back to Set Designer part 2

Scene Painting

There are two main difference between painting scenery and painting for a gallery display:  the scene painter adheres to the scene designer's ideas and the scene painter must compensate for the distance between audience members and the scenery.

The designer may paint his own sets or it may be a specialized job.  In either case, painter's elevations are prepared to give an exact miniature of how a piece of scenery will look when painted.  The set designer will have already considered the coordination of color with the costume and lighting designers before scenery can be painted.  For example, a red dress against a red scenic object will make an acress disappear into the very red environment.  Lighting can similarly enhance a painted set or distort the colors.

Scale of painting for the stage must be generally large to compensate for the distance between stage and audience and the strength of lighting instruments which will both tend to make details disappear.  However, a small arena stage with close audience members will require more detailed painting than a large proscenium house with an orchestra pit between the stage and seating areas.  To understand how painters use this distance, consider an impressionist painting (Monet's water lilies, for example) and how it's effect varies depending on how close you stand to the canvas.  Close up you may see only incoherent blotches of color, whereas at a distance your eye creates the pattern of the landscape in some detail.

The scene painter translates a painter's elevation to a piece of scenery by marking each into gridsGrid applied to painter's elevation and copying the information from the small scale elevation to the corresponding larger scale scenic object. The scene painter often uses a paintframe to attach large pieces of scenery vertically and then be able to move it up and down to reach various parts of the object while standing on the floor.Paintframe

The scene painter is also concerned with adding depth and texture to both flat pieces of scenery and pieces that are built with some texture or three dimensionality.  She uses line to create the illusion of shadow from three dimensional objects or emphasize shadows on three dimensional objects, like the molding of a wall or the underside of stones.  She has many possible ways to create texture.  One possibility is to mix something like sawdust into the paint itself.  Another is to layer the paint colors with such techniques as spattering, sponging, dry brushing, wood grain, or marbling.  Finally, she might use stencil or actual wallpaper.painted texture examples

Painted scenery usually has a minimum of three colors applied in some format;  these colors may not be obvious from the distance of an audience seat, but they are useful both to add texture to the set pieces and to pick up changes of color in the stage lighting.

Properties Design

Set dressings, which includes objects like furniture or shrubs, will usually be selected by the set designer.  Stage and hand properties may be selected by the set designer and costume properties by the costume designer, or a separate properties designer may take on the "props." Set or stage props are objects like pictures, candles, dishes or other elements that stay on the set.  Hand props are those objects that actors actively use, like money, food, or cigarettes. Costume props include makeup, fans, umbrellas, walking sticks, snuff boxes, and gloves.

Props for period plays, like Shakespeare's Hamlet,  may be quite involved, depending on the degrees of detail and of historical accuracy desired by the director.  Like the other designers, the properties designer must support the director's overall concept for the production.  The props designer must also coordinate closely with the set and costume designers.  Since many props are actively used by actors, a props designer must also be sensitive to actors' needs within a scene.  Canes, telephones, dishes, books, and suitcases must normally be functional for actors.  Even a contemporary play performed in a realistic style will cause the props designer to make many choices about the best objects for the stage.  Every lamp, framed picture, and letter used on the stage will communicate about the characters' personalities, tastes, and interests.  And each property must look appropriate with the scenery and costumes.

Some properties require daily maintainance or replacement, like food that is eaten, a mirror that is shattered, cigars that are smoked, or letters that are torn up.  In such a case the designer must acquire many copies of the same objects.

End of Set Design Readings