Not much to report. There just isn’t a fast way to do the paperclay on the branches.
I wish I could be more informative on this part of the tutorial, but it really is just trial and error, and if you have some previous sculpting skill, like I do, that helps a lot.
So, to give you something to look at, here is a picture of the tools I’m using. The metal ones are wax carving tools. The big paddle is good for slapping paperclay on the big branches and for making the lines in the bark. The little one is better for maneuvering in small places. Wax sculpting tools are a bit hard to find, so if you don’t have any, you could probably get some good results with a plastic spoon or a palette knife. I also use the smallest knitting needles I can get as sculpting tools.
The paintbrush is an old cheap one with stiff bristles, so I’m using it to add texture to the smooth branches.
Finally, I recently received the silk velvet for the seat cushions and I’ve been dying to share it with someone. It’s so yummy! I ordered it from Silkfabric on Etsy, and I couldn’t be happier. I will probably be cursing it when I actually try to work with it, but right now I just can’t get over how pretty it is!
Sorry I’ve been on hiatus; real life attacked me.
First, I wanted to show you a picture of my setup. When I’m working on a relatively large, detailed project like this, I use an old lazy susan to keep my desk clean and to let me turn it without touching it. Furthermore, I find that after focusing on anything table-height for very long, my neck starts to hurt, so I use a big block of basswood to raise the project to my eye level.
So I’ve gotten the trees to the point where they’re ready for their actual faux bark skins. The trunk part of the tree will be covered in Sculptamold, a product made of instant paper mache and plaster of paris. I intended to make the bark texture using a technique I learned a while ago from my friend Mary West, but I made a mistake. You see, it’s a little tricky mixing the Sculptamold, and the first batch didn’t have enough water, so it dried out before I could get the texture done. Sooooo… I decided to do two of them that way (so everyone would think I did it on purpose) and do the texture on the other two.
Here’s how the texture works. It’s very simple. You just take an old fork (you can get them at the thrift store for cheap) and draw lines in the wet Sculptamold. Make all the lines going generally up and down, but make sure they aren’t perfectly straight. The next row can be a little off from parallel, and if you get one tine in an old row it’ll guide them along to look natural. The lumps in the product will make these organic-looking bumps and changes in the texture.
It looks really good when it’s done.
The other tricky thing about working with Sculptamold is that no matter how much product you mix up, you only have a few minutes to work with it before it sets. Plaster of paris hardens with a chemical reaction, so there’s no going back once it’s done. However, if you’re like me, it’s never a bad idea to have a pile of premade “stones” on hand for projects, so when I had too much leftover product and it started getting too stiff to use on the trees anymore, I just formed it up into lumps and let it harden. Later I’ll paint them and use them in other projects.
Next up: Paperclay on the upper branches. This is the fun part, where it really starts looking like something! Thanks for bearing with me.
Okay, I really wanted to show you a comparison between a throne with its branches posed and one that hasn’t been posed. Sometimes a detail like this makes the difference between a high-school quality craft project and a professional-quality art project. (Aaaand the unintentional TV sampling continues. That’s none other than Alton Brown, who is apparently so impressed by my trees that he’s trying to reach out of the TV to pet them.)
But how did this miraculous change occur, you might ask? Well, it’s simple. First I made sure each of the main branches made a subtle s-curve BOTH front-to-back and side-to-side. The front-to-back curve is vaguely similar to a chairback. Then I made each of the secondary and … uh… third … ary…? branches curve generally upwards and to the back. Then I fussed with them until they all looked right., making sure that none of the branches were flat in any dimension.
As you can see in this profile shot, all the branches are pointing backwards. This is not due to artistic sensibility so much as my Kid Delf, Cleo, who informed me that if she got her hair caught in any of the branches, she would kill me in my sleep. And I find it’s just easier to go along with her. O.O The point, though, is that you need to consider a sculpture like this from all angles.
And finally, my friend Caroline wanted a closeup of the branches, so here we are. Obviously, they’ll gain a lot of bulk as I add more layers, but it’s so fiddly adding stuff to them I probably won’t do any more layers than I really have to.
