Making Trees for the Railway Village Diorama

So I’m working on finishing something I started on almost two years ago.  It was July 2015 when I convinced Trevor Marshall to help me learn to make trees, as he makes such beautiful ones on his layout.  He blogged about that night here.  Actually getting down to it and finishing my first attempt at making trees was on my 2017 To Do list.  Following our night together in 2015, I picked up an excellent book on making trees by Gordon Gravett, and got as far as making armatures for the six trees I need to complete for the Railway Village Diorama.

A barren looking grove of trees behind Don Station on my diorama of the Toronto Railway Museum’s “Railway Village”.

Then, through a combination of factors, I stalled, and stalled badly.  Every time I’d look at the trees, I couldn’t bring myself to take the next step of applying poly-fibre foliage as a base, and then adding leaf material to fill in and give texture to the tree.  It’s not like it is something that I can’t re-do if I mess it up and I hate how it looks, the only thing wasted is a few dollars of poly-fibre and leaf material and some hair spray. It was paralysis by analysis at its finest with me over-thinking the next steps and effectively psyching myself out of getting any progress made.

So, last night I gathered up all the tree materials, and started pulling bare armatures out of the diorama and adding clumps of poly-fibre and experimenting with how to pull and work the material to look like tree canopy over the armatures.  The cluster of trees I am modelling are birches that have tall clean trunks before you hit the canopy, and the actual trees can be pretty sparse looking in the canopy department at the best of times.  My trees will almost certainly have a denser canopy, and being a large feature of a small diorama, I want them to look as realistic as possible.

IMGP6157.JPGThe somewhat scraggly cluster of trees between Don Station and Cabin D in Roundhouse Park.

I have read for years how modellers use cheap hairspray as a fixative (glue) when making trees and doing scenery.  I had never done that before last night.  Its amazing, but its true, cheap hair spray does work like a glue on this material.  I never really believed it until I tried it for myself!

imgp6114rawconvFirst three trees part way through adding poly-fibre.  The two on the left are looking ok, whereas the one on the right is looking pretty sickly.

I made the armatures for the trees long before i decided to start blogging, but basically, they are green florists wire, several pieces wound together to form a trunk, and then split out at the top in individual strands to form a canopy, and in bunches at the bottom to form roots spreading out and a pin to insert them into the ground.  The armatures are then covered in flexible modelling paste (I used Liquitex).  The paste can be applied as is which is white, or tinted with artists acrylic paints.  I tinted mine greyish.  The armatures where then painted in sorts using a variety of artists markers to accent and highlight the greys and browns of the trunks of the real trees.

imgp6116rawconvTree #1 with leaf scatter added.  Its getting there.  And I’m still happier to be planting trees I made rather than trees I bought.

Once the canopy material is secured with hairspray, the technique is to apply another dose of spray, and then apply leaf material to both vary the colour of the tree, and in theory, make it look a bit more realistic with individual leaves.  I had bought Scenic Express SuperLeaf material for this.  The tree above shows my first attempt at doing this.  I don’t think I quite got it right, but it doesn’t look terrible to my eye, and perhaps more importantly, it looks passable when plunked down into the diorama as in the image below.  I don’t think I’m going to win any awards for my tree making anytime soon, but we all have to start somewhere!

imgp6118rawconvOne Tree Planted.  Or at least, test planted back into its hole before gluing into place.  Of the four trees I started last night, this one is the most realistic looking canopy.  You can just see my highly scientific tree numbering/planting plan in the back to make sure I put them back where they are supposed to go!

At this point, I ran out of poly-fibre.  Fortunately, I had a meeting for work near a hobby shop today, and was able to pick up another bag, so I can go back to try to fix the canopies on the three semi-finished trees, and get a base on the two bare trees in the picture above tonight.  I’m not going to pass judgment on my first attempt at tree making until all six trees are done and re-planted and I see the overall look.  Then I can try to adjust the trees, or rip them out and start over, but at least I have tried, and I definitely learned some things last night that will hopefully make the next two trees go a bit smoother tonight.

So, the big question, why did I finally get the motivation to do this now?  I will be at the Barrie-Allandale Train Show on February 18-19, 2017 with the Toronto Railway Museum, and I wanted the diorama to be more complete than when I showed it last year with the barren looking trees.  Getting the trees done also lets me basically say this project is complete, which means I can try to sneak it out of the office and into another part of the apartment to free up some workspace for other projects I’d like to start that need some real estate!!


4 thoughts on “Making Trees for the Railway Village Diorama

  1. What a lovely post: lots of information, including references – but especially references to the genuine friendships which cane and do develop in the hobby.


  2. Thank you for the support Simon, Trevor and Chris. Chris, that’s a great way of describing what i’ve done simply. I like that, i may steal it to describe my process and technique on expanding my skillset in the future!

    I did get all six trees based out last night. I will hopefully put up a quick post this afternoon with the pictures and my initial thoughts seeing all six together on the diorama.



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