In the winter of 2004, lenora Smith, the moderator for the Creations in Miniature online group, asked me to design a water project that the members could do together.
Since quite a few people had already made ponds, I wanted to make something different, but couldn't decide what. Not long after her request, my grandson's fourth grade class was doing research on endangered species and he asked me for some ideas on doing a project showing the Spotted Owl. In the course of our research, I came across many pictures of wonderful old growth forests, some of which included small streams, and this was the impetus for the Mossy Glen.
I purposely left this scene open to the interpretations of those who create it. Who lives next to this small remnant among the silent age-old giants? It might be only some lovely shade-tolerant flowers or more moisture-loving plants growing along the stream bank.
Or a colorful bird or a Spotted Owl could perch in the top of the remains of our ancient tree.
Perhaps a deer could pause for a drink.
Or a small family of skunks could walk along the side.
Maybe a rabbit could poke its head out from the end of the root system over the ferns.
Or the emphasis could be on fantasy, with a unicorn poised on the bank or a fairy preparing to dip a toe into the cool water.
And, of course, there is the question or who or what lives inside that little bitty doorway....
Spray bottle of water for misting paint, for cleanup, etc.
Paper towels (I like to cut them into fourths)
Brushes for paint and for spreading glue
Serrated knife for cutting foam
Scissors suitable for cutting matboard or cardboard
Foil for making pattern
Paper or small plastic cups for mixing dirt; for paint; for glue
Plastic lid from a coffee can or similar container as paint palette
Toothpicks to hold pieces of foam together
Matboard or sturdy cardboard for base
Spackling Compound (the lightweight kind that is like marshmallow fluff)
Fine brown florist foam, sold in blocks at craft stores
Sobo and/or Tacky glue
Model railroading turf in three shades and three weights, mixed
Paper mache egg or drink holder carton
Piece of driftwood or other wood for tree trunk
Acrylic Paints in three shades of green and muted blues; black; brown iron oxide
Dried curlies for vines; or vines made from other materials
Ferns made from fringed flower leaves or other materials
Tiny mushrooms or other plants that suggest fungus-like growths
THE GLASS DOME:
I like to use a dome because it provides opportunity for viewing from all sides, but is limited enough that designing and creating are not overwhelming. And, with each scene built on its own matboard or foamcore base, the same dome can be used over and over to showcase a setting. This is particularly good for holiday displays, too.
The most readily available glass domes are twelve inches tall, with seven and a half-inch wide bases; other sizes, smaller and larger, can be found, too, but the twelve inchers are most versatile if you are only buying a single dome, in my opinion. I have found mine at Michaels and used my 40% off coupons to buy the dome one week; the base another. (Bases and domes are usually sold separately.) They can also be found at places like Hobby Lobby and Ben Franklin's. And, of course, they can be ordered, which is more expensive because of shipping and postage.
: Originally, I tried listing sources here, but nowadays I think your best bet is to Google glass display domes and see what comes up for comparison shopping.
This setting could be done as a roombox, too, of course, although this particular project is designed to be seen from all sides.
STAGE ONE: PREPARING THE BASE
My goal in designing this scene was to use commonly available materials in creating a setting which could be taken in several different directions. The project also served as a test for making water in an inexpensive way, using glue. There are several different ways one can do water, of course, but I wanted to use something that would be available to everyone, no matter where we live. I used Sobo, but Tacky or other similar glues could be used as well. Tacky was used for much of the other gluing.
This is the base for a twelve-inch glass dome.
Since even supposedly identical wood bases vary, it's always a good idea to create an individual pattern for each. From the foil impression, a pattern can be readily cut that will provide enough room for the glass dome to slide into the groove.
After cutting the foil piece and trimming a bit off to allow for easy insertion of the dome, I have traced the remaining circle onto a piece of matboard. Sometimes I use foamcore, but matboard is what I most commonly use. Either will warp somewhat, but as long as you make sure that you dampen both sides at the same time, it isn't too bad. I usually find as the base is drying from glue and paint applications that I can bend it back to shape. You can always glue two layers of cardboard or matboard together if you want a heavier base.
This is a messy process. Wear your old clothes, keep your water squirt bottle and some paper towels handy, and clean up periodically as you go.
Because I wanted a surface that would be as waterproof as possible, I used spackling compound mixed with sand and glue to make the uneven bed for my future woodland stream. This needs to dry at least overnight before you proceed further, in order for any warping that's going to happen, to happen. I always spray water on the underside whenever moisture is being applied to the upper. It isn't that hard at this stage to straighten the base by manipulating if it looks wonky the next day.
