Fabulous, Fishy Christmas Gifts to Make

Tropical Fish Christmas Tree Ornaments Made from Real Sand Dollars

This is a really fun project to make and give as a gift. It will be treasured for a long time and, of course, be a one of a kind. You can make a school of fish to have a themed tree for yourself too. I have mine on my kitchen tree, decorated with blue hydrangea. You can see the tree and window ornaments below. I did this project last year.

I got the idea to post gifts to make from a comment I left on Fairegarden’s site. Frances had made Thanksgiving gifts (which I thought were so unique and clever), and I though it would be great if other garden bloggers would join in showing gifts they made for holiday giving. There are so many creative garden bloggers out there that I am sure if we all post ideas early enough, we can get ideas to make and give this year. Frances was way ahead, giving her’s at Thanksgiving. So here is one gift I made last year.

The Process

The first step in the process is acquiring a giant sand dollar. And you can see from the shape how it resembles a fish, where one thing becomes another. The sand dollar is raised in the middle , so it further looks like a fish with dimension.

With acrylic paint, you paint your base coat. Find a real fish photo to use as your model from a book or online.

The sand dollar is very porous so it will take more than one coat, and also, it will not take the paint evenly. This works to your advantage generally.

Thin down a deeper color with water and keep applying to layer the paint and shade the fish. Build up the paint to blend the paint. After you are satisfied, start painting the details, like the eyes and mouth.

After your fish is to your satisfaction, you can make your fish really pretty by using 3-D paint to guild the ornament. You can outline the fish as I did above with silver or gold. The paint is used on T-shirts, but works great here.

See the fish at left? It is also outlined. The paint is being applied below and is really easy to apply. You need a steady hand though, as the paint is very thick and  you must apply it slowly.

This process is from the video by Mark Ballard. You can find the video here at Macon.com. You may have to try the link again if it is slow to load. Well worth the 16 minute tutorial. The screenshots are from his video, and he explains the process so thoroughly. Watch him complete this fish to the left.

Mark displays his fish in shadow boxes, but I used mine as Christmas tree ornaments.

My fish were only 3 inches round, much smaller than his. I would recommend to get the large  sand dollars that he has. I found a website that sells them. It is called Arrow Sand Dollar. I made six of them and gave the four best ones as Christmas presents. It was a fun project that really did not take much time or artistic talent.

I added craft store beads on filament and added a large jewelry hook to hang the ornament. Mark also displays them on plate stands. I made a wooden shadow box out of 1×2 pine and lined it with a coordinating felt for one that I gave as a present.  The possibilities are almost endless.

Here is the tree where the ornaments were placed. The windows had glass and glitter ornaments hanging from filament, rather that the curtains that usually are hanging here.

I suppose, for our Jewish readers, you could make a really rounded gefilte fish ornament, since the salmon is a really pretty red and brown or iridescent silver; then shadow box the gift for Hanukkah. My ex-husband was Jewish and I only ever saw the gefilte fish slide out of a can. In fact, I actually detested the stuff, matzoh balls, too. LOL.

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and make sure you see Mark’s site for all the details and his really beautiful designs. You only got to see the worse of the six I made. I never thought to photograph the ones I gave away. Someday I will finally learn to document my projects.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
This entry was posted in Christmas, garden, Gifts, Happy Monday, My Creative Posts, My Designs, Projects. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Fabulous, Fishy Christmas Gifts to Make

  1. Artie says:

    I still have mine – love it.

  2. Karen says:

    The sand dollar fish are so unique and beautiful. Homemade gifts are the best of all. The blue hydrangea tree is very pretty, too. You have given me some wonderful ideas for decorating this year!

  3. Missy says:

    What a great idea. They are a really unique gift. I love the blue tree too.

    • The kitchen tree coordinates with my blue and white kitchen. I will post that over the winter for all those doing renovating. I do architecture and renos for clients, but in my kitchen, I was all the jobs, except construction. It was a complete gut. Interesting for people to see the process and drawings. It was designed to work with the landscaping, so that will be of interest too.

  4. Lovely and different idea, my children will love making these, especially my little boy who loves fish.

  5. TufaGirl says:

    I hate crafty people! It is based on jealousy alone. I could not come up with an original idea if my life depended upon it. That being said, I do follow instructions very well.

    Seriously, what a lovely idea. I really am at awe at the beautiful things people create. Thanks for sharing a great gift idea and where to buy the ingredients.

  6. One says:

    They look beautiful though they are not your best. What a lovely idea!

  7. lifeshighway says:

    I can’t wait to try out the sanddollar fish project. It looks like a fun family project.

    I love the blue tree. I like monochromatic trees, they are very dramatic.

  8. Edith Hope says:

    Dear GWGT, How clever you are!! The ‘school of fish’ is a great idea and your blue fish with the blue Hydrangea look wonderful. Your Christmas tree decorations are completely different from any that I have seen and, handmade, they are even more special. As you say, they would make a lovely gift!

    • I never had the time to order sand dollars, but do want to make a school of them. And maybe add shells as ornaments. I am going to be posting Christmas all month. I used white roses on my Frasier Fir last year. I will be posting it soon. This year’s trees are coming soon too. Thank you for your nice comment., Edith.

  9. Greenearth says:

    What a great project. Love the ones on your tree.

  10. debsgarden says:

    These are so beautiful! I am wondering, though, how fragile are they? All the sand dollars I have seen crumble so easily. Does the paint give them much added strength?

    • I think if they are bleached they crumble. Mine were natural, right from the beach. I actually used a Dremel tool on mine to make the mouth more prominent on the blue one. So they were really hard and sturdy. Plus, if you coat them with clear acrylic when you are through painting, it helps to keep them intact. I should have mentioned that. I do not know if the video did or not.

  11. fairegarden says:

    Hi Donna, what fabulous fish you have made! Thank you for the linkage, my friend. An excellent idea to share the home made gifts. I like how thoroughly you explain the painting process, it is key to the depth of the finished product on concrete projects as well.

  12. p3chandan says:

    What a creative idea and looks lovely with your Christmas tree! It can be made into keychains and given as gifts or souvenirs too..

  13. tina says:

    Those fish are stunning and most creative. I have never heard of the 3D technique with painting. You learn something new everyday! Good to know info too. Your Christmas tree is a wonderful blue. The fish are the perfect compliment to the blue and are indeed keepsakes. The recipients of yours were lucky individuals indeed.

  14. Andrea says:

    That was a good tutorial, though i can’t just sit and make them. Thanks also for your picks. I see you are one of the top pickers for November.

  15. I watched the video — very cool!!

  16. Cat says:

    Very clever Donna! Love the ornaments in your windows and the way you’ve brought so much rich color and holiday cheer into your kitchen. Definitely an idea worth pinching!

  17. Eliza says:

    You did such a beautiful job with the details on your fish paintings!

  18. What a fun project, especially for a themed tree if you live near the coast!

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