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Theatrical Scene Painting

A Lesson Guide

William H. Pinnell

Publication Year: 2008

Theatrical Scene Painting: A Lesson Guide, second edition, is a practical guide to scene painting for students and novices, as well as a reference for intermediate scene painters who wish to refresh or supplement their basic skills.  Drawing on his extensive teaching and scene-painting experience, William H. Pinnell clarifies and expands on the lessons of the first edition, providing a detailed overview of the fundamentals of traditional scene painting. 

The guide not only covers the basic tools of the trade and various methods of creating texture on scenery but also includes more advanced techniques for scene making, beginning with stonework, woodwork, and wallpaper before moving on to the more intricate techniques of moldings, paneling, drapery, foliage, shiny metal, perspective illusions, scale transfers, scenic drops, and scrims.  Pinnell also includes refinements and embellishments that can lead to the development of personal style without sacrificing the goal of realism and more advanced work. Alternative methods to achieve different effects are also featured.

Theatrical Scene Painting: A Lesson Guide was the first book of its kind to provide clear step-by-step instructions in how to paint a wide variety of basic and advanced effects commonly needed for the theater. This new edition clarifies the origins of painting techniques and is supplemented with clearer step-by-step descriptions, new instructional photographs, and drawings that illustrate each major step.  This edition also includes additional painting projects and their possible variations, a gallery of nineteen examples of professional scenic works, and an expanded glossary to eliminate confusion in terms.

Useful to both self-taught artists and students, each lesson in the guide can be a stand-alone topic or can form the foundation for a student to build skills for increasingly complex techniques.

The second edition of Theatrical Scene Painting provides many new essential scene painting projects in a clearer format, broadens the scope of the painting examples, and includes updated methods as well as new lessons. This clear and easily accessible guide gives students the ability to put together recognizable illusions.


Published by: Southern Illinois University Press


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pp. 1-3

Title Page

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p. 4-4


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p. 5-5


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pp. v-vi

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Preface to the Second Edition

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pp. vii-viii

Any readers familiar with the first edition of this book will find its second edition far more comprehensive in scope. The first edition, a good primer, is geared to the beginning- and intermediate-level scene painters, but I have found over the decades of teaching design and painting at the university level that as the caliber of my students began to rise, ...

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Preface to the First Edition

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pp. ix-x

All stage scenery strives for a textural quality, a surface smoothness or roughness that will provoke a particular, albeit subconscious, emotional reaction in the spectator. One does not react or relate equally to textures of coarse stucco, plush velvet, aged wood, or polished chrome. ..

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pp. xi-xii

The design and painting process is constantly one of creative self-education coupled with the tutelage given by respected and trusted mentors. Much of this book is evidence of the talented instruction given me by Professor Emeritus Russell E. Smith of Wayne State University and scenic artists Vern Smith and James Miller. ...

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Part 1. Materials and Techniques of Texture

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pp. 1-3

Scholars and historians have debated for centuries as to how, when, and by whom scene painting came into being. The debate has raged because most of what is known is relatively scant, upon which conjecture has been based. What can be cited are the writings of Roman historian Vitruvius, who, writing in the first century B.C.E., ...

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1. Space

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pp. 3-6

A good working area is essential. A warm, dry atmosphere is a distinct asset. The consistencies of most paints and dyes react unfavorably to cold, and the drying time will be markedly and inconveniently retarded. Conversely, painting in a warm room or in sunlight will speed up the drying times. ...

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2. Equipment

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pp. 7-18

Even for painting small, simple pieces of scenery, buckets and containers in which to mix paint are needed. The obvious containers are the ones in which the paint is shipped. Most commonly, manufacturers package their products in either of two types of containers: ...

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3. Color

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pp. 19-29

The psychology of color is a fascinating subject, one that has been researched extensively. Documented findings receive increasing importance and impact on daily lives. Scientists studying chromadynamics have to an extent proven the effects colors have on vision, respiratory rhythm, heart rate, the endocrine system, diet, mood, and the like. ...

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4. Mixing the Base, Tint, and Shade

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pp. 29-32

To produce almost all types of scene-painting techniques, from texturing to detail work and regardless of the type of paint used, a minimum of three hues of a color are used. ...

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5. Preparing the Surface to Be Painted

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pp. 32-33

Few things are more annoying for the scene painter than to be confronted with scenery that has not been properly prepared for painting. When first built, framed scenery, such as the common scenic flat, must be covered with a decent-weight muslin or canvas and evenly stretched, glued, and stapled to the outer frame. ...

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6. Basic Scene Painting and Texture

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pp. 34-71

After the primer coat has dried thoroughly and no thin spots or painter’s holidays remain, the actual scene painting may begin. Some painters prefer to take their base color and apply a base coat as a further sealant. This step is an optional one and is dependent upon the condition of the painting surface and the covering power of the primer coat. ...

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Part 2. Basic Lessons

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pp. 71-90

All scenery must be textured or toned in some way to counteract the flattening effect and glare of stage lights. And while scenery should also provide visual interest, it must, as well, furnish information unobtrusively in regard to the locale, era, or economic level around which the play revolves. ...

