Did you know that it is possible to buy plastic bonsai trees? I didn't know this, at least until very recently.
It went something like this: I was wondering how I could model a large, solitary tree for my African games (probably Congo and/or Pulp Alley). I'm thinking of the sort of thing that frequently provides a focal point in the savanna, something like an acacia or baobab tree. For whatever reason, my mind skipped from scale model vegetation to cheap, "fishtank" grasses and shrubs and from there to larger pieces. A quick Internet search and I had discovered imitation bonsai trees!
Preparing The Tree
It turns out that there is at least one Chinese company which makes fake bonsai trees. I saw these on eBay, put in an order for two of them and waited for the postman to arrive. In due course, this occurred. Here's some things about plastic bonsai trees:
- They're very cheap. I paid just over £2 for each item, including postage. At this price, I figured that I could afford to bin them if they didn't work for my purposes.
- They're also very crudely moulded, in brightly coloured polythene. Not really like any real tree at all (bonsai or otherwise)!
So, what could I do with this?
- Firstly, I stripped off all the green foliage clusters. In hindsight, this was a mistake because it took a surprising amount of time and I ended up spraying the foliage with the same colour of paint before putting it back on the branches. I might as well have just left it where it was!
- Next, I glued the roots to an old CD, after first roughening the glossy surface of the CD with some coarse sandpaper. This should help with adhesion.
- The base was spread with pre-mixed filler, paying particular attention to working it under the places where the roots arched upwards. Once the filler was dry, sand and grit was glued all over the ground.
- I sprayed the model with a paint that was specially formulated for vinyl and other plastics. This I obtained from an automotive store (Halfords, in the UK). Usefully, for my purposes, the paint was a very dark grey/black in colour and therefore perfect as an undercoat. It was quite expensive to buy, but really does seem to stick to the polythene in a way that a regular undercoat would not have done.
- When the undercoat was hard, I dry-brushed the trunk and branches with a single coat of "lichen grey" (a slightly greenish-tinged, mid grey colour).
- I sprayed all the green foliage clusters with the same undercoat, then pushed them laboriously back onto the branches. Should just have left them on in the first place...
- Next, I painted the foliage generously with "foam tack" glue and sprinkled it with Woodland Scenics "Fine Turf" flock. Despite the "fine" in the name, this is a slightly coarse, ground-up sponge material that provided a useful texture for the leaves.
- Finally, once all the glue was dry, I sprayed the model heavily with sealer.
This was a very cheap and relatively easy model to build, at least when using glues and paints that are designed to work with soft plastics. I think it will be a useful addition to many of my games tables.
Of course, I did buy two of these trees, so I have another one to build as well. I'm going to try some surgery on the second one, to reposition one of the branches so that the 2 models don't look completely identical. How hard could this be?