. Use your modeling tool or a toothpick to push in at the 'instep' on one side of each boot. Push your boot shape to have a rounded toe and heel. Do the same for the other boot shape which should have an opposite instep.
Roll a small strip of putty (use a ball smaller than the one you made the foot shape from) to make a thin 'worm' of putty. Cut off a bit, roughly the length you want for the top of your boot, and use a damp modeling tool or oiled toothpick to gently blend the boot top down into the foot shape. Take care not to distort the foot shape. Set the boots aside on a non-stick surface to firm up overnight. You do not need to make the top of the boots even, they will be hidden inside the trouser legs.Continue to 5 of 13 below.
05 of 13
Make a Basic Face Shape
The final piece you will need to make before you cast your two-part putty molds, is the basic face for your gnomes. To do this make a small ball of putty roughly 1/8 inch/ 3mm across (see photo).
Take a modeling tool or oiled toothpick and mark the sides of the nose on the ball. Mark the eyes on either side of the top of the nose, and roll the toothpick against the base of the nose to mark the end of the nose and the space for the mouth and chin.
Now use your modeling tool to gather up rounded cheeks below the eye, and then flatten out the edges of the face to mark the ears. You will be making a small flat-backed face, with protrusions for the nose and cheeks.
Gently push the putty at the points where the ears join the face and shape the chin area slightly. You do not need too much of a forehead, as epoxy putty tends to soften as you work it, so your molded face does not need a lot of detail. When you have a simple basic face shape stop and allow your putty to completely harden sitting on a non-stick surface.
Use any extra putty to make extra master parts for your molds. These parts are so small you are bound to lose some!Continue to 6 of 13 below.
06 of 13
Make Molds From Your Master Parts
To make two-part silicone mold putty push molds from your master parts, make sure that your master parts are completely hardened before proceeding (they may need to harden overnight).
Mix equal parts of your mold putty part a and part b until the color is completely blended. Press the ball of mold putty down onto a firm smooth surface (we used a tile). When your putty is wide enough to accept your master parts, set the completely hardened master parts carefully on top of the putty with the side you want to cast sitting directly on the putty surface.
Use a flat ruler or some other flat surface to gently press the master's down into the mold, taking care that the bottom of the boots, (the soles) and the back of the head shape line up with the top surface of the putty.
Leave the mold putty to set up completely.
When your mold is hardened, you can carefully remove your master parts and use them to make extra molds if you wish. That way you will be able to speed up your modeling process by having plenty of boots, shoes, and faces on hand.
Once the molds are prepared, you can mix up colored epoxy putty if you wish to make the boots and hands for your miniature gnomes. Don't mix up putty for the faces until you have the bodies finished and ready for faces.
Note: If you notice holes when you remove your parts, because you pushed the masters too deeply into the putty, don't worry. Set the master's back into the mold, mix up a bit of extra mold putty and apply it to the bottom of the mold below the holes, setting the new putty down onto the flat work surface or tile. The new layer of putty will bond with the first layer to make a thicker base for your mold. Make sure the new putty doesn't push through the holes against the master item unseating it. Use the back of a ruler to press the master item down into the mold so the sole of the shoes, back of the hands or face is flush with the top of the mold.Continue to 7 of 13 below.
07 of 13
Coloring Epoxy Putty
Once you have your basic mold ready it is time to color some epoxy putty to set into the molds for boots and hands. Most light-colored epoxy putties will accept a fair amount of pigment. If you have a dark-colored putty (green stuff or Kneadatite) you will probably need to color your miniature gnomes with paint after the putty hardens. The color of dark putties cannot be overcome by pigment.
For this phase of the gnome project, you will need to mix a pink or flesh-colored putty for the hands, freezing a bit of extra for the face to be used the next day. You will also need to color putty for the boots, use brown or black.