Now picture these branches with a leaf at the end of each twig. It’s going to look way cool.
Sorry for the radio silence, guys; the batteries in my camera died and I had some actual paying work, so it took me a while to find time to go out and get new batteries. But I’ve been busy and I think this project is coming along nicely.
I thought I would be clever by laying strips of fabric down over the wires to help the glue hold them solid. However, I’m not sure it actually helped at all. I failed to realize that Gorilla Glue isn’t actually sticky at first, so the fabric tried to fall off, and I got glue all over myself trying to put them back on, and it turned out they wouldn’t stay unless the whole project was upside down. Which made me really glad I hadn’t tried to apply papier mache to the bare tops of the bases while I waited for the glue to dry. Oh, and I also learned that hand sanitizer removes Gorilla Glue from skin, at least if you get to it before it dries.
Instead, I refurbished an old UFO while I waited. Came out kind of nice, I think. I’ve been reading the Doll Divas diorama archives, which apparently inspired me.
This project is finally starting to take on the right shapes. For the first time, I have the “forest” effect, even though none of the branches are posed yet.
Next I bulked out the trunks with crumpled newspaper and masking tape. (It just occurred to me that this post is giving you an unintentional sampling of my TV viewing habits. I swear that isn’t some kind of new-age crystals and ufos show in the background; I’m not sure what it is, but it’s probably Stargate SG1. Which I suppose could be considered a new-age crystal and ufo sort of show… okay, moving on…)
Then I covered the crumpled newspaper with masking tape, so it would be all smooth and neat. Later I covered the base with more papier mache. The trick to using the instant papier mache is to add just enough water. You want a consistency kind of like canned tuna fish. If it’s any wetter or drier, it’ll be harder to work with. You can actually get it pretty smooth if you work at it, but I need it to be lumpy and fibrous so it looks like real dirt.
Next up: posing the branches.
Since there’s no progress to report on my forest thrones, here are some other handmade doll chairs from DeviantArt.
I love this Tim-Burtonesque chair made of sticks and wood pulp.
This one is pretty basic, but it has a full tutorial with it.
And here’s a couch and a chair cleverly made out of cardboard boxes.
These branches. Are taking. FOREVER.
All twelve wire armatures are finished now, which took much longer than I expected, and now I’m covering them with masking tape. DHawkTX (and also on Deviantart), a friend over on the Den of Angels BJD board, where I’m cross-posting this series, suggested the masking tape to create a base for further papier mache details. I realized that would be like combining the first two steps I was going to do: coating in white glue and doing traditional papier mache over them. So I tried it and so far it’s working beautifully.
Except for the part where it takes forever.
I did get three branches done, though, so I put them on the chair so I could take a picture for you. I think part of the reason this step is being hard on my motivation is that I feel like the branches were prettier before I covered them with masking tape. But they couldn’t stay that way, so I just have to keep telling myself how cool this is going to look when it’s done.
(By the way, that strange shadow in the background is made up of my two cats, Empress and Soleil, who like to sprawl on the stair landing outside my attic sewing room, because if they find somewhere cozy in all the junk inside the sewing room, Mommy will shut them in for the night when she goes to bed. They don’t like that, for some reason.)
Each branch is attached by wrapping its tail around the dowel stem of the chair. I was going to wrap the tail all the way around in a circle, but it turns out that makes the branches too short, so instead it’s more like a C. Currently they’re only attached with masking tape, but when I’ve finished them all I’m going to glue the heck out of them. This is another possible failure point on the chair, so I’m going to make sure that those branches don’t budge a millimeter before I’m done.
If I live long enough to finish taping all the branches, that is. Don’t worry, I’ll be sure pass this project down to future generations so you’ll still get your blog updates.
After the branches are firmly attached, I still plan to use traditional papier mache to add at least one more layer, and then I’ll probably add details with the instant stuff, or if I have to, I’ll go and get some actual Paperclay. But I don’t want to, because that stuff always dries out before I use up the whole bag. Even when I keep it in the freezer. I wonder if Model Magic would be tough enough to get the job done?
