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MODELING TREES WITH LEAVES
by Rick Reimer Photos by the author
Over the years the foliage of model trees has gotten more and more realistic. Instead of the dyed weeds and sawdust of yesteryear, most modelers today use lichen or ground foam. I believe the time has come for another step toward greater realism - trees with leaves. You could model the foliage of a tree leaf by leaf, but that is akin to producing your own styrene by first drilling for oil. All you have to do is find a way to convincingly model the texture of leaves - a mass of haphazardly oriented flat planes.
I have perfected, and sell through my company (Selkirk Scenery), a product that simulates this texture amazingly well. The Selkirk product called "Deciduous Foliage," when used with another called "Branch Netting," makes incredibly realistic looking trees that can be built quickly. The two large trees (one living, one dead) in the title photo took about 1 0 minutes each. The younger and smaller trees are even quicker - I can build one in less than 2 minutes.
I feel that if you can't build trees quickly there is no point in building them at all. The average sized layout can soak up thousands of trees, and if it takes an hour or two to build a tree then you'll soon give up. I'll go out on a limb here (sorry) and say that this probably leads to the most
common fault in model railway scenery
having too few trees. After reading this article, you should be able to build a veritable forest in short order - and make your "woodsy" scenes look the part.
Title photo: The author modeled these
large and small aspen trees using methods described in this article. He likes everything about this photo except the "contrail" in the sky. He wonders why you never see such things through the view finder, but only when your processed slides come back.
In the captions and illustrations that follow, I will demonstrate how to use the Selkirk products to model aspen trees whose leaves range from a medium green in the summer to a vibrant gold in autumn. I will show how you can make full-grown (12 to 14 inches tall), highly detailed aspens suitable for use in 0 scale, as well as smaller (2 to 8 inches tall) trees appropriate for use in HO scale, or as younger 0 scale trees.
Besides the materials illustrated in the photo, you will need glue, paint, and
tools. Be sure you have some white glue on hand. For paint, I use spray cans of
flat white, flat black, and dark brown. I also use a dark gray paint to
represent the markings on the tree trunks. For tools, you will need an xActo knife, a Dremel Tool with an assortment of small drill bits, some scissors, tweezers, and a small paintbrush.
Here are the materials I use to make both large and small aspens. At the bottom left are straight twigs for the tree trunks. To be really authentic you could use twigs from aspens, but any type of twig with fairly tight bark will do. Next to the twigs are stalks from a local weed that I use for the large trees branches. This weed is a species in the genus Potentilla, which usually goes by "Potentilla" as its common name also, but is sometimes called "cinquefoil." If you can't get Potentilla, you will need to find a comparable weed available in your area. Honeysuckle will work well, but just about any plant with a fine branch structure and woody stems should do. Just above the Potentilla sp. is fireweed, which I pick in the wild when it is dry. It makes armatures for the smaller trees. Named because it is often the first thing to appear after a forest fire, the fireweed I use has a tall stalk, 4 to 5 feet, and in summer has pinkish purple flowers along the top half. The best time to pick it is in late fall or early winter after the stalk is dry, and the flowers have gone to seed leaving only the long open seed pods that will eventually be- come branches of your model tree. This plant seems fitting to model aspens since both grow in roughly the same areas - from Alaska south through Canada into the Northwestern U.S. Here in Canada we call species in the genus Epilobium, "fireweed." Be aware, though, that there are other plants called "fireweed" growing in other parts of the world that mayor may not have the long thin pods that make such good branches. If you look around, however, you can probably find a weed in your area that will serve the purpose. To the right of the fireweed in the photo is a package of Selkirk's 1-inch Branch Netting, one containing Selkirk's Deciduous Foliage, and a can of 3M Super 77 spray adhesive.
Building a Full Grown 0 Scale Aspen Tree
Here are the four stages involved
in building a full-grown 0 scale aspen tree. On the left, a twig to form the trunk has been cut much longer than the tree's height to provide a handle. To the right of the bare trunk is a specimen to which the major branches have been added. Next to that is one with finer branches formed by the addition of Selkirk's Branch Netting. And last on the right is a finished aspen after Selkirk's Deciduous Foliage has been applied.
The figures and captions on this and the following pages give the steps in producing a finished tree.
Step 1: Preparing the Trunk
Real trees taper towards the top, so whittle the top third or so of your twig down to a blunt point. Make sure to leave a flat spot on the top so you can drill a hole in the end for the top- most branches.
Step 2: Building the Armature
Building the "armature" may be the most tedious part of making a tree, but it can be done while watching television. Affix each branch to the trunk by drilling a small hole all the way through the trunk; dipping a branch in white glue, and pushing the branch into the hole. Trim off the part that sticks out on the other side.
