Thursday, 21 November 2019

Making trees

When it comes to terrain it seems we can never have enough trees. Nothing brought that home to me more than when I embarked on the Malaya 1942 campaign for Chain of Command. I needed jungle, a lot of jungle and that meant a lot of trees.


At the time all of my trees were meant for a more European or North American setting and yet there was no reason why those same trees couldn't help populate my jungle tables. Despite setting off on a major jungle terrain build the European style trees still came in very useful.

If you follow the build for the jungle terrain at the link above you will see that most of the trees were pre-made and sourced through eBay. I made a few modifications to make them work the way I wanted but they were essentially already made for me. On the other hand my northern hemisphere trees were made myself and that's what I want to focus on in this post.

Here you can see a mix of tree types set up for one of the Malaya campaign games.


Here are the northern hemisphere trees in a French setting.


While those trees have served me well they were beginning to suffer from wear and regular use. In particular many had become detached from their bases and most had shed a lot of their foliage.



It was time to make repairs and rethink what to use for foliage. What follows is a sort of double tutorial on how I made the northern hemisphere trees with the main difference being between the two types of foliage. While these were made with 20mm in mind they are versatile enough for 28mm. After all a tall tree to a 20mm chap is a smaller tree for a 28mm man.

These particular trees are all built around the Woodland Scenics armatures which come in a variety of sizes and can be bought from model railway suppliers.


Don't be fooled by their two dimensional appearance when they come out of the packet. The arms of the trees can be bent into different shapes and the trunk can be twisted to create a fully three dimension shape.


Bitter experience has taught me that trees that are not mounted on a sufficiently wide base are not stable when gaming and have a nasty tendency to topple over at the slightest knock, so I base mine on ready-cut MDF coasters from a craft store.


The coasters themselves are a bit too uniform for my liking and so I use my Dremel rotary tool to sand down the edges to give them a less regular shape before adding texture. For these bases I've been using pre-coloured, ready mixed grout (an idea I borrowed from the excellent Wargaming with Silver Whistle blog, which is full of great terrain ideas). It is easy to apply and not only gives the uneven surface you would achieve using a filler, it has a rough textured finish much like a fine covering of sand.



Once dry they are given a base coat in a dark brown acrylic paint, then finished off with a dry brush in lighter shades.


The trunks and branches are painted before any foliage is applied. I normally use the same brown base colour as the groundwork and then give this a number of dry brushes using various shades of grey. The bases are then flocked.

The foliage will be attached to clumps of rubberised horsehair, a material used in making furniture padding. I don't believe they use actual horsehair any longer, so technically it is rubberised coconut fibre. For our purposes it is the same thing.



You need to be sure you cut out the shapes into rough round clumps and then pull and tease out the fibres to give them a more natural shape. Try to avoid any unnatural looking straight edges or cubes.


The foliage is a two stage process - glue the coconut fibre to the armatures of the tree in random clumps. I use a PVA glue for this. As the fibre has quite a natural colour I have not felt the need to paint it, but there's no reason why you couldn't at this stage. Once the glue is dry then it is time to apply the foliage. While I use a regular PVA glue to stick the coconut fibre to the armatures these glues will dry gloss. That doesn't matter for the first stage as the glue won't be visible, however it's a different matter for the foliage.

My initial foliage for the trees was an excellent looking leaf product from Noch. To avoid the gloss finish of PVA glue I used Woodland Scenics 'Scenic Glue' (S190) as this forms a good bond, but most importantly it dries matt. I applied this with a brush.

The key with tree foliage is to avoid a solid uniform colour and so I mixed up a selection of shades of green.


Finally, to help keep all the leaves in place I applied a generous coating of hair spray. In essence these sprays are a water based varnish and as they are designed to hold human hair in place there's no reason why it won't do the job here. You can pick up a no-name brand very cheaply from your local supermarket (incidentally if you have as little remaining hair as I do then there is no shame buying this yourself, after all, it couldn't possibly be for you).


