I was looking up some info on making, buying and otherwise getting great looking corbels and pilasters (which I’ll be posting soon) and ran into these videos, which show some awesome things you can do in foam.
Now, for those (like me) who have all the sculpting skills of a rock – foam really seems intimidating. The reality is it’s not, it just takes preparation, thought, patience, thought, patience, thought, patience… which probably is why a lot of us in high school theatre and small town theatre don’t use it as much as we should, and probably more importantly in the ways we should.
The fact is foam is cheap and it’s readily available and when it comes to making rock or stone it’s a great help. A 4×8 sheet and a few minutes with a drill and a grinding wheel to sand in the shapes or grout lines – you paint and you’re ready. For complex pieces it takes a bit more thought, but results are well worth it.
Really, a while back I was tasked with putting together a fountain for a set piece and we did it out of sheets of pink insulation foam we cut with saber saws and it yielded some very nice results. If I knew then, what I know now… how to shape and sculpt with nothing but a few sanding blocks, some files and or a wire brush, well, those results could have been really amazing. In fact, I’m now going back in my head to reexamine any set pieces which require rock, trees, columns, any odd shape, in all new ways after seeing how after getting the basic cut out look accomplished it just takes a couple of extra very small steps to go much further.
A lot of designs I’d have had to not consider or price out a cost to have custom created, I’m now looking at – – large wall sconces, frescos, freizes, door and wall panels… now are something I’ll consider.
Basically for foam – and you can get great results with the 3-4” 4×8 sheets you find at your local Lowes or Home depot, you just need the right glue, sanding blocks, a few files, a bit of paste (drywall compound, pulp paste, VSSD) to give it the texture you need and you can do amazing stuff you might ordinarily shy away from trying.
The process with Foam sculpting is simple, you cut to shape, form and then form it some more. There are a variety of types of foam – EPS – Expanded Polystyrene comes in a lot sizes and shapes and costs. A very common form is, as I mentioned found and your local HomeDepot or Lowes – and you just cut your 4×8 sheets into the shapes you need – bond them with GreatStuff or Fabric/Plastic glues, cut shape and seal it or paint it.
One thing that will help with your look and costs is the sealer – if you’re using one other than just a good latex paint. A lot of companies from Smooth-On to Rosco and Rosebrand have sealers. Here’s a tip that’s cost effective. VSSD.
What’s VSSD?? VSSD, or Van’s Super Secret Dope as found in the Control Booth Forums (if you don’t know what those are… you’re missing out – here’s a link) . This miracle of set building has about 101 uses for sets – and can save you a lot of cash as opposed to other sealers which are designed for architectural purposes. You can use this stuff on Foam, Luan, you name it… it’s a wonder product for sets.
Here’s a link… and the basic formula…
Vans Super Secret Scenic Dope
For those who don’t know it’s my favorite concoction for treating scenic elements that need a bit of texture. If you’re low on budget and can’t afford “Sculpt or Coat” this is a really good alternative.
about 1 quart of latex paint ( this can be pretinted, neutral base, or a “waste” paint, as long as it’s latex.
About 4 tubes of Latex caulk. Do not use Silcone caulk. Some Latex caulk are called ‘siliconized’ and those are ok to use as they are still latex based.
About 2 cups of drywall mud. Adds thickness and aids in setup time and helps leave a harder finish when dope is cured.
This is all you really need. Throw it in a 5 gallon bucket, and mix it all up with a drill motor paint mixer. Add more drywall mud to thicken it up, but not too much or it will get “cracky” when it drys, although the cracks can be very useful for some texture treatments.
For Rock I like to carve poly-styrene, then coat it with VSSSD that has been tinted to a grey or whatever base color rock I’m using. After the Dope has dried <usually 4 or so hours depending on how thick ou laid it on> you can recoat or drybrush / spatter / airbrush details ontothe rock.
Cement, Mix some sand < “playsand” availible at most hardware stores works great. White “ashtray” sand works well for finer finishes like sandstone etc.> Leave the dope a whitish, beige color, keep mixing as you are brushing it on the surface as the sand will tend to settle. You can brush or roll on the cement texture. Let it dry then treat with a clear coat, Flat or Semi-gloss are best for cement. there are many brands availible. Here in the Northwest Miller Paint sells a product called Acri-clear. It’s perfect.
Wood, This is a new one for me I just got worked out. Start the dope according the recipe then grab a trashed blender or food processor pour in a cup of water turn it on and start feeding strips of newspaper in. No “slicks” like the adverts or magazine sections just good old news paper. when the blender starts to bog down or it’s full pour the pulp into a nylon stocking or paint strainer. Continue making pulp ’till you have enough to cover the surface you’re treating. Ok Really Important Squeeze the heck out of the nylon and get as much water as possible out of the pulp. If you don’t get the water out it will thin down the dope and make it hard to work with. Ok add the pulp to the dope, SLOWLY, while your running the mixer. Make sure you get the lumps out. Play with amounts ’till youget the thickness your’e looking for. For Bark I like to use latex gloaves and put it on by hand, dragging your fingertips through the mix as you slop it on will give a really realistic bark look to the finish. You can put on an even coat then use a stylus to “draw” bark chunks on for a pine tree look.
There are a ton of uses. play with these recipes and post your discoveries here. Be sure to e-mail me any really good thing you come up with . I think of VSSSD as an Open-source operating system, It’ll only get better if every shares their own unique recipes.
Now… here’s a whole slew of videos to wet your appetites on ways to sculpt, create and do amazing things …