Can Only God Make a Tree?

I like to make things. And I like books. Last Summer, I combined these two interests and I started to make stuff out of books:

I made castles, and then they were put on display at our local library:

Now I’m on a Tree kick. . .

. . . so that’s why I chose to do this scene even though I am not, at all, a big fan of the book Where The Wild Things Are:

Here was a chance to do a little forest of trees, with branches intertwined, and with all different kinds of foliage. Cool!

As usual, I began by rolling a short length of plain white bond paper and gluing it to make something that resembles a big fat straw:

I thought it was a stroke of genius to use one of these large clips as a holder.

I wish I had good corrugated cardboard, but I only had crappy corrugated cardboard, so I had to glue several pieces together to make a nice fat branch. I then cut holes into the “straw” into which I inserted the “branches”:

I also cut the “straw” so I could make one end of it tapered — the “branches” are all firmly glued into place:

Then I wrap it all up:

I have a book that contains half the plays of Shakespeare. The pages are very thin, and the print is rather small, which makes it the ideal wrapping material.  I cut each page into strips, and then I wrap the strip around whatever “start” or “branch” I am working on. I load the strip up with glue, so it’s like hanging wallpaper: it’s really messy. The print will come off while you’re handling it, and the glue will leak, and your hands will get crusty and grimy. I have to rinse off my hands between every other strip that I wrap.

But in the end, with all that glue and those layers of text, your “tree” will be very, very sturdy.

Now, remember the image that I’m using from Where The Wild Things Are?

If you look closely at the top of the illustration, yo’ll see that the trees all have different leaves:

The tree at the end is a broad-leaf, so bread leaves is what I made:

The tree next to it has strange little curlicue leaves, so I rolled up some more “straws”, in two different sizes. . .

. . . which I then cut, in 1/4 – inch intervals, so that a I reduced the “straw” into a little pile of “rings”. I glued the little rings into groups like this:

The middle tree, the one on which the little kid is swinging, is a palm! Oh, those palm fronds were a lot of fun to make!

Unfortunately, I did to take any photos of making the palm fronds, but here are the three trees, plus the next-to-last one, with all their various leaves glued into place:

See those black and white photocopy of the characters from Where The Wild Things Are?  I only used them as a guide to how the trees would fit together, and how the characters would “land” on their branches. The illustration in the book is very large, too large for my purposes, so I made color copies of them at 50% their original size (I’m a miniaturist at heart).

If you remember the original illustration:

You can see that the characters are swinging from rather short trees, so now I know how much I have to cut off my paper trees. And, so, now I can make the thingy that will let the trees stand up on their own:

See those strips of text? That’s what I will use to wrap the foot of this tree.


And yes, I did glue all the trees together (branches) and here they are, in place:

There were a few miscalculations about the heights of trees. I’m never doing this again but if I did, it would be more uniform. Although I do like the syncopation of the swingers from hi to lo, if you know what I mean.

In the original illustration, there is a lot of vegetation on the ground — vines and leaves and tall grass. That’s good for me, because I need to use ground vegetation to cover up the fact that my middle tree, the one siting across the inside spine of the open book, is not flush with the surface upon which the trees are standing.

I like to use pages from several different books when I do Book Art. Since there is no color to these things, I use the differences in the size and character of the fonts and typesets of the texts, and the differences in weight and tone of the paper, to give variety and interest.

For first two ground covers, I’m using some very cool pages from a book about music, for obvious reasons:

One tree had a small, bushy-type of thing growing around its base:

Another tree had more of a vine-type thing growing around its base:

Maybe the differences between the two is not terribly important to anyone but me, but yes, one of these is a bush, and one is a vine:

And for the other three trees, I made a different kind of bush, and some tall grass (as it is in the original illustration — you know that I’m a stickler for accuracy):

And here’s the whole shebang:

I have made this piece, let’s call it Wild Thing, as a companion to a previous piece I’ve showed you, let’s call it Dragon Cliff:

I still have a dragon or two that I want to include in this story (“story” is what I call the things I’m making; each book that I cut up or use as a platform for the forms I’m making tell a “story”). So there will be dragons playing miniature miniature golf with the wild wings in the background.

