Making It Stick -- A
Challenge For Scenic Artists and Others
Upon entering into almost any theatre
or craft shop, it is not to hard to find, lying on a drippy
paint table or hanging on a wall, hand written 3x5 note cards.
On those note cards are tested and time honored recipes that
are favored answers to the elementary question, "How
do we make it stick?"
What is that recipe? How were
they created? How many are there?
Finding the answers to
these questions was the premise behind the Making it Stick:
Painting on Challenging Surfaces presented at the USITT Annual
Conference & Stage
Expo in Houston, Texas.
The session explored favorite materials,
top notch recipes, and developing smart problem-solving techniques
through rigorous testing. Though the title of the session
suggests an emphasis to scenic painters, the information
presented easily translates to all crafts artisans and technicians
not only in theatre but toward every field in entertainment.
Experience reigns over all when it comes
to getting advice. Assembled on the panel were some of the
nation's finest scenic
artists and designers. The panelists included: Claire Dana,
charge scenic artist, Indiana Reperatory Theatre; Howard
Jones, director of the scenic art program: set design and
scenic art faculty, North Carolina School of the Arts; Jenny
Knott, paint product manager, Rosco Labs; Lisa Lazar, charge
scenic artist, Berkeley Reperatory Theatre; Pan Leung, student
at Cobalt Studios and graduate student at University
of Missouri Kansas City; Bob Moody, professor theatre arts
-- scenic art, murals, paintings and drawings, Brandeis University;
and Joan Newhouse, charge scenic artist, Cobalt Studios.
Recipes Aren't Everything
Mr. Jones had said, "It is almost more important to
adjust how you approach the problems you are presented with,
than memorizing exact formulas."
It is all about the
thought process. Batches, formulas, and recipes are great
but this industry thrives on the unknowns and the never-done-before.
When inventing formulas needed for adhesive success, remember
one golden rule of the masters -- test, test, and test.
This is most critical for those working in a time constraint.
Testing first is a huge time- and money-saver.
To begin, it
is important to ask the right questions. Consider the materials
being worked with. What is intended for the final surface?
The answer will guide most major decisions in regards to
finish (i.e. glossy or flat), textures (i.e. rough or smooth),
and color. What are the requirements for longevity, durability?
Expectations and kind of materials differ if the piece is
intended to last through a full repertory season as opposed
to a show with a single run.
Closely related to durability
is function. Does it need to be soft and flexible or rigid?
Will an actor be standing on a sculpture or is it just for
looks? Keeping these answers in mind will save time and heartache.
Some real bummers for good adhesion are
a dirty surface and surfaces with not enough tooth. Thorough
cleaning of surfaces is easy for some to overlook, but taking
the time to degrease, dust, or wash down a surface will greatly
increase the results of any adhesive purchased. So, keep in
mind, sometimes soap and water isn't enough.
After cleaning, the project
material may need some added bite. Abrade the surface to
create tooth especially on smooth surfaces. An abraded surface
will give the adhesive something to grab onto. Materials good
for abrasion are sandpapers, steel wool, or wire brushes.
There are solvents such as acetone that are very effective.
However, chemical solvents are best kept to those who are
experienced and knowledgeable of personal safety requirements.
Adding on to the surface by covering with fabrics or paper
might be faster than abrading.
Be Afraid... Be Very Afraid
Mr. Moody said, "In my career, I've been asked
to make things stick to surfaces, and I had no idea how I
was going to do it. Fear is a great teacher. Most of what
you learn will start with 'I have no idea.'"
developing a personal library of what works and what does
not, stick to your guns; be a professional; tenacity under
doubt is essential.
Don't Give Up Creativity.
Many types of glues are not made with
the "larger than life" scale used by theatre professional
in mind. Read the label, consider what is available, and
always keep personal safety in mind. Sometimes, slip n' sliding
down a raked platform on a plastic tarp is the best way to
stick texturing to a surface. Experience builds up standard
methods, but change and adaptability are essential. Don't
limit imagination and creativity.
No Artisan Is an Island
There are many
successful formulas that are used every day in theatres all
across the country. Theatre professionals have the good fortune
to have organizations dedicated to information sharing. The
people at USITT or in online forums such as the Scenic
Artist Forum on Yahoo, monitored by Ms. Lazar, can be
priceless resources. The ever-expanding internet has among
its ranks websites such as www.thistothat.com which
offers a drop menu to select the type of materials and what
glue works best, according to the manufacturer of the individual
products. Test, test, test.
Things to remember
- Experience makes
a good adhesion expert.
- A good thought process and great
resources are the best tools.
- You are not alone and most
likely someone out there has made it stick. Innovative
products are coming out all the time. Do not overlook the
obvious and available.
- Have the necessary safety equipment (gloves,
respirators, dust masks, etc.) available
- For best results,
read and follow manufacturer directions for product uses.
Some recipes and valuable suggestions
were from panelists and participants in the Scenic Artist
Forum. Highlights of this handout are: favorite materials
and their uses, frequently asked questions on the use of unique
materials, and popular recipes from Ms. Dana. For a copy of
the handout from the Making it Stick session, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org