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Creating trees and foliage, not just for deities any more

by Anthony Sava, 20 IX 2003

Not everyone lives on flat, featureless grassy plains. So stop pining for foliage and spruce up your landscapes with designs that won't leaf you in a birch!

Discuss this article!



Everyone is familiar with the assortment of foliage provided by the LEGO company, so this article will not be addressing any of them. And of course this article will touch on only a handful of techniques for making great foliage.

Small plants and Floor Litter

I'm going to start with the one thing that is perhaps looked over most - the little things. If you've ever walked through a forest, you know that you never walk on bare ground. The floor of the forest is covered in small plants, grasses and what is most prolific: leaf litter.

Small plants are probably the easiest of the foliage types to make, as they use the smallest amount of parts. Some small plants can be a simple combination of a small stem and leaves, like these two examples from James Grigg's gallery:


Others can be much larger combinations of the same part used over and over, like this one from Wilson Raska's gallery:


Other small plants can be very fun to make. Climbing vines can be created by using LEGO leaves attached to a wall and to each other. Here's an example by Travis Kunce:


Grape vines and other cultivated vines can be created using the same LEGO leaves and attaching them to LEGO lances attached to 1x1 round bricks. The perpendicular handle makes an excellent anchor for the leaf pieces, and 1x1 colored round plates make excellent fruit. Might I suggest using rows of brown plates, however, to mimic where the grape vines would be planted. Here is an example from Fiona Dickinson's gallery:


Want to create some corn for your crop land? Stack alternating 1x1 green round bricks with leaves and flower stem bricks. Then hang 1x1 yellow round or cone bricks off the flower stems. Here's an example from Anthony Sava's Gallery:

Also shown in the above example is a rose bush. One way to create a rose bush is by weaving two large LEGO leaves with vines, pinning the vines to the ground with 1x1 green round bricks. Then attach 1x1 red round plates, stud side inward, to the bush.

Looking to pick your roses? How about attaching green minifig hands to 1x1 red round plates. Here's an example from Anthony Sava's gallery:


Grasses of course are easy enough to make. Green plates work well for short grasses. Longer grasses can be made using LEGO flowers with the pedal pieces pilfered. Larger grasses, such as crops like wheat, can be antennae turned upside down inside 1x1 round bricks, like this example from Johannes Koehler's gallery:


Leaf litter is a bit harder. In spring and summer, forests don't have much leaf litter, but what is there will either be green or brown. This can be demonstrated with plates of the appropriate color, or using official LEGO leaf pieces applied directly to the baseplate. In the fall, where the leaf colors are much different, plates will probably be the only option.

Small Trees

All of the official LEGO trees would fit in this category. These trees can be either deciduous or coniferous, but I would suggest that if you're wanting conifers at this size, you may wish to stick with the official LEGO trees.

As for MOC trees, these can be made any number of ways. Here's one from Yu-chen Shih's gallery:


Fruit trees are easy to make, going back to the same ingredients used to make grape vines. Take LEGO leaves and skewer them on a LEGO lance, using a 1x1 brick to anchor the lance. Then after stacking the LEGO leaves to an acceptable thickness, attach colored 1x1 round plates for the fruit. Make any sort of fruit trees you'd like, have fun with it, like these from Fiona Dickinson's gallery:


You can skip the 1x1 round plates if you're looking for just a simple small tree.

Here's another example of small trees. These birch trees by Anthony Sava show how basic bricks can be used to create foliage. While these trees shown are in their fall colors, green bricks can be used here as well. The trunks of the trees are built by stacking 1x1 white and black plates and bricks. Those people who don't want or cannot build birch trees, 1x1 brown bricks can be used as well.


Small MOC conifers can be created by either stacking either LEGO leaves. Here's an example from Fiona Dickinson's gallery:

And here's some from Reinhard Ben Beneke's gallery:


Or by using brick slopes, like this large one from Ondrew Hartigan's gallery:


Another small tree can be made by mixing the old LEGO Palm tree trunk with the LEGO leaves, such as in the King's Mountain Fortress.

Larger Trees


There are typically three different camps of people when it comes to big trees. Those who use leaf trees, those trees that use LEGO leaves and vines, those who use brick trees, those trees that use bricks for foliage, and those who use both. So let's discuss some of the pros and cons in leaf and brick trees.


Leaf Trees

Johannes Koehler's Tower in the Lonely Woods

Pros:
More realistic
Uses parts designed for the purpose

Cons
Parts hard to come by and/or expensive
Very parts-intensive
Possible 'shelf' effect
Green only trees

Most leaf trees are easy to create. First build a trunk and then branches. Then add as many LEGO leaves as you wish. But if you aren't careful, you might encounter the 'shelf' effect.

So, what is the 'shelf' effect?

The 'shelf' effect is when builders only use one layer of LEGO leaves, and the leaves end up looking like shelves on the tree. But this doesn't mean that 'shelf' trees necessarily look bad. When done well, the shelves are easy to overlook. Here are some great tree examples from Heather Patey's gallery:

From Dan Boger's Gallery:

And an awesome large birch tree from Johannes Koehler's gallery:


If you wish to avoid the 'shelf' effect, stacking your LEGO leaves works well, or even use the LEGO leaves as the branches themselves. Here are some examples of trees that use only LEGO leaves and stabilizing LEGO lances to create the trees. Take these examples from Fiona Dickinson's gallery:

And from John Gerlach's Gallery:


Reinhard Ben Beneke's gallery shows a tree with a very good alternate use for LEGO palm leaves:


And this example from Wilson Raska's gallery uses LEGO Palm leaves and click hinges to make a very interesting design:


Not all leaf trees use LEGO leaves though. About the only option available to weeping willow fans are great amounts of LEGO vines and other vine-esque parts. Here's one from Fiona Dickinson's gallery:

And this one from Johannes Koehler's gallery:


And here are some examples from Joseph Williams' gallery, one of which uses LEGO rifles as part of the branches:



Brick Trees
Anthony Sava's Stonebarrow Keep

Pros:
More common parts
More colors available

Cons
Less realistic
More difficult to design


To make a brick tree in theory is very simple. Create a trunk and stack on bricks of the color you'd like. However, building brick trees gets difficult when it comes to making the trees look 'random', that is to say, more realistic. Trees don't grow in neat little perfect balls, ya know. You can use bricks only, or use bricks and plates together. However, using bricks and plates together will become much more part intensive, and in a large display, it may be better to only use bricks to save on parts. Here are some great examples from Shaun Sullivan's gallery:


The one glaring advantage to using brick trees is the option on using autumn colors, such as these examples of Anthony Sava:



Of course, these aren't all the possibilities out there. What makes LEGO building so much fun is the continuing development into new and better techniques. Each of the designs listed here have their own advantages and disadvantages. If you find any new techniques, feel free to send me them and I may update this article. Or, better yet, write an article of your own!

--Anthony Sava
all comments and criticisms can be directed to the author at sava at ikros dot net. All pictures of other peoples' MOCs were taken without direct permission; however, all pictures are available publically on Brickshelf - if the author of any picture would like it taken off, please email me and I'll take them off.

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