Anyway, I’m going to keep plugging along and I’ll post again when I’ve got progress to show you. TTFN.
I have to confess that I’m worried about finishing this project. The above picture is a collection of my past, failed attempts at making trees. The stump is done enough to use in photo shoots, but if you pick it up you can see the soda can I used for an armature poking out from between the roots. It also shows the faux bark technique I’m planning to use here.
Anyway, the back of this chair is going to be made of tree branches, as though the chair was shaped out of a living tree. I wasn’t looking forward to doing the branches, because wire work is tedious and hard on my fingers. But anything this small will need a sturdy armature, so it has to start out in wire.
I cut the primary branches from aluminum fencing wire from the hardware store. I like this kind of wire because it’s cheap, it doesn’t corrode and it’s easy to bend with your hands but still strong enough to support most craft projects. Then I cut secondary branches from coated copper wire. It’s softer than the aluminum wire, but then, it’ll have less weight to support. I twisted them around the primary branch like in the above picture.
Then I did some more of them.
Then I added a second row of branches.
And then a third.
Remember what I said about wirework being tedious? It took an hour and a half to do all the branches, and then I still had to add the twigs. Two twigs for each of the secondary branches, plus three more on the primary branch. That comes out to 14-18 twigs per branch. Yeah, I know I’m insane. But look at the results:
The final throne will have three of these in sort of a fan pattern, like so:
I think it looks pretty good. These are very flat right now, but I’ll pose the branches more realistically before I coat them with papier mache. If I did that now I’d just mangle them while affixing them to the chairs.
In order to help the papier mache grip the wires, I’m going to coat them in white glue before I start covering them. I’m also concerned that they’ll be wiggly after I attach them to the base, but I think I have that covered too. Literally; I’m going to glue a strip of fabric over the wires under the seat of the chair, the better to hold them steady.
I hope this looks good enough to justify all the effort. I spent three hours working on this last night and I only finished four primary branches. I expect I’ll have another three hours to go before I finish the rest of them. ::sigh:: I just love wire work.
So, this conversation happened recently at my house:
Me: Honey, I need a drill.
Mr. Tea Rose: ….
Me: I mean, I have my Dremel and all, but I need your cordless one.
Him: Oh, I thought you meant–heh, never mind. It’s over here. <shows me where his cordless power drill is.>
Me: Honey, I need a screw.
Him: … You’re killing me.
Sooo….the papier mache on the saucers is almost completely dry, and there are no cracks and very little pulling away from the ceramic, so yay! Now we can move on to the next step.
I cut rough circles out of 1/4-inch foamcore for this step. The larger circles will be the seat of the chair, and the smaller circles are going to provide surface area for the glue to hold the chair to the saucer. I could claim the circles are rough and irregular because it will add to the natural look of the finished piece, but the reality is that my Xacto blade just wasn’t very sharp. Believe me, I wanted pretty circles if they were going to have their pictures taken.
After the above conversation, I persuaded Mr. Tea Rose to chop up a 1.25 inch dowel into lengths for the trunk of the tree. I only needed four, but apparently he was enjoying himself, because he cut the entire dowel up, and now I have eleven of them. Oh well, I was thinking about making a table anyway…
The circles need to be attached really solidly, so I had Mr. use his drill press (no comments please) to make pilot holes in each end of the dowel sections so I can attach the foamcore circles with drywall screws. What? Look, I asked him for wood screws, but we didn’t have any the right size. The fairy king can just pretend they’re wood screws. Or he can take it up with my husband.
Once the circles are screwed on, they are glued to the saucer bases. I’m a little anxious about this join; if any part of the chair fails, it’ll be here. You’ll have to pick the chair up by its stem or its back, which means all the weight of the saucer and the Sculptamold on top of it will be supported by this join. I seriously considered making my husband get out his masonry bit and drill a hole through each saucer so I could screw the dowel directly to the saucer, but I was afraid he might shatter some of the saucers in the process. In the end, I decided to go the easier route and hope it will work. I’ll make sure that the subsequent layers reinforce this join, too.
