This is the first step of making all the trees in my town: making an armature.
I start by taking some basic craft wire and folding it to make a long, skinny trunk. At the bottom, I flair out the wire in a few different directions to make the roots that will be peeking above the ground.
I take another piece of wire and weave it around the top a few times, then flair it outwards to make branches. I usually make between 4 and 6 main branches that the smaller branches will attach to later.
The good thing about using wire as a base is that it is very forgiving. You can mold it however you like, as much as you like, and it will hold the shape it is given.
After you have your wire base in the shape you want, wrap the whole thing in a ton of aluminum foil. It doesn’t have to be one continuous sheet; you can tear bits off to wrap around the branches.
This makes a mummified tree. I take the time here to work on the thickness of the tree in each spot – skinnier roots and branches, thicker trunk towards the ground. You can also continue to adjust the tree as you wrap it.
The next step is to roll out the polymer clay of your choice into a thin sheet. From the big sheet, tear off smaller, more manageable pieces, and begin to wrap your tree in clay. This is a similar process to the foil, but instead of adding bulk, you are adding a skin to it.
Once the tree is covered in clay, it’s time to focus on texture. For my trees, I use two steps to make a bark texture. The first step is to press real bark into the clay for a rough look.
Then I use tweezers to make more defined lines to mimic bark, especially where the branches and roots meet the trunk. The clay is very forgiving, so if you end up with a texture you don’t like, just smooth it out with your finger and try again.
Once the bark is looking bark-like enough for me, it’s time to bake. I set mine on wads of aluminum foil to cushion it while it bakes, preventing any disfiguration. Bake according to the directions for your poly clay – I use Kato clay, which is 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10-15 minutes. Each clay will have different instructions on the packaging.
After it’s baked, it’s all set. At this point, you can sand it, carve into it, and paint it to achieve the look you want. This last photo is pre-finishing, but you can check out the photos on my town page to see the type of finish I go for.
So now you may be wondering, “but why do the branches look so silly?”
I’ll answer that in my next post!