Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grow Your Own Weirwood

I'm a huge nerd. Let's get that out of the way first. And my newfound nerdy obsession is George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, otherwise known as Game of Thrones thanks to the new HBO series based on it. You've probs heard of it.
Anyway, in the books there are these trees called weirwoods. They are described as having bone white bark and blood red leaves. They also have faces carved into them, something done by ancient inhabitants of Westeros called the children of the forest. These faces are supposedly the faces of the old, nameless gods who are still worshiped in the northern part of the country, where Ned Stark comes from. Most castles in Westeros have a godswood, with a weirwood called the heart tree in the center, and it is there that servants of the old gods go to pray. In the south all weirwoods outside of a godswood were cut down, but there are still some wild in the far north.

Oh yeah, and these faces cry tears of blood-red sap.

Anyway, about two weeks ago my fingers started itchin' to be crafty. I was also thinking that since almost all of my friends are also Game of Thrones fans, wouldn't it be fun to have a GoT party? And what would be better as a centerpiece than a paper mache weirwood?

So my boyfriend and I went to the craft store. I had all kinds of ideas--I was going to make the frame of the tree with wire, cover it with chicken wire, etc., like we did in art class in middle school when we made giant paper mache fish and stuff. More wire for the branches! I could cut leaves out of construction paper and--

Yada yada yada. As Andrew pointed out to me, most of my ideas worked in theory, but there were better ways to do it. So what we ended up getting was this:

One tall foam cone (we used the kind you get to do faux floral arrangements)
Plaster wrap (We used the Rigid Wrap brand. This really gives it a barky texture)
Fake fall leaves
Paint (white and red. I also added a bit of grey)

The only really tricky part is the fake fall leaves. As you'll see in the photos, Andrew managed to find one that was perfect: several stems with small red maple leaves. It was one of the last ones there, marked down because it was a fall decoration. It may very well be that it will never be found again, and then making weirwoods will be extra hard work because you'll have to cut leaves and glue them on instead of just shoving stems into the foam.

Another option in lieu of pre-made plastic branches is to use real sticks, which is what Andrew tried to get me to do. I thought the fake ones would be sufficient enough, but that's because the ones we got were so perfect. If, next time, they're gone (as I suspect they will be), real twigs become a very suitable alternative, and require no texturing at all!

From here on out I will try to have process photos for you, but alas, you only get two, and only because I had to go before I finished.

Before you begin, put a layer or three of newspaper down on your working surface, and make sure you have scissors, paint brushes, a bowl of warm water and any other tools you'll need. You don't want to go wandering through your house once you get plaster all over your hands!

Step One: Cut smaller "branches" off of the main stem of fake floral decoration. How small depends on what size cone you got. Ours was the largest, about fifteen inches tall.

Step Two: Attach branches to the foam cone trunk. For us, this meant just shoving them in.

Step Three: Cut plaster wrap into strips of varying lengths and widths. You want some big strips to cover open areas like the base, but for the upper parts, working around the branches, I found that an inch by three inch strip worked best (that's width by length). Two inch by three inch strips also worked well when I had larger spaces to cover between branches.

Step Four: Apply plaster wrap. (Wear a smock--it gets messy!) Wet each strip in a bowl of water (instructions come with it), squeeze excess water off, and press onto the tree skeleton. This will require several layers; the first layer should be simply to get as much covered as possible, so it's okay to lay the strips flat. Once you get to the second layer, have fun with it! Bunch it up, twist it around to make knots, etc. This is where you really add a lot of the texture. Wrapping strips around the base of your branches will help to tie them into the trunk.

This is also where you "carve" the weirwood's face. Eyes and a gaping mouth is really all that's needed. I bunched a strip of plaster wrap up and then dug my nail into it to hollow out the features. I also added another bunched strip over the eyes to give him a heavy brow, and added a couple more bunched strips under the mouth to give him a kind of beard.

After you're done with the plaster, give it some time to dry completely before you start painting.

Step Five: Paint! The white paint is mostly to cover anything that wasn't covered by the plaster wrap. I used it mainly to paint the plastic branches white. I used the grey to paint under folds left in the dried plaster to create more depth on the tree. Below is a picture of the partially painted weirwood:

And the final product:
All in all, this was super fun! And very messy, just the way I like my crafts. Nevertheless, I'm extremely proud of my weirwood, and he will be an excellent centerpiece for my Game of Thrones party.


  1. Caitlin I loved your idea! Your weirwood is perfect!

    I found your post and I want one for me too!

    I've a portuguese blog about Game Of Thrones and I'll share your work! ok?