I was commissioned by Boyne Hill Infant school to design and paint a mural wall on the outside of the school around the theme ‘Celebrating All Faiths’. I had a meeting with the Headteacher of the school who asked that the mural included the symbols for the 6 main faiths and a boy and a girl of different ethnic backgrounds. I then created a design of the wall including various colours and the schools uniform and outlined and painted it within two sessions to create the final mural.
Posts by Molly Watson:
Recently, I collaborated with a team of Film and TV students on their project ‘Maniaframe’. I was asked by them to design and paint a set of three scenic flats in the style of impressionist painting interiors. I painted sample paint pieces to show the group colour and texture variations, from which they choose a red and yellow colour scheme with large texture streaks created with palette knives. I photocopied the developed sample sheets to cover the majority of the flats on top of which I them painted colour variations to create differences between the sheets.
During our first module of Second Year, we were given the brief to design and create a full-size street set around the theme ‘The Haunted Histories of Hartlepool’, nicknamed ‘ The Street’ the idea behind it was that it had been built by ghosts of the past who had brought various buildings together to create a space in which they would live. We were given the challenge of designing shops, houses, street furniture and flooring that would then be built later in the module within our given workshop space. We could do this individually or in small teams once a final design for each feature was chosen. I decided to work individually as I wanted to push myself and see how far my skill-set could take me, as I had never attempted large-scale construction before and I wanted a challenge. I began by coming up with a range of building ideas that were influenced by historical images of the Hartlepool area as well as sketches I had done over the summer of old houses and period features and the areas maritime history. I really enjoyed this part of the work as you could be really creative in your ideas and make ‘mix-match’ houses from various parts of others.
Once I started to design, I began to think about other things that could be included within the street such as street carts, tents and movable features etc. I decided to focus on the idea of a street stall that had the potential to be collapsible and be moved around by the owner who most likely would have sold second hand wares. This then developed into my final design that I called ‘The Bizarre Bazaar’.
Once our designs had been approved, it was time to start construction. This is the part I was nervous about as I knew my machinery and tool skills would be challenged. Once I had planned and created technical renders of my final design I knew the correct dimensions and the easiest way to build my shop and this made the construction a lot easier. I also had the chance to experiment with new materials during this project such as polystyrene foam which allowed me to easily, lightweight shapes for many parts of my final build. Painting the final construction was the part I was looking forward to the most as faux effect painting has always interested me and it was great to have the chance to create various textures and weathered effects on my own building.
Above is my final building within the street. Overall I am really pleased with what I managed to create with only a few previous skills and with only me as the main builder, painter and set dresser.
The brief also required us to design characters and costumes for the ghosts that inhabit the street. We used photos from Hartlepool’s archives and decided to stick to a grey scale colour scheme with only small elements of colour. Some of these designs are currently being made by first years on the Costume course for a re-opening of the street in the next few months.
Last year, I read a book called ‘Sign Painters’ by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon and I was really inspired by their interviews of signwriters and painters across America, and their work that featured in the book. Once I had finished the book, I wanted to know more about traditional signwriting and how to do it. As I had imagined, it is quite a complicated process and requires many skills and techniques that take years of practicing to master. Still, I was determined to know more so I signed up for a course on the edge of London run by Nick Garret, professional signwriter and teacher, who has not only produced hand painted signs for many well known retail outlets and stores, but has also designed products and household objects for the UK market.
On the first day of the course we began with an introduction to signwriting, including the type of materials you will need, how to take care of your brushes, how to prep surfaces and work outside and an introduction to lettering and typefaces. After this we began drawing up our own letters whilst learning how to space them and proportion the different sections of the letters – for example the weight of the curve of a ‘P’ to it’s straight edge. This introduction would then allow me to develop my own typefaces and layout designs for a specific sign and increase my knowledge of other fonts and typefaces.
Once we had learnt about drawing up letters, we could start to paint… first of all we were taught how to hold the palette, brush and mahl stick and position ourselves correctly to what we were going to paint before paleting our brushes and controlling our breathing. We used line and curve practice stokes to get used to the brush, paint and using the mahl stick, which felt very unnatural to begin with and took some getting used to. However, this time really allowed me to fell the stroke of the brush and help my control over the direction I wanted it to take.