Drill one hole in the very top of the trunk so as to have one branch sticking straight up. (Leaves usually hide this joint, but for a sparse or dead tree you might want to use a bit of glue or putty to blend this branch into the top of the trunk.) Upper branches should slope upward and lower ones downward. A couple of small branches farther down the trunk represent dead branches typical of a prototype tree. The Branch Netting, added later on, will flesh out the tree, so don't apply too many branches. Five or six is plenty on a sparse tree; 10 to 15 are needed for a full one. Study your armature carefully, and trim off any branches that stick out too far from the rest of the tree. Photos of aspen trees in the winter, without leaves, make good references for building armatures, In fact, photos should be used throughout to ensure fidelity to the prototype. You would never attempt to build a specific freight car without a plan - so why a tree?
Step 3: Applying the Branch Netting and Painting
is easier to do than to explain. Spray the branches with some 3M Super 77 adhesive, grab a large clump of Netting and dab or brush it against the tree. Let whatever sticks to the tree remain - generally, the less, the better. Unlike the poly fiber that is used with ground foam,
Selkirk Branch Netting finds its own form and doesn't need to be stretched and teased, poked and prodded. After a few trees, you'll have an idea of how much to use - and how to use it. Applying netting should take just seconds, not minutes. The trick is to keep the tree looking very open and lacy. When the tree looks right, give it another light mist of the 3M Super 77 to make sure the Branch Netting is firmly attached. Other spray adhesives may work, but don't even attempt to use hair spray - it will cause you no end of grief.
With the Branch Netting in place, you are ready to add some color. Start by spraying the whole tree flat white. (I told you that extra long trunk would come in handy.) Then spray the branches with flat black. Go 3S close as you can to the trunk without getting black on it. Then lightly mist the outer tips of the branches with the dark brown spray paint. If you want to model a dead tree, spray some gray primer along with very light mists of black and brown and you're done.
Step 4: Adding Markings to the Trunk
This illustration shows the application of the typical dark markings on aspens to a naked trunk. However, the marks should be added after the tree has its branches, and has been painted. Apply the typical dark markings by "flicking" a "dry brush" that has a little dark gray paint on it across the trunk. Keep the marks irregularly shaped, and don't space them evenly. Aspen trunks have few marks near the top and progressively more near the bottom. The very bottom portion of an aspen trunk is almost entirely dark.
Step 5: Adding Leaves
This part is the most fun. First, spray your tree with the 3M Super 77 adhesive, but try to avoid get- ting any on the trunk. Then sprinkle on standard grade Selkirk's Deciduous Foliage. (For younger or smaller trees or for HO you will need the fine grade - check the instructions below.) I hold each tree horizontally, and rotate it while sprinkling the foliage along its side. This minimizes the number of "leaves" that fall on the trunk. On a real tree, most leaves tend to grow on the outer part, with fewer and fewer towards the center. Make sure that all the outer branches are well covered. You can even dab a clump of the Foliage into the tree to cover a bare spot. At the bottom of the leafy part of the tree, the branches are usually dead or dying. Use fewer leaves there.
Building an H0 Scale Aspen Tree
(or a Young 0 Scale Tree)
Here are the stages for building a smaller aspen from fireweed. On the left is the wild fireweed. Next to it is a specimen that has been trimmed back. In the middle, Branch Netting has been applied, and to the right is the tree that has been painted. Last on the right is the finished tree with foliage. Modelers that work in HO scale will like fireweed trees since they can produce copious amounts of "full size" trees in no time. Even in 0 scale, a sizeable aspen can be built from the bottom portion of a fireweed stalk. These little fireweed trees are also good for modeling dense clumps of scraggly aspen, which is how they often grow.
Step 1: The Armature
Here is how to get a tree shape out of raw fireweed. To create the tree armature, cut a length of fireweed or other suitable weed stalk, and strip the seed pods or other "branches" from the bottom part of the stalk. Fireweed stalks are hollow so you can stick a piece of wire up the whole length of the tree to reinforce it. (I only recommend this extra step if the trees get handled often such as on a portable module, or if they will be placed next to an aisle on a permanent layout, where they're likely to get bumped.)
Step 2: Trimming the Armature
Raw fireweed is too bushy.
The seed pods al-ways grow a little thicker than I like, so I snip some off, being careful not to cut through the trunk. Most of the length of each seed pod is also trimmed off. This may make the tree appear too sparse, but the Branch Netting added later will fill it out. Once you have an armature ready, the rest of the process is the same as for the large aspen trees, and is shown in the overview photo. ---
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Article was published in NGSL 1999, Volume24 Issue 6, and remains copyrighted, Presented here with their permission.
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