Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Sippin' Swamp Diorama - Part 4 - Can't See the Swamp for the Trees

I need somewhere between six and ten trees, so I'll do that tonight since I can't cut wood.  I'll start with on of the forward trees. 

 The first thing I ALWAYS do before starting a model is study the prototype.  I've made lots of cypress trees, so all I need is a refresher.  On my computer is a databank with about 300 pictures of cypress trees.  On my handy laptop I'll just scroll through them as I set up the shop.

 Next I'll get out my hand carving station.  I built this some time back and use it as a portable tree and stump making station.
 The turntable sits on the larger part of the station.  This is a two piece unit that I got from one of the big general hobby stores.

 We'll attach the tree making base to the turn table.  It is just a small board with 1/8th inch holes drilled into it and held on by a clamp.

 I keep a box with all the clay tools and I'll dump them out onto the felt containment area.  These are clay working tools that I either bought, took from the dentist's office or fashioned for myself.

 Then we need supplies.  That is easy.  I have a 10 pound school size bar of Primo white polymer clay and some 1/8th inch diameter wooden dowels.

 I put a piece of aluminum foil down to keep the clay from sticking to the wood.  Then all insert a 14.5 inch dowel into the hole.

 You may have to sharpen the dowel to get it in.  I put mine about 1/2" into the hole.  It should be firm, but not stuck.

 Next I'll color 1/2" of the top of the dowel red.  This is my holding point and also the point that fits into the holder for oven backing.  We'll build up to that but not over it.

 Once I found my tree, then I'll print a copy of it out in color and stick it on the workbench where I can see it.  I'll study it to make sure I get the feel for the tree.

 Here is the tree.  Click on the photo to open it up.  This is a more bizarre tree than most and perfect for a foreground tree.  I love the deep and dark opening at the base.  Makes you feel like something is in there...

 As I carve I'll keep the parade of trees video going.

 When you open up the clay it is very stiff.  You have to knead it for a while to make it pliable.  This is something you should do before you start.  Normally I tell my daughter that we are going to play with clay for an hour and that usually does the trick.

 I roll the clay out into a "snake."  This is about a 1/2" diameter snake as the tree I'm making is large.  This will be the main trunk of the tree.

 Taking a SHARP hobby knife, cut the clay 'snake' like a hot dog bun, about 3/4 of the way through.  It should remain ONE PIECE.

 Take the sliced bar and open it up a little, then fold it around the main dowel.  I started about 2-3 inches high because I'm going to add a skirt to this tree.  Using your fingers, seal the tree trunk clay.

 I made a flat piece of clay, and using the photo, made a hollow tree skirt.  Don't worry about the dowel for the moment.  Once we bake the tree and it is good and strong, we'll cut out the dowel.

 Next I'll make some thin rods of clay.  We'll use these for the buttresses on the tree.

 What was that little cup for?  Why, for storing the extra little pieces of clay that come and go as you are building.

 Using the thin rods of clay I stretch and break them then apply them to the base.

 Here you can see the tree taking shape.

 Using a stainless steel shaping tool, I scrape the clay to make the short clay pieces fold into the tree base.  This takes time and patience but is easy to do.

 I'll grab a brass bristle brush and scrape the tree with it.  This gives it the low profile texture that you see on a cypress tree.  I'll also put some nicks and cuts in the tree with a hobby knife.

Looking good!  It is leaning a bit, but that is ok.  We can straighten it when we bake it.  The tree is done and ready to bake in 45 minutes.  I'll finish the other tree bodies this week and we'll bake them over the weekend.

That is all for tonight!  Have a good day!


  1. In a previous post you mentioned your daughter had become your photographer-- what a neat way to keep her interested yet out of the way! Get her able to take those photos of you doing something that really needs 2 hands and you've got something a lot better than a foot switch/bulb release! And especially nice if she has a good eye for framing a scene!
    --Paul E Musselman

  2. I want her to learn and participate, but I don't want her handling blades and solvents yet. She likes to take pix and has her own camera and she has a good eye, so it works well and we can be togther having fun.

    Thanks for all your comments, Paul! I love your insites and ideas!


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