Monthly Archives: April 2013

Paint Markers and Spray Painting Sets…

One of the headaches of painting sets is the need to get it done quickly and easily.  Especially if you don’t have a lot of time and resources and… maybe, like me, your not the greatest with a brush.   Sure the big wide areas are easy enough but for details you really wish someone made like… a big marker you could just follow a pencil line with, or feather things out like with a spray paint can.

The problem with most paint markers from Autoparts stores and the like is, they’re usually enamel based paints that don’t play well with the PVA (Poly Vinyl Acrylic) paints we use on sets.  Well the good news is, they actually make those.  In fact graffiti artists and well, regular artists have known about these for a couple of years.  My personal favorites are the Montana Gold series, and the Liquitex lines of paints and markers.

Why?  Because they’re really made for art in mind.  They come in a variety of tips, even the sprays have adjustable nozzle sizes to go from very fine detial all the way to wide sprays you may be used to… and in every color you can possibly imagine. 

The closest distributor in my area is in Seattle, so – a lot of links here are from their site.

Before I completely dive in to the paints/markers, lets stop for a second and look at who these were made for originally because that really helps give you some idea of what you can do with them.  These are really meant for Graffiti artists.  They can say whatever they want, but the markers are really just well made NYC Street Mops.  What’s a street mop?  It’s basically when you take a roll on deodorant or shoe shine applicator, empty it out, shove a hunk of felt in where the roller/foam goes, and then fill it with a very thin paint/ink combination.

These are used by Graffiti artists so because they allow very precise control of paint, very quickly in a easily storeable media. Ever wonder how all that graffiti literally pops up in minutes with all those colors and so on?  the secret… a spritz or sixty with a spray can, and details with the mop.  In two days, a wall can be covered by a good artist with an insane amount of detail using nothing but sprays and mops (markers).     

Graffiti artists problems are very similar to Set Design art problems – and for similar reasons.  You’re covering a big area and it’s not just with defined color splotches.  Sometimes you need to do clouds or forrests, or any number of things, even paint offices, cityscapes, you name it – your problems will not be the same as those of someone who just has to paint a wall.  So take a few minutes on Youtube and check out some of the work done by graffiti artists. Watch their techniques.  Regardless of how you feel about the vandalism aspect of it – there’s a lot of really great art out there by people who have to work with very uneven surfaces, often fooling the eye and on very large scale. 

How these people accomplish their graffiti, is a great way to learn how to do scenic art for theatre.  The tools they use, are ones you can put in your tool box for sets because they really can be time savers with really impressive results. 

Top to Bottom: Extra Extra Large, Extra Large, Large, Short LargeMontana Hardcore & Acrylic Markers

Lets look at markers first… all of Montana’s markers are Acrylics – and as you can see the Montana Hardcore paint markers have a variety of sizes – everything from 1/2” to 2” sizes.   Montana also makes smaller sizes in their standard Acrylic line from (15mm) 1/2” all the way down to ball point pen sizes. But since these are for sets… bigger is better in a lot of cases.

Montana makes several types the Hardcores are the largest and you can get almost any color you can imagine.  Here’s an example of what’s available from my local retailer just for the plain Montana Acrylic markers…


Montana Gold Acrylic & Liquitex Spray Paint

Acrylic Spray paints are amazing to use.  Low pressure, High Pressure cans, multiple nozzles for almost everything from a fine point to big broad swaths of color.  Best of all – they’re acrylic – they work on canvas, wood, old paint, you name it.  With a very short time to get used to how to use spray paints – you can achieve some amazing effects.

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Posted by on April 12, 2013 in How To, Resources


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Rocking, Rolling, Weights and Rigging

I recently had a chance to do some work on a high school (Glacier Peak High School) version of Bye-Bye Birdie.  Since this is probably my last set for them Bill Erickson, and I did some different stuff using sets that rotated and rolled.


Rolling sets are great because you can use multiple sides of a box to accomplish in a say, 8×8 space two or three set pieces.  For imageexample the front of the MacAfee kitchen is also a part of Sweet Apple’s streets… and this not only saves space on the stage but makes from some fun transitions since we just rotate the sets.

Instead of having set pieces flying in and out we have for this production only two sets that fly in from above, the Sweet Apple Train Station and the Penn Station train station in NYC.

Part of the planning for this was done using a special spreadsheet (attached for you) which allows you calculate the weights of set pieces fairly accurately.  It does this by just inputting how many boards, sheet lumber, etc., you have and it kicks out a total for the object.  Rolling pieces like the ones shown above, or fly in flats – this does not of course include hardware (nuts bolts, braces, wheels) but it does feature in the weight of all lumber used which will get you within a few pounds.


Here’s an example based on our Penn Station clock.  For this we used 4 1x3x8 furring strips, or 32 ft. of 1×3’s.  We also used 2 1x4x8 boards, or 16 feet of 1×4’s.  We had a clock which was a four foot circle (4×4 sheet of 5mm luan)= 16 sq. ft.  So our weight for this was approximately 8.25 lbs.

We also added 4 aluminum metal pieces left over from a garden trellis arch which we’ll calculate at around 3 lbs. each, or another 12 lbs. so the weight we needed to compensate on our fly bar was only 21 lbs. give or take – roughly 1 small pig iron weight.

Now, our Sweet Apple train station arches were far more complex, each column was meant to be 12 ft. high, 2 ft. wide, with 6 1/2  feet wide 4 feet tall boxes that fit in between.  Skinned on to this we used 4 sheets of 5.5 mm luan sheeting, and for trim approximately 6 feet of 2×6, and 4 feet of 2x4s, for a total weight of 138.05 lbs..

imageNow, it’s important to keep in mind that when you do weight calculations, 138 lbs. may not seem like a lot but stretch that out over an area of 3×8=24 feet and try to lift it.  It suddenly feels like it’s 4 times that.  Also add to it your hardware, some scabbing and braces for the rear and you could easily have something that takes 4 or 5 people to lift something that two people would have no issues with.  So always use safe lifting practices.

Here’s the spreadsheet I use for

Theatre Weight calcuations Theatre Calculator


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Posted by on April 8, 2013 in Bye-Bye Birdie, How To, Resources


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