It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Craft: Autumn Tree

Traditions. Traditions are a good thing. They root you, give you a sense of history and place. They mark events, times, places in a particular way. Toddlers understand tradition, in fact, they can be positively compulsive about them. Things have to be done in THE RIGHT WAY EVERY TIME, or… the world as we know it will fall apart, or some damn thing. I don’t know.

Still, I like traditions. I like creating them with the kids. One tradition we have — which none of them know about because either A) they were just about not born a year ago or B) they do not remember a year ago — is the Giant Tree on the Wall.

Every fall I make a tree. We make a tree. Until this year, the trunk and branches of the tree have simply been brown construction paper. Serviceable, unremarkable, effective. But this year I was INSPIRED!!!

The inspiration came, oddly, from that giant stash of toilet paper tubes in the craft room. What possibly connection could there be between toilet rolls and mural trees, you wonder?

First, you take a large sheet of fingerpaint paper. Blurp on a generous few dollops of brown and white tempera paint. And then — this is where Mary gets SERIOUSLY INVENTIVE — then you sprinkle on black tempera powder. Over the paint, over the bare paper. Doesn’t have to be even. Can be a bit blotchy. (Wish I’d thought to take a picture of this, but my hands were seriously gunked up at this point. Perhaps I will insert one later today.)

Then, with the help of your handy-dandy two-year-olds, you smear the paint and powder all over the page. You’ll get a very realistic bark tone, browner in some spots, greyer in others. Because you’ll have used lots of liquid paint, and because you’ve thickened it further with powder, you get DEPTH and TEXTURE.

But it still won’t look like bark. It will just be bark-coloured, slightly lumpy paint gooped on the paper. What you need to make it look bark-like is a toilet roll!!


A toilet roll around which you have very cleverly wrapped a bit of thickish string or yarn. (In my case, yarn, because that’s what I had.) Lightly roll the tube up and down the paper, until you get something that looks quite satisfactorily barkish.

Pre-rolled paint with tube, Ready for Action:

And, ta-dah! Post-rolled paint. This is, obviously, still wet.

Here it is, dried. (I don’t think this is the same page as the previous picture, but you get the idea.) The colour and texture will change somewhat as it dries, but if you’ve started with a thick, gloppy layer of paint, the texture will hold as it dries.

Trunk with branch attached. You can see the different colour variations. It works!

Entire tree — with son. Oops. How’d he get in there?

Entire tree, sans son. Isn’t it cool??? I cut that lowest sheet of paper on a curved slant only so that I could remove some paper that didn’t get paint on it. Now that I’ve assembled the tree, I think the curved edge makes the joint of the paper look much more natural. I may change the other, straight and very artificial-looking edges later.

This entire tree took five sheets of fingerpaint paper. Today we’ll be adding finger-painted pages of green, cut into puffy cloud-shapes to give the impression of leaves, because right now, the trees are still mostly green! And as the weeks progress, we’ll add more and more coloured leaves.

Fall officially arrives in a couple of weeks. Thanks to our Tree Tradition, we are READY!

September 8, 2011 - Posted by | crafts, my kids | , , , , , ,


  1. After I read your first post about fall-themed activities, I got inspired to do some, too. The kids made individual trees out of toilet paper tubes and boxboard; the trees stand on their own, and are really cute. We also made a wall tree (out of construction paper, I should have waited!) and yesterday on our walk we collected lots of fallen leaves, which I stuck all over the tree (and the wall) with masking tape.

    We’re going to add something to our autumn scene every few days; geese in a V flying overhead, maybe some clouds, perhaps some red apples to the tree (the leaves are all from maple trees, but I don’t think the kids will care if it isn’t entirely factual). Next month, we’ll Hallowe’en it up with pumpkins, bats, maybe a witch or ghost. And then during November, we’ll take the leaves off a few at a time in preparation for adding snow in December (or whenever it snows outside!)

    The kids are having fun with it… and so am I. It’s a fantastic idea and I thank you for sharing it! Next year I’ll try the textured paint effect – it looks great. And fun.

    Comment by hodgepodge | September 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. Ooh… that looks like a lot of fun! Thinking I might copy… we’ll have to have it higher up tho, so the crawling creature doesn’t eat all the leaves! thanks!


    Comment by Oompa Loompa Burps | September 8, 2011 | Reply

  3. I love fall crafts. This is really cute and smart with the gloopy paint.

    Comment by Bridgett | September 8, 2011 | Reply

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