Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Scratch Building Trees: the Leaves and the Lichens

Continuing on from Monday’s post on sculpting roots and base details, today I want to share my new approaches to painting up and adding the foliage to our scratch built trees. 

I started out by priming gray, which saves a little bit of time because then I don't have to worry too much about coverage when I go to paint the tree boles. But any old primer will do, of course. 

The ground gets a treatment of chocolate brown, and the trees are base coated in a mixture of brown, green, and black. The ratio is something like 2:2:1, though I wasn't precise at all. I just mixed and added until I got a coolish, darkish, brownish green. The rocks, I just leave primer grey.

Now it's dry-brushing time. For this, I just add white incrementally to the base coats and give diminishing layers of zenithal highlights. You know, the usual.

When I know I have a lot of drybrushing of which I will inevitably get bored, I make sure to have some prep-work handy to rest my hand with:

After the drybrushing, it is now time for the mushrooms. I start by mixing an orangy kind of brown, similar to a flesh base.

I then highlight using thinned paints in layers up to a creamy yellowish white.

Once the mushrooms are done, I go in on the puddles. I've been using purples for these, which I understand may seem like a weird choice. The idea is that the puddles are reflecting a roiling, stormy sky - the kind which hangs over the Wyrdwold more and more during these days of the Derkening. But you should use whatever colors/methods fit your theme.

You can see above on the right how I start with a base of lightened purple. Then on the left you can see how, while the base is still wet, I go in with a couple of even lighter purples (I have them pre-mixed on the wet palette) and swirl them around a little to represent the roiling clouds. It only takes a light touch. It's important not to overwork the paint because then you'll just mix it all into a uniform purple and lose the swirls.

To finish off the puddles, I hit them with a little of the old Winsor & Newton Ultramarine ink (above). Then after varnishing, to complete the liquid effect, I will add some Triple Thick Gloss Glaze over the top. This stuff is magical, and great for any kind of shallow water effect. It doesn't flow the way a lot of water effects do, which means you don't need to worry about it running everywhere. You just brush it on. Not too pricey either, especially if you're the kind of person who gets coupons from Michael's (I do. It's where I get the craft paints I use for everything.)

Finally, I add some green and yellow washes, applied irregularly, to finish off the base. I've found here that it looks best to apply the green first, and then go and apply the yellow in the middle of the wet puddle of green. It will spread naturally in a very visually satisfying way.

Now I promised foliage, so you will have foliage. If you are anything like me, this is the whole reason you are here. It is easily the most difficult part of the tree making process, and this method is no exception. It is sticky and difficult and awkward. So much so that I couldn't take any pictures of the process. But don't worry, it's pretty straight forward and definitely worth it. But also sticky.

To represent the masses of tiny branches, I used a packet of assorted dried lichens I got from Michael's for about $4. These came in green and white. If I were to do it again, I would get the packet of all green lichens, because I find them more convincing now that they're actually on the tree. You want to select the biggest clumps with the smallest branchings so that you can 'skewer' it on the desired branch.

For the foliage, I decided to abandon my home-made, tea leaf variety. This tough decision was made in about .5 seconds when I saw that the local art supply store (Blick) carries packets of woodland scenics ground foam for about $3 each. I got one light green, one dark green and called it a day.

You want to use the tackiest glue you have, because you will need a lot of it and a lot of hold, and you don't want it to drip. I didn't have any tacky glue, so I had to settle for spot-gluing the lichens to the branches with superglue, prying my stupid fingers off the tree while praying not to take any paint with them, and then going back in with loads of PVA. You can avoid this mess by having a really tacky glue. Or, better yet, you cold use a hot glue gun to tack the lichens in place before going back in with some tacky glue.

Once the lichens are in place, let them dry. I mean DON'T TOUCH THEM. Just walk away, it's not worth the heartbreak. Believe me.

Once they are fully dry, I just dip each lichen clump a bit at a time into some watered down PVA, and then dip them in a little pile of mixed ground foam. Shake off the extra, and let dry again.

Finally, go back and brush some more pva over the foliage clusters, for extra hold. Once that's dry, varnish them and you're done! Throw 'em on the table with some Wealdsy-Aelfs and have a game.

That's that. I hope people find this even more helpful than my original tutorial series on the subject. Let me know whether you do in the comments below. I recommend tacking your comments in there with some hot glue and then slathering the whole thing in PVA. It's almost easier to just grow the damn things.


  1. great results. Seriously those trees look really good. Congrats

  2. I can't wait to get these trees on the battlefield!

    Have you ever used scenic cement from Woodland Scenics? It's basically watered down PVA, but nice and thin so you can put it in a small spray bottle (or squirt gun?!) and apply it to your terrain. I have some I can show you next time you're over for a game.

  3. Hi!

    I just spotted this article! Utterly fantastic result and properly Old school looking too! the trees wouldn't look out of place in a John Blanche or John Howe illustration!

    I am going to have to totally steal the idea now!

    All the best!

  4. Wow, these are really great. Very old school, in all the right ways.

    Similarly to Space Cow Smith, these would fit in well in one of the diorama shots from the Realms of Chaos books.

  5. Thank you both for the kind words! I'm quite flattered.