Halloween Tree

In ’04 I decided I wanted to make a Halloween tree. A creepy looking tree with some faces and veins in it. I had intended on making two of these originally…. one for each side of the walkway – that idea didn;t last past forming tree trunks.

This tree is mainly constructed of chicken wire and paper mache.
Skull Tree Face

How it was made:

I began by forming a stump with a light chicken wire. Chicken wire requires gloves and nice sharp tin snips – without them, it’s a very frustrating process. I also keep pliers handy for bending and securing loose wires.

Chicken Wire Tree Armature

After I had a stump and roots shaped out I covered them in paper mache. I also covered the underside of all the roots. Chicken wire will not easily take the first coat of mache and the honey comb texture of the wire will show thru. This can be partially avoided by adding tape over the chicken wire, or even taping newspaper to the wire first. For this project I used newspaper and recycled packing paper. I added probably 4 layers of mache to the stump before continuing.

Paper Mache Tree StumpsTree RootsForming Branches

I then added more wire to form a tree trunk, and mache’d it to add strength before adding more chicken wire to form tree limbs. The chicken wire was cut into smaller pieces as I worked up each limb, wrapping it around itself to form long thin cone shapes for the smaller branches.
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I added some 2 part polyurethane expanding foam to the roots and trunk to increase density and strength even further. (I don’t have a picture of this process as you need to work fast or you end up with foam everywhere)

I also ran an extension cord up thru the trunk in case I eventually decided I would need it. (so far all it’s used for is lights)

After I had a basic tree formed, I began to add detail. I added veining using binder twine, rope segments and some Great Stuff expanding foam. I added small bones into the tree limbs and bark. I added pieces of foam skull faces which I made in a skull mold.

I added layers of paper mache over the faces, veins and bones. A layer of mache, more detail, a layer of mache etc etc. with a little bit of light sanding here and there. This process took a while, and looking back I should have stuck with it a little longer to get the look I wanted – but I grew impatient.

The tree needed leaves. I had some old grape vine swags in storage so I took them apart and added some to the branches. At the end of each limb I poked the wire end of the grape vine swag, adhering it with masking tape and adding more mache on top.

At this point I still had the tree in my work area – the basement. I wanted to take it upstairs or outside to paint, where the lighting was better. I realized I had made the tree too big to get out of the basement… Yes, make fun of me now…. The tree had to be stored in the basement, so it obviously had to fit through the door. – I should have designed the tree in two pieces. I ended up cutting a few roots and branches down to size using snips, and a saw.

Paper Mache TreePaper Mache Tree

I coated the tree in black paint. I can’t remember exactly what paint I used, outdoor latex I think. Then I dry brushed some brown and red over the surface to pick up detail. The leaves got a similar treatment. Then the whole thing was sealed again with sealer.

Painting the TreeHalloween Treetree

This tree has survived a many Halloweens. It has received its share of abuse, and has had its roots stomped on, it’s been knocked over…. but it’s still in good shape.
Tree Faces

For the past few years I have been meaning to give the thing a make-over. If I ever get it done I will post about it….

26 thoughts on “Halloween Tree

  1. Pingback: Life Size Spooky Trees - Halloween Forum

  2. This tree looks so good, I want to make one next year.
    I had my hands full building fence and tombstones this year,
    Thanks for sharing all the information.

  3. thats tree is the sickest thing ive ever seen nice work ima try to make the tree hopefully it turs out as good

  4. Hello, dear Dead Spider! I love your stuff. Halloween 2008 pics are great.

    Question: What do you seal your paper mache with to keep it weather proof?

    I paper mache also, but don’t have the skill in my whole body you have in your pinky finger.

    Thanks!

  5. Hi, just thought I would let you know that I am an avid fan of Halloween, and think that we need more original ideas like yours to make Halloween al it can be, and less plastic junk from Wal Mart. Thanks for your contribution.
    Traci

  6. Wow, I love this tree! I had a question. I noticed you started with two chicken wire trunks. Was one for the upper branches, or did you make two trees? I also wonder how you apply the polyurethane expanding foam? Is there an applicator or sprayer for that?
    Thanks,
    Cynthia

    • Thanks Cynthia.
      I had originally started two trees. I only made one into a tree, the other became something else entirely :)
      I built up the trunk and then just kept adding chicken wire and strengthened it as I went, right up to the branches. The foam was added inside some of the roots and branches. You could just use any expanding foam found in a hardware store, which will come with an applicator.

  7. This is totally cool! I’m doing one of these with my kids at school, and your tree is very inspiring!

  8. Awesome!! I’m huge into decoration at Halloween. You’ve given me a great idea for our Hallowwen party at the YMCA Thanks!!! The kids will love it

  9. Wonderful! I happened to find this wonderful tree today. I am doing a stump that is a candy dish (on wheels)I like your veining…and will swipe that idea.

    Thank you for presenting your art.

    Happy Haunting!

  10. Hey Arana! I cannot believe I found your super awesome site..I was assigned to make two tree for a wedding on halloween next month for some friends and immediately thought of chicken wire/paper mache since I had used the method before on armour…So I googled it and your site came up! For one thing, you are completely awesome, I love your art. ^_^
    And I have one question about your process, how did you connect the chicken wire forming the base to itself? And how heavy were your trees?

  11. Love the tree!! But the practical side of my brain (thank goodness that part isn’t that big!) is curious where and how on earth you store it when it’s not Halloween?

    Thanks!

    • Thanks Krystin!
      Yes, storing this tree took a lot of space and if I was to remake one now, I would make it in sections that could come apart for storage. Luckily my basement is about 1100 square feet and over half of that is ‘mine’ for storage and my studio.

  12. WOW! What a fabulous tree. My daughter is big into the Twilight saga and we are going to be re-doing her room and I got it in my head to do a big tree with lights but had no idea how to go about making one until I found your site. (minus the skulls of course)
    If you have any other detailed hints and tips you could email me (a beginner) on constructing something like this I would GREATLY appreciate it.
    Thanks!

  13. Excellent! I made a chicken-wire tree myself many years ago, and it’s held up really well. I covered the chickenwire in masking tape and then used strips of bedsheet material dipped in white glue, instead of paper mache. This made it easy to sculpt in additional ridges and wrinkles. I painted the whole tree with greyish-brown housepaint. The result has been stored outside in the rain for years, and held up like fiberglass!

  14. What a wonderful tree. My husband and I made a tree last year (we add a new item each year to our Halloween and Christmas displays). I started with a long post, added the expanding foam, (what a mess) painted it black and brown, tore off the first of many branches from an old Christmas tree, leaving hands only for the first two branches and then added a bunch more. We added purple lights to each branch and down the tree, adhered a screaming face to the front and wrapped the whole thing in that creepy gauzy black stuff, draping it from the branches as well. We then added a couple of crows and finally drove a piece of rebar into the ground (we had previously drilled a hole in the bottom of the post) and viola a scary tree.
    We thought it looked kind of hokey, but our trick or treaters loved it.
    Your tree is a masterpiece!

  15. Wow…this tree is amazing! I want to make this for my first ever Halloween party. Not sure I can do this but I am inspired to try. It really is a work of art!! Thanks for sharing it!

  16. I have been working on a tree for the 2nd year now- i started it last year, but, like you, I made it soooo big that I couldn’t figure out how to finish it and had too many projects going at once. I wish I would have made it into two sections because the trunk is so large. I am making the top in sections! I have a fake ficus that I am taking apart to help with the vines, but I love the way yours look so I am going to try some of those today! Thank you so much for your site- it is really difficult to find a paper mache tree with good pictures that looks this awesome! Can’t wait to try out your ideas today!

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