Summer is almost over, which means that we’re returning from a summer hiatus to bring you new content on the Scenic Route! Today we have an article from guest authors Daniela Weiser and Mikayla Carr from the Connecticut Repertory Theatre. Last season they encountered a unique challenge for a common Scenic Art task; the need to create a customized woodgraining tool. Below they share their step-by-step process of making a new tool that you may want to add to your own toolkit.
For our February show at Connecticut Repertory Theatre, Men on Boats, the design called for post-like wood columns and very textured “rough cut” wood planks. I assigned senior undergraduate student Mikayla Carr to be the Scenic Charge for this show. We wanted to use this opportunity to create homemade wood graining tools that we could use to create this texture on a curved surface. The planks were no issue as we used metal and rubber combs and grainers to drag through a thick coat of Jaxsan. But the rounded columns were a different challenge and we wanted something that could make the process go faster and be able to be carried through wider stretches of goop.
After brainstorming and consulting with our Technical Director, Joey Kalinowski, we created our curved combs. The first step was to trace our Sonotube and get the radius of the outer core. Joey then cut out of MDF several pieces that would serve as the handles. The length of these was about a quarter of the circumference of the Sonotube.
We knew that we wanted our teeth to be flexible but stiff enough to be able to drag through the Jaxsan, so we headed to the hardware store to see what we could find. We ended up purchasing plumbers rubber sheeting which came in about 8” x 8” x 1/8” sheets. We cut the rubber following the same curvature from the MDF handles, leaving about ½” to ¾” for the teeth.
We cut the teeth in random sizes and shapes before stapling it all together. Once it was all cut, we used a pneumatic stapler to secure the rubber between the MDF handles. We ended up creating five different combs to give us variety in pattern and allow a couple of workers to be applying texture at once.
From here, we proceeded to create our first sample. We decided to cover the Sonotube with muslin to avoid seeing the ridges and aid with adhesion. We also chose to use Jaxsan because we had it on hand and it has the right amount of elasticity and thickness we needed, but this technique can work with any goop as long as it is thick enough to hold on to the rounded surface and resist gravity.
Our sample was short so we were able to do it in one pass but the actual trunks were 16′-0″ tall. To make it easier we worked in smaller chunks allowing our scenic artists to pace themselves and really pay attention to the flow of the bark on the trunk. The results were a highly textured bark that worked perfectly for our very intimate venue at Studio Theatre.
The paint treatment, designed to match Scenic Designer David Calamari’s research and paint elevation, was a dark base with dry brushed layers of lighter colors that get picked up on the high ridges of the texture. In the end, we were able to create these rough-textured wood poles that looked great under lighting and were safe for our actors to walk around. All around this was a fairly simple hack to make graining these tall posts faster and with more ease than using small combs.
The final product fit both our desired look as well as our need to expedite the process. In the end, the experiment was a success thanks to a little ingenuity and a lot of collaboration.
Image Credits: Mikayla Carr
She has worked professionally as a Set Designer, Scenic Charge Artist and Stage Manager since 1998. Some of the companies she has collaborated with are Utah Shakespearean Festival, Contemporary American Theatre Festival, Utah Musical Theatre, Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, South Carolina Repertory Theatre, Theatre Catalyst, Lean Ensemble Theatre, Timberlake Playhouse, Teatro Teresa Carreño, Caracas Contemporary Ballet Company and many others.
Mikayla Carr is a recent graduate of the UConn Design/Tech BFA program. She is a New England based scenic artist and designer who most recently has worked as the assistant scenic charge artist at Connecticut Repertory Theater and the scenic charge artist for the Nutmeg Summer Series and Men on Boats at CT Rep. Mikayla enjoys painting and spending time with her dog, Walker. Follow Mikayla (and Walker) at @mcarr_scenic.
Tags: Connecticut Repertory Theatre How-To's Jaxsan Tools Trees Wood Grain