About the Dragon Cliff:

The fellow in the yellow cardigan is Arthur the Aardvark:

I was lucky to find him in a pose that is uncharacteristically wary. (Congratulations to Fresca and Steve for guessing it correctly!)

The kid with the taco, and his dog, are the kid and the dog from the book Dragons Love Tacos:

Getting that kid into shape so he could stand up on those incredibly spindly legs was murder, but I am a freaking genius at cutting and gluing hair-width pieces of paper together. (Kudos to Casey!)

The two girls peering over the edge of the end paper are from:

(Honorable Mention to Fresca and Casey!)

And the dragon is from the dust jacket of:

Cool dragon. I know the dragon has a name, but I haven’t so much as glanced into the book (third in a series of four, all about dragons) so I can’t tell you what her name is. (Steve stands alone on this one! )

And, lastly, the polar vortex slammed onto the north shore of Long Island yesterday and I’ve been pre-occupied with insulating my feral outdoor cat, Steve, against zero-degree weather . On Monday I went to the thrift store and found a nice warm puffy vest that I took home and washed, and then I wrapped it around Steve’s heating pad to give him an extra layer of coziness in his nest by the front stoop:

Steve seemed to like the new accoutrement very much, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing that your outdoor kitty is warm and safe only lasted two days. Then the snow squall came in — a furious blast of fine snow that only lasted half an hour, but did damage:

A little snow blew into Steve’s nest, and I was hoping that wouldn’t happen. Snow in there would melt because of the heating pad under the puffy vest, and it would soak the material of the vest, and be a cold, damp resting place, which would not be good for Steve. So I took the vest out and layered a nice big pile of  straw all around and on top of his heating pad; straw wicks moisture better than any other insulating material.

Steve nestled right down in the straw, and when I checked on him the morning after our dangerously cold night, he moseyed out and stretched as if it were any lazy Summer morn.

Today it is cold — 5 degrees this morning, to a high of 15 degrees — but sunny, and this is Steve on his stoop:

One more day of this bone-chilling weather and then it will warm up to the 40s and I can go back to my normal worrying about Steve’s comfort and happiness like I usually do.

And here’s Taffy, risking frostbite to do his thing in his favorite patch of dirt:

Have a great weekend, everyone. This Saturday is Groundhog Day, and Winter is calendrically half over!!




18 Comments, RSS

  1. Casey

    There is something very comforting about reading about paper trees and dragons and cats while sipping a cup of tea o a cold FEBRUARY FIRST morning. We’re done with January!!! And all is well wth Steve and Taffy so all is well with the world.

    I like your paper trees. But I will not try to make one of my own because it sounds very technical and messy and it’s much more pleasant to watch you make them. I think your forest is wonderful.

    • Vivian

      I’m happy to let you see how I make the sausage. Two things make it tolerable to sit at a work table for hours on end: good public radio, and privacy so i can hum to myself all the time. I hum a lot and it drives Top Cat crazy (I can’t blame him. My mother as the same habit and it’s maddening.) So, aloe in my room, I hum Queen and Barbra Streisand to myself. the one cat who keeps me company is deaf, so she doesn’t mind.

  2. Leslie

    Dear Vivian, I enjoyed reading your very patient tutorial deconstructing your creative process. Thank you for sharing. The music pages are not just visual pattern, but suggest sound as well. Brilliant! And the green is beautiful too. Those kitties are so lucky to be loved by you. I’m sure they know it!

    • Vivian

      I never thought of that! that the musical notations would invite the connotation of music! I liked that the patterns were different than text. I’m not the least bit musical so of course I would be oblivious to the notation. Thank you for your delicate observation!

  3. Your “Wild Things” creation is fabulous! Clearly you are channeling God. It’s amazing how detailed everything is. Maurice Sendak would be impressed.

    Animals are amazingly resilient when it comes to cold weather. They’re designed to be survivors!

    • Vivian

      I guess you’re right about animals being designed to tolerate the cold. But we’re animals, too, and if it gets below 70 degrees I’m cold. Really, humans are so feeble it’s a wonder we survived long enough to invent Winter coats and boots.

