Friday Friday Prop Prop Prop

“Don’t Touch That!” The Trials & Tribulations Of A Props Designer – Here’s a fun little piece from to share with your friends and family who might not totally understand what you do for a living.

How to Paint Foam Props to Look Rusty – Punished Props has a great video showing how to make flexible foam sheets (EVA, XLPE, craft foam, etc.) look all rusty.

Shortcuts to Good Design – Christopher Schwartz shows how he uses scrap wood and wire to quickly mock up a furniture design. He can check the proportions and scale from all angles before building anything too complicated.

Build Props and Costume Armor with Paper, Pepakura, and Bondo – Shawn Thorsson demonstrates how you can turn a digital model into a file to print out, cut, fold, and assemble into a three-dimensional prop. You can then stiffen it with polyester resin and Bondo.

Stage Scenery and the Men Who Paint It, 1908

The following first appeared in an issue of Theatre magazine in 1908:

by Mary Gay Humphreys

That for the most part virtue must be its own reward is the scene painter’s ethics of his own profession. When, as it sometimes happens, the curtain goes up on an empty stage, and the audience breaks into involuntary applause over the beauty of the scene, such are his crumbs of comfort, and he takes them thankfully.

His own standards are much higher than he is able to realize. In this respect there seems to be but little difference between his attitude and that of the painter regularly accredited to the Fine Arts. But at no previous period is his discouragement greater than at this moment, when to the man in the orchestra scenic productions seem to have profited so greatly by modern inventions and scientific developments, as that, for example, of the electric light. Nor on no other man has later managerial conditions borne more hardly.

Physioc and Hawley
Physioc and Hawley

“There is no book that gives the history of scenic art. It would be too sad. It would tell only of disappointed hopes, of melancholy failures.”

This was said by Mr. Unitt in his interesting den at the Lyceum Theatre:

“Scene painting differs from the paintings known as among the Fine Arts only in degree. The principles are the same as in miniature painting. The only difference is you have forty feet of canvas. A portrait must resemble the subject more minutely than the scene resembles a situation, but that does not concern the principles involved. But, unhappily, to say that a picture represents scene painting is to make a disagreeable criticism.

“But it should be remembered that in painting, as the term goes, the artist does as he wishes; he consults no ends but his own. It is not so with the scene painter. His painting furnishes only the background, and this as a picture is likely to be thrown out of key because the other parts, of which he has no control, are not consistent with it. The lighting of the stage, for example, may not agree with the atmosphere the scene painter has given the scene. He also has to contend against costumes out of key, and as the living element of the picture is most prominent, the scene suffers.

“But nothing has tended to retard the development of scene painting as has the decay of the old stock companies. In those days the scene painter was part of the working staff of the theatre, and in daily intercourse with his principals. It took time, if you will remember, to produce such scenes as those in ‘The Amazons.’ This could be only accomplished by having a manager with artistic perceptions, and a staff that felt that pride and enthusiasm which must accompany good work.

“The method of production is now entirely different. The scene painter is not part of the theatrical staff. His is an employee of a firm. He is required to produce as rapidly as possible the scenery for perhaps twenty plays. The greater number of these will be failures, and others must be ready to take their place. This means a large plant and more rapid work. The scene painter cannot follow up his work; frequently he never sees it afterward. He has absolutely no opportunity for individuality, and naturally does not take the same interest as he did in that artistic atmosphere engendered when he was a member of the staff of a theatre.

“The conspicuous defect to-day in stage production is the lack of team work. The men who now control these matters are not distinguished for their keen artistic sense as was the manager in the old days. The commercial element, that has to be considered in view of the number of plays and possible failures, requires that the plays be put on as cheaply as possible. Suppose the scene painter attempts to carry his point and the play fails. He would probably have to listen to such comments as:

“‘Now, if you had put that girl on the fence and thrown a lot of color around her, the play would have gone far better. See?'”

Stage scenery and the men who paint it. M. G. Humphreys, il. Theatre 8: 203-4, v-vi, Aug 1908.


Everybody’s Propping for the Weekend

Star Trek just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Make Magazine has rounded up seven fun Star Trek–themed projects. Some are goofy (“spocks” are socks with Spock on them), while others are quite ambitious (an Enterprise Bridge playset for Star Trek action figures).

2StoryProps has started work on a replica of the spacesuit used in The Martian, and his first post is on recreating the astronaut’s helmet. The whole thing is built from scratch and is pretty cool.

Tane Williams is an illustrator who worked on the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. He has posted 15 illustrations from the Necronomicon used in that film over on his blog. Careful! Grossness ahead!

It’s not a tasty treat; Popular Woodworking shows us how “sandwich construction” can help make thick wooden panels using multiple layers of thinner plywood. I do this a lot when building prop furniture, and I’m sure others do as well, but I’ve never seen a write-up with illustrations showing the process.

Make Magazine tells us everything we need to know about lube. Ever wonder whether to grab oil, grease, or WD-40? This article breaks down all the different types of lubricants and describes when to use each one and when not to use each one.

Props is Props in the Property Room, 1920

Yes, even back in 1920 it was a bad idea to use real guns as props:

Props is Props
Props is Props

“Props is props” thinks the police judge here. But props, to be props, should be in a property room, and not a bedroom. Roy Burness, Broadway theatre property man, was fined $25 under the anti-gun law, after he had explained that the revolver found in his room was theatre equipment.


The Seattle star. (Seattle, Wash.), 27 Feb. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <>

Friday Links in September

Detached eyes, dead horses, and giant disco balls: The weird world of prop builder Seán McArdle – Seán tells City Pages how he made a horse fall over on cue and glued seashells to half a Volkswagen.

Prime and Smooth Props and Costumes with FlexBond – Rosco looks at a number of cosplayers using FlexBond to coat pieces constructed from Worbla.

Corporeal Intangibility – The Alley Theatre made custom acrylic furniture and props for their production of The Nether, including a gramophone and a rocking horse. This was clearly an interesting project.

Working with EVA Foam for Costume Construction – Make Magazine has rounded up a number of videos and tutorials dealing with using EVA foam (or, more precisely, XLPE foam) to build armor and prop pieces.

Making and finding props for theatre, film, and hobbies