Stuart Holt-Tree Modelling

Part of ‘a Flavour of Scalefour North

Where do I start? What materials will I need? How will I go about it?

These are just some of the questions I asked myself when faced with the need to make upwards of 50 trees for my Kyle of Sutherland layout. Fortunately, Gordon and Maggie Gravatt started a tree making course at Pendon Museum in 2014, and after attending I continued to build on the techniques I learned. I now lead the “Make Trees The Pendon Way” weekend courses at Pendon Museum, and in this virtual demonstration I will give you a taster of what is covered.

The first thing to decide on is what are your requirements: perhaps some specimen trees in the foreground, groups of trees either just in front of or behind the railway line, and maybe trees of diminishing sizes further into the layout. On Kyle of Sutherland I made trees from 1 or 2 inches in height up to 12 inches or more, though the techniques I employed were broadly speaking the same.

Photo courtesy of Ian Harrison

“First choose your tree” – but keep it simple, and don’t try to make a very large tree at the beginning. Strangely, very small trees can be just as demanding, because they need to be very precise and economical in their construction to view well. This sycamore would make a good first tree, probably about 7 or 8 inches tall.

The woody structure of the tree is made out of florists wire and it is best at the outset to follow a template showing the number and position of wires. This is usually called an “armature”.

The armature is coated with one or more layers of Artex mixed with PVA and acrylic colouring to model the bark of the tree. And then the foliage is added, typically in the form of a mat impregnated with ground-up coloured foam from Woodland Scenics or Heki.

After checking the three-dimensional appearance of the armature, the teasing out and placing of small pieces of foliage at a time is carried out by reference to the template and a good photograph.  The first of the following examples is roughly modelled on the sycamore above, while an elm and a beech is also shown.

Negotiating these two key stages so the finished tree looks right comes with practice, and then your finished tree(s) can either be planted directly into a layout, or into scenic modules of various sizes (those above are approximately 4 inch squares) and with various numbers of trees according to location. At this stage you may also wish to add further ground cover to make them look more truly a part of the landscape.

Photographs, unless credited otherwise, are by Stuart Holt