Preparing for the overhaul...

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Rubber Tree--Part III

So this is it--the end of the rubber tree saga.  Hopefully you've found it interesting.  So I kept on with applying my leaves, slowly building up my tree and trimming each individual branch as I went.  I used the red leaves towards the edges of the branches--I don't know how realistic this is, as I haven't actually seen a rubber tree with red leaves in real life, but it looks glamorous.

As it turned out, I really had left quite a bit of room at the ends of the branches.  I trimmed a little at a time, slowly giving myself a feel for how the tree was "growing."  Overall, I'm glad I did it this way and think it made creating a natural shape probably easier than it would have otherwise been.  Once in awhile, I moved the position of a branch with my pliers.  Finally (see below) a real shape began to form and I trimmed off my remaining branches more or less to the correct length to give myself a feel for how and where to use my remaining leaves.  They go quickly!

 Finally, I had finished applying all my leaves.

I tried the plant out in situ--or what will be its future home, once the house is finished--to see if it fit there.  I decided that I was happy with the overall shape, and ready to progress to the next step.

The first thing I had to do, in terms of finish work, was the base.  It wasn't too terribly attractive at this point!  Now, I'd considered and discarded a variety of options for ground cover, eventually settling on moss.  I like moss.  I packed the rest of the pot with Paper Clay.  Now, if you're worried about shrinkage, you can let it dry overnight and then pack the edges around the shrinkage once it's dry.  I just went ahead with the next step, and figured I'd deal with shrinkage when I encountered it--which was the next morning.  I dealt with it by adding more moss around the edges.

I painted the still-wet Paper Clay with burnt umber acrylic paint.

I wanted my moss to have some character--real moss tends to get a bit lumpy--so I used glue that had texture.  But you, obviously, can use anything depending on the final result you want to achieve.  I applied little dabs of the glue with a tiny brush, spreading it around.  This is also a good time to touch up the trunks, etc if you need to.

I packed on my Woodland Scenics fine turf, then dusted it off gently.

Some catnip I grew for our cats, that they rejected.
Then it was time for the finishing touch: varnishing the leaves.  I mixed Ceramcoat gloss varnish with more of the same acrylic paints I'd used to make the initial glaze, focusing a little more on the yellow this time as opposed to the peach.  I tested my results out on a piece of white paper a few times, until I'd achieved the translucency I wanted.  Then, I began painting each leaf using a tiny brush (use a smaller brush than you think you need!--I learned this the hard way).  The brush strokes work great to emphasize the texture of the leaves, so stroke lightly from the inside vein out.  This takes a LONG time but is, in my opinion, well worth the effort--both in terms of color and texture.

Right now, the leaves are still kind of paper-ish looking and too blue.
The contrast between varnished and not varnished.
And then I was done.

Refreshingly, my son doesn't care.  He's very excited about having mastered this puzzle.  He'll be a year and a half old at the end of October.

So that's it, everyone.  A tree.  Thoughts?

Rubber Tree--Part II

Hi everyone!

This is part two of my rubber tree adventure.  I think "rubber tree" sounds so much sexier than ficus, don't you?  "Ficus" says stale, joyless office environment; "rubber tree" says Teddy Roosevelt and safaris.  And since this will ultimately be living in the Beacon Hill....  Anyway, I strongly suggest that if you're going to make this tree using the leaf sheet from Pepperwood Miniatures, as I've done here, that you purchase at least three packets of leaf sheets.  I used two, and found it barely sufficient to my needs.  And while I'm very happy with how my tree turned out, I would have liked to be able to be a bit less stodgy with my leaf usage--but, I had to conserve!

After I cut out all the leaves, I shaped them.  Same basic principle as before, with the peperomia, except rubber tree leaves are rather broad and flat and so need less coaxing.  I creased the stem line along the front of the leaf, encouraged the fold a bit with my fingers, then flipped it over and crimped the sides slightly to give each leaf some dimension and curl.

Un-shaped leaves.
A shaped leaf, from the back.
The same leaf, from the front.
Giving it a bit of a bend.
Now, as far as actually attaching the leaves, I'd been a bit intimidated by how to go about starting and then the answer occurred to me in the middle of the night whilst I was up with my son: start from the trunk and move outward, just as with a real tree!  Fabulous!  And rather depressingly obvious.  Here, I have my tree trunk ready to go and have laid out my leaves so I can get a good look at all of them as I work.  You know, selecting the right one for the job and all.

I then made two little tinfoil cups, putting tacky glue in one of them and superglue in the other.  First I dipped just the back end of the leaf, the underside where I'd be attaching it to the branch, in the tacky glue and then into the superglue, and then I pressed it into place.  I used toothpicks to help me get the angle I wanted and, later, when the tree became more effulgent, tweezers.

