Making trees for the High Line

Modeling anything in the Sierras or Rockies requires a lot of snowy conifers. I had a few 55-packs of Heki conifers on hand, however these are quite short. Nothing jumped out at me on ebay as being worth my money, so I set about making my own. After some more prolific googling I settled on sisal rope trees, rather than the more commonly used furnace filters technique; I just couldn't get the filters to look right.

I started by buying a metre of sisal rope from Mitre10 and some 22 gauge wire; I wanted thinner but that was the best they had. I figured if it was too chunky I'd use some stripped electrical wire.

The first step is to comb out the sisal rope; Rachel very kindly donated one of her many combs for the job.  I warned her it would never be the same again but she said she was willing to make the sacrifice! Oh for understanding partners!

This was combed till reasonable straight and chopped into approximately inch long chunks.

I then cut some wire to approximately twice the height of a tree, bent it in half, put the bottom of the V in the drill and spun it to make a trunk.

Fibers are then inserted. It helps if the two legs of the V are vertical so that your fibres go in horizontal, this stops them from falling out.

Then grip the top end firmly with a pair of pliers and rev the drill until the trunk is all twisted up. As you twist the trunk, the fibres will splay out and you end up with nice bushy tree.

Boom! 1x tree.

Rachel and I set up a bit of a production line in the lounge and soon had it down to 2 minutes a tree. Two hours later we never wanted to see sisal again, but we had a grand stack of 60 trees ready for trimming and painting!

Next step is to trim these into a tree shape. Before trimming I grip the trunk and brush all the fibres down towards my hand. This stops the tree from having that spooked-cat, hair-on-end look and instead we end up with realistic heavy looking limbs.

A quick encounter with the scissors and we end up with:

Then I attack it with some flat matt black spray paint:

Once dry it is given a quick trim again, and another brush down.

Then I mix up my "snow paint", a mixture of acrylic gel medium (used for giving paintings texture) and white acrylic paint, with a little water to thin it out. This curious recipe makes a good thick paint that goes on good and lumpy, looking just like lumps of snow. I then put a small amount on a large brush and brush from the top to the bottom of the tree. This picks up all the ends of the branches. In places I selectively load up branches where the snow would've gathered.

Once dry, the result is pretty convincing. You can see the effect of the lumpy paint mix.

Another trim and they're ready for planting. At the same time I gave my Heki trees a bit of a touch up; out of the packet their snow is a very dull gray and quite fluffy. So I brush them up with the snow-paint too so that they match my home grown trees.

60 trees isn't enough, but it's a very solid beginning. Combined with the 100+ pre-made Heki trees and my forest is starting to look quite promising.

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