jump to navigation

A Nart Project April 24, 2011

Posted by Mitchell in Art.

Behold The White Tree of Gondor

Really just the gesso tree of North Las Vegas

A while back I came across an article on some website where there is a guy who finds old dead trees in the desert that are still standing and he paints them in really bright colors. They look really cool and I wish I could find the article but nothing is turning up. Anyway, as it just so happens I have a bonsai tree that succumbed to a spider mite infestation last year and it’s been sitting around on my porch for the last few months. I thought maybe it might be good for a model to draw from & whatnot but that article gave me another idea.

I don’t know what paint that guy used (probably exterior house paint), but this situation is a bit different because of the scale. Originally I thought of using acrylic paint as it’s very opaque. But…it’s necessarily kinda thick. A lot of the finer branches on a bonsai are very thin and probably would get a bit globby. Sure you can thin acrylics with water but you sacrifice opacity and that wouldn’t look very good. I thought I would have to strip out the small stuff and just go with the major structures, but then I had a major idea this morning; I can pre-paint the tree with thin washes of gesso first! Gesso, for you non-nartists is a white base substance that we prime surfaces to paint on. It’s usually as thick as acrylic paint but you can thin it out with water. I did so and started painting the bonsai with it on Saturday. What you see above is with two coats done with a small brush. What does this get me? It means that I can use watercolors instead and that opens up some wonderful things.

This particular species has a papery bark that has an “iffy” relationship with the tree itself. It’s kinda crackly and easily peel able. It was like that even before it died and has only increases those characteristics post-demise. Still, it’s an interesting characteristic and I want to try and preserve it as much as possible. The thin gesso does this beautifully. It binds the remaining bark to the tree and strengthens it too while leaving the essential structure intact. It will need at least one more coat, probably two.

After spending about 3.5 hours  of hand painting two coats on the tree and getting near the thick Pain In The Ass cluster at the top I remembered that I had a perfectly good airbrush that would have made a quick, thorough work out of doing this at a fraction of the time. Mmmm, but the quick & easy aren’t always the best ways and after a few moments of reflection I understood that the manual painting of gesso required me to really learn and understand how fluids move on complicated surfaces and structures of this tree and it was valuable practice for the final paint job. I went ahead and finished it off by hand last night. Also, this four hours of an intense scrutiny of a tree’s structure from all angles. That’s actually pretty useful exercise all by itself. That said, I still plan to finish of the gesso application with the airbrush today.


Airbrush done and it probably isn’t going to get any whiter than this. The next stage is going to be tricky and involves plaster. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do it either.

Happy Easter everyone!


1. Lemur King - April 24, 2011

Just read your posting after reading this:


That link makes me fear WoW even more now that I can put my finger on the scary parts. So I read your post with your WoW exploits in mind. Looking at my own video-game addiction, the article was spooky as hell.

Since I know nothing about what you’re describing, you are saying that really and truly painting the bonsai tree by hand rather than airbrushing it is the non-addictive endeavor, right?

Your description of papery bark brought back vivid memories of the Madrone trees I grew up around.

Can’t wait to see the end result. Not to be demanding but could you put a pic of the tree in front of a darker background? It washes out a bit against the pegboard and all.

Happy Easter, Mitchell!

2. Mitchell - April 24, 2011

Yes, I will be painting it by hand with watercolors once I get enough gesso applied. It needs to be really white for the colors to pop. It’s still a bit grey. I’m going to get started on that in a few minutes.

As for WoW – I must admit that article is pretty true. I was getting kinda obsessed over it myself. Then once I started getting flying mounts for my toons…yeah, any time not devoted to keeping myself alive was WoW time. But a few weeks ago I was suddenly startled by the time invested and pointlessness of it all and just stopped. Then a few days ago I was notified that my account was banned. Seems someone hacked it and was doing illegal things. I put in a notification about the hack to Blizzard and just checked it now. Looks like I still have most of my stuff & gold (haven’t checked the banks yet) but one toon was deleted. And I’ve been kicked out of my guild. Oh well. I don’t really intend to start playing again. And yet, I can’t quite bring myself to delete the account.

And Happy Easter to you!

3. Lemur King - April 24, 2011

Interested in seeing what you can do with it. Do you plan on putting it outside to get pics of?