On the second day of the course we took print outs of various letters and typefaces and traced parts of these so we could begin painting letters and practicing curves, straight strokes and corners. I really enjoyed painting the letters as I found it easier to practice the strokes inside bigger forms and being able to follow recognisable shapes. Having only been painting for a few hours in total, it was still very challenging, especially when trying to follow large curves on letters like ‘C’ and those with many corners.
Overall I really enjoyed the course and found it very informative and challenging, however I felt like I wanted to take on the challenge and I feel motivated to continue improving this skill. After the course I started to collect the kit and materials needed including a range of specialist brushes, paint, palette etc. and although I haven’t been able to start practicing again until recently, I am very keen to improve in this area and I would really like it to be something I can translate into the area of Entertainment Design, for historical or restoration work, or period film sets etc. I am very excited to see where I could take this.
In March of 2015, several other (then) 1st and 2nd years students and I took part in a week long work experience at one of the locations for ITVs new drama ‘Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands’, based on the Anglo-Saxon poem. During the work experience, we worked with several key members of the creative team who were in the process of making props and set pieces for the indoor sets that were being shot at the same location. We were able to meet and discuss the creative and filming process with Production Designer Grant Montgomery who gave us a tour of the indoor sets which included the Mead Hall, Grendels cave and the various huts. We were also able to meet many other members of the creative team who were specialists in areas such as carving, carpentry, faux effect painting, spray painting, sculptors and material workers.
We worked closely with faux effect painter Steve Simpson who showed us various painting techniques as we aged and distressed benched, chair, tables, stools and several sets of large bellows for the impressive outdoor set.
We also worked closely with the head Set Decorator and we were given the task of making a large gold curtain that would be a prominent feature in one of the room sets. Most of the work experience team – including myself – were making this particular piece of several days and I felt that it was a great responsibility to be given due to the high profile of the piece.
As well as completing our work experience week at the indoor sets, we were also able to visit the impressive outdoor set as it was being constructed. At the time it was extremely windy and the people on-site were worried that there would not be a weather window to allow them to finish building due to one of the larger constructions being blown over during their Christmas break. Seeing the end result on TV to when we visited was very impressive and it definitely looked the part. The bellows that we painted were used by the fire pits and another work experience participant and I cut up rolls of hessian strips to be used around the joints of structures to hide construction marks which was again, good to see on TV.
Overall, I really enjoyed my work experience on the Beowulf set, it is amazing to know that I was able to contribute towards such an impressive and popular show and it has definitely made me consider working in TV and film. I hope to gain more work experience in this area to help improve my contacts and skills base.
In order to be successful as a professional, you need a good CV to appeal to employers or when applying for work experience. Here, I have included the part of my CV, along with a couple of portfolio images which I will be updating as I complete for work experience over the course of my time at University.
I am a hard-working, dedicated and enthusiastic individual looking to gain experience within the creative departments of the entertainment industry. I am a responsible and pro-active worker, able to interact and work well as part of a team or individually. I am highly motivated and can’t imagine working a ‘standard’ 9 to 5 and I will always put in the extra effort to finish a project to the best of my ability and to the clients – and my own – high standards. Although I am working towards becoming a professional model maker and scenic painter, I am happy to get involved in all areas of creative projects and will turn my hand to anything when necessary. I am a fast learner who is always looking to gain new skills and experiences whilst learning more about the different roles within a creative project.
Practical: White card model construction, mock-ups and scale. Technical and perspective drawing. Basic workshop machinery skills. Set, prop, costumer and character design and development. Currently developing my scenic backdrop and effect painting skills.
IT: CAD including Photoshop, Illustrator (designing for the laser cutter) and basic 3DSMax. Word, PowerPoint and Xcel.
Other: Full, clean drivers licence with my own car.
I am currently studying BA(Hons) Production Design for Stage and Screen at Cleveland College of Art and Design and am in my Second Year.
First Year – Overall First (with Firsts in all my modules)
Art and Design (A) English Language (A) Photography (B)
Art and Design (A) Biology (B) English Language (A)
Art and Design (A) Biology (A) Chemistry (B)
English Language (A) English Literature (A*) Graphics (A*)
History (A*) ICT (A*) Maths (A)
Physics (B) Spanish (B) Statistics (A)
ITV Drama Set – Beowulf
I completed a week’s work experience on the set of new ITV drama ‘Beowulf’ where I assisted members of the art department painting and ageing set and furniture, dying fabric samples and was entrusted to create part of a large cloth decoration piece. I interacted daily with the creative team and art department including the set decorator and production designer and I gained valuable experience of the high standards, expectations and deadlines that a TV series entails.
