Tag Archives: guide

Good Links for a Good Friday

Tested has another great episode of their talk show where Adam Savage, Will Smith and Norm Chan discuss building an inexpensive toolkit for beginner makers. By “maker”, they mean someone doing small-scale fabrication of wood, various metals and plastics, some fabric and leather, model-making, and a bit of electronics, so really, it’s great advice for beginning prop makers as well. You can either watch a video or listen to a podcast of the show, which runs about 41 minutes long. They have also written down the list of tools they suggest, though it’s a good idea to listen to the show because they talk about how to buy tools and why you should get certain tools as well.

In case you missed it, I came across The Painters Journal, a publication about scenic art that ran from 2003-2010. All 22 issues are available online to read. Scenic art deals with paints, coatings, texture and sometimes even sculpting, so many of the articles are invaluable to props people as well.

Make Magazine has posted ten tips for using a circular saw. They’re all pretty good, though I would add that hearing protection should be worn too, as circ saws are almost always loud little beasts. A dust mask is usually a good idea as well.

I liked this recent article about Nick Ruiz, a theatre carpenter in the San Jose area. It’s simple and probably familiar to a lot of us in the industry, but stories like this are so rarely written.

And just a reminder that you have less than a month to enter the Prop Building Guidebook Contest! Surely you have a photograph of a prop you’ve built, and who doesn’t want a grab-bag of prop making supplies? The entries I’ve received so far look fantastic, so thanks to everyone who has already submitted.

Last Links before the End of the World

Happy Winter Solstice, everybody! I will be taking off the next week or so for the holidays. Once the new year rolls around though, I’ll be having some pretty exciting stuff to post in the lead-up to my new book (coming February 26th). Until then, enjoy these links:

Here’s a great story and video about how a prop maker and a woodworker are collaborating on affordable prosthetic hands. Richard Van As, a South African woodworker, lost his fingers in a woodworking accident. He couldn’t afford commercial prosthetics, so he worked with Washington-state prop maker Ivan Owen to build his own prosthetic.

This is a nice little article about the Fulton Theatre scene shop (including the props shop), located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

I recently came across a forum called The Effects Lab. It is meant for special makeup effects, mask making and creature design, and has a fairly active community of people discussing sculpture, animatronics, casting and other skills useful to many types of prop makers.

Wired has an article and first in a series of videos on DIY mold-making; making molds with silicon rubber and casting in plastic resin is commonly used in props shops, and these videos are a pretty straight-forward guide to getting started. Of course, the whole “doing it in your house where you and your kids eat and sleep” is questionable in safety terms.

Here’s a fun and whimsical tale of the tools in a toolbox having an argument. Warning: do not read if you cannot stand puns.

 

Chair Backs

Chair Back Styles

From 1995 to around 2004, a magazine known as Proptology was published by a Canadian props professional named Wulf. He published a multi-part series called “A Field Guide to Furniture Styles”, which contained a lot of useful illustrations and information for identifying period Western furniture. One of the parts had a nice little list of chair backs. I have taken this information and these illustrations and arranged them in a nice little grid where they are grouped by similar appearances.

I have some other helpful illustrations in previous posts: analysis of a chair, 40 styles of chairs, and parts of a chair. Armed with these images, we are well on our way to developing a visual guide to identifying the period of a chair based on its appearance.

Chair Backs
Chair Backs, illustrations by Wulf

Bentwood: Late 1800s.

Fiddle: Characteristic of Queen Anne style. 1700s.

Sheaf: Can also be a splat which is pierced in the same style. Late 1700s.

Pierced Splat: Characteristic of Chippendale designs. Late 1700s.

Balloon: Characteristic of Victorian style. Mid 1800s.

Round: Often an open frame with no upholstery. Mid 1800s.

Anthemion: Greek motif favored by Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Shield: Characteristic of Hepplewhite. Late 1700s.

Lath: Curved, flat uprights. Very sturdy. 1800-1900s.

Bannister: Like stick back but with turned posts. 1600-1800s.

Stick: Primarily used in country furniture. 1600-1800s.

Bow: Typical form of Windsor style chair. 1600-1800s.

Pillow Top: A narrower top is called “Bolster Top”. 1800s.

Lyre: Popular motif in Empire style designs. Early 1800s.

Ladder: With pierced splats is called “Pretzel Back”. 1400-1900s.

Square: Characteristic of Sheraton’s designs. Late 1700s.

Finding a Job in Film (for Prop Makers)

If you ask ten prop makers how they began building props for film, you will get ten different answers. It usually involves some combination of luck, timing, and knowing the right person. While theatre has seasonal employment, apprenticeships and internships which you can find advertised as well as job fairs which feature employers that regularly hire prop people, the world of film has no such thing. You can’t learn about it in a book (believe me—I’ve looked). So how do you get started?

I also want to add that I am writing this as I figure it out; I am pretty much a prop maker for theatre, and my film credits are, well… I haven’t done any film. But this is similar to how I began to get work in the display and exhibition world, and that kept me fairly well employed for a few years. So if any of may readers have advice to add, I’m sure all of us, myself included, will be grateful for it.

To start, find out where the props are being built. Continue reading