I’m so happy to be participating in Mama Miss’ 10 Days of a Kid-Made Christmas series for the second year in a row! This year, the theme is Ornaments Inspired by Children’s Books, and 70+ bloggers are each coming up with an ornament for a different children’s book. We decided to stay true to our roots here at Play Trains! and make an ornament inspired by the original Thomas the Tank Engine stories. The Little Engineer will show you how to make a Thomas the Tank Engine candy cane ornament…with Thomas himself. Painting with trains is one of our favorite creative train activities, and it was fun to apply it to a new surface!
This post contains links to Amazon.com. If you click on one, we will receive a small commission — at no additional cost to you — on anything you buy at Amazon for a certain length of time afterwards. Read our disclosure policy for more details.
Our Inspiration: the The Railway Series by the Rev. W. Awdry
(otherwise known as the original Thomas books)
Over the past four years, Thomas has been an important part of our lives. As the Little Engineer has gotten older, it’s been fun to finally read the original stories. Whatever else you may say about Thomas & Friends and the empire it’s become, at its heart are these stories, with the first ones initially told by a father to his son when the son was stuck in bed, very ill. Deep down, Thomas has heart. I suspect that’s why he’s gone on to bring so much happiness to so many children (and some of us adults, too).
And so, while I could have done a Thomas ornament inspired by any of the Thomas books we love — the Thomas books on our Christmas Train Books list would have worked especially well — I wanted to connect this keepsake for our tree back to the original books, to those beginnings in an gift of story from a parent to a child.
The original stories are available in a few formats…though some of them are closer to the original than others. The Thomas the Tank Engine Story Collection is the current anthology of stories. It’s a nice enough book, but be advised that it isn’t a complete collection of the Rev. W. Awdry’s stories, and it’s been Americanized more than I care for. Once I realized this, I ordered a used copy of the out-of-print Thomas the Tank Engine: The Complete Collection, which includes all the stories without the over-Americanization of the text. But if you’re looking for a gorgeous gift, there is the Thomas the Tank Engine: The Classic Library collection, a beautiful boxed set of all 26 of the Railway Series books in their original format.
Our Ornament: a Kid-Made Thomas the Tank Engine Candy Cane
To make our ornament, we took a Take’n’Play Thomas with us to our local paint-your-own-pottery place. We usually use Take’n’Play engines for painting with trains, and you can read more about our reasons why in our Painting with Trains on Canvas post. Whichever train you use, be sure to wash it immediately after you finish, and then dry it in such a way that it won’t sit in a pool of water — I know from experience the axles can rust if you leave them sitting on a thick towel. And I would not use an electronic engine of any kind, because the train is definitely going to get wet.
In this case, because we’d be transporting Thomas to and from the pottery painting shop, I brought him in a zip-top plastic bag with a paper towel. When we left, I wrapped him in the paper towel and zipped him up in the bag while he was in my purse, and then took him out and let him air dry in the cup holder in the car, and on a baker’s cooling rack when we got home. (Even with all these precautions, I still recommend that you don’t use a train you would be sad to see get a little rust on its axles. Better safe than sorry.)
Once we were there, we selected what we wanted to paint. Our main aim was a much bigger project, which I’ll be showing you tomorrow along with more tips for painting with trains at a paint-your-own-pottery place. But we also picked out an ornament to paint, and this candy cane was the perfect piece to warm up on.
Of course, you could use this same technique on a ceramic ornament at home, but after trying to paint tea cups and coffee mugs with the Little Engineer in the past and having the special paint start to come off, we prefer the permanence of the kiln-fired ceramic glazes. (Plus, this way it feels like a special occasion — I like the idea of anything that makes creative work feel special — and the mess happens somewhere other than our house!) If you don’t think your child can handle the stimulation of being in that environment, with all the breakable items, I know our pottery place lets you borrow paint to take the items home to paint them and bring them back to be fired.
In order to make the ornament Thomas-themed in appearance as well as in its method of creation, we picked blue for Thomas’ coat of paint, red for his stripes, and yellow for his iconic #1. One thing I would have liked to have done was to take the time to paint the whole candy cane white first and let it dry. But even though the paint does dry quickly, I didn’t want to test the Little Engineer’s patience before we’d even started to paint, and the ornament turned out well the way it is.
I got a paint palette for each color and turned them upside down. The bottoms had a bit of a lip around them, so I was able to make small pools of paint to dip Thomas’ wheels into.
At first, the Little Engineer mostly used Thomas as a stamp. It was interesting to see the pattern they made, two lines of elongated dots, just barely touching.
He used each of Thomas’ colors, and then we let it dry while we worked on our other ceramic objects. During that project, he mastered the art of first rolling Thomas’ wheels in the paint so they were covered with it all the way around, and then rolling his wheels over the ceramic pieces to make longer lines. So when we went back to paint the other side of the candy cane, he painted much longer stripes.
To finish it up, I painted over the word “CHINA” stamped on the side of the ornament with white paint, and then wrote his name and the year over that spot. And then we just had to hand it over to the people at the pottery shop and come back for it when it was ready, a week later.
It was so fun to go and pick up the finished product! It’s always interesting to see how the colors darken when the piece you painted is fired. The train wheels left thick lines of color, so they were much darker than a single coat of paint would normally be.
You can see the shorter, dottier lines he painted on the first side:
And the longer, more candy-cane-like stripes he painted on the other side:
All painted with his friend Thomas, in Thomas colors. But the beauty of this is that even though its definitely a fun ornament for a Thomas fan to make, it doesn’t scream “THOMAS THOMAS THOMAS!!!” once it’s on the tree.
I’ll have more tips in the post about our other train-painted ceramics project, so make sure to come back tomorrow to see what we made! It turned out to be a really lovely gift to make together for each other, celebrating five years of being a Mama and kiddo team.
If you liked this ornament, make sure to see our Felt Train Ornaments from the Kid-Made Christmas series from last year!
Kid-Made Ornaments Inspired by Children’s Books
Make sure you check out the other creative, kid-made ornaments in the 10 Days of a Kid-Made Christmas series! It’s so wonderful to see so many reminders of beloved children’s books going up on Christmas trees this year.
Today’s other ornaments are:
Elmer Ornament from Mama Miss
A Porcupine in a Pine Tree Ornament from Glittering Muffins
Mitten Christmas Ornament from Adventure in a Box