Painting Instructions: Cottonwood Bark Santa


Painting Instructions: Cottonwood Bark Santa


Step-by-step instructions to paint this holiday favorite

By Rick Jensen

Many carvers struggle with painting. Here are more detailed instructions with step-by-step photos showing how I paint the Santa.

Finishing the carving After the paint has dried, seal the piece with a few light coats of spray lacquer, allowing the finish to dry for about five minutes between coats. Avoid getting the lacquer on the natural bark. The goal is to create an even sheen on the piece when the lacquer is dry. Then, tone down the gloss with a matte spray finish. Use a brush to apply a mixture of equal parts Watco light finishing wax and Watco dark finishing wax. Allow it to sit for five minutes, and then use the brush to remove the excess; wipe the brush off on a shop towel. Leave some wax in the grooves to create depth and dimension. Allow the wax to dry for a few minutes and then buff it to a soft glow. I use a Muffer Buffer polishing brush in a rotary tool.


1. Apply the basecoat to the face. Use Delta Ceramcoat medium flesh tone as a basecoat on the face. Thin the paint on the pallet with water to make it flow well. Paint the entire face, the lips, and the tongue. Use Delta Ceramcoat red iron oxide to add the blush to the cheeks, the lips, and the tongue. Use a hair dryer to dry the paint quickly.



22. Basecoat the eyes and hair. Thin Delta Ceramcoat ivory with a small amount of flow medium. Use a small brush to paint the entire eye white. Mix ivory with black to create a medium grey, and thin it slightly with water. Apply the mixture to the hair, beard, mustache, and eyebrows.



33. Paint the hat. Thin ivory with water and apply it to the pompom and fur trim. Thin Delta Ceramcoat Mendocino red slightly with water. Paint the hat red.




44. Dry-brush the beard, mustache, hair, and eyebrows. Pick up a little undiluted ivory on a flat brush and stroke the brush against a paper towel to work the paint up into the brush. Then, lightly stroke the brush across the high points of the beard, mustache, hair, and eyebrows.



55. Paint the eyes. Thin black with flow medium. Paint the entire right half of each eye black. Dry it with a hair dryer. Paint the irises blue. I use Delta Ceramcoat liberty blue thinned with a small bit of flow medium. Cut the end off a toothpick. Dip it into the white paint once time, and apply the highlight dot. Wipe off the paint, dip the toothpick into the paint one time, and apply the highlight dot to the other eye.



  • Acrylic paint, such as Delta Ceramcoat: medium flesh, red iron oxide, ivory, black, Mendocino red, liberty blue
  • Flow medium
  • Spray lacquer
  • Matte spray finish
  • Watco finishing wax: light, dark


  • Paintbrushes: assorted
  • Muffer Buffer polishing brush (available from The Woodcraft Shop) materials & tools
The author used these products for the project. Substitute your choice of brands, tools, and materials as desired

Rick JensenRick Jensen of Crookston, Minn., is a popular carver and instructor. With Jack A. Williams, he co-authored The Illustrated Guide to Carving Tree Bark, and his work was featured in Carving Found Wood by Vic Hood and Jack A. Willliams. Contact Rick at or 218-281-5107



The 2014 Holiday issue of Woodcarving Illustrated is now available. This issue is packed with projects, how-tos, patterns, and more.

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