Texturizing Theatrical Sets Like Jackson Pollock?
June 16, 2008 11:13 AM   Subscribe

SetPaintingFilter. When I was in college theatre, our sets were never finished until our company technical director walked the set, paint brush in hand, adding texture to the platforms with what seemed to be a very ordered splatter pattern. He'd do this alone, the night before we opened. The textures didn't take away from the set, but added depth. So what was he doing? I've seen the phrase "splatter wash," but can see no details on the method, the mix for the paint, anything.

I want to do this for the theatre I do now, but with no best practices at hand, I'm afraid the end result will just be a mess.
posted by grabbingsand to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Possibly spatter painting?
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:20 AM on June 16, 2008

Maybe he was splattering and stippling? Scroll down this page to the brick painting technique to see an example. Splattering is actually really easy if your aim is any good - the paint will go pretty much exactly where you want it to, with a little practice. It's basically just pulling the paintbrush back like a trigger,with your thumb, and letting the paint fly on release. (on preview, like Metroid Baby linked to....)
posted by iconomy at 11:24 AM on June 16, 2008

Oh, God, a nightmare from my acting past. How I do not miss rag rolling.
posted by Skot at 11:32 AM on June 16, 2008

You want something that resembles a really huge toothbrush - the stiffer the bristles, the more evenly you can splatter. A scrub brush would work pretty well provided it's the cheap kind where the bristles are all the same length - draw the back of a long paintbrush horizontally across the bristles and keep the motions smooth and steady.

Alternately, if you want texture that's a bit less subtle and a bit more visible, try sponges, but when you use sponges you have to be careful about how much paint is on the surface of the sponge and not pressing or dragging.

I've also used yet another method that I've found to be highly effective in which you use a very light wash - a little bit of pigment, a lot of water - and then pressed a saturated cloth or paper towel to the surface, and then picked it directly up by the corners instead of dragging it off (and smearing). The texture of the cloth or paper towel remains on the surface, and you can layer the texture since the pigment-solvent ratio is so low that the effect is nearly translucent. Unfortunately, this process is extremely time-consuming.

You will also want to consider color - naturally, the closer the original color and the color you're texturing with, the more subtle the effect is going to be.

Good luck.
posted by reebear at 11:52 AM on June 16, 2008

For a "best practices" guide to scenic painting, take a look at Scenic Painting for the Theatre by Susan Crabtree.
I'd love to offer more specific help but there's any number of things your TD might have been doing, and any number of ways to do them. He could have been doing at "dirty water" spatter in the shadows, or spattering on highlights and shadows in shades of the set color, or spattering on a gloss finish that makes the colors underneath pop. For any of these you can use a variety of brushes (I like a nice big stainer brush) or a Hudson sprayer.

Just be sure to practice! While there are many specialty scenic acrylics and casein-type paints available, many theatres still use a lot of good old-fashioned latex paint with tints. See what you have around and do some samples on old flats and maybe invest in one of the scenic paint test kits. See what type of a mix you want for the effect you're looking for. The acrylics can be diluted quite a bit and still retain their color, but maybe you need the body of a latex paint (especially if you don't have the luxury of painting everything flat).
Hope some of this helps... good luck!
posted by Thin Lizzy at 1:12 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Simple texture for a set: add saw dust to the paint. I saw this done in professional theater, where I was an apprentice. It was a chance thing, as we'd painted too hard, and the fabric had waves. Repainting was needed, and the saw dust added a lovely, real plaster/stucco effect.

I never saw this splatter done, but it sounds good. I think the trick would be in selecting the right colors.
posted by Goofyy at 7:24 AM on June 17, 2008

Yeah, when I was in high school, the few times we actually built and painted our own sets, the final touch was to spatter the flats with a contrasting color. From the audience it couldn't really be seen, just added texture (like looking at a Seurat or Monet painting from a distance) but up against it onstage it kind of looked a mess. :) Anyway, all I think we did was lay the flats out on the floor with tarps under them, take a tray of paint, dip brush in the paint, and just wave it over the flats so the paint dripped onto them in little dots.
posted by dnash at 8:47 PM on June 17, 2008

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