Production Process

Techniques and Production

Colour photograph showing the paint frame in use at Citizens Theatre in Glasgow (credit: Christina Young)
The paint frame at Citizens Theatre in Glasgow (credit: Christina Young)

The scale of stage cloths and other scenic art forms part of challenge to be managed by scenic artists. Extensive paint frames are required to hold large stage cloths, and the production process often involves cloths and scenery to be ‘squared up’ as the design is transferred from a model to the much larger, full-size piece.

As the artist, Chris Ofili, explained when comparing painting stage cloth to paintings: “It’s liberating….you can draw a line for a minute, normally I am only drawing a line for a few seconds…..I would use my wrist, arm and maybe shoulder, with this there are steps, strides and twists.” (interviewed by Christina Young, February 2012)

The techniques used by the scenic artist also need to take account of stage setting in which it will be used. For example, a scenic artist rarely paints a flat colour but breaks it up or dottles it so the lighting designer can make the scene look warm or cool and so change the mood of the piece.

Materials and Suppliers

The materials in use have developed over time, with scenic artists developing new creative skills to work with diverse materials and elaborate designs. Many of these materials have been developed for specific use in the entertainment industry. In particular, scenic artists are now able to buy hundreds of products for painting and texturing scenery from theatrical chandlers.

Photograph showing shelves holding the stocks of various paint colours and types in the paint room at the National Theatre (copyright Hilary Vernon-Smith)
The paint room at the National Theatre (© Hilary Vernon-Smith)

For example, the fabrication of PVA and acrylic polymers has revolutionised a way of working that was otherwise unchanged for centuries. Most of the scenery painted by scenic artists up until the late 1970s and even into the 1980s was executed in distemper – a mix of powdered pigment and size. This changed when a range of specialised emulsions were made available to the entertainment industry that were more opaque and so suited to 3-dimensional scenery and stage floors.

Other materials have also found their way into use. Rubber crumb, for example, has become another staple in the Scenic Artists’ repertoire. It can be obtained in three grades – dust, crumb and lumps – with all three being used different contexts to form texture and manage scenery weight.