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In a change from the traditional brushwork demonstrated in a 2003 Professional Development Workshop on trompe l'oiel, the Scene Design Commission will offer a workshop in Houston on creating designs with pneumatic sprayers.

Photo/Tom Thatcher

by Gregg Buck
Scene Design


USITT to Offer Pneumatic
Sprayer Workshop in 2008

Mixing color in the air -- that's one way master painter Kamillla Nilsson described the art she creates. A professional scenic artist with over 10 years' experience in the United States, Ms. Nilsson is probably best known as an expert with a pneumatic paint sprayer.

At the 48th annual Conference & Stage Expo in Houston in March, she will offer members of USITT an opportunity to learn how to use a very powerful tool most have very little experience with. The Professional Development Workshop (PDW), Pneumatic Sprayer Techniques, will be geared toward all levels of participants. From someone who has never used a sprayer before to those who are seasoned operators, many could benefit from this opportunity to work with this seasoned professional.

After following her sister to the United States from Sweden in the early 1990s, Ms. Nilsson originally planned to study architecture at Santa Monica College. Eventually changing her major to fine arts, it was a required theatre class which introduced her to what she would make her life's work.

Already a talented painter, her abilities were quickly put to use by the theatre department. She says it was the scale and the environment that made the difference to her. Suddenly her paintings were huge and on display for thousands. Best of all, at the end of the run, the work received a proper fate. Her mentor, Mike Tomko, taught her everything he knew about painting for theatre, and she wanted to know more.

After graduation, she studied at Cobalt Studios with Rachel Keebler in White Lake, New York. From there she spent three years in New York City as a professional painter. Ms. Nilsson says it was her familiarity with sprayers that got her many jobs in those days.

On the East Coast, most professional painting is done continental style, with drops or scenery lying on the ground. But in California, in order for a painter to find work, one had to know how to paint up, on a frame, and with sprayers. This ability gave her such opportunities as painting the revival of Cabaret and continuing with the production when it famously converted Studio 54 from a 1970s disco palace into a ruined 1940s Eastern Europe.

So what is it that makes painting with guns so special? Are they just another tool, handy for any scenic artist to master like a fitch or a stencil? According to Ms. Nilsson, yes and no.

Sure, no scenic artist can live by brush or gun alone. They should always know what is the appropriate tool for the appropriate job, but the spray gun is special. It will do things a brush cannot. Ms. Nilsson uses phrases like "transitional skies" and "crazy sunsets" when describing her work, and of course, don't forget, "mixing color in the air."

She goes on to describe what she means in terms of the relationship of basic colors living closely on the canvas and influencing one another. Instead of palleting colors, where one lives next to the other, the tiny dots, one existing next to the other, have a way of changing the tone. The product becomes less like a painting and more lifelike.

Since returning to California, Ms. Nilsson has been providing a regular set of workshops for Cobalt Studios and CalArts, teaching students the art and technique of using spray guns for scenic artistry. It is from those workshops the Scenic Design Commission happily provides a curriculum to learn from.

Planned as a full-day experience for all levels, Ms. Nilsson wants to offer first timers an education about not only the techniques she uses on a daily basis, but also provide experience using, maintaining, and operating the equipment. She also looks forward to the opportunity to work with experienced sprayer users who desire feedback and advanced techniques needed to improve skill levels.

Housed in the newly constructed scene shop at the nationally-known Alley Theatre, participants will receive instruction from one of the business's best painters. Participants will not only walk away with a spray gun, but with a sense of confidence to bring this skill to any job, design project, or class.

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