This past USITT 2018 Conference offered many good sessions to support our work as Scenic Artists, but the best might have been the session focused on one of our most overlooked, but perhaps most useful of painting tools: The Paint Roller!

Diane Fargo, Karen Glass, Rachel Keebler and the Guild’s own Lili Payne showed off a wealth of knowledge, tips and tricks to creating amazing textures and details with the ease of a roller. We are pleased to share that great info. We will be breaking down each section of that presentation with you as a multi-part series.  We start with: 

Making and Using Textured Patterned Roller Covers

Guest Author: Karen Glass

I work with Seton Hill University, and our theatre program is like many a medium sized programs:  I have a small group of students rotating through the shop during limited work hours, handing off one part of the work to the next group, as they come and go through out the week.  We have short 3-4 week build schedules so timing, efficiency and maintaining quality are very important. 


Using textured rollers are a key to our success!

“The Winter’s Tale” Set Design: Maureen Kailhofer and Karen Glass. Charge Scenic: Kathleen Adler

1. They are Fast!  We are able to lay down large areas of complex texture quickly.

2. They are Consistent! Any member of my crew can pick up the roller- and with a little coaching- replicate the same mark.

Going to the store to find the perfect textured or patterned roller, and one that is custom to our needs, is sadly not often an option; so I have developed a great system for making our own. The following photos and steps were originally presented at the 2017 Ohio Valley USITT Section meeting.  

Materials needed:

  1. Short nap foam rollers.  They are cheap, and much easier to work with than ones with a nap.
  2. Marker – for drawing out the pattern.
  3. Small sharp knife.
  4. Flat tray – think ‘lunch room’ style.
  5. Wide blade putty knife.


Before you begin cutting into your new roller, start with a sample on paper and draw out a box that is your roller’s circumference by its width. When creating your design keep in mind the size limitations – you only have so much room before it will start to repeat- think of it as a rolling stamp. The top and bottom of your design need to align or have continuity if you want the pattern to be continuous.

Other things to consider are:

  1. How long will the edges of the texture interact with subsequent passes?
  2. Too much space between positive shapes on one side of the roller will result in flat spots and will make some unwanted marks.
  3. Edges that are solid will create lines or stripes.
  4. How can you feather your edges together?


Now that you have the design worked out it’s time to get started!

DRAW the design out on your roller.

SCORE with the knife.

PEEL the foam from the negative sections of the design.

TEST the roller.   ( PLAN on 2-3 rollers to get it right.)


Loading The Roller

Normal reservoir style roller pans are problematic for this technique as they tend to overload one side while under loading the other side of the roller cover.  Because this process is closer to print making, we need to make a consistent mark, therefore we need to load the roller consistently.

Cafe trays create a nice flat even surface of paint and the plastic putty knives help pull the paint back to the center for the next roller loading.


Ohio Valley USITT Section 2017

Karen A. Glass is an assistant professor of Theatre at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and freelance scene designer. Karen is a 1991 MFA graduate of Syracuse University. She has enjoyed long associations with The Crane School of Music and the Pittsburgh C.L.O. Current projects include The Winter’s Tale for Seton Hill University, Shorts on Ships for City Theatre Miami, as well as ongoing work as a member of the New Hazlett CSA (Community Sponsored Art) Series Design Pool.



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