Chapter 13 – 13/08/2007

Well, I’ve decided to hijack Adam’s corner this week, so I’ve got the old boy nicely bound and gagged. It wasn’t an easy task, mind you, what with him having an extra 20 or so kilos on me, but it’s the only way I could put in my two cents’ worth.

13-01No doubt by now you’ll have seen a few photos of the layout showing the trees we’ve thus far made. At the AMRA show this year, I took an opportunity (one of very few made available to me by the ever-wandering Adam – I still believe he was trying to impersonate David Copperfield) to have a chat to Brian Hutchison from Trackside Trees.

At an AMRA show a couple of years ago, I must’ve rolled in glue because I was stuck to his stand for a couple of hours learning how to make trees. I want to thank Brian for allowing me to share the techniques that make Trackside Trees so realistic.

13-02What you’ll need:
– Welding cable
– Sidecutters or scissors
– Solder & Soldering Iron (large trees)
– Selly’s “No More Gaps”
– Water
– 2 Paintbrushes & pallettes
– Acrylic paints
– Heki Micro Fleur in the colours of your choice
– Polystyrene or block of wood with pegs screwed in

Let’s get started…

13-03We use welding cable to make the armature for the trees, this you can pick up from BOC or the like. Welding cable is particularly useful for this exercise, as once you strip the housing, you are left with a bunch of very thin, uncoated copper wires. The amount of wire you use will depend on the size of tree you want.

When you work out what height you want your trees to be, allow an extra couple of inches on the wire you cut. Eg, if you want a tree to be 6 inches tall, cut your wire to 8 inches (for weeping willows, allow an extra third of the height). 13-04Remember, once you’ve started, you can always trim the wire to make it shorter, but you can’t stretch it to make it longer. As for the number of strands, you’ll have to judge that by eye, as it’ll depend on the thickness of the trunk you want to have. The first step is to take the wire and start twisting it from the base, working your way upwards. Once you are happy with the height of your main trunk, split the bunch of wire into two. You can either split it evenly, or make one thicker and one skinnier, depending on whether you want your tree reasonably symmetrical or a bit lopsided.

13-05Twist one bunch around the other one or two times to stabilise the split. As you go along, you need to keep splitting the branches in this same manner until you have only 3 or 4 (maximum 5) strands left per branch. Twist these a few times, and leave the excess wire separated.

13-06If you’re doing a gum tree, once you’ve done the entire armature, use side cutters or scissors to trim the separated excess wire to around half an inch in length. If you are doing any other type of trees (eg. bottle tree, weeping willow, oak etc) leave the excess wire to help form a base for the greenery, or in the case of the willow, to form the hanging branches.

13-07At this point, if you are doing a large tree, you will need to melt some solder into the armature to give it more stability, otherwise you will find your tree will end up sagging. You can do the same for smaller trees, but I find it’s not really necessary, and only slows down the process.

13-08Once you’ve completed the wire armature, you need to anchor the tree so that you can work hands free. I use either polystyrene or a block of wood with some pegs screwed in to stand the tree in.

The next thing to do is to try and make this wire contraption resemble a tree.

Squirt some Selly’s No More Gaps out onto a palette (my version of a paint palette is a plastic throw away plate or cup) and add a little bit of water to it. You don’t want it too runny (unless you wish to use one thousand and forty seven coats to get the job done) – about the texture of slightly melted peanut butter is great.
Using a paintbrush, apply the watered down Selly’s to the entire armature.

13-09I cover it from top to bottom, including the separated branch tips, as I find that the paint adheres to the Selly’s better than just the wire itself. If you want to fatten the tree up (especially if doing bottle trees etc) you can add another coat after about an hour, otherwise let the armature dry for a day before painting.

13-10The best paints I’ve found for this job are the tubes of Kaiser or Chromacryl paints that you can buy for around $2 or $3 per tube from a cheapie store like Crazy Clarks. But any acrylic paints will do the job. The colours to stock up on are black, white, and various greys, browns, tans, offwhites and greens.

13-11When painting, I squirt a little of each colour out (I use about 3 or 4 colours per tree, and choose the colours by the end result I wish to have – eg for gums I’d use light tan, white, grey and black or dark brown). I like to still see a distinction in the colours on the trunk, so when I “mix” the colours, I only do a couple of swirls with the brush between all colours (this I find especially effective on. However, you can mix them to your own liking.

13-12When applying paint to the tree, I ensure I don’t lose the distinction in the colours by doing as few strokes of the brush as possible to cover the white No More Gaps.
This is an especially useful technique for gum trees. If you wish to obtain a more uniform colour with less variation, you can mix the paint more, but be weary of mixing it up too much as it will look too bland.

13-13Once the paint is dry, we can start adding the foliage. I use Heki Flor
# 1550 (light green) for gum trees as it is very close to the real thing.

There are also other colours available that are suitable for Queensland:
# 1551 Middle Green
# 1552 Dark Green
# 1553 Pine Green
# 1554 Spring Green

13-14The Heki Flor foliage is the most realistic that I have found, as they are two-tone, meaning the hairs that hold the Flor together are darker than the main colour. This creates a beautiful realistic effect on the completed tree.

13-15To create your foliage, dab the branches with PVA glue before applying the Flor.
I apply the foliage in small patches for the gum trees, however when doing other types of trees you can also use one big patch of the Flor to cover the entire canopy in one go.

13-16Once the foliage is dry, you can sprinkle a bit of fine burnt grass material over the existing foliage, and set it in place with a bit of cheap hairspray. Best to do this outside, otherwise the fumes are quite nauseating.
When doing weeping willows, coat the long single strands of wire with PVA, then use the left over bits that have fallen off the Flor to create the effect of long branches with leaves.

13-17And there you have it. A beautiful, realistic tree to plant on your layout.

I guess I’d better release the old boy now.

Then again, the house is a lot quieter this way…..


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