      Thank you about the Wild Thing forest. It was a great excuse to play with my favorite toys: paper and glue. Lots of glue.

  4. Bunny

    Love those castles, I think you are a creative genius, to be able to create those functional 3 D pieces of art, without any guidebooks, or anything. Necessity is the truly the mother of invention!
    Glad to see your cats are making it through this recent polar vortex. Lets hope the groundhog gets it right for once!
    GO PATS.

    • Vivian

      NO PATS, except on the sweet little heads of adorable kitties. Thank you for your encouragement about the castles. I don’t think this is something that can be taught by video or How To book, it’s very intuitive. I can’t write a song to save my life, but I can figure out how to make a turret, and I suppose the impetus some from the same source. We all have a superpower and mine, sigh, is making goofy stuff out of old books.

  5. Three cheers and many thanks for the step-outs of the tree-building process. They don’t pay you enough. Looks great (I DO like “Wild Things” so lots of fun here!) You didn’t say your number of hours. Maybe you don’t want to know, but I have a feeling it’s a lot!

    Poor ol’ Steve. Poor Vivian worrying about Steve. I would too. We’ve been in negative numbers here and I would have panicked like crazy. He seems to have survived well. Beware of melting soon!

    • Vivian

      When I’m making trees the hours slip away. Really, I can, and have, sat at my work table for 6 hours at a clip messing about with paper and glue, and it’s as if it were only minutes. But I do like to keep track of the time and it took me 20 hours to do the Wild Thing forest. And that was fast — I skipped the part were I start it off wrong and have to begin again.

      Steve, O Steve. I wold love for him to come inside, but once he’d set foot in the foyer I wouldn’t know what to do with him and the other 7 cats who live inside. Steve could take cover and I wouldn’t find him for months. And yes, he’s doing well outside so for now, all is well.

  6. christine

    “May all I say and all I think
    be in harmony with thee,
    God within me, God beyond me,
    Maker of the trees.

    – Chinook Psalter.

    • Vivian

      Awwwww, that’s nice. Thank you for this. I might have to copy this down and tack it up on the blank wall I face whenever I write.

  7. Your patience astounds me. I barely have the patience to read your step-by-step description of what you do. But I’ve never been any good with crafts of any sort at all.

    I hope the groundhog brings us all some decent weather.

    best… mae at

    • Vivian

      I have to admit that my patience astounds me, too. My most recent project was really tricky — I’ll show you on Friday. I worked on a new thing for two days, and even I had to wonder if I couldn’t be doing something more useful with my life. Then I remembered what the great Kurt Vonnegut Jr. said: I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.

      So I’m being fully human and farting around like crazy.

  8. Gina

    Just joining this blog–love Vivian’s books and talk of kitties and libraries. I feel quite at home. Except it’s way warmer here in CA. Thanks for making Friday web surfing fun!

    • Vivian

      Hi Gina — Welcome to vivianWorld1 Outside of kitties and books and libraries, what else is there to talk about. Oh, right: used books stores. Stay tuned.

  9. Kirra

    Your dragon castle and Wild Things forest are fabulous! Interesting to see how you create everything, I think I could maybe do step 1 with the glued straw of paper but then would fail in patience and skill after that. All the different foliage looks great and I also love the music paper choice.

    Steve is a seriously independent cat, not wanting to come inside despite snow making it into his little den. Taffy seems an adventurous type with his dirt rolling despite the cold.

    Hope you have some warmer weather now, the cold weather sounded crazy. Here in Salzburg we’ve had quite a bit of sunshine this week, which reflects off the snow and makes everything bright. The sunshine is making the winter bearable, along with the novelty of the snow.

    • Vivian

      Kirra, I ask this from a snowy (but not at the moment) northeastern United States: I wonder how long the snow stays a novelty and when it become a drag. I lived on the edge of the Sahara for two years and at first the sand was a novelty, ad then it became, well, you know. A drag. And there is nothing you can do when a sandstorm hits. the sand infiltrates everywhere, every little crack and crevice. At least snow eventually melts. Sand is forever.

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