Welcome to the great Elf Palace, my first completely scratch quarter scale project — and proof that even in quarter scale when you add it all up, the final project can be pretty big!
I thought I’d walk you through the general steps I took building it. So it started with a sketch of a crazy project in a scale that I knew, even when starting it, was going to be pretty big. It was intended to be only 3-4 stories tall, and I had this idea of building it as a modular structure (meaning each of the rooms would be built individually, then assembled to form the structure.) I also intended that I would style the exterior to look like a huge tree.
Note: Here’s where the learning curve comes in. If you’re planning a structure like this yourself, be sure to think about BOTH sides of the tree, not just the one. I was thinking mostly of the rooms, but not of what the tree would look like, which meant I wasn’t thinking about windows and curves to help form the tree for the first few rooms. This later resulted in having to rethink and tinker with the overall plan, and it would have been SO much easier if I’d just considered the shade of the tree AND the design of the rooms at the same time in the first place.
I measured and cut out the throne room first, since I wanted to try something crazy and over-the-top. It’s created with foam-core walls and base, and this one has a card stock ceiling (although the others I definitely preferred foamcore for all parts of the structure.) The other advantage of the modular structure was that, especially when experimenting with techniques and styles, if the room hadn’t turned out I could have discarded it. I also designed five other rooms, cutting out walls, ceilings, and floors at the same time and labelling which was which. The walls are one piece. I sliced partially through the foamcore, but left one layer of the card stock / paper on the foamcore intact, which allows the piece to be bent and makes for a more solid structure than trying to use separate pieces. I got smarter after the throne room, which didn’t work this way. 😉
From there, the construction of rooms could be done both individually, and sometimes in assembly-type-style.
Floors and Ceilings: I finished most floors and ceilings first. These were first coated with gesso, especially if I was creating wood floors or something directly on the foamcore. This helped protect from water damage, plus added a bit of firmness and the idea surface for paint. I used a combination of paint (to create either wood or tiled floors) and sometimes printed and pasted tile or other surface decoration.
Ceilings were finished in a similar manner. I decided on the style I wanted to recreate, gluing on all extra texture or faux beams first before prepping for paint with gesso, which created an even surface to paint. Then painting and decorative finishes were applied. I also decided about halfway through that I wanted to insert lights into the rooms, which meant it was at this stage I also started poking holes in the ceiling pieces to allow for the tiny LED lightbulb. (To poke the hole I used an ice pick, poked first through from the right side of the ceiling so it pushed any excess paper up onto the bad side of the ceiling rather than ruin my finish. This was sometimes done before the ceiling was finished, and sometimes after depending on where I was in the plan…and readjusting said plan.) 😉
A note on electricity / lighting: For my project (and because I like budget-style crafting) I used a light pack strip similar to those from the dollar store. This one was particularly long (20ft), and the only catch was that the battery pack is huge! Therefore, I had to create a compartment. I threaded each of the bulbs through each of the rooms, poking down through the top, then up around to the following floor. One of the things I would have changed was keeping the rooms / floors more even in levels so that I didn’t have as much space between the floors.
Once I started assembling and building the structure, I attached most of them with hot glue to the base, added lights between each level, then kept building them up, making sure I was creating the exterior shape that I wanted to create. This is also when I started changing how I built some of my rooms, with some rooms sharing a wall instead of being built as completely independent structures. This meant that each floor had to be assembled / built in place, with some rooms created by the space between two other complete rooms. I’d add the floor, then measure and create a wall that joined one roombox to the next, often linking them with wallpaper before they were attached to their floor, decorated / furnished, then finally finished off with their ceiling before I moved onto the next floor. Does this sound complicated and lacking in a complete step-by-step instruction guide? Yep, it is – because this became about adjusting as I went. That’s why instead of constructing room-by-room as I’d originally intended, I started constructing floor by floor to try and keep things even and make it look more like a structure, with only a single thickness of foam core as “walls” between each room. This is also when I brought out a mini-level to try and keep the structure heading level and upright.