November – December 2013
I was part of the backstage team painting set pieces and props for the Drama Guild’s yearly pantomime, Aladdin. This included creating small flats for the cave scene where I used UV paint so that the painted jewels and treasures would appear to glow on stage. I was also part of the backstage technical crew during the performance week, changing the sets and preparing props for the actors.
This is the start of my Second year of University at Cleveland College of Art and Design studying BA(Hons) Production Design for Stage and Screen. This year I will be updating my website with images from my expanding portfolio, work experience I undertake and any research I believe will help me in gaining access to the industry after I graduate.
I plan on increasing my online presence to create contacts and links to helpful areas, companies and individuals whilst expanding my knowledge and skills base through the practical side of my University course. This year I want to focus on my design, model making and scenic effect skills, although my direction may change throughout the year as I discover new areas and ideas through projects and outside briefs!
I plan on making this year as successful as the last and take a step forward to becoming an employable candidate within the creative industry.
As well as Spring Awakening, during the Easter break I was lucky enough to have the chance to go and see the West End performance of ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’ in London’s Victoria Palace Theatre. This has been a show that I have wanted to see since I first watched the film a few years ago and became caught up in the story, characters and dancing. The stage show was much more than I was expecting, I wasn’t sure about how the musical element would be added, but the songs (written by Elton John) fitted spectacularly and stayed true to the Newcastle accent and dialect.
The main set used throughout the show was comprised of a three walled room set that became the Elliot’s house, the workers union and any other building it needed to be and although the actual walls didn’t change, you never questioned that the room was the same as the actors and added elements made it clear where they were. Parts of this set could also be pulled out to make it a different room such as a dressing table or toilet stalls, changing it again into a completely different setting without much effort. The painted walls used scenic effect painting to make them appear worn and well-used, as one of the main themes within Billy Elliot is the idea that the families in the village are ‘working class’ and emphasised the tough times faced by the miners who went on strike in the mid-1980s.
The set designer for Billy Elliot was Ian MacNeil, most well-known for his ‘An Inspector Calls’ set that he designed for The National Theatre although the play subsequently transferred onto the West End along with touring productions. You can almost see a similar style of design for the ‘Billy Elliot’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’ sets, with the use of the open buildings and walled rooms that allow the audience to almost look inside the building itself to see what is happening.
One of the other impressive set elements that featured throughout the show was the parts of the stage that rose up and turned, becoming platforms and ways for the actors to exit on and off stage. The large central staircase that leads up to Billy’s room is a good example – again – of how a minimalist set can still symbolise a much larger space, as even though the staircase was small set piece, it gave the impression of there being an upstairs to the house and a much larger living space. These motion stage elements were constructed by Hudson Scenic Studio from the designs by Ian MacNeil for the original show, they are a large company who build large scale props, set and motion elements such as the New Year drop ball for New York’s Time Square.
For other scenes within the performance, those that did not use the walled room or rotating staircase often used chairs as moveable set pieces for actors to dance with, sit on or move around to create a certain sense of space. They also made use of the theatres additions such as the safety curtain which not only provided practical use within the theatre itself, but became a set element to suggest that they were standing on the Royal Ballet stage. I thought this was very clever as it makes use of what is already available and it adds interest for the audience as they can connect the set element to what they have already seen in the interval etc. The set worked very well with the lighting provided (designed by (Rick Fisher) as it helped to set the mood within each building and it also helped with the transitions from set to set and gave the audience a chance to distinguish what room they were trying to portray.
Due to the strong references to the miners strikes of the 1980s and the political influence at the time, the show (and movie) make references to the Prime Minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher. Due to the negative connotations of the political leader and the trouble that was caused for workers in the North East especially, she is often the source of jokes throughout the show, none more clear than the large ‘Maggie Thatcher’ puppet that is brought out on stage during the song ‘Merry Christmas Maggie Thatcher’. The puppet itself was very impressive due to the scale of the whole thing and the detail that had clearly been put into its making and design.
