I was thinking of just using my usual paper ephemera clay and decided it would need some kind of long fiber to give it some extra support because whatever the final shape would be it was going to be large and very thin. I figured I could use jute cords or a coarse fabric like burlap- kind of like how horse hair used to be added to plaster. Then I thought why not just make the entire piece out of just cords or burlap- it just needs some glue to hold it together and it would be easy to achieve the complex tree-like forms I was looking for.
To begin I cut up several burlap coffee bags and rolls of jute cord and soaked them in water with baking soda overnight. The alkaline water leaches out the acidic tannins in the cloth and renders it much more soft and supple. After rinsing and drying the cords and fabric pieces I arranged them out flat in the pattern of a grove of wiry trees.
After adding a few more strands I soaked the whole thing in glue water and let it dry. The glue water renders the fabric and cords rigid enough that the piece will stand up straight on the wall (with a little support from tacks or nails). I am going to let this one cure for a bit and then add some paper clay to fill in a few spots- then I’ll coat it with a skin of paint. I think the final product will resemble a sea fan.
This second piece really resembles a forest. Despite it’s size its remarkably light even after adding the glue water- sturdy to.
At the base of this second piece all of the cords will be wound together- like the roots underlying a real forest ecosystem.
I’m also working with white cotton thread which will make a bright ground for a more brightly colored forest. The above pictured starting point will need some work though.