To add pigment to epoxy putty, flatten a small ball of soft putty and gently press it against your dry pigment (pan pastels in this case). Flip over the flattened putty and press it against the pigment again. Knead the putty and pigment to blend the color. If the color is too light and the epoxy is still fairly sticky, you can keep flattening and adding dry pigment to the putty. If the putty starts to be stiff and fall apart, you may need to add a smidge more putty to loosen it up into a better working consistency.
You can flatten putty and mix it into thick oil or acrylic tube paint (not the liquid craft paints) but it is a messy business. Colored putty can be stored overnight in the freezer wrapped in cling film if you need to hold it for working the next day. That's what we did with the flesh-colored (pink) putty we mixed up for our gnomes faces and hands.
If you are on a roll, you can also mix up new batches (balls) of epoxy putty and color them for the hats, legs and tunics/arms of your gnomes. These bits of putty can be stored in the freezer overnight and used when it is time to assemble your gnome.
Use the boot colored putty and the flesh-colored putty to make small hands and feet in your new molds. Try to avoid flowing over the mold outlines at the top.
Remove the hands and boots before they are completely hardened and shape or remove any excess putty if necessary.
Leave the completed boots and hands to harden completely overnight before proceeding with the next modeling step.Continue to 8 of 13 below.
08 of 13
Make the Legs
Once you have hardened boots or shoes cast from your miniature shoe molds, you can make the legs for your miniature gnomes. We find that making and posing the legs and allowing them to harden connected to the bodies is easier than trying to work on the entire gnome at one go as they are so small. Even when epoxy putty has hardened for several hours and feels hard to the touch, warming it slightly may cause it to shift, so make sure your hands and boots are thoroughly set before you add them to the legs and arms in the next few steps.
How to Make the Legs
Roll out a thin roll of colored epoxy putty (or polymer clay if that is what you are using) which is just slightly thicker than the top of the boot or shoe.
Take an oiled toothpick or a dentist's pick tool or silicone tipped tool and gently work a hollow into one end of the roll of clay. Insert the top of your boot and gently roll the clay with the boot so the clay moves down slightly over the top of the boot to hold it in place. Use your modeling tools to even up the line of the trouser leg where it meets the boot (or cut the trouser leg straight using a polymer clay blade.
Repeat with the other boots, making legs roughly the same thickness and length.Continue to 9 of 13 below.
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Assembling the Lower Body
Miniature gnomes usually wear a tunic style top which covers the top of their trousers. This means you can easily take your two shaped legs, gently blend the clay together at the top of the leg, and set the legs in your preferred pose to set up. The legs can be pinched together at the top as they will be covered by the tunic style top.
Here we've set up our legs in the bent position for a sitting gnome, or one which will be in a stomach down position to examine something on the ground. Allow your epoxy putty to stiffen up before you set up your leg position. Softer putty may slump, pulling your legs out of their pose. If possible allow sets of gnome legs to harden completely before you add their tunics and hats. The legs will then give you a handle to hold onto while you add the next item of clothing.Continue to 10 of 13 below.
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Shaping the Basic Body and Tunic Top
To make the tunic top for a miniature gnome, roll a ball of clay roughly the same size as the one you used for your gnome's legs so that it forms a short cone with a wide base. Hollow out the base of the cone the way you did to insert the boot into the trouser leg. Set the hardened legs of your gnome up into the cone and roll the cone gently between your (gloved) fingers until the tunic blends down over the legs (see photo). Set the body and legs in their pose position and carefully blend out the surface of the gnome's tunic, leaving the suggestion of a stomach in front. Leave the body to cure hard over the legs, checking that the gnome holds the correct pose.
When the body is fully set, or almost fully set, roll a smaller contrasting cone of colored epoxy putty for the gnome's hat. Gently set the wider end of the cone over the body so that the hat sits back just behind where the face will be, with the back of the hat firmly attached to the top of the body. Shape the point on the gnome's hat and leave it to cure attached to the body.
