Playing with Wire

With the coming scenic modelling, I decided to pick up some florist wire and see what it was like to try to create a tree-like shape a la Gordon Gravett. Michaels didn’t have the paper-coated stuff that Gordon uses, but they did have big spools of this plastic stuff, and it wasn’t very expensive. So I picked some up and started twisting.

The first thing I found is it is easier to twist two wires together if you fold over a single long length and twist a loop. However, it didn’t take long to decide that I didn’t really know what the shape of a tree should be.

Ash Tree and Evening Mist.
Ash Tree and Winter Mist by Margaret Geatches on Flickr.

I found a likely-looking specimen on Flickr, and had twisted only a few strands before I found I was lost. The real tree has far too many branches to replicate them all, but also so many similar-sized branches that I couldn’t keep track of the branches I was trying to twist.

I abandoned that approach, and sketched a simplified version of the tree. This was easier than twisting because I didn’t take my eyes from the photograph for very long. However, the sketch was much easier to navigate than the photograph.

Sadly the photograph provides only two dimensions of information, and I had to make up the third. Even so, as with most things working from a photograph has made a richer model, and the shape of the tree is more satisfying than my made-up version.

Ash tree on the left, made-up tree armature on the right.
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5 thoughts on “Playing with Wire

  1. The publisher of Mainline Modeler used to publish a book called “Trees of North America” that included excellent sketches of the various trees. One could scan the sketch, scale it – if a real tree is 40 feet tall you would scale the sketch to approx 6” in HO – and then print the sketch full size to use as a guide to twisting the wires. It’s very useful.
    The sketches are all of “specimen” trees: a mature tree growing on its own, with no other nearby trees to influence its growth. As I twisted wire trees for Port Rowan I found I needed plan each tree for its location on the layout. Maybe one side needed space to grow over a building. In heavily wooded areas most trees grow tall and slender with a full crown of leaves but relatively few, mostly bare branches below the canopy. And so on.
    As modellers we tend to focus on the trains – yet often we’re the only person in the layout room who can tell whether we got those “right”. Since you model off the beaten path, it’s likely even your fellow modellers can’t determine whether you’ve accurately modelled a locomotive or boxcar.
    But everyone – including non-modellers – knows what a tree looks like. So time spent on these will reap major rewards.
    Another bit of good news: you need far fewer properly scaled trees to fill a scene.
    I look forward to following your progress on these!

  2. Just another thought on wire trees – I’ve used 10 and 12 gauge wire to form the trunk and initial branch structure, with lighter wire captured in the twists of the heavy wire, so the lighter wire creates the finer branch structures. I found this helped me focus on typical branch / tree shape more easily, but also yielded the small branches. I used hemp and furnace filter fibres glued on the tips of the detailed branch structure to fill in the tops. When all the joints and twists are covered in a good filler (I used to use hot glue gun glue, now prefer Aves Epoxy clay) the wire isn’t apparent and the transitions can be subtle. This hybrid approach is good for making the 8 and 10 inch deciduous trees suitable for the Lower Mainland. They might be useful to model Ontario. Now if I could just find a way to leaf the trees in a more appealing way!

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