Monday, June 20, 2011

Scenic Art amidst Teaching Art

Backdrops for Once Upon a Mattress
Maine South High School
9-12 grades

Right around that moody January/February slump, I found myself itching to create. We had just finished all those lovely holidays, complete with 1st semester finals. Even though I began the second semester with highlights of what we'd be creating in class (you know, "Now that we've worked our butts off with all the technical mumbo jumbo, now we are going to focus on CONCEPT and ARTSY FARTSY stuff), I still found that my students were in a funk. Well, quite honestly, so was I! So what better way to get inspired than to get back to your roots.

ROOTS: Scenic Art
I didn't think I would miss scenic art as much as I have. There is something to be said about being handed a painter's elevation (a piece of artwork that a designer hands over for the scenic artist to interpretively replicate), letting those problem solving gears take over, and then WHA-LA! A masterpiece! No one asks you questions, no one constantly saying, "Mrs. Taylor! Mrs. Taylor!" You simply... create. Ahhhhh.

Integrating Scenic Art at the High School Level
A few years ago, I worked with Walter Payton High School in the city to design and paint their set for The Importance of Being Earnest. It was then that I really got the taste of how to integrate scenic art for high schoolers. I realized that, instead of scaling down my expectations of the students, I simply had to scale down for time. When all was said and done, the kids really worked their creative magic. The biggest challenge for me was to figure out what to do with so many students. Because I was able to put 5 students to one task, I really found myself back in the task manager chair as the students heavily collaborated on this project.

Backdrops at the High School Level
Backdrops are a tricky thing for this skill level. Mostly, because I really
wanted to bring my expertise to this project. I was so very grateful that Pat Sanchez, Technical Director at Maine South, was able to provide
me with MANY luxuries that most high schools cannot provide: a brand new drop, hand pump sprayers, lining sticks, bridges, creative talent, lots of helpers, time, space, support, support, did I say support?... the list goes on and on. In this process, I met with the paint crew ahead of time to feel out what the varying strengths are within the group.

Drop #1: Far far away...
The first drop (of two) that we painted was a landscape with the directive- "Far away
mountain/hills... you know, sort of SHREK like." No problemo! Even better... we were painting from an existing drop. I could really shoot myself for not getting BEFORE and AFTER photos of this drop. Regardless, this was a really fun way to start working with the kids. I set some off to mix colors, talking about the use of cool and warm colors to really play with the stage lighting, as well as saturated and desaturated colors adding to foreground and background. While I drew out how we would adapt the existing mountainous landscape, I had the kids plop their brushes on bamboo poles, which they LOVED working with. I thought they'd get frustrated and drop to their hands and knees painting with tiny brushes. I expected to be constantly telling them to STEP BACK and use the darn bamboo, for crying out loud! But, alas, they really did take a liking to the tools and did quite well adapting to this new style of painting. Students brushed in texture, used plastic baggies and sponges to create grassy and flower textures, as well as hand pump sprayers to soften areas and push scenery back. We painted this drop in 2 afternoons (4-6pm).

Drop #2: Castle Hallway (and outside courtyard)
The first day we began, I gave Pat instructions on
how to mix starch, while I worked with the students to properly lay down the drop. Students starched the drop using a 2 gallon pump sprayer and brushes on bamboo. I made them do 2 passes as they had many "holidays." I'm sure they were not happy with me at that point (it is a LOT of work!), but I was concerned about making sure we had a nice ground to start from.

The following day, we gridded our elevation and our drop, and we began to draw. The students worked with jumbo charcoal on bamboo and a "homemade" muslin flogger to "erase." They did a fantastic job picking up how to use the grid to enlarge and transfer the drawing, and I was very impressed how fast they laid everything out! Also- I was blown away at how they really didn't ask me questions at this point... they asked each other! You can see in this one photo how the students talk to each other about the gridded
elevation and problem-solve together.

While some students were drawing, I set others
to begin mixing our colors for us. We had such a fantastic "store" of paint available to us- mostly scenic paint (Rosco Off Broadway or Super Sats), but also some leftover latex that we used sparingly.

We began painting on the 3rd day with our "grounds:" scumbled interior and exterior stone, sky, dirt, tree, etc. On our 4th day, I was lucky enough to have the kids work with me for an entire day from 9am-1pm (1pm being our pizza lunch, and then cleanup after). On this day, we tackled as many of the "details" that we could, leaving some final touches and sprays for the following Monday. Here is the finished Castle Hallway Drop! Total time to starch, draw, and paint this drop was 10 hours.

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