I've found this an inexpensive way to produce a lot of trees and they have served me well in recent years. Here they are with some 28mm Perry American Riflemen from their AWI range:


Here they are on a table with 20mm miniatures:


So, as we've seen these are now in a need of repair and it seemed timely to reconsider what I use for foliage if the Noch leaves are going to have trouble staying attached.


I had acquired four tubs of Woodland Scenic's 'coarse turf' in several shades of green and had not found a use for them yet. It dawned on me that they might work very well for this project. While the density of the original Noch leaf foliage doesn't look too bad in these pictures the trees have taken on quite a sparse appearance to the naked eye and fail to make much impact on the table.


As with the leaf foliage used earlier I wanted to make sure that the tree colour didn't look too uniform and unnatural. I chose to work from a base of medium green coarse turf and become progressively lighter as I worked towards the top and outer beaches. Instead of brushing on scenic glue, this time I sprayed Woodland Scenics scenic cement. There's quite a big difference between 'scenic glue' and 'scenic cement' with the latter a much thinner liquid ideal for spraying. Although to be honest I don't think the Woodland Scenics sprayer is the best. In future I will look for something that can apply the glue in a finer mist, but for now it does the job.


With the glue sprayed on and still wet I applied the first layer of flock. While this gave good coverage, as expected the colour was very uniform (in these pictures it looks quite bright on the trees but to the naked eye it actually looks more like the colour as you see it in the container).



Once the glue had dried I repeated the process, but this time with light green coarse turf and only trying to apply it to the outer and top sections of each tree.



This worked well and broke up the colour nicely giving a more natural look. In some cases this was followed with a gentle dry brush of yellow-green paint over the top-most foliage and some of the outer leaves.


I then wanted to work on the bases and the first job was to put down a layer of flock.


When I was doing the jungle terrain build I found that using dried herbs helped create the look of fallen leaves and other natural debris, so I decided to repeat the process here but a little more sparingly than I had done with the jungle. Again, to break up the colours I mixed different herbs together.


Using a brush scenic cement was applied randomly to the base and the dried herbs sprinkled over it.




Lastly the whole tree and base were given a spray of scenic cement to help lock everything in place.



I'm pleased with the way the course turf has worked as foliage and equally pleased to have found a use for it. With several tree armatures, a quantity of rubberised fibre and some coarse turf left over I'm thinking my next terrain project might involve creating some unkempt hedgerows that could also work as bocage.


38 comments:

  1. Nice results Mark,visually they will make a great impacted on the gaming table
    cheers JOhn

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    1. Thanks John, I'm looking forward to getting these into use next week for our next Gembloux Gap game.

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  2. Great trees, lots of useful info here.

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  3. They look great. Mind you, I always like the look of your tables.

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    1. Thanks Carole, always nice to know that all the effort put into terrain is appreciated!

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    1. Thanks, you could say I took a leaf out of your book.

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  5. That's pretty much my plan.. I currently have about 200 armatures ready to go, but I am hoping to find some heavy washers to base on. I did however take a deep breath when I saw the pricing on some of the Scenics glues etc.. so I am going to experiment with rubber cement first, which is about 20% of the price.

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    1. I ran out of scenic cement but made up a batch of my own. If you dilute white glue (PVA) with water at a 1:3 ratio that also works. However a lot of PVA will dry glossy, so I ended up using Modge Podge Matte Medium, but any matt medium would do. Add a few drops of detergent to help break the surface tension and it sprays perfectly.

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  6. Thanks for sharing. I am going to have to save this for future reference.

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  7. A superb article Mark! Very interesting and useful too.
    Thanks
    Matt

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  8. Great trees, Mark :)

    Reminder to self - need to do some trees for myself...

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    1. Thanks Tamsin. Always great to have lots of trees, but quite the storage issue too. I've found once you're on a roll making them it's easy to make up quite a few.

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  9. Great tutorial on how to get trees looking very good. Everyone could use more trees on the table. 😀

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    1. Thanks Stew, yes, never enough trees, but then where to store them all?

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  10. Nice work, I find though that specific sprayer keeps getting blocked up and after awhile is impossible to clear.

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    1. Thanks John. I haven't had that problem yet but I do make sure I rinse it out thoroughly immediately after every use.