Now it’s starting to look like something! Not something particularly elegant, of course, but something. And, just for the record, that’s a different can of Diet Coke in the back.
For the base of my throne, I needed something heavy, round and very stable, so I picked up some ceramic saucers from the thrift store for less than a dollar each. I’m going to turn them over and glue the chair to the convex side of the saucer, then dress the surface with Sculptamold and put faux grass and stuff on it.
You might think I could leave the underside of the project alone, since no one will ever see it. Not so! I’ve been making art dolls for years now, and I can tell you from general experience that someone always picks it up and looks at the underpants. These saucers have a cheap K-mart pattern on them that will be totally incongruous with the top, so I’m going to cover them up.
I love instant papier mache for faux dirt. It has the perfect texture when it’s dry. So I covered the saucers with papier mache (Celluclay is the brand I happen to have. I think it comes in a different package now, though; I’ve had this one forever) underneath. Since this is an experiment, there are a couple of possible things that could go wrong here. One is that Celluclay shrinks a little when it dries, and since the saucer is not going to shrink with it, the papier mache might crack or even split down the middle. If that happens, I’ll have to fill in the cracks with more papier mache. The other problem is that ceramic dishes are designed to not stick to things, so it’s possible that even if the papier mache doesn’t crack, it might just pop right off the saucer when it’s dry. If that happens, though, I’ll hopefully be able to glue it back on again with Gorilla Glue. (There’s a website called Thistothat.com that helps you figure out what kind of glue to use in any situation. Every crafter should have it bookmarked…. though apparently I don’t, because I keep having to Google for it.)
Now for pictures. Above you can see the covered saucers, which kind of look like rough cement. Also pictured are the DVD remote (I thought My Neighbor Totoro was an appropriate viewing for this project) and, of course, the most important ingredient of all, Diet Coke, otherwise known as Artist Fuel, because this artist mainly runs on it.
When I get to the painting stage, I’ll paint this side dark brown/black and maybe add some threads for roots, or mushrooms, so it looks like underground. Then I’ll spray coat it like crazy and probably add some felt feet so it doesn’t scrape all the paint off anyway.
Wouldn’t it be cute to cover some more of these saucers and build great big mushrooms on them? Maybe I’ll have to try that next.
Really I should wear gloves when I do stuff like this. I’m not a kid anymore and my hands are getting dried out. But as I warned my husband when we got married, the messier my hands are, the happier I am. Besides, there’s always hand lotion.
Stay tuned, gentle reader, to find out if the papier mache did indeed crack.
Oh, and if you like projects like this one, check out Shelley Noble’s Halfland. I am a complete noob compared to her.
So, it’s January and the new year seems like a good time to start a crazy new project. Some friends asked me to show them how to do faux bark, and it gave me the idea to make some chairs that look like they were made from tree stumps or from live trees. I was going to do a full tutorial, but I think this project is too complicated. If you have any questions about my process, feel free to ask. This is the first time I’ve ever documented a project like this, so your input is welcome!
So, to start out, above you see my materials for the project. Materials include some thrift store saucers, instant paper mache, wooden dowels, foam core and wire. These aren’t all the ingredients, of course, but I’ll show the rest as I get to them. Mainly I’ve left out the fabric and stuffing for the cushion, because if I get them out now, they’ll get all dirty before I finish the messy part. If you think I could just get them out for the photo and put them away again, you obviously don’t know me very well.
Here’s a closer shot of my sketch. I’m not doing anything terribly creative with the shape of the chair; it’s basically just like a papasan chair, but with tree bark. The back in this sketch isn’t going to work though (I couldn’t figure out how to make a curved back), so I’m going to replace it with faux tree branches and leaves. Trust me, it’ll look cool. I think.
I’ll be making four of them total, so you’ll see duplicates in the photos. I might make more later, since my husband got carried away and cut the entire dowel rod up instead of just cutting the four rods I needed, lol. Now I have enough stuff to make eleven chairs.
Stay tuned for more updates.