Last summer, two good friends asked me to create a giant magical fairy tree for their daughter’s bedroom, and I finally installed it last week! Since I was pregnant at the time, and then later had a newborn to care for, I had to take it slowly…I think we can safely say that six months is pretty darn slow! 😉 Here’s how I built and installed it:
I photographed and measured the wall the tree would go on. I quickly sketched in Photoshop a rough rendering over the photo to give them an idea of what I thought it should look like and then used that drawing for my carving measurements. I knew it would be mostly organic as a process, so I didn’t need to follow a shape or guidelines very tightly, only enough for it to fit within certain dimensions.
I learned to carve insulation foam for scenery back in college, so I decided that would be the easiest and lightest material to work with considering my past experience with it. I used 3 4×8 sheets of pink 1.5″ foam and glued and stacked them for the trunk and three large branches. I used wood carving tools, knives and an electric carving knife to rough out the shapes and smooth things out a bit. Then, I built up some areas with spray foam and carved those areas once it was dry.
While I was working on the tree at home, we had the wall in the bedroom painted a deep gray-blue and hand-stamped stars ourselves in white, gold and silver ink all over to look like a night sky. I had seen some beautiful wallpaper just like it, but we didn’t want to spend that kind of money on something we could create so easily ourselves in a few hours!
Back in tree building land, once I was ready to add smaller branches to the main foam branches and build up more dimension, it was raining pretty steadily in Los Angeles. I had to move the whole project into my dining room and use the floor as the wall, and my walls as the ceiling. I roughed out the measurements with masking tape on the floor and set to work. I used heavy-duty, yet still pliable wire to create smaller branches on the three large foam branch pieces. I built up those branches by wrapping the wire in bubble wrap and then masking tape. The resulting branches were very light but still quite flexible. I needed to be able to adjust the tree once it was in the room, so this was the perfect way to build them.
I covered everything in torn strips of cotton batting and white glue, using the wet batting as a way to shape some final dimension into the bark. Once that was dry, I used different brown fabrics, some with prints, some with texture, to cover each piece and add the final color. I used the fabrics as shading, creating a sort of quilt-painting hybrid. When the final layer dried, I painted the whole thing with a lightly tinted glue coat just to make some of the patterns and deep tones visually recede a bit and to seal it all in. As I worked, I kept lining the branches up to make sure my joints could be hidden once I got the pieces into the room and I left some of the fabric clean and hanging freely to hide the joints later.
I soaked dyed and patterned green calico fabrics in glue and allowed them to dry before cutting A LOT of leaves out. This fabric-mache technique allows you to have the look of fabric but with the structure of paper or cardstock. I also used old children’s book pages to cut out more leaves, giving it a lighter, more playful quality. I folded all of the leaves in half to form a nice crease and set to work hot gluing each one on. This part was actually a lot faster than I thought it would be! I wired some of the leaves so I could change their shape in the room if I needed to and it was definitely an important step in the end.
We screwed the trunk into the wall and used wooden dowels to hold each branch onto and into the foam of the trunk and used wall anchors in the wall and ceiling to hang each branch. I ended up attaching a bunch of leaves to netting to add some larger areas of leaves where it clearly needed some filling out. I glued and painted the branch joints once everything looked good in the room and added the final details. I used wire and glue to attach a little swinging bridge, a fairy cottage, outdoor fairy patio, a couple of birds, a nest, butterflies, flower garlands and fairy lights. It was definitely a large project, but it looks so magical all lit up and I know the girls will love it for years to come!