Guest Author Ursula Bowden

Congo Square

When I read the script for The River Becomes the Sea, for my upcoming design, and saw that the playwright had picked a real place, I was excited; gleaning details from actual settings is one of my favorite ways to spice up a set. Seeing the tile in Congo Square in New Orleans, I just knew that it was going to be one of those special features that would really shine onstage.  Still, being a small company coming into a theatre space with a short load-in time, I knew I was going to have to be smart about how I was to find a way to get it painted in only one afternoon: so quick and dirty tile was it! I had seen how paint pads could speed up a process in faux wood graining, and I suspected that using it as a stamp could make tiling the floor go quickly too. Check it out;

I started with a floor that had just been freshly painted with Tough Prime. The group before us had an almond colored semi-gloss floor and they rushed their blacking, so the coverage wasn’t perfect but I didn’t have time to lay down a second coat. I cut my paint pads to approximate the size of the tiles. (In this case, I took 9” pads and cut them down to about 7”.) Mounting the handle on a broomstick allowed me to work while standing.

I decided to start with a mauve color for my base color, since the whole show was to have a very warm look and would be lit mainly by LEDs. From there, I stamped my design on the floor. The stage itself was 30’ deep and 36’ wide and I needed to cover about 2/3 of it. Stamping was the longest step and took me just over 2 hours.

My next layer was a medium-sized hand spatter in a very loose, wet medium cool grey. Following this, I used a garden sprayer with a very dark brown to pull the pink in a little bit and dirty up the whole stage. Finally, I did another medium to large sized hand spatter in a very wet pinkish white (the same color as the steps) for the highlight color. Voila! A whole tile floor in about 4 hours, including drying times.


Shot taken during dress rehearsal.

The River Becomes Sea by Josh Cragen was original work created and produced by Nimbus Theatre at The Crane Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


Ursula K Bowden is a freelance set and properties designer and scenic charge in the Upper Midwest. A BFA Technical Theatre and Theatrical Design degree holder from Drake University, Bowden has been a full-time theatre artist for over a decade. Ursula’s eye for detail was featured in American Theatre Magazine in 2014 for her scenic design for Swandive Theatre’s An Outopia for Pigeons. At home, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two young sons.

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