Now, if one examines a real rubber tree, one notices that the leaves grow out from the branches in a spiral pattern.  For the leaves pointing up at funny angles, I bent just the bottom edge of the leaf, just a millimeter or so if that, and used that bend as the fix point.  The glue is pretty forgiving; you have a few seconds to get it in the right spot and I found that this method produced quite sturdy results.  During the course of creating the whole plant, I only lost two leaves and both were easily reattached.  The leaves that had been properly attached the first time didn't budge, even when I (as you'll see later on) painted them over with varnish.

This is the point where I ran out of leaves.
I got to this point, not even to the fullest part of the tree, and realized that I was entirely out of the biggest leaves that the sheet provides.  I only had a few of the smaller ones left, which I'd planned to use near the top of the tree and at the edges of the branches where new growth peeps out.  So I was in a bit of a fix.  Luckily, I had a second set of sheets and could prepare that.  Which I did, over the next few days--school and other activities getting in the way somewhat.

So in the final part, I'll cover trimming and shaping the branches, developing the shape of the overall tree and, finally, how I made the leaves look--to my mind--more or less like leaves.  It's a bit tough to tell from these pictures, but as I began to reach what I felt like were the natural ends of the branches, keeping in mind the overall shape I wanted to develop, I shaped them slightly with pliers and trimmed them down with clippers.  Purchase high quality wire clippers!  Craft store wire clippers are for the birds, and have as much cutting power as the average plastic kazoo.  I tended to leave everything a bit loose until I'd begun shaping the upper branches, as I hadn't yet gotten a clear sense of what the overall tree would look like.

So until next time...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rubber Tree--Part I

So this is the first in what I realized was going to be a multi-post, epic description of how I made my first tree.  I really love mini trees, in particular, and wanted to make a couple for the house as well as the greenhouse.  I actually started out with a leaf sheet that I'd purchased, and wasn't totally happy with the directions; I felt like they wouldn't give me the results I was looking for.  So I disregarded them and did my own thing.

Below, this is the leaf sheet I purchased.  I actually ended up getting a couple, which is lucky because a sheet that was supposed to make multiple trees for me made about half a tree--not even.  Also, while I liked the pattern of the leaves themselves I wasn't wild about the color.  I'd looked at a few different variegated rubber trees, both online and in person, and they were a) less, um, variegated and b) more peachy/yellowy.  So I mixed a wash of Delta Ceramcoat "opaque yellow" and Americana "coral blush" and painted it over the leaves (after spraying them with matte fixative).  I painted the back of the sheet with Americana "green mist."

The sheet, as printed and purchased.
After one coat of the wash.
Drying in progress.  The partial kit came with two sheets, which were meant to be joined together.  I didn't really like that look, so I painted both separately.  I'll make a different, slightly different looking tree later with the other leaves.
I made this for dessert; just checking to see if you were paying attention.
I also made these to send to a friend who's having a hard time--peanut butter cake cookies.
After the sheets were dry, I started cutting the leaves out.
 Having painted in the white space, the edges of the leaves were now a little hard to see.  In some places, I just guessed.  The good news is, leaves have a lot of natural variations!  I amassed quite a large pile of leaves.  Because I'd kind of played it by ear in terms of darkening some areas of the sheet, lightening others, etc, I ended up with a pretty good variety in color and tone (I thought).

Candle jar tops make great paint cups.
My son, dining al fresco.
This halogen craft lamp was a great purchase.

As far as actually making the trunk of the tree, I was kind of at a loss.  Paper-wrapped wire looked pretty, and was what was recommended by the kit, but wasn't that workable--at least for me--and didn't give me really sturdy results.  So I scrapped that idea and instead twisted a bunch of 18 gauge floral wire together to make a tree shape.  I tinkered with it a little bit, pulling the individual wires out until I had an overall shape I liked.  The individual branches were still too long, but I wanted to wait to cut them down until I had a sense of how the leaves would attach.

I started trimming down the branches a little, but still left them too long on purpose.

Then, after I'd gotten a preliminary shape I more or less liked, I tried it out in the pot to see how it'd look.  Here, I'm using a Clive Brooker mossy pot from Greg Madl at Swan House.  I made sort of a "base" for the four separate trunks of the tree using Paper Clay.  It's not affixed to the pot, yet, but it's attached to itself.

Then the question became, how to make this look like a tree?  Just painting the wire would make it look...just like painted wire.  I mixed some burnt sienna with some maroon and mixed in a couple of tablespoon fulls of Woodland Scenics fine turf mix to give the "bark mixture" some texture and began to paint it on in thin coats.  Eventually, my "trunks" and "branches" began to develop a nice, gnarled appearance.  Some areas got extra coats, until the appearance of twisted wire was entirely gone.

After two thin coats on the base "trunks."
Drying in between coats on my desk.
Starting to develop that "gnarled," bark-ish appearance.
And that is part one.  Next time, I'll show you how I did the leaves.  Between finishing the trunk and starting the leaves, I glued my little base globule into the bottom of the pot, leaving the surface basically as you see it now--unattractive!  I let it rest overnight, to set, so the structure would be as sturdy as possible when I started attaching leaves.  Onward and upward...