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Scratchbuilding trees

In the April 2011 FSM, Terry Young explains how he built his Battle of the Bulge diorama. Here's how you can create trees to use in your own diorama.
By Terry Young
Published: March 2, 2011
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Military modeling has always fascinated me. I was hooked as a child from my first glimpse of the dioramas in London's Imperial War Museum. Modeling quickly became my hobby, with an emphasis on World War II subjects.

A documentary about the Battle of the Bulge inspired me to build a 1/35 scale diorama of the 9th SS Panzer Division (Hohenstaufen) advancing on the Belgian town of Vielsalm on December 21, 1944. I wanted to show the difficulties encountered by the Germans: weather conditions, fuel shortages, and narrow roads clogged not only with German armor but also abandoned American vehicles. The diorama took me three years to build and includes figures, groundwork, a Panther, a StuG III, an M3 halftrack, a jeep, and other details including lots of trees. Here's how I create trees in all my dioramas.

I begin with plastic-coated garden wire. First, measure a length of wire four times the height of the finished tree. Fold the wire in half, then fold it in half two more times, 1. Cut the loops at both ends using wire cutters, 2. Next, fold the wires in half one more time, creating a loop at one end. Wrap one end of the wire around the other end, creating the tree's trunk. Then group the loose wires on the other end in pairs, wrap them together, and bend them into branches, 3. Next cut the bottom loop, 4, fan the wires out, and wrap them together to create the tree's roots, 5. I like to twist more wire around the tree's trunk to thicken it, 6. You can add more twigs by twisting pieces of wire around the trunk and bending the ends of them to shape next to the other branches.

Next, I coat the trunk with slightly-diluted white glue. Once the glue's dry, I generously apply a 1:1 mix of polyfiller and white glue to the trunk with a stiff brush. After the mixture dries for about 45 minutes, I press sandpaper onto the trunk and carve a crisscross pattern into it for the bark using a hobby knife.

After it is completely dry, I spray the tree with a dark gray acrylic aerosol primer and finish it with washes of black, burnt umber, and burnt sienna artist's oils. To get the best results, apply one wash immediately after the other, letting the different colors run into each other. For weathering, I selectively add a mix of Humbrol flat grass green and Humbrol flat yellow enamels.

My Battle of the Bulge diorama was a wintry scene, so I added only a few tarragon leaves to the trees. I painted over them with an orange-brown color.

I use the same wire method for creating the trunks of pine trees. When the paint is drying, I glue hanging basket moss onto the branches with white glue, then spray it liberally with diluted white glue using an old water spray bottle. Then I sprinkle the moss with dark green static grass and apply one more spray of diluted white glue to hold it all in place.

After the trees are dry, I fix them in place on the diorama using masking tape. Then I cover the trees' roots using Celluclay tinted with burnt umber artist acrylics. Once completely dry, this holds the trees firmly in place on the diorama.

Pick up the April issue of FineScale Modeler to learn more about Terry's impressive diorama.
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