How to Build a Tree

September 19, 2016

When I was offered a full-time position as an art teacher, one of my first questions was, "Can I decorate the room?"


Luckily, the principal supported my vision and trusted my outlandish ideas - like building a tree! I wanted the room to seem magical and for students to see how incredible art can be.


Here's how I did it:


Step 1: Structure

I wanted to keep my budget low, so I worked with what I could find around me or buy cheaply.


I knew I wanted my tree to have shelves for books, so I started with just that: three old plywood bookshelves that my dad was getting rid of! 



I then gathered some wood. The day after I moved out of my apartment, a tree fell on it! They cut up the tree and I snagged some of it! I took a portion of the stump for the base of my tree and two branches. ​​​​


Some teachers also donated long cardboard roles that I used in the structure. I also included a wire metal tier thing (sorry... don't know the name) for the top.




Step 2: Add Shape


​​I then used donated Uhaul packaging paper (thanks Dad!) and donated cloth (thanks Auntie Kay!) for shaping the tree. I draped the cloth and then crumpled paper on top. I taped the paper to the cloth and structural items so it would stay put.











Step 3: Add strips of gluey fabric


In the book, "Papier Mache Monsters," author Dan Reeder makes animals out of papier mache and then drapes fabric dipped in glue. I thought that if it worked for his monsters, it could work for my tree! I cut up the old curtains that hung in the classroom and then dipped them one-by-one in a bucket of Elmer's Glue. It was quite fun and messy.








Step 4: Spray Paint (and regret)




My boyfriend gave me a can of leftover brown house paint for my tree. I painted the tree with brown. I then thought I'd make my tree jazzy by adding some spray paint on top - golds, bronzes, and silver. I did it... and was not a fan! One of the fellow staff members saw it and said, "No. Brown is better." Haha. I guess I learned my lesson. I promptly painted the tree brown and then used small amounts of gold spray paint for highlights




Step 5: Add a face


​​My tree still seemed to be missing a layer of magical. At the urging of the vice-principal, I added a face! I used cut up t-shirts (donated by another teacher) and dipped them into glue. It was much harder to get the glue to adhere to the painted tree. It actually completely slid off at one point! I had to put all of the strips back on and hold them there until they dried more. I then painted over them. 




Step 6: Add Life!



The minute I told my boyfriend about my tree idea, he thought I should add turf grass at the base. I thought this was rather absurd and unnecessary. Luckily, my boyfriend knew better and called over 8 turf grass companies until one finally donated some grass. I couldn't believe how good it looked.


My boyfriend also insisted on going to the Tucson Theatre company to see if they had any extra tree parts. Again, I thought this was unnecessary. Again, I was wrong. His friend helped us find amazing limps that we then jammed in my car and brought back to the school. My boyfriend stapled the branches to the tree. I was so grateful for his help that I made him take a pic with my tree.


The last little touch was to add battery-powered twinkle lights.



Step 7: Celebrate!

When I started my tree, I had no idea how to do it, I just knew what I wanted it to look like. Every step was an experiment - but that is the best kind of learning. Even the mural I did on the other side of the room was an experiment (there are clouds in the sky because I messed up the shading!). 


I hope that every student who comes in the classroom will know it's okay to make mistakes and have fun at the same time! 








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