I always give my landscaping scenes a coat of brown paint to meld everything together. In addition, if in later stages something shows through, it looks realistic because it suggests soil. Remember throughout: If you get it wet on one side, get it wet on the other.
Don't forget to paint the edges brown, too. I usually do that last to cover any splotches or unevenness.
Here I began a process of sprinkling sand over the wet paint of my streambed. I like to use paper plates for this process; it's easy then just to cup the plate and pour any excess back into the container.
To create the elevations, this lightweight florist's foam is excellent because it is easily carved with a serrated knife, and can be smushed into appropriate contours. The plastic container on the right contains a mixture of sand and coffee grounds, which I used as my dirt. Of course, model railroading dirt, even tea leaves, can be used as well.
Here the built up base for the watercourse is spackling compound mixed with sand and brown iron oxide paint; the higher part is the florist foam.
Here is a piece of a paper mache hot drink carton from McDonald's. I thought at first I might use this cup section to make the remains of my tree. I think it would work, although I did not use it for that purpose this time. Instead, for the little falls area, I used torn pieces of paper mache to create a series of steplike contours for the water to fall down.The brown foam is so porous that you can make a slit with a knife and just poke the rocks in (until you add paint, then it hardens).
Sidenote: Interesting to me here was what to call my old-growth tree remains. Snag is the name for a standing dead tree but somehow that word sounds too ugly. So, even though technically it's a snag, I decided to call it a tree when I refer to it from here on. (Maybe this little semantic excursion is another example of why it takes me so long to get things finished.)
I knew I wanted a tree and found this piece of driftwood in my stash. Perfect, with a little tweaking. It had a silvery gray appearance, which would have been ideal in a seashore scene, but for our purposes I wanted it to look like decaying redwood.
I brushed brown iron oxide over most of the tree's surface, leaving a few bare areas, then drybrushed with fern green. Actually, that step wasn't really necessary probably; the addition of the moss would probably be sufficient.
The entire area around the tree has been given another unifying coat of brown.
It was at this point that
I also began thinking about "submerging" my streambed
so that it wouldn't be lying on top of the surface, and
began gluing down and smushing more foam for the right
bank. Use toothpicks dipped in glue to hold various pieces
together, cutting or breaking them flush with the surface.
Here the banks have also been painted. The next step was sprinkling with my soil mixture of sand and coffee grounds. Unfortunately, that stage is missing, because I could not retrieve the pictures from a bad disk.
Let this dry at least overnight before you proceed with landscaping. You want to be able to pick it up and turn it in various directions as you are adding the moss, etc.
STAGE TWO: ADDING MOSS AND SOIL
AND FIRST WATER POURING
Unfortunately, bcause of a bad computer disk, several pictures that showed the process leading to this point were lost.
Here, the soil has been added, the tree and the area around it have been brushed lightly with glue and then a mixture of varying colors of model railroad foam has been added. Do this over a paper plate as previously directed and shake off the excess. It is important to do this BEFORE you pour the water.
If you look closely, you will see that the moss varies in both texture and color; this is important for realism. The merest bit of gold, rust and yellow were added to the green foams to suggest the kind of fungal growths that one sees on old, old trees.
The first water (Sobo Glue) has been poured. The right banks have only been painted brown and drybrushed with green because I wasn't sure yet how I wanted them to look.
Let the water dry at least two days.
STAGE THREE: WORKING WITH THE WATER
This is the glue/water after two days. It has dried, but has a muddy cast to it, which I didn't want (probably some of the brown paint wasn't dry enough), so I decided to paint over it to get a clearer look.
I used various blue shades, a dot of black and a greeny-brown mixture on my palette and sprayed it with water to thin it.
Well, darn, when this one dried it looked too blue! Back to the paints again!
I started lightly drybrushing/dabbing various shades in a very thin mix of green, brown and black
Still too blue, so I drybrushed some more.
This was definitely better. Now it needs to dry at least two more days.
Do you think I should throw this away? Why, I bet I could make something from it. Hmmm.... I better think about that tomorrow!
STAGE FOUR: WORKING WITH THE TREE TRUNK
While I waited for the second pouring of water/glue to dry, I began thinking about the landscaping. On closer examination, this opening in the base of the tree looked so intriguing that I figured some little somebody lived there. It needed something to fill in the cleft so that the little owner could have a door, however.
Then I remembered the paper mache again.