Save a small amount of body/tunic colored clay in the freezer to use later (once the body has set) for the arms. If you must for the pose, you can attach the arms to the body when the body is still not completely set, but you may need to prop the arms or the body into their pose position while the epoxy putty cures fully.Continue to 11 of 13 below.
11 of 13
Fit the Hands and Arms to the Miniature Gnome
Here you see the miniature gnome's body with his hat in place (but no head or face) posed as if lying on his stomach. We want to pose one arm free to hold something, and one arm to support the gnome.
Roll out a thin roll of putty the same color as the gnome's body or tunic. Make a small depression at one end of the roll and insert the wrist tab of a hand. If you want to shape the hands into a pose, use hands which are not fully cured putty, but which are fairly stiff. Cut the arms to length so you can blend the back of the arm across the back of the gnome's body. Set the arm in place and use a modeling tool to roll the top of the arm into the back of the gnome's body, keeping the edge of the hat away from the arm blending.
Check that the arms are securely fixed to the body, and blended into the main tunic, then set the hands and arms into the pose you want, supporting them if necessary until they harden completely.Continue to 12 of 13 below.
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Fitting and Shaping the Face
When the body, arms, legs, and hat of the gnome have hardened completely it is time to cast and fit the face. Use fairly stiff putty in the mold to avoid problems, and let it set up almost hard before you remove it from the mold.
Use tweezers or a modeling tool to lay the face against the hat, setting the ears on either side of the hat at the correct position. The face may be hanging free of the body at this point.
Use your modeling tool to push the eyes back against the hat, and carefully set the edge of the forehead below the hat edge. Don't worry if your face looks a little rough at this point, you want it to be firmly attached.
Now take a modeling tool and re-outline the nose and the cheeks, adjusting the cheeks to take up (or lose) material so the face fits correctly.
Continue shaping the face gently, until you have it the way you want it. Set a small opening in place for the mouth. Allow the face to set up to harden.
If you get stuck, there is more information on modeling miniature faces in the modeling miniature dolls instructions.
To Add a Beard
Color a bit of epoxy putty white (with white pigment or white acrylic paint) and flatten a small ball of the white putty.
Use a modeling tool to blend the white beard and mustache over the gnome's lower face, texturing the putty to resemble a flowing beard.
Rework the opening for the gnome's mouth through the beard.
To Add Eyes
Roll tiny balls of dark-colored putty. Carefully pick up the balls on a pointed modeling tool and set them into the eye holes.
As epoxy putty will securely hold beads, you can also use small black no hole or microbeads as well.
Set your gnome aside to harden completely!
Once hard, epoxy putty can be filed, drilled, sanded, polished with micromesh sanding pads or have more bits of putty added. If you like, you can add ear wires and turn your gnomes into earrings or make them into beads to support miniature garden lamps. Epoxy putty can be a very useful material for miniatures.
If the body is completely hard, you can also mix a bit of black putty, roll it into a thin roll and set it around the gnome's belly as a belt. Mark off a buckle and clear out the buckle center if you want. You can paint the buckle with metallic paint before you add a protective coat of UV resistant varnish for gnomes that will be placed outdoors.Continue to 13 of 13 below.
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Make a Series of Miniature Gnomes
Here you can see the relative size of two different miniature gnomes, posed in front of a ruler. Their 'height' is under 3/4 inch/2cm. Using the boots and hands from casts makes them easy to size similarly, even when they are in different poses. The amount of putty used in the face cast also limits the size of the face and head, even though the faces can be completely different. The size of the face is dictated a bit by the cast of the nose.
Hope you have fun trying to make your own miniature gnomes, regardless of which material (and how many) you make! Adjust the color of their clothing, the tilt of their head, the position of the hands. The mitten hands can be shaped around a toothpick or some other item to make it possible for the gnomes to hold handles as well. If you want the handle or implement to stay permanently in place, just set it in the gnomes' hand and press the putty into it before the putty sets up.