Making Trees & Laying Ground Cover

Trees

Show numerous ways of making trees from DIY trees to tree kits from Woodland Scenics as well as showing completed trees from Woodland Scenics and Auscision.

DIY Trees:

Starting with DIY tree armatures made from sticks and twigs found in the great outdoors, to get the best results when making trees this way try to find twigs and small bushes that have very fine and detailed armatures. Salt Bush trees are a good example of this and can be found on the side of the road (there is a very large supply of salt bush on the way to Saint Kilda near the tram museum).

  • Start with a good armature
  • Next you can spray paint the tree to simulate the type of tree you’re trying to replicate
  • Lightly spray the tops of the branches with spray adhesive or cheap super strong hair spray
  • To add volume you can apply very fine wispy layer of poly fiber, white is the most common color however if you can find a dark green or brown like the ones from Woodland Scenics. If you use white then you’ll need to apply the poly fiber before painting the tree with spray paint.
  • Give the tree another coating of spray adhesive and sprinkle over your chosen course tuft (Woodland Scenics) I like to use medium green, try to avoid getting the course turf on the tree trunk.
  • Depending on how dense you want the foliage just repeat the process of spraying the tree with spray adhesive and add more layers of course turf.
  • As a final touch I give the tree one last spray of the spray adhesive and lightly sprinkle over some Woodland Scenics Fine Burnt Grass, Only from the top down as this gives the tree color depth and simulates light from the sun hitting the top of the tree
  • Now you just need to repeat this 500 times and you’ll have a nice little forest.

Woodland Scenics Kit:

It’s not always easy finding suitable tree armatures and sometimes you may find one style of natural tree only to realize when you return for more of the same type of tree armature they have mysteriously vanished from the face of the earth.

With the Woodland Scenics tree kits you don’t have to worry about inconsistency… You’ll always be able to find and replicate the exact trees you want, as an example if you’re modelling an apple orchid you’ll need plenty of trees all looking very similar.

  • Starting with the armature tidy up any flashing or loose bits of plastic
  • Next twist the tree around the trunk, hold the very bottom of the tree trunk and with the other hand hold somewhere near the top and twist. Depending on the type of armature you’re using you may want to have some pliers handy.
  • Now twist and bend each of the branches out to make a more natural tree shape.
  • You can also remove certain branches at this point as well if desired to have a more open sparse tree similar to a gum tree.

Next there are a couple of different directions you can take, one direction is similar to the method we used on the natural tree armature by applying poly fiber to fill out the tree and apply course turf over the top another method is explained here:

  • With the tree armature ready apply some Woodland Scenics Hobby Tac glue to the ends of each of the branches and allow it to dry for about 10 to 15 minutes or until it becomes clear (in cold environments it may take quite a long time to become clear)
  • Next simply press on to the branches some woodland scenics clump foliage

You can add additional layers of color by spraying lightly with spray adhesive and sprinkling fine turk burnt grass from the top down but just be aware the spray adhesive or hair spray may react with the hobby tack adhesive.

Wire Trees:

As you can see in a lot of the pre made trees on the shelf, a lot of them are made with a wire armature, this is just another way of creating the armature. The main reason for making your own wire tree armature is having the ability to make a custom sized tree that will fit perfectly into the scene you’ve created. You can make them as big or as small as you need and you’re not limited to the specific sizes in the WS tree kits or to the sizes and shapes of natural twigs you find outside.

Once you’ve created your tree armature it’s just a matter of coating the tree in a paste to hide the wires, I’ve used rubber latex for this as it is nice and thick which is perfect for filling in the gaps between the wires and it also remains flexible which allows you to bend and manipulate the branches even after everything has been finished.

Another way of making your own past is to use very fine powder (bicarb soda) or sawdust and mix that in with standard PVA glue to make a gloopy mixture, then apply that over the tree. It also remain semi flexible and often leaves a nice rough texture on the trunk.

​Fine Leaf Foliage:

Fine leaf foliage can be used in all sorts of different ways, you can pull it straight out of the package and do nothing else except plant it into your scene creating shrubs and small trees or, you can bunch multiple branches together creating large styles of bushes, you can also break off small branches and stick them individually to the Woodland Scenics Tree armatures creating a very realistic tree although it’s very time consuming!

I mostly use fine leaf foliage by breaking off small twigs and planting them into the scene creating small bushes randomly through the landscape but I also love using them to make highly detailed trees by applying small branches individually to the WS tree armatures.

Leaves:

There are some other products you can use to enhance the appearance of trees and they are ‘leaves’. They are used in a similar fashion to applying the burnt grass fine turf over the completed tree, basically once the tree has been finished you can spray it with some spray adhesive then sprinkle over a small amount of the ‘leaves’ to add a more realistic texture.

There are a few brands available, MP scenery products, Noch, Trremendous to name a few but a quick search online should give you a good idea of suppliers in your area.

​Hero Trees:

Hero trees are trees that look amazing, the problem with hero trees is they are often expensive (ie; the pre made commercial trees) or they take a very long time to make thus making many of them to fill a forest can either cost you an arm and a leg or you’ll be making trees for the rest of your life…

That doesn’t mean you should spend money on a some readymade trees or spend many hours making just one tree… it means you should plan to use such trees wisely, for example, if you have 3 hero trees don’t place them up the back of the layout where nobody will see them! Place them up front and center and put the average trees up the back.

If you’re making a forest of trees all you need is a few good trees at the front of the forest and then fill in the bulk of the forest with the quick homemade or the cheap ebay trees.

