Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hallowe'en Comes Early!

I have a ton of action figures in the basement, displayed on Ikea bookshelves. One shelf had some of my Hallowe'en Barbies, but they were boxed and three deep on the shelf, so you couldn't see all of them. I got the idea to move them to the children's library (AKA, the guest room) and display them a little differently after I saw this blog post. I loved Valerie's idea of using props that are the right scale ("play scale" according to some Google searching), and decided that I needed a spooky tree for the witches. I had in my head an idea, and today I made it work. (Photo intensive!)

I forgot to take a photo of the first step, gathering a piece of dowel and a wire skeleton that had been a floral bush. Both things I had on hand, it just required me pulling the flowers off of the bush and taping them together. The dowel was even a good length without needing to be trimmed, because it was from another project already.

The dowel and the wire skeleton taped together, and all my gathered supplies.

Once I had those taped together, I wrapped the bottom part of the dowel in sheets of foam packing material, and pushed a toilet paper roll over the end.

Then I started layering newspaper around that, and pushed bent chenille stems into the cardboard tube. Those are going to be roots.

I wrapped the wire stems with more chenille stems, making branches.

It's about 32 inches tall.

I used newspaper to bulk up the base of the branches before I started taping them. The newspaper is also important because it enables the trunk and branches to be compressed (by squeezing them) after the tape is applied. This gives it a textured, wrinkled surface, looking more like bark.

I ended up using two different masking tapes, the second one being Scotch brand; the other brand wasn't sticking to itself very well. The Scotch masking tape did much better.

I added two more branches scavenged from more floral stems, because having branches only at the top looked weird. Once I had wrapped the entire tree -- branches and roots -- I used a twisted ring of newspaper to make a knothole on the trunk. The roots are reinforced with toothpicks, but it still doesn't sit quite level. I think I will probably glue a piece of balsa to the bottom to help it sit flat.

To show scale, with one of the dolls that will be part of the display.
I actually ended up cutting open the bottom and stuffing a couple of rocks into the cardboard tube, because it was really top-heavy. I haven't decided yet how I will color the tree, paint or stain or shoe polish... and I want to make "Spanish moss" with dyed cheesecloth to drape over the branches. (The guest room was supposed to be Mardi Gras inspired, so to keep it at least a little on topic, these witches are going to be in New Orleans, since NOLA also has a humongous Hallowe'en celebration.)

But it's mostly done; from concept to execution in one day. I even stained the wood shelves to match the bookcases that are in the library!

UPDATE #1: I did end up spray painting it flat black. I decided that while the shoe polish treatment does look cool (google: shoe polish masking tape), it's not the effect I want. So once this dries, I'm going to dry brush brownish-grey on the high spots. In the meantime, I need to hunt up some cheesecloth for the Spanish moss... I also need to do something about the base, because it really doesn't want to stand upright.

UPDATE #2: I added thin pieces of balsa to the base to help stabilize it. I also finished the detail painting I wanted to do, along with a little surprise.

Without flash

With flash

UPDATE #3: Cheesecloth moss is finished! I trimmed the "finished" edges off the strip of cheesecloth, because I wanted it to be ragged. I cut it into strips of varying lengths and widths, and played with the placement on the tree until I had what I felt were enough.

I used grey and yellow-green acrylic paint in quite a bit of water and added the strips. It wasn't enough pigment, though, so I added black paint and added the strips to the paint/water bath. I squeezed out the water, and patted the cheesecloth with a paper towel. There were some bits of paint that didn't get completely dissolved, and that left some darker spots on some of the strips. I used a tension rod in a doorway to hang the strips to dry. I could have dried them flat, but the paint stiffens the cloth; if I wanted them to hang over the branches, I needed to hang them from something.

They also wanted to curl into themselves, so I had to gently pull the strips back open. I didn't want it to be completely flat, though, because Spanish moss doesn't hang in a tidy sheet from the trees, either. Once the pieces were dry (didn't take long), I started putting them back on the tree. The color didn't have enough green in it, and the moss is a living thing, so I used the tip of a loaded brush to apply dots of the yellow-green randomly to the hanging strips, just like you might see on living moss.

True fact -- Spanish moss isn't moss at all. It's an angiosperm, and belongs to the same family as bromeliads.