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Susan Crabtree, left, and Howard Jones discuss techniques during Scene Painting: Backdrop Layout at the National Ballet held prior to the 2005 Annual Conference.

Photos/Karen Maness

by Karen Maness
Vice Commissioner of Scene Painting, Scene Design Commission


Backdrop Layout PDW:
Rousing Success

On a crisp March morning in Toronto, a group of exceptional scenic artists gathered to teach, witness, and participate in a Professional Development Workshop at the Canadian Opera Company scenic studio.

Susan Crabtree, co-author of Scenic Art for the Theatre: History, Tools, and Techniques, and Howard Jones, professor of design at North Carolina School of the Arts and co-founder of the nationally-recognized Cobalt Studios, presented a full day workshop on cartooning. Since these two instructors are considered among the finest scenic artists in the nation, the workshop sold out quickly and drew participants and observers from across the United States and Canada.

The PDW offered hands-on demonstrations and in-depth lectures on the principles of drawing in perspective for the theatre. The workshop covered a variety of useful scenic techniques as well as drawing methods, materials, and mediums. Each attendee was given a handbook of supporting illustrations and examples of cartooning methods to take with them for future reference.

The participants executed large drawing projects with lining sticks, charcoal, and snap lines as they would on a backdrop. Their projects included drawing an arched wall in one point perspective and a descending wall of arches. The lecture and demonstration covered the drafting of fluted columns and capitals, quick methods of repeating detailed architectural images such as balustrade and ornate moldings, and painted wallpaper. A favorite demonstration of the day was creating a perfect 5-point star in less than 30 seconds.

Assisting the participants in the execution of the projects were Rick Gordon, the charge scenic artist from the Canadian Opera Company; Mary Heilman from the California Institute of the Arts; Rachel Keebler and Joan Dennis from Cobalt Studios; and Karen Maness and Theadora Bellenger from The University of Texas at Austin Performing Arts Center. A special thank-you is extended to Cobalt Studios and the COC for providing many of the workshops' supplies.

Ms. Crabtree and Mr. Jones were excellent instructors. They broke down and demystified complicated architectural perspective problems that occur when cartooning backdrops.I am confidant that our observers and participants have returned to their theatres, schools, and studios with a greater proficiency and understanding of this vital skill.

The Scene Design Commission is planning a special PDW for March 2006, which will again offer participants a hands-on opportunity to enhance their skills. Consider joining us.

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