I cut this roughly to fit and decided the door had to be round.
Here is the back of the door piece after painting and being coated with glue. The mache was softened enough by the paint and glue that it molded nicely into the opening.
By the time I added the moss, you couldn't tell the door wasn't part of the original tree base. Since a tiny portion of the tree's interior was visible, I decided to make some stairs for our little inhabitant.
I knew there was a good reason I bought this mulch in the after-Christmas clearance! These little wood slivers should work..
Yep, they worked nicely. Notice I had made some suggestions of stepping stones earlier from the mache. Before I glued in the steps I glued in a very thin bit of the mache to suggest the floor. I think I need to do a wash over the steps so that they don't look too new, but I don't want to darken them too much or they can't be seen.
Quite pleased with my little abode, I moved on to landscaping, where I knew I wanted to use ferns and perhaps some kind of fungus like the toadstools that grow in leafy mold.
STAGE FIVE: LANDSCAPING; ADDING FERNS AND VINES
I take apart artificial flowers for all kinds of purposes, and always save the leaves from flower stems for other uses. Certain ones fringed finely with scissors make perfectly acceptable ferns.
Here is the first fern, made from fringed flower stem leaves.It's hard to tell these from some that I made very laboriously with wire and floral tape.
The sawtooth plant on the right is simply rather stiff leaves creased in the center. The little fungus clusters came from a stem I found at Michaels. I cut individual pieces to plant here and there.
Here is a better picture of the fungus and the little doorway. I made a latchstring for the door using a needle and brown thread but it doesn't show up in the picture.
I decided that my tree needed some vines/shoots so these curly dried thingies from Michaels came into play.
A coat of brown paint.
Rolled in my moss mixture.
Here the second pouring of water is drying and more ferns and fungus have been added, as well as a purple plant.
My husband saw this and
said "Nope. The vines wouldn't be sticking out from the tree like that. They would cling to it." Well,
heck. I kind of liked this lacy effect, but since he grew
up in the woods and I only ventured into them .... Back
to the drawing board.
Okay; I see his point, and I do have to admit this looks more realistic. Even though I remember swinging on big old wild grapevines when I was a child in Oklahoma, I don't want to limit this setting to one particular place, either. So, a more universal vine would probably be snugging up against the tree - and they aren't called clinging vines for nothing!
Besides the dried curlies that I used, cloth-covered florist's wire and beige buttonhole twist coated with glue and dipped into foam, among other things, makes good vines.
Here the scene is almost finished. The dirt and moss have been added on the right side and the water has dried.
I left the scene at this point and removed the purple plant because it might be a distraction. From now on, the scene can be taken in several different directions. It all depends on where you want to go with it and what you have on hand.
I hope you and your woodland residents enjoy the Mossy Glen, and I look forward to adding your Mossy Glens to the website.
STAGE SIX: DISPLAYING THE MOSSY GLEN DOME
At the Santa Fe International Figurative Arts Show in the spring, I bought a fairy, planning to use her in an upcoming scene. When I got home and was showing her to my husband, he said, "She looks like she could fit in your dome scene," which was in a nearby bookshelf. I lifted the dome, set her in place, and she fit, as if made for the spot! I left her there just to see what the reactions would be from family and friends. She got universally good comments, especially from the grandchildren.
"Look, Nana," said my youngest grandson. "She's going to put her toe in the water." So,
the fairy is still sitting in the Mossy Glen.
One day my husband walked
by the bookcase where the dome is sitting and said, "Too bad you can't have that picture inside the dome, too. It really added a lot." I
agreed. I tried it, but it wouldn't work because the scene
is designed to be viewed from all sides. (The base revolves.)
Not long after that, I was sitting at the computer and swiveled my chair around to reach for a book in the bookcase behind me.
My husband's Certificate
of Appreciation from Texas Parks & Wildlife was just
sitting there in a clear acylic stand up frame. Hmmmm.
I looked it over. It would work perfectly for my purposes!
So, I cut off the white edges from the printed-out photo, backed it with a piece of dark green cardstock and inserted it into the frame.
Just what I was hoping for - no visible frame to distract; just the photo.
Now when you see her in the dome, there is a background behind her for atmosphere.
Plus, the scene is still visible from the side ...
and from the back. Not a perfect solution, but better than bare wall at the back of the bookcase.
Oh yes, in case you were wondering, I plan to get another frame for my husband's certificate.
Over the years I have gotten some pictures of other Mossy Glens that people made as a result of this tutorial. Follow the link to see them.