The show itself is very impressive for the content, music, choreography (which was stunning to watch) and other performance elements but also for the way it ties in with the limited but detailed set and how they help the transition with small additions such as the chairs or the way they react to the lighting. It was very interesting to watch and has only fuelled my love for the film and story itself.
During the Easter break, I went to see a show being performed by the Renegade Theatre Company (who I previously wrote about here). It was a youth production of ‘Spring Awakening’ which is one of my favourite shows about discovery in your teenage years, set in late 1800s it is aimed at an older audience and includes rock and folk inspired musical making it an alternative musical theatre show. When I was watching the show I was completely blown away by the acting, harmonies and singing on the performance side, but also by the use of props, set and lighting to create impact and suggest features using an alternative stage.
The image above shows the stage set up for one of the scenes within the show, the stage itself was a square surrounded by seating, so the performance itself had to be seen and create an impact on 4 sides, a challenge for both the actors and the set designer. The actors also integrated themselves with the audience behind some of the front rows for certain scenes, this created a sense of inclusion for the audience as they became part of the show as they were also watched by the opposite rows of seating. The use of chairs was a big part of the show, mainly because it centres around the education system and how the teenagers don’t think they are being told everything by their parents and teachers etc. and want to know more. The school-like chairs also acted as different props and set elements so the audience had to use their imagination to see certain things on the stage as the chairs became symbolic.
Around the entrances and exits of the stage were arches comprised of ladders, chairs and props such as books. These were used consistently by the actors throughout the show – as you can see above – to climb on and almost appear to ‘watch’ the show as it was very rare that all the actors left the stage for any scene. It also helped to create levels within the set, which could not be achieved on the main stage due to the limited space and the fact that it would reduce audience viewpoints, they were permanent features whereas the props on stage were moved and changed constantly in the show depending on what was needed in the scene. The actors themselves brought the props and set elements on and off stage, making the transitions quite smooth and the use of a simple set necessary, which is why the permanent elements around the edge were so important.
Due to the limited space and backstage potential of the small theatre – as well as the style of the show – most of the actors remained on stage for the entire show, so they were made use of in the scenes in an unconventional way. For example, in the image above it shows one of the school scenes where the male character’s storyline is being told, however the female actors were used as school benches to hold the chalkboards instead of the addition of tables to the set (which would be another thing to move off stage). This idea was used throughout the show, such as the scene where the main female character Wendla is singing and moving around the stage on chairs, the other actors would walk across and place the next chair for her to stand on, getting them involved as well as fluidly moving the set around. I liked this idea as it also gave the actors more stage time and there was more to look at from all the seating angles around the stage.
Another thing I liked about the show was the lighting design, it was very atmospheric and included flashlights, candles and mirror reflections as well as standard theatre lighting which made the show stand out from others I had seen. The designer for both the set and lighting for this show was Ben M Rogers and has previously designed for shows worldwide including the UK tour of RENT and The Wizard of Oz in Dubai. I found it interesting that he had designed both the set and lighting, but it makes sense as he would be able to think about how the set would look under the lights and how to create impact with shadows etc.
Overall, I really enjoyed watching the show and observing the use of set and lighting from my course perspective and from the view of an audience member. Renegade Theatre Company put on regular youth theatre performances in the new Duke Street Theatre in High Wycombe as well as other musical theatre and performance events.
Images – Claire Bilyard, Scarab Pictures
Whilst doing research for artists to include within my report, I found this website that I ended up not using for my research, but I thought would be useful to include within my blog to refer back to later on. The website www.scenicpainters.com offers a wide range of resources for scenic painters, those looking to get into the industry and for clients searching for scenic and effect painters in their area.
The areas of reference and resources they provide are:
– Scenic painting courses
– Scenic painters directory (where you can search for a painter by location in and outside of the UK, as well as providing the option to add yourself if you work within the industry, this could be useful for when I am trying to make contacts in the future)
– A list of suppliers
– Finding work (including where to look, writing a CV, portfolios and interviews and talking to clients)
Reading the information on this website has really helped me with gain knowledge about how to actually get work within the industry and I will definitely be referring back to the information and self-listing option on the website in the future when I am looking for a job, work experience and to help get noticed as an artist.