Theater set design: scene painting techniques

Theater set design: scene painting techniques

The setting of a theater performance provides the atmosphere for the actors to bring their stories to life. With attention to detail and a knowledge of what scenes need to be created for the production, you can create scenes that have the best possible effect on the audience, giving them a glimpse of the world the characters inhabit.

The background is the largest part of the set and is generally painted to create the illusion of rooms or open spaces. The most widely used paint for scenery is casein, a water-based paint that can be cleaned up with soap and water. It can be mixed to create many colors and shades, but if you are going to paint a large area one color, either mix a lot of paint and do it all at once or write down exactly how much of each color to use in the mixture.

Three types of brushes are most often used in scene painting; 8-inch basecoat brushes, 2 to 6-inch layout brushes, and 1 to 2-inch lining brushes. You can use rollers or spray guns for large areas, but brushes should be used for the details. You can create many different scenic effects with paint and the following techniques.

Dry-brush strokes, made by putting a small amount of paint of a worn, dry brush, give a streaked effect.

Paint can be dribbled over a painted floor to relieve the emptiness of the large area. Spattering is often used to tone, soften, or highlight an undercoat and can be created with a spray gun or shaking a brush covered in paint.

Scumbling requires two colors of paint to be applied so that they meld but do not blend completely. This is done either with overlapping strokes of the two colors or by daubing each color onto the surface.

Wash creates a subtle change of dark to light using three tones of the same color, dark, medium, and light. If possible, lay the surface to be painted on the floor to prevent runs. Use watery paint and paint the three sections dark to medium to light, keeping water nearby to further soften the boundaries.

The wet blend gives a textured, weathered look by fusing several colors. The surface is wetted slightly and watery paint is applied in the desired colors. Water can be spattered on the wet paint to make it blend if desired.

There are several steps to creating a painted marbleized effect. First, use a medium color as a base. Then sponge three successively lighter shades of that color over the surface, creating a mottled look. When that has dried, lightly sponge two contrasting colors over it to add highlights. After that is dry, paint on light veining in white, and the lightest shade of your base color and dark veining in darker shades. Criss-cross and vary the thickness of the lines to imitate the appearance of real marble. Use the watery light paint used for veining to spatter the surface and diffuse the color. The dry surface can then be coated with either a matte or glossy finish.

Wood graining can create the effect of wood paneling using two browns close in color. Brush on one, then the other in parallel strokes, then streak it at intervals with a damp brush before the paint dries. Take one of the browns and use white and a darker brown to make a lighter and a darker shade and paint on lines simulating wood grain. Streak upwards with an old, dry brush. This surface can also be coated with a matte or glossy finish.


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