This topic has 3 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 4 years, 7 months ago by Robert Pedersen.

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     Robert Pedersen
      • Experience: 5-10 years
      • Scenic Status: Full Time Freelance

      I’ve been mulling over if I should post something but I figure this might help someone else down the line.

      How do you make being a scenic artist a livable career? Am I missing something obvious?

      The pay attached to positions is usually flat out not good. My favorites are the ones that want a degree and 5 years of experience (if not an MFA and the experience) to pay only $12 an hour. That’s absurd. I know it’s theater and budget varies greatly, but being between jobs right now I’m starting to pull my hair out looking at low paid positions. Jobs I can’t take because I need to pay rent – ya know?

      I got lucky in having a full time ongoing gig in the theme parks for about 2 years. It was a position you’re supposed to have 5-7 years experience at a large shop to be considered for – I went on a career fair day and talked my way into the 6 hour paint test. (6 hours, 12 basic Mann Bros scenic colors, water, a chip brush and a round, and 8 panels of in-park themed surfaces to match to existing with no visible seams.) I passed and was hired as a Scenic 1 designation (there’s a Scenic 2 that’s technically an apprentice but it is rare).

      It paid well. Like, “hi! I’m middle class!” well. Now I’m on the outside competing with folks who have 10+ years experience who apparently are willing to work for pennies.

      I’ve researched a bit and it seems like other regions pay better than Central Florida overall. Is it the area or did I just end up in a really bad time to be out of work as a scenic? None of the major shops – Nassal, Adirondack, etc… seem to be hiring and Oak Island over in Tampa just shut down and laid everyone off too.

      I look at posting here, offstagejobs, and of course scour the major job boards. I also spent this week at IAAPA expo schmoozing scenic and decor companies.  What else can one do? Are there places I haven’t looked?

      Laika studios said if i was ever out on the west coast they’d interview me. Do I just book a flight and call them and figure the rest out later…?

      I feel like I’m floundering. Any pointers?

      Aloricg.portfoliobox.net is me, if you’re curious about some of the work I’ve done.

       Tina Yager
        • Experience: 15-20 years
        • Scenic Status: Full Time Freelance

        I don’t have any great advice but I really like how you laid this dilemma out and didn’t want to just leave it floating out there in the ether.

        I think maybe there a few things happening all at once.

        You might be in a location with crummy pay. I don’t think there are many places where Scenics make a princely sum but I think you are right, sometimes it is a middle class rate and then sometimes it is a poverty rate. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s like a bad pickup line, it worked on somebody else one time so why change strategy.

        There are federal maps that show what typical artists (not specifically Scenics) make in different states and how many people make a living as an artist by region.  You might find it interesting if you are considering a move.


        Also, there are fewer jobs each time you level up. My gut is that a lot of people drop out of our field due to being stuck between levels. They can’t afford to stay in a lower pay position while they wait for a better position to open up. I don’t have anything insightful to say about it. Personally, I give myself a big pat on the back each time I am able to drop a low paying freelance gig from my usual cycle and replace it with something more lucrative.

        It sounds like you are doing things to stay competitive and your post shows that you have a good attitude. Even so, the job might go to someone else for reasons completely out of your control. Those reasons might be valid and those reasons might be ridiculous.


         Lili Lennox
          • Experience: 15-20 years
          • Scenic Status: Full Time Freelance

          Partner Member

          You bring up great points, Robert. I’ll suggest these options for other industries that I’ve found are very welcome to the skills of a Scenic Artist:

          Museum Exhibit Fabrication There appears to be 9 companies in Florida, according to that link. Scenic work needed could include painting groundforms, sculpting and painting props, animal sculptures, mural dioramas, etc.

          Sign Painting: There is a huge resurgence in recent years with hand-painted signs and lettering. Even if your lettering skills might be rusty, what sign painters don’t generally have, I’ve found, is an understanding of how to add scenic details like aging and genuine-looking distressing. Another way that Scenics really stand out with sign painters is that we know the ins and outs of getting big jobs done FAST. You’d be a real asset to any busy sign-painter’s shop.
          I believe in spring of 2021 the Walldogs sign/mural festival will be held in High Springs, FL. That could be some super awesome networking for you– in the meantime you can dig through the Walldogs facebook group for Florida contacts to get in touch with and ask about possible immediate freelance work. Ask to tour their shop, take them to coffee to inquire about openings they might know about or shops that need another hand.

          Murals: There must be a thriving community of muralists in Florida– I’d start reaching out and seeing if you can get on a crew. Again, you have special skills with painting things large scale and quickly, and that’s an asset to anyone needing to get the side of a building painted.
          Do you have any sort of eye for design? Start designing your own murals. Get yourself listed on Thumbtack as a muralist.

          Public Art: How are your writing skills? Again, if you have an eye for design, look up RFPs or RFQs available in your area (Requests for Proposal/Qualifications) and apply to produce a big public art mural. The applications can be lengthy (lots of writing), but the payouts can be equally large. Your scenic skills with comfort producing things on a large scale, understanding workflows within larger projects (‘it’s not just all about you, there’s still a show to put on’), and an ability to successfully collaborate speak very well on those applications.

          I hope these suggestions are helpful to open some new avenues for you– best of luck!



           Robert Pedersen
            • Experience: 5-10 years
            • Scenic Status: Full Time Freelance

            Just wanted to say thanks. Typed out a longer post detailing some tactics I’ve employed but the spam filter apparently thinks I’m a bot. 🙁

            Quick question: When I see a position I’ve applied for reposted, should I reapply…?

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