Ground Cover

We have slightly touched on ground cover already and that was the fine leaf foliage trees, the fine leaf foliage can be used as low lying bushes and weeds however we need to start a lot lower than that and gradually build up to adding bushes and weeds.

There are hundreds of products available but I have to say one of my favourites is static grass, it adds an amazing amount of realism to any scene when compared to using foam however foam still has its uses. There are many different brands of static grass but the one I prefer the most due to its range of color and length is MiniNature, they have some really good autumn colors which work really well for Australian scenes.

The only problem with static grass is that you’ll need a static grass applicator! They are not cheap but they are certainly worth their value in the long run, you also have the option of building one yourself which is a lot cheaper however you’ll need to have a good understanding of soldering and wiring. There are a number of videos online showing the steps involved in building your own.

  • The 1st Layer:
    Layer one starts with the base paint, I first paint a dirt brown layer of paint over everything that needs it. For the most part this base layer of paint won’t be seen at all because it will eventually be covered however you’re bound to miss a small spot of scenery and that last thing you want is to have a white spot of plaster showing through or a piece of plywood.
  • The 2nd Layer:
    The second layer is the texture layer, basically a layer of actual dirt from the garden sifted down to a very fine powder and 50% of grout is mixed in to get the color you want. Often dirt on its own will dry to be a very dark color once you apply the glue over the top and that’s why you’ll most likely need to add a light beige colored grout to give it that dry dirt appearance.

Before moving on to the third layer we need to fix down layer two and to do this you’ll need to know about wet water, alcohol and glue.

​Wet Water:

Wet Water is just a little bit of regular tap water mixed with a few drops of dish washing detergent, it breaks down the surface tension of the water giving it the ability to absorb into the dirt without beading up and rolling away. The reason we need to spray the area with wet water before applying the glue is because the glue has a very high surface tension that you can avoid and to assist the glue in penetrating and absorbing into the dirt we first apply the wet water.

Isopropyl Alcohol:

Alcohol is a substitute for wet water or vice versa, alcohol actually does a much better job than wet water however it’s often much more expensive. I usually purchase it in bulk as it tends to be a lot cheaper. A 5ltr bottle from Adelaide Moulding and Casting Supplies costs $45.

Glue:

To fix everything down permanently you’ll need to make a batch of glue that is thin enough to apply with through a spray bottle. It’s very easy to make however you can also purchase scenic cement pre made from Woodland Scenics.

To make your own you can use standard PVA glue mixed to a ratio of about 3:1, 3 parts water and 1 part glue and a few drops of dish washing detergent. I also use Mod Podge Matte mixed to the same ratio, mod podge matte tends to spray a little better than PVA glue through the spray however if you’re having trouble getting the PVA to spray you can dilute it with more water. Maybe try 4:1 or 5:1 ratios but just remember that the more you dilute the weaker it becomes.

So to secure the dirt/grout mixture mist the entire area with wet water/alcohol until the entire area is covered, you don’t want it to be so much that it’s pooling up but just enough so it looks damp. Next whilst it’s damp spray the area with the glue, again you don’t need it to pool up but it needs to be thoroughly covered, there should be a white tint over the area from the glue then just leave it to dry.

If you do end up having areas starting to pool up just use a paper towel to soak up the excess in those areas.

  • The 3rd Layer

    This is the layer that makes the biggest difference… The grass layer. In my case I will always choose to use static grass however if you don’t have a static grass applicator there are many other options.

    MiniNature sell a range of pre made static grass tufts and they also sell grass matts of all sorts that can be great as well but if you don’t want to go down the static grass route then you can always sprinkle over layers of Woodland Scenics Fine Turf. Using fine turf is done in a similar way to applying the dirt textured layer, just sprinkle it over the areas you want grass to be showing.

    Applying the static grass with a grass applicator couldn’t be easier, use a paint brush and dab on a very mildly watered down layer of PVA glue or Mod Podge in the areas you want grass to be applied, next press or hold the grounding clip that comes from the static grass applicator into the wet glue and then all you need to do is make sure the grass applicator is on and full of grass and simply shake it over the area. Try to avoid touching the bottom of the applicator whilst it’s on because you’ll likely get a small zap!

    Once that is done you’ll have a whole heap of excess grass that needs to be removed, this is best done with a vacuum cleaned and a sock. Place the sock over the vacuum cleaner nozzle and suck the excess grass into the sock, once you’re done remove the sock and shake the grass back into the container ready to be used on another area.
  • The 4th Layer & Beyond

    Now that we have our grass down it’s just a matter of adding color variation. I do this with a large range of Woodland Scenics Fine Turf and sprinkle patches of color throughout the area right over the top of the static grass, I’ll also use some dried leaves that I put through a blender and sift to add more layers of texture. I add Course Turf and Clump Foliage now as well to model the very low lying bushes and weeds.

    Basically this layer is anything you can think of adding that you might see out in nature like fallen branches and leaves on the ground, weeds, small bushes, shrubs and rubbish.

    Once you’re done with this layer, which makes up the bulk of the ground texture before adding trees, you can fix it all in place using the same steps we applied to glue down the dirt texture layer. For the larger pieces of clump foliage you’ll probably find misting glue over the area doesn’t really help at fixing down the larger pieces so you may need to apply the glue using an eye dropper directly on the bush or you can use a small amount of full strength PVA glue on the bottom of the clump.

Downloads:

Download the files associated with the project. All files are included in a zip for convenience.

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