Last week I got a call from Triad Stage, a theatre over in Greensboro, NC, to do some carving for the scene shop. I had done some foam carving in the props shop last autumn, and when another project came up, they thought of me.
They already had a blank cut to size when I arrived at the shop. This blank was cut by the foam manufacturer, and was made of two pieces glued together (it looked like they used a 2-part polyurethane foam, or even just Gorilla Glue as the adhesive). This helped immensely in getting me started, since the piece was already symmetrical and scaled to the size they wanted. I started by dividing the piece into equal pie shapes and transferring the design from the research onto the foam.
The foam they gave me was a 3 lb EPS foam, which was a lot denser than anything I had ever used before. Basically, EPS foam comes in a variety of densities, with 1 lb, 2 lb and 3 lb being the most common. The numbers come from the weight of one cubic foot of foam. So 3lb foam has three times as much polystyrene packed into the same area as 1 lb foam. Of course, EPS is the beaded foam, so it is still trickier to get a smooth surface than it is with either blue or pink foam, but those are not readily available in large blocks like this.
The designs on this style of classical capital are very symmetrical and repetitive, so I really only had to draw out one half of one side, and then just trace and transfer it to the other seven halves. I carved the whole thing mainly with my snap-blade knife, surform, sandpaper, and a big ol’ half-round bastard rasp. I broke out a router a couple of times to clear out some of the deep pockets; the router also helped me cut to a consistent depth around the whole piece.
Since the capital was being placed on a column high above the set and was not going to move or be handled during the show, I opted for a simple coating of joint compound to keep the cost and time down. I basically applied just enough to give it a smooth coating and a nicer surface for paint.
The design on this capital was greatly simplified to allow it to be carved in about half a week. Because it was going to be painted black and be placed high above the set in the shadows, it just needed to hit the high points of the shape so the audience would go “oh, there’s a fancy thing up there.” Or at least, that’s what the audience in my head says after the show.