How to Make a Clay Nativity


You don’t need to be an accomplished sculptor to craft a Christmas nativity set out of clay. You or your children can have the satisfaction of making a family heirloom using self-drying clay, often referred to as children's clay. Or you can use polymer clay, which takes a little more kneading to become pliable and may be dried faster in an oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Things You'll Need

  • Self-drying modeling clay or polymer clay
  • Garlic press for extruding clay
  • Toothpicks
  • Acrylic craft paint
  • Beads and gems for embellishment
  • White glue
  • Ruler
  • Sketch paper
  • Acrylic polymer spray finish
  • Pearlescent craft spray (optional)
  • Decide how many figures you want in your nativity scene. Use a ruler to mark out how tall and wide your figures will be. Make a simple one-dimensional sketch of each figure. Remember that humans are larger than many crèche animals and try to keep everything in proportion.

  • Keep most of the clay under a damp cool cloth to keep it from drying out while you are working on each piece. Pinch off bits of self-drying clay or polymer modeling compound and roll various balls and tubes to serve as body parts and heads. Both clays will dry without a kiln firing.

  • Both the animal and human figures are based on rudimentary rectangle, square or circle shapes. Insert toothpicks to help strengthen the bond between shapes. Flatten small balls of clay and use a toothpick to carve out delicate additions such as animal ears. Attach small additions by pressing and blending them onto the main ball of clay with a small brush dipped in water.

  • Poke indentations for eyes and carve mouths and other features with the tip of a toothpick. Push gems or beads into the damp clay material. Pry them out and put a drop of glue into the indentation before reinserting the embellishment.

  • Make hair by pushing balls of clay material through a garlic press. Extruded clay can also be braided for trim. Pinch a few strands to make a frond for a Bethlehem palm tree.

  • Dry each figure according to the clay manufacturer’s directions. Finish each nativity figure by painting the clay with acrylic craft paint after the figure is completely dry. Seal the finished figure with an acrylic polymer craft spray when you are finished decorating.

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  • Photo Credit clay figurines image by fabersky from
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