I found some old wire in my garage last week and for some reason decided to start twisting it into tree shapes. The results have actually been reasonably good and I've gone on to make quite a few of them now and thought I would post a brief how-to guide here. I apologise in advance for the quality of some of the photos, its a skill I havent mastered yet.
First up is the wire I used. I had two different thicknesses. The one on the left is fairly solid basically No. 8 fencing wire sort of stuff which I used for the tree trunks. The other stuff is much thinner and better suited for the branches. Not sure how much No.8 costs, but you can pick up two good lengths of the thinner stuff from the $2 Shop for, you guessed it, $2.
The modelling plaster is also pretty cheap. There are a wide variety of types available from Toystores and Stationary outlets. Some are designed to be dryed in a standard kitchen oven, but the one I choose air-drys. It was also cheaper at $5 for a 500g packet.
The clay is really easy to use you can just rip off a chunk of what you need by hand. It drys overnight so you have a lot of time to mould it into the shape you like. Once dry it goes very hard and has a nice clean white finish to it. This particular brand is also available in other colours. Finally I used some terrain building pieces as bases to work from, but anything you can anchor the tree trunk to would be suitable.
The Building Process
Step 1 - The Trunk
You create the trunk by twisting the thicker No.8 wire in an appropriate shape. A key requirement here is to not twist it too tightly, as you want to leave little gaps throughout the trunk to thread the branches through.
Step 2 - The Branches
Take a good length of the thinner wire, you want it long enough to be threaded through and then doubled up, or tripled up if you want to create a 3 prong branch. Thread the wire through and twist it round the trunk pulling it tight to get a good solid fit.
The next stage is to simply fold the thinner wire back in on itself and twist it into the required shape, again anchor the ends by threading it through the gaps in the trunk.
Step 3 - Plastering
This step is fairly easy you just mould the clay onto the wire frame. I started at the bottom and built up a nice solid trunk. It is best to compact the clay as much as possible to keep the finished piece strong once its dry. To mould clay around the branchs roll small pieces out in a long sausage shapes then apply a piece the same length as the branch and simply fold it around.
For best results youll have to add 2-3 layers of clay to get the right shape, and I found that coming back the next day after the first layer had dryed allowed you to see where it had cracked and needed re-filling. Don't put clay over the entire length of the wire leave the loops at the end free.
Step 4 - The Foliage
For the foliage the first step i took was to cut the loops at the end of the branches. These formed when you folded and twisted the thinner wire. Cut these and you are left with a couple of nice reasonably sharp prongs to stick your foliage onto. For the foliage I simply used the same foam I pack my armies in, available locally from Pararubber (remember to buy off cuts if you can). I just ripped off small pieces stuck them onto the wire and then trimmed them with some scissors to get the shape I wanted.