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  11. Thanks for the mention Mark.
    Great job with the trees and bases and I look forward to seeing the hedges.
    Cheers,
    Pat

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    1. No worries Pat, happy to give credit where it is due. Best of luck with the new terrain book, it looks like another winner. You're an inspiration to us all.

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  12. Very well done on these trees. Will make sure to use the one or other of your tips when I make some more trees for my own table.

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  13. These look great. I will use some of the tips. I have used the coarse turf to make some pine trees before and it worked quite well. I also sprinkled bright green foam flock over the top to act as a highlight, as an additional step which worked well.

    Do you think if you sprayed aerosol adhesive or scenic cement over the Noch leaves they would stay on better? They do look good.

    Also where did you get the rubberised fibre from?

    And can your next tutorial be on storing the trees?! ;)

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    1. You're right the leaves do look very good and I suspect the issue might be solved with better adhesive (and more of it!). I guess they're really designed for static model railways displays where movement and storage are not an issue. The fibre I sourced online but it was a while ago and I can't recall exactly where, probably eBay (I do recall that it came from a UK supplier). As for storing them, they are just in stackable plastic tubs (to maintain domestic harmony I have turned the storage of wargaming minis and terrain into a fine art and should probably do a blog post on just that LOL!)

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    2. Cheers, yes I was joking a bit about the storage but trees are one thing I can't find a great solution for (I just put them in storage tubs in the shed, but they are thing most likely to break out of all my collection).

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  14. Thanks for a very informative how-to, Mark. Spending time on these is well worthwhile as they suit most Wargaming periods. Gerry

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  15. Cool trees.
    I base some of my vegetation in clumps or copses with their canopy foliage crowded together. This gives a more stable base, and works particularly well for depicting more dense or naturalistic forested areas.
    Often in nature, a single standing tree will, through bird activity, start to aquire other smaller trees around it's base, and mimicking this tendency can add a extra layer of realism.
    I also overcome a rather pinched purse by using 'natural resourse'. For example most of my tree and shrub armatures are sourced by uprooting specimens of 'Senna pendula', an exotic weed that proloferates in my area. The base and roots of this shrub, when inverted, can make a very realistic representation of a tree's branch structure with a complexity that is hard to replicate. A coat of varnish, and a some spray adhesive, apply foliage/flock then fixative and voila, instant trees ready to base, for a fraction of the cost of shop bought items.
    The drawback disclaimer is that, being natural materials, there is not only probably a shorter shelf life and the risk of them carrying pests (eg termites and borers) so you may want to initially disinfect by dipping your 'senna armitures' in boiling water.

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    1. Agree, clumps of trees are definitely more natural, but I guess we need to strike the balance between their appearance and their ability to function on a gaming table. For my jungle terrain you will see I went down the path of creating more clumps of trees and vegetation to get the desired density. Although every now and then I find the odd Japanese or Australian figure ‘lost’ in a terrain piece. I live in Sydney and we have a place on the NSW south coast so I’ll keep an eye out for some cassia and try out your method.

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    2. Happy to help. Cassia that is growing in sandy or swampy soil is the easiest to uproot, and the root structure tends to be reflected above ground, so the straight symmetrical specimens will tend to have straight symmetrical root systems.

      I live on mid north coast NSW, and just started getting into chain of command (using 1/72) before the Rona-rat closed things down. Your blog provides some fantastic ideas and been invaluable in helping me maintain project momentum during the hiatus, so many thanks.
      Hope we can roll some dice and push some plastic when things get back to normal.

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    3. My daughter lives in Nambucca, are you far from there? I don’t visit that often, but get up there from time to time.

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    4. I live about half an hour north of Nambucca, and do most of my gaming about half an hour north of where I live (a mate's shed near Woolgoolga.
      If you wanted to take a diversionary trip next time you visited your daughter I would be happy to accommodate.
      I can be contacted at corvusboreus@gmail.com

      Ps,my given name is Ewan, by the way,'corvus' is just an alias of affectation.

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  16. Great stuff, doing some myself at the moment

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