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7. The Three-Dimensional Illusion and the Light Source

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pp. 71-80

The fundamental principle in creating a three-dimensional illusion is that a light source must illuminate the three-dimensional object or arrangement of varied surface planes. This light source, depending on its location and proximity to the object or arrangement, casts degrees of brightness or shade and shadow. ...

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8. Stonework

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pp. 80-103

From the very start, the important thing to remember about bricks is to illustrate some bricks more clearly than others. To illustrate every brick equally on a building or wall provides too busy or distracting an image. An overall impression of bricks is all that is necessary, with some areas far more distinct than others. ...

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9. Wallpaper

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pp. 103-115

Unless in an intimate theater setting where the audience is quite close to the action and realistic accuracy is stressed, real wallpaper is rarely used on stage settings. Its use is avoided largely because of the following considerations, without any particular importance to the order: ...

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10. Woodwork

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pp. 116-138

Before attempting to paint any type of woodwork, research the exact wood to be reproduced. Study its graining patterns and changes in color. Soft woods are less expensive than hard woods, and its trees (pine, poplar, cedar, spruce) tend to be tall and straight. Wood grains are linear and free flowing. ...

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Part 3. Advanced Lessons

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pp. 139-160

Part 1 of this book discussed the materials and tools of the scene painter and primary methods of texturing scenery. Part 2 dealt more specifically with basic demonstrations on painting stonework, wallpaper, and woodwork. Part 3 introduces more advanced work, with painting cornices, draperies, foliage, reflective metallic objects, ...

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11. Cornice Moldings

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pp. 139-151

Moldings serve both functional and aesthetic needs. Generally thought of as a fancy trim at the tops of walls or around panels and picture frames, moldings can refer to any strip of wood, plaster, stone, and the like that is used for architectural finishing or ornamentation. ...

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12. Panels and Posts

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pp. 151-160

This section showcases the painting of multifaceted wooden decor, using mostly thinned down colors and washes. Of secondary focus is any attempt to replicate a specific type of wood, which can be achieved primarily through specific color choices, graining characteristics, and the subsequent inclusion of additional painting steps. ...

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13. Reflective Metallic Objects

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pp. 161-170

Metallic objects may seem difficult to render because of their reflective quality. This need not be the case, for creating the illusion of a shiny surface is relatively simple and can be quite fun to do. And, the objects do not have to appear to be made of metal but rather any shiny material. ...

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14. Draperies

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pp. 170-180

Painting drapery can be somewhat challenging because the bold wet-blending strokes involved normally cannot be duplicated with the safety and security of the painter’s straightedge as a guide. Painting drapery requires the rendering of irregular surface contours—gentle folds and artistically gathered pleats— ...

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15. Foliage

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pp. 180-190

Because foliage is a product of nature and not made by humans, it is very difficult to render convincingly. The big question is, “Should one even try?” Probably not, as there is nothing more distracting to an audience than something on the stage that is supposed to be alive, other than the actor. Animals steal focus. ...

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16. Clouds, Mountains, and Water

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pp. 191-202

Along with painting foliage, the scene painter may frequently be called upon to paint exterior views that contain clouds, mountains, lakes, and other large bodies of water. While none of these is particularly difficult to render, keep in mind that the painter would be following specific pictures or images provided by the scenic designer ...

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17. Scale Transfers

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pp. 202-209

A scale transfer is a process by which any drawing, painting, or photograph is proportionately enlarged or reduced and reproduced with accurate spatial fidelity onto another surface. In the theater, where scale is usually larger than life, the original picture or scene is most often transferred to a larger scale, ...

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18. Perspective and the Vista

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pp. 209-221

Although perspective vistas can be transferred and drawn by using the grid method of transfer, knowledge of the basic principles of perspective is imperative. Perspective is the art of rendering an object on a two-dimensional plane—say, a sheet of paper—in such a way as to give the impression that the object is three-dimensional; ...

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19. Drops and Scrims

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pp. 222-232

Many amateur and educational theaters are forced by budgetary restraints to reuse a scenic drop or a repertoire of scenic drops year after year. If lucky, the same drop won’t be needed in shows mounted back-to-back. But even the most magical of painted illusions lose their allure, and with frequency and overuse become an inside joke, if not downright boring. ...

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20. A Final Word

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pp. 232-234

Just as the world continues to revolve, technology, in all of its many forms, continues to evolve. With the push of a button or a voice-activated command, minicomputers generate virtual, vividly colored images that are so astounding and yet now so commonplace that we have come to expect their realistically portrayed perfection without a moment’s thought. ...


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pp. 263-278


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pp. 235-244

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About Author

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p. 289-289

William H. Pinnell has designed and painted more than 140 productions in Canada and the United States and has toured with the U.S.O. from Italy to the Arctic Circle as a performer. He has also directed several award-nominated productions that played to critical acclaim at the Edinburgh International Festival Fringe. ...

Back Cover

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p. 290-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780809380879
E-ISBN-10: 0809380870
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809327652
Print-ISBN-10: 0809327651

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 252
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: 2nd ed.