This topic has 2 replies, 3 voices, and was last updated 5 years, 1 month ago by Angie.

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    Hi all,

    I’m wondering if anyone has suggestions for the best way to learn/upkeep skills and techniques when you’re doing a lot of non-scenic-art work and come from a “non-traditional” scenic art background.

    My background is that I took the one scenic art class offered at my university, helped paint shows at school, took two years off of theatre after graduation, did an internship where they fired my boss and I was basically told that I needed to get better at bs’ing my way through not knowing how to do something. Worked freelance and at some community theaters where fast and dirty was the only way to go, so you had to make up stuff as you went, without really time to do “proper” techniques. Worked at one summerstock where they did things the “RIGHT” way, and while I’m a quick study, my knowledge of “real” technique was way behind my colleagues who were mostly much younger, but from conservatory programs or scenic art schools.

    Basically I’m really good at making things up with what I’ve got and just going with that. But in looking at the post where people were talking about test requirements etc of hiring new people, I don’t think I’d pass ANY of those if people are looking for a standard way of how something is done. I don’t make enough money to afford an expensive class or further educational program, but I don’t want to have this hinder my career. I have been working in a bunch of different fields because of the insular nature of scenics where I currently live, waiting to know enough people to have an “in.”

    So, I’m wanting to practice or try to figure out how to do stuff as inexpensively as possible, and am wondering if anyone might have any recommendations on possibly literature, websites, or process of continuing to learn on your own. Thanks!

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

      Partner Member

      What’s your goal? Is it to be a professional Scenic Artist?

      If your resources are limited, I think your best bet to continuing education is to keep working in whatever scene shops you can. The most inexpensive way to learn is to have someone pay you while you’re doing it. 🙂

      Align yourself with people who know more than you do and constantly be observing and asking questions. You say your market is insular– does that mean you don’t have any Scenic colleagues where you are? Maybe this isn’t an option for you.

      If you’re in charge of painting everything in your current place, consider each piece of scenery to be your next lesson. Before you start a project, post a quick question on this forum. ‘Hey Scenics, here’s my idea of how to approach this project: Does anyone have ideas on how this could be improved?’ You’ll start amassing information quickly.

      Can you identify which of your skills need the most improvement?

      Here’s what I’d say about testing requirements of a possible hire– if I was the employer and I saw that you clearly thought through a project, came up with methods that used resources and materials in an efficient way, moved quickly, and had an end product that looked like the target— then in my book you did it the ‘right’ way and used ‘real’ techniques, even if you didn’t know that you were. Major bonus points if you have a personality that is open to criticsm and learning new ways to approach things. Hired.

      There are as many ‘standard’ ways of doing things as there are scene shops. That’s part of the fun of this job, you never stop learning new ways to approach things. I’ve done this for 15 years and last year I just learned a new way to get paint out of a can, of all things. Thanks, Tina!

      These are just my thoughts on how to continue learning on your own, and a bit of reassurance that even though you feel like you’re unprepared compared to your contemporaries, attitude can really be the biggest thing that will earn you a spot on a crew.

      (Also, don’t wait to know enough people to get an ‘in’, seek out the person that can teach you the most and get in with them. Actively.)


      First of all I don’t think you should be too hard on yourself about knowing the “right” way to do something. Yes there are common ways to execute wood grains or rust finishes for example but depending on the show and the company you are working for we all make things up. That is skill unto itself and a necessary one to hone. So check that box for yourself as something you can do.

      As for the test requirements, I’m the one who posted the initial question and that ask is part of a bigger conversation we have started here in the city I work in. I have been scenic painting for over twenty years now and never once have I been asked to perform a skills test. I don’t really think we will start doing them here either unless there is cause for us to suspect someone is being less than truthful in their estimation of their skills. Plus, I don’t really think a lot of employers or heads have the time to do them either. If I’m unsure about someones skill, or I have never worked with them before, I usually start them out on simple straight forward tasks and then give them more complicated ones as I see them work more. That individual is just as valuable to me if they are filling and sanding as they are doing a finish of some sort. It all needs to get done well. and we all learn from each other on the job.

      The waiting for an “in” as you call it is a harder thing to speak to. I work in an area where there quite honestly isn’t a ton of work for scenic painting. There is a group of us that tend to do most of the scenic jobs and it’s hard to find ways to let “new” people in sometimes because the money for more bodies or more work isn’t there. I try to give opportunities to new individuals when possible but it can be tricky. Maybe this is a factor also where you live.

      I do think if this is something you are passsionate about and want to do more of then keep at it. Learning doesn’t stop at the end of formal education or x number of years in the business. You have the right attitude to want to keep learning and honing your skills and getting more proficient. Those are the kind of people I want to hire as well. My suggestion for further training would be if you are interested in say getting better at traditional techniques seek out a book on amazon or borrow from the library and make yourself a 2′ x 2′ version of whatever it is you want to practice doing on whatever surace type. That way you can practice all techniques on a smaller scale and depending on what it is you might be able to reuse your board or fabric by painting over it and doing new techniques. A book I would highly recommend is Sceinc Art for the Theatre by Crabtree and Beudert. If you don’t have a formal education this might help you fill in some of that gaps you feel you have. Worth owning this one I think. It’s very thurough on tools and techniques and I believe it even has excercise sugguestions in it. I do have a formal theatre training background and this book is a great refresher for things I don’t do often and in some cases the process and techniques described vary from what I was taught so it’s a good reference if I ever need to approach something in a different way.

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