Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament

It’s almost Christmas!  Wahoo!  One of our annual traditions is always grabbing an ornament from any vacations that we take that year, and also DIYing some for other special moments.  It makes decorating the Christmas tree so much fun when you can relive sweet memories from years past again and again.

That’s why I was so excited to participate in an ornament exchange this year!  Not only do *I* get a surprise in the mail from a blogger buddy to hang on our tree, but I’m also able to create a unique ornament for her to (hopefully) enjoy and display.

And since I love me a good keepsake, I decided to whip up this personalized ornament that features my partner’s picture and details (including a map) of her recent travels!


Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament

The 2015 Holiday Ornament Exchange!

This year I thought it would be fun to take part in an ornament exchange for bloggers!  Last year I did a Halloween blogger swap and had a great time with it, so it was a Christmas one for this year!

We had over 80 bloggers sign up for this exchange, which consisted of spending no more than $10 and either purchasing or creating an ornament for a blogger that we were randomly paired with.  The ornaments have been revealed daily over the past two weeks, and there have been some really cute ones showcased already!

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament: 2015 Ornament Exchange! | Where The Smiles Have Been


My Exchange Partner

I was lucky enough to be paired with Jackie from RunwithJackabee.  She recently vacationed around Uruguay with some girlfriends (lucky gal!) and I’ve been super jealous of all the amazing photos she’s been posting on Instagram, like this cool one:



Since I’m a super huge fan of all things personalized (see my Project Gallery for lots of proof), I thought it would be fun to create a little keepsake for her to remember her 2015 Uruguayan adventure every year.  I always snag an ornament while on vacation, so I thought I’d give Jackie a unique and personalized goodie for this swap.

I mean snowmen and Santa and reindeer are cool and all, but you can find them anywhere!  For this swap, however, I wanted to give something that was 100% unique and tailored for my partner….I hope Jackie likes it!


My Inspiration Behind This Ornament

I’ve never been to Uruguay myself (ahhhh, maybe someday….), but Jackie’s photos made it look like a very relaxed and carefree place.  Definitely not stuffy, formal, and refined like France (been there, done that!).  Therefore, I wanted this ornament to match Uruguay’s vibe, or at least my perception of it.

Sticking a photo in an ornament frame or even Mod Podging it onto a clay or wooden ornament would have worked, but I wanted something…..cooler.  Plus, I liked the idea of combining the map of Uruguay WITH Jackie’s amazing photo AND the details of her trip, so an experiment was born!

I’ve made clay ornaments before, like my son’s cute little footprint for his first Christmas, but doing a photo transfer onto one was completely new.  Luckily this video tutorial made it look pretty easy, so I was eager to get my craft on and see what happens!



Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Making the Clay Ornament with Photo Transfer

I first pulled out an old cookie sheet and rolling pin that we no longer use for food (they are strictly for crafting now), and rolled out some white oven-bake clay until it was roughly 1/4″ thick and large enough to fit the entire image.

While researching this photo transfer technique, I learned it’s important that you use an image printed on a laser printer as opposed to an ink jet one….something about laser ink having plastic in it and lots of technical mumbo jumbo.

We only have an ink jet at home, so I had my husband print off Jackie’s photo at work (thanks babe!).  You can also use a copy machine at an office supply store like Staples.  Also make sure you mirror your image if you need it to face a certain way, especially if it has text.  I forgot to do this which wasn’t a huge deal, but it did lead to an interesting final product…more on this below.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


I then placed the image facedown onto the clay and started wetting the entire surface with water.  You can use a spray bottle to spritz the water on, but I didn’t have a spare one at the moment, so I just used my finger to dab the water on a little at a time.  Worked like a charm.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


I kept adding water until the entire surface was covered, making sure that there was nice contact onto the clay and not any huge wrinkles.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Here comes the cool part!  To transfer the image from the paper to the clay, I just started to lightly rub my finger in a circular motion until the unprinted white layer started to come up in clumps, but the colored image remained.

Don’t press too hard or you’ll rub off all of the ink along with the paper and/or create indentations in the clay….no bueno.  If you notice any parts that are not coming up easily, just add more water and let it soak in, then try rubbing the paper off again.  This is where you can create some cool effects too by rubbing off some of the ink if you’d like.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Here’s what it looked like once most of the paper backing was removed….looking pretty cool, huh?  I really like the weathered look of it….just right for a beach shot!  I think if you’re hoping for a true photo realistic image, this transfer technique won’t be the best.  That’s what frames are for.  But if you want a hip and different vintagey vibe, give this method a shot!

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Next it was time to turn this clay slab into a Uruguayan clay slab!  I cut out a stencil of the country in some card stock with my Silhouette Cameo, but you could also print out a map and cut it out with scissors too.