What are “illegal things” on WoW? And getting kicked out of your guild, is that by a council of real people gathering together or is that a computer-automated thing?

The “startled by the amount of time” thing was something I noticed a year ago with respect to Farmville on Facebook. I didn’t even realize that it was doing the rat/box thing to me until a bit into it when I noticed that I was thinking about it at work, and then I dropped it like the town skank. (not that I ever had anything to do with my actual small-town skanks)

4. Mitchell - April 24, 2011

“Illegal things” are usually spamming trade chat channels for WoW gold seller sites, running illegal scripts and stuff like that. As for the guild those are groups of players who share a communal bank vault where you can put stuff that might be useful for others. We would also group up for doing dungeon crawls for level and loot. This guild was the “Army of Morons” and was populated by Ace of Spades & Doubleplusundead readers and posters. I hope whoever was in control of the account didn’t do too much damage to the guild before getting my account banned. Bastard.

I remembered that you played Farmville though you haven’t mentioned it in a long while.

Ok, updated Tree of Gondor up.

5. JAM2 - April 24, 2011

i’m not artistically inclined…. (i’ve got to work at it)
that said; i would like to be. i approach my art endeavors with a science and engineering bias.

suggestion on the b-tree:
this takes some time – but it will last longer:

undertake a serial dilution with EtOH or IPA to preserve the tree before painting. This will minimize expansion / contraction due to humidity changes. http://sciencefair.math.iit.edu/techniques/SerialDilution/

this preservation step will help ameliorate radical conformational changes in the (in this case tree) specimen which would degrade your artistic additions…
good luck.
Happy Easter!

6. Mitchell - April 24, 2011

I do believe you’re pulling my leg here JAM2.

JAM2 - April 25, 2011

a little… i usually save the EtOH for my own consumption…

the last link was not correct as regards the serial dehydration of a biological specimen…see this one:

interestingly enough…. microscopy can lead to incredibly interesting and dare i say beautiful images…

that tree looks pretty cool.

Mitchell - April 26, 2011

This tree is long dead and baked in the Las Vegas summer. It got rained on a few times since then but it’s dry as a bone. The gesso seals it up pretty good. And of course, Vegas isn’t known for it’s humidity. It’ll be fine.

7. ooGcM taobmaetS - April 25, 2011


Do you really want that “fine detail” on a dead tree? I think I saw those painted desert trees you mention (search turned up nada so far. Still searching DRB) long ago, and the branchings and twig “foliage” was quite sparse on them if memory serves.

Of course, I’m not a nartist and have a net negative knowledge of things nartistic, but….

Mitchell - April 26, 2011

Welcome ooGcM! I don’t believe I’ve seen you around here before.

You’re right, it was mostly major structures on the trees he painted. Old sand-blasted things as I recall. Of course, it’s a lot faster to paint those such trees. This bonsai gives me an opportunity to explore a different type of tree.

8. LC Aggie Sith - April 25, 2011

I totally love it, Mitchell. It’s something I would do, too. And gesso is Da Bomb!!

I would have tried some matte multi-medium on it, as well. As for the branches, you may want to trim a few spindly ones off before you begin in earnest.

9. Mitchell - April 25, 2011

Oo oo oo! I just had another BRILLIANT idea for this. I’m ditching the plaster part. It wasn’t going to work. No, I’m going to put this in a larger pot surrounded by pure white sand and rocks with swirly patterns in the sand (basically a Japanese zen rock garden). Hmmm. Maybe even some colored sand to tie the tree with the rockscape? Ooo! Colored rocks! Oh this is gonna be fun. 😀

As for the tree, yes I will selectively thin some stuff out, particularly at the top. I just like to keep my options open as long as possible.

10. Lemur King - April 25, 2011

Who is this Gesso person and what kind of perverted stuff are they doing to your dead tree?

Mitchell - April 26, 2011

Gesso seems to have painted it white there LK. It’s what Gesso does.

11. Nicole - April 26, 2011

Cool looking! I can’t wait to see the end product!

And I don’t think you got kicked out, Chad over on dpud said something about disbanding the guild since there didn’t seem to be much interest lately.

Sorry comments are closed for this entry

%d bloggers like this: