Paper Mache Tree

Do you want to know how to build a paper mache tree? This paper mache jungle tree is very solid and sturdy and acts as a stairway to a loft. 

We discovered that paper mache is an awesome medium to use when building things that twist and curve. We have fallen in love with paper mache!

We didn't have much experience with paper mache before building this tree. We learned a lot as we went along. It took us about a month to build it.

Building a Solid Structure

The first step was to build the main structure for the paper mache tree. We wanted the tree to be sturdy, so the trunk of the tree was built using two-by-fours and plywood. 

A sturdy board was used for the structure of the main branches. The board ran from the trunk of the tree to the other side of the room. It was nailed to one of the trusses and to a two-by-four that was just above the peep hole. In the middle of the main branch, a second branch was added. It forked off toward the window and was nailed to a two-by-six above the window.  A  dead branch was nailed to the tree by the loft. This branch has a curved shape and fit great in the small corner.

Shaping the Tree

Now that the structure was strong and secure, it was time to give the paper mache tree its shape. Trees are round, not hexagon, so scraps of wood were used to build out the centers of all the flat sides.  As a rule, more boards were stacked towards the middle and bottom of the tree. This would make tree round. It would also make the tree thicker at its base.

Two slanted vertical two-by-fours were secured to the main structure. These two boards went under the chicken wire and would be used to support the ladder leading to the loft.

The tree was covered with chicken wire. A staple gun was used to staple the wire to the wooden blocks. The chicken wire is what gives the tree it’s curvy shape. 

After the trunk was covered with wire, the main branches were also wrapped in wire. The chicken wire has waves and was perfect for creating a natural shape. The branches were formed, so they were wide close to the trunk. The chicken wire tapered in, and the branches got narrower as they got further away from the trunk.

Lilac branches were nailed to the solid two-by-four structure that was inside the wire. These lilac branches gave the smaller branches a natural shape. The weight of the lilac branches was supported with wire that was screwed to the ceiling. 

These wires were eventually covered with paper mache. When the tree was finished, the supporting wires looked like branches.

After the chicken wire was wrapped around the branches and both doorways, the lilac branches were shaped and trimmed.

Paper mache doesn’t stick to chicken wire, so the chicken wire was covered with masking tape.

Paper Mache Recipe

There are a lot of recipes you can use to make paper mache. We found a recipe on Ultimate Paper Mache that would make a heavy duty mixture for our paper mache tree. It worked great!

  • One Part Elmer's Glue-All
  • Two Parts Drywall Joint Compound
  • Enough water to give it a spreadable gravy consistency

Blue shop towels were used for the paper of the paper mache. The blue shop towels were good for this project because they didn’t tear easily or fall apart with heavy handling. We covered the shop towels with the Glue-All/joint compound mixture, squeezing out any excess liquid.  

Time to Paper Mache the Tree

The prep work was all done. Now it was time to paper mache the tree!

The first layer took two days to complete. The shop towels overlapped each other, so one layer of paper mache is about two to three shop towels thick. The trunk of the tree was covered on the first day. The main branches were covered on the second day. The ends of the lilac branches were not covered at this time. We didn’t want the ends to get too thick without first building up the base where the small branches came out of the big branch.

After the tree was completely covered with paper mache, it was time to add more details. A lot of jungle trees have really cool vine formations on their bark, and we wanted to replicate that look. This was done by twisting up long sheets of paper and taping them to the sides of the tree.Three different sizes of paper were used to give variety to the sizes of the vines. 

The large vines were covered with another layer of paper mache. The paper mache tree then sat for a few days until it was dry.

Two more two-by-fours were nailed to the two-by-fours under the chicken wire. The steps of the ladder would later be nailed to these two rails.

Small vines were then added to filled in the spaces between the larger vines. These small vines were made out of shop towels. The wet gooey shop towels were stretched and scrunched into the shape of vines.  These vine patterns were unique and diverse.

The small shop towel vines were covered with another layer of paper mache. The small vines really made a difference and helped bring the bigger vines together.

The two-by-four rails of the ladder were also covered with paper mache.

All the branches were wrapped with a second layer, extending the paper mache all the way out to the tips of the branches. 

The seams of the shop towels were then covered with a final layer of joint compound. We used our hands to apply the joint compound and gave the tree a rough barky texture.

Painting the Tree

The entire trunk was painted black. It’s always easier to paint dark colors on black since you don’t have to worry about little white spec showing through. The upper branches were not painted black because the main branch was very difficult to paint. Up high little white specks would not be noticed.

After the base coat of black was finished, the paper mache tree was painted with browns, greens, and tans. Having a rough textured canvas was cool because it was easy to bring out the details by lightly running a brush across it.

Decorating the Paper Mache Tree

It was time to add the finishing touches to the paper mache tree.

Steps for the ladder were added. 

Jute rope was used for the vines. Three sizes of rope were used: 1 inch, ¾ inch, and ⅜ inch.  The ⅜ and ¾ inch ropes were wrapped with some heart like leaves. The 1 inch rope was wrapped with small dark leaves.  Some of the extra heart shape leaves were wrapped around some of the 1 inch vines to add more variety. The vines were then draped over and around the branches.

One hundred leaf clusters were added to the small branches. Holes were drilled in the lilac branches that were covered in paper mache. A leaf cluster was put into each hole. 

It took a full day to add leaves and vines to the paper mache tree.

With the tree complete, we were safe to put glass shades on the hanging light pendants.

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