You’ll also notice the enormous number of staircases that I have. This was one of those “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Staircase construction was fairly simple, since the thickness of the foamcore was appropriate for the riser height of the stair. I’d cut all the same sizes, then glue and stagger them to create the staircase. I found it worked best if I could glue directly against the wall where it would eventually reside, since this helped keep it square and level. Once constructed, raw edges of the foamcore were coated with modeling paste, then the whole piece was painted with gesso to prime before being painted to look like wood, in this case with a base of burnt sienna. If you want to attempt staircases, it is definitely do-able. The biggest challenge was remembering / calculating how far apart the floors would be, since the staircase was taller than the height of the basic wall, and had to come up into the next floor. Straight pins became invaluable for pinning things in place temporarily, and later acting as a kind of rebar to hold staircases in place before and after adhesive.
Once the rooms were all assembled into the basic structure, next I turned to the exterior. The first thing I did was use pieces of paper and glue on the outside / exterior to plug / fill any extra space or holes that might allow leakage into the structure and ruin the finished rooms. I also used small pieces of paper and stickpins to protect anything that might get knocked over or damaged as I was working (for example, the guard in the throne room beside the front door seemed to have been placed exactly where I grabbed the structure…. which meant I had to re-adhere her four times. It’s lucky she wasn’t broken! Therefore, I used a small strip of paper to keep her protected while I was working.)
After all holes were sealed up, I turned to aluminum foil and scrap pieces of cardboard. I decided on the shape I wanted for the tree, building up curves using scraps of cardboard and a hot glue gun. The cardboard just needed to help arch and create curves. Then it came to cutting strips of aluminum foil and rolling them into “worms” that I applied working up from the base of the structure. This would form the basic texture of the bark, as well as help create the curves that I needed, especially when transitioning from square shapes to the curves of a tree-trunk. These were hot glued on, and it went faster than I expected. Branches were formed using thick electrical wire covered with foil, then also glued on (I also used some smaller branches that were pipe cleaners, although they weren’t as strong / rigid) and very small branches were just hot glue in the center of a piece of foil, then quickly rolled and shaped before the glue completely dried. I also needed to create the shapes for the upper part of the tree. Honestly, I would have liked it to be more gradual transition to the end of the branches, but I had a maximum height for the tree and I was already pretty close to it, LOL!
Aluminum foil layer complete, I next moved to a toiletpaper and glue layer. This was to help soften the texture, add small delicate texture of the paper, as well as make it easier to paint. The process was pretty simple: I applied yellow woodworker’s glue with a brush to a small area of foil, tore strips of a pieces of toilet paper and lightly lay them on the glue. Then I dripped the brush in water and pressed it closely into the foil. I didn’t want to lose any of the texture created by the foil. I worked from the base, then did all the most complicated parts first, such as around / between windows and around branches, then completed the rest of the trunk structure. I had to be very careful not to get glue or anything on the windows since I didn’t want to damage the “glass” since there’d be no way of repairing / replacing it.
Once this was dry, it was onto the painting layer! This was when it finally started looking more like a tree and not like some crazy alien structure. I took a picture of a tree with rough bark outside in my yard (a black poplar in case you’re curious) which wasn’t exactly like the bark I’d created, but close enough. I painted the entire structure with a wash of dark gray, working from darkest colors then up into highlights. Highlights were applied in a light wash to add some lighter colors, then dry-brushing with the lightest shades to bring out the texture. I also added some details to help add the look of lichen and more life so it didn’t just look like a dead black tree.
The final step after all the painting was adding landscape foam and decoration to create more life. This used landscaping foam clumps for the tree foliage (I just wasn’t into attempting individual leaves / for this one, especially since that usually works best when you can shake off excess… and there was no way I shaking the palace!) These were attached using hot glue. I also added more moss and other assorted greenery, this applied with white PVA glue so that it dried clear. I added some flowers and other details to help give it a cheerier more fantasy-like look rather than just the darkness of the tree.
And voila! That’s the Elf Palace, complete and assembled, made almost entirely with materials I had around the house so that the overall material cost was very low. (We’re not going to talk about time. 😉 The initial plan was dated December, and it was completed almost 6 months later, not working on it every day.)
Are you planning a crazy big project like this? What do you think? Love to hear from you.
And as always, what happens in the craft room stays in the craft room. Happy crafting!