Monday, April 17, 2017

Tutorial: Tree Making II

The ability to make scenic trees (and in bulk) is one that is shared by both railway enthusiasts and war gamers alike. I have personally been making trees for the hobby for decades. One of the most famous methods is to use lengths of wire and to twist them in to tree like shapes before coating them in some kind of putty or filler. The full details of that tutorial can be found here

Today, I wanted to share with you all a tutorial for a different type of tree. This is a method that I've only just refined for myself after a bit of experimenting around with various different techniques. I wanted to try to create a new type of tree that looked physically different to the wire mesh approach that I am very much used to. The other factor is that wire mesh trees - whilst they look fantastic when done well - can be fragile in transportation (or at least deformable if they're not packed away well). Hence I wanted to try to create something a bit more robust. Plus a type of tree that would do a bit more line of sight blocking if at all possible. This is what I've come up with -- a chunky tree that really does block lines of sight, and is relatively simple to construct in large batches at once.

The ingredient list is straight forward enough:
* a large sponge (the type that you might buy for washing a car for instance);
* filler (I've used a very light-weight variation to ensure that carriage is not heavy);
* 32mm bases (you can use anything you like really);
* wooden sticks (I bought a very long length cylindrical rod and sawed it up in to heights between 5cm and 15cm);
* metal washers (inner radius to suit the wooden sticks / dowels, above);
* PVA glue and some paint.

The first step is to take the wooden dowels or wooden sticks and to sharpen one of their ends. I used a standard pencil sharpener for this. Using a knife to whittle it to a point also works. The point does not have to be sharp -- in fact, it preferably should be rather blunt if I'm honest. 

That done, glue a washer on to one of the bases and then glue upright the sharpened sticks in the middle of the washer, as depicted in the image. 

The washer is really there to give the structure some weighted stability and a low centre of mass. The downside of this is that the washer and the lower part of the stick really doesn't look much like a tree at this point. 

Hence the next step is to create something a bit more trunk like for the lower part of the tree. This is done by using the filler and drawing it up the wooden stick using finger tips to create a rough appearance and some potential root-like systems showing through. 

At this point, it is really important to leave this structure to dry out completely. Overnight preferably.

Whilst the main tree trunk is drying, the foliage can be prepared. This is done by slicing up the sponge in to rough circles. Make sure the height of the slice is no more than 2cm, and then make some incisions around the edges to create a rough and random appearance. 

Next is the very messy step. Take the PVA glue and pour some in a plastic container. In the image below, I've used an old margarine tub to do this in. Mix in to the PVA some water -- I find that roughly 2 parts PVA to 1 part water works nicely, as does a 50-50 mixture. Add to the mixture some paint. The paint may not (and need not) dissolve fully, but that works nicely to coat the cut up sponge in to a variety of different colours. I've used greens, brown, and splotches of red and black to boot. 

Dip the sponge in to the PVA, water and paint mixture. I've used a very attractive rubber glove to do this with as can be seen in the pictures. Wring the sponge out as much as possible, but do try to retain a good amount of PVA and colour in the soaked sponge.

Repeat lots of times and leave the sponges to dry out. Overnight preferably! Note, this will create quite a stink when drying out, so if you live with other people, at least warn them, or do it on a day / night when they're out. Just saying. 

In the image below, a variety of dried out sponges can be seen. They've all been hacked in to odd looking shapes (roughly circular though) and a variety of colours. I've also kept some of the notches that I've hacked out of the circles to use as the top of the trees (see the centre of the image). 

Once dried out, push the cut up sponge segments down on to the sharpened sticks. Glue them in to place with more PVA glue. Layer up two or three different sponge slices on to the sharpened sticks and rotate them to an aesthetically pleasing angle. Try to match up the lighter and darker colours on single trees so that they look more natural. Top off the tip of the tree with one of the smaller slices to disguise the sharpened tip of the wooden stick. 

Leave the PVA to dry and you should have something like in the picture below. 

The only thing left to do is paint the lower reaches of the tree. I've used a brown base coat (its actually textured paint) and then just dry brushed with a lighter brown colour to give the appearance of the final tree trunk.

Done a few times over and you will end up with a small copse of trees or a mini-forest. The clear advantage of this approach is that these trees are nowhere near as delicate as the wire mesh approach. From a distance, they look fine. Close up, I'll be the first to admit they can look `blocky' if you've aligned them too well, or don't have enough variation in the sponges. Yet, they will look good on almost any battlefield that calls for trees and foliage for cover saves. 


WestRider said...

You could break up the blocky appearance further by adding more PVA and then some clumps of foliage/brush (e.g. Woodland Scenics), and then giving the rest a layer of some turf.

Russ said...

While less realistic looking than other trees I havery seen, let me applaud you for an inventive new look. These are also the most practical gaming trees I've seen as they can be clumped, moved around or even dropped without worrying about breakages. We'll done. As a side comment, they remind me of Minecraft trees a bit ^_^

jabberjabber said...

Yes -- they are super durable in comparison to other tree making methods.

And yes, there is something mine craft about them!

The idea of adding some flock did occur to me. I might do the next batch like that, but flock does tend to detach more frequently than I might otherwise like. Plus, who's to say that on some planet somewhere in the Imperium the trees haven't evolved to grow like this anyway? ;)

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