I positioned it over the image, but since I forgot to mirror the picture before printing it, the only way I could fit Jackie and most of the hand sculpture was by having the image be on the back side of the ornament….nuts!  It’s not a big deal though, just wish I would have caught it earlier so the picture could be the focal point on the front.  Oh wells.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


An Xacto knife was then used to trace and cut the clay along the edges of the stencil.  Don’t worry about being too precise here because you can always smooth out any edges or imperfections with a moistened fingertip before baking and also some fine sandpaper after.  I actually really liked the rough edge look, so I didn’t do much smoothing.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


All of the excess clay was then peeled away.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Since this is an ornament, it of course is going to need to hang, so I used a straw to create a hole that I’d thread some twine through later.

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Once my oven was preheated to 275º, I baked the clay for 15 minutes (Sculpey‘s instructions say to bake the clay for 15 minutes for every 1/4″ of thickness).

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


After the ornament was baked and then cooled down enough to handle, I added the location and year to the front of the ornament.  I used blue and yellow vinyl (also cut with my Silhouette Cameo) since those are the colors of Uruguay’s flag.

You might have noticed that this decal is a little different from the one depicted in the Supplies image at the top of this tutorial.  When it was time to apply it, I decided that original decal was not only too small but also too boring, so another one was cut.  I think this topsy turvy one fits the ornament’s vibe much better.

I then decided to seal the entire thing in a couple coats of Matte Mod Podge and added some blue and white baker’s twine and the ornament was complete!

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Jackie’s Completed Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament!

And here’s Jackie’s final ornament….I LOVE how it turned out!  It’s got a cool, vintage, weathered vibe….almost like an Instagram filter!  The front side with the vinyl is textured too, and it sort of looks like it’s a typography map showing different elevations….how appropriate!

This ornament especially looks neat at night with the Christmas tree’s white light glowing all around….I hope Jackie digs it too! :)

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been

Clay Vacation Map Photo Ornament | Where The Smiles Have Been


Other Ornaments from Today’s Exchange Reveal

Here are the other ornaments that are also being shared today!

2015 Ornament Exchange: Day 10! | Where The Smiles Have Been


HUGE Ornament Link Party!

Stay tuned for our upcoming HUGE Ornament Link Party!  This will open on 11/14 and will showcase not only ALL of the amazing ornaments from this holiday exchange, but YOU can also come link up any ornament tutorials you’d like to share!


If You Enjoyed This….

Make sure you check out some other ornaments I’ve shared!

What a great way to preserve a Christmas memory! 21 Christmas Keepsakes for Kids! | Where The Smiles Have Been

DIY Personalized Glitter Ornaments

Reindeer Photo Ornament Christmas Card and Silhouette GIVEAWAY!

How to Make a Floating Photo Ornament: Baby's First Trip to the Beach!

DIY Christmas Ornament Wreath | Where The Smiles Have Been


Thanks so much for stopping by, and happy holidays!



About Christine

I'm Christine, a SAHM to a spunky toddler and his mini-me infant brother, and married to the best guy you'll ever meet. I (try to) spend their nap times getting my craft on and I blog about my creations and adventures in parenting at Where The Smiles Have Been. My loves are all things DIY, especially Silhouette projects, wreaths, & personalized decor. And ice cream....definitely love me some ice cream.


  1. Such a clever design for an ornament and so very personal to your ornament partner. Thank you for participating in the 2015 #ornamentexchange.

  2. Hello I am a fellow ornament exchange participant popping by. Your ornament is so clever and cute!
    Have a wonderful day.

  3. What a wonderful personalized ornament Christine! I will have to remember this for next year when we got to Hawaii! :)

  4. Christine, this is SO awesome!! I love that you formed it into the shape of the country. And the photo transfer is super cool! I had no idea that photo transfers would work on clay!

    • Thanks so much, Emily! This was a true experiment so I was very happy that it actually turned out! This photo transfer technique definitely opens up a whole new world of possibilities for personalized gifts! :)

  5. I LOVE LOVE this ornament. I like how you took something that happened in your partners life and made it into a memorable ornament to remind her of that adventure each year.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kayla! Jackie said she loved receiving this ornament, especially because she looked for one to buy while in Uruguay but wasn’t able to find any. I’m glad I was able to help her out! :)

  6. I can’t tell you how much I love this – it’s so personalized it will be cherished forever and it looks great! Perfection.

  7. I am just blown away by this idea, awesome awesome awesome! It’s so neat all the different ideas we are coming up with. And what a beautiful keepsake for your partner. Congrats on a great job and happy to share day 10 with you! :)

  8. Hi, Christine ~ I LOVE this ornament! I especially like that you gave it such a personalized touch. I’m sure Jackie will love putting it on her tree each year. :0)

  9. AWESOME! I used clay for my ornament, too. I had no idea you could transfer images onto clay like this. What a fantastic technique!

  10. This is so cool! Wow! What a wonderful keepsake! We always buy an ornament on a vacations, but this is much more personal. I am also participating in the ornament exchange and it’s so fun to see what everyone else comes up with!

    • Thanks so much, Pamela (and fellow ornament exchange member)! I love keepsakes, especially ones you display at Christmastime. It’s like a mini Christmas morning every time you start putting up the decorations! :)


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