I was recently weathering a prop I’m working on. To get some grime and age on it, I decided to thin some black acrylic paint down with denatured alcohol to make a wash. I had two types of black acrylic paint laying around: Sargent and Liquitex.
They are both pretty cheap, share the same pigments, have similar consistencies, and dry to the same color. So they should be exactly the same, right?
As you can see in the photo above, the Liquitex immediately clumped up when I began to mix it with alcohol; it turned to little globs and flakes that refused to blend in with the rest of the liquid. The Sargent on the other hand blended easily into the alcohol, making a silky smooth wash that was ready to distress my prop.
Now don’t get me wrong, I use the Liquitex paints all the time; it’s great to have a range of colors ready to go to touch up a prop or add a spot of color. But it’s obviously not made to be thinned. Some paints are better at being thinned, some mix better with other colors, some have purer pigments. Paints have a whole bunch of ingredients in them that make them act differently than each other, even within the broad categories of “acrylic” or “oil” or “lacquer”.
This is why your scenic artist favors scenic paints for certain tasks over hardware store paint. Sure, you can get some similar colors, but when it comes to mixing colors, making glazes, or just thinning them down, the cheaper hardware store paint often turns to crud.
Since I just wrote about wood graining, I thought it would be appropriate to share this passage written by Nathaniel Whittock back in 1828 on the subject:
It is of great consequence in imitating oak that the joiner’s work should be represented naturally as well as the wood. The practitioner in graining who resides in any large town, will have ample opportunities in observing the work of others, and improving from their beauties, and even from their defects. If a new oak door is to be formed, the joiner is solicitous to select wood as finely flowered and free from knots as it can be procured; and if a join is made in a panel he is anxious that the wood should be of the same colour, and if possible that the grain and flower should match, as nothing would look worse in his eye than knotty wood and difference of colour.
And yet it is the constant practice of the painter, in order to shew his skill in graining, to make both those faults show as glaringly as possible. Nothing can be more offensive to the eye of taste than to see the panels of a door joined at all; but if the painter chooses to shew his skill, let the joint appear neatly put together, and shew the joint by combing the grain in opposite directions. The common error is to form the joint by glazing part of the panel with a glaze of vandyke brown, leaving the other part the natural color of newly cut oak. This certainly shews a joint, but shews it much in the same way that a tailor would shew his skill in patching a hole in a black coat with a piece of scarlet cloth.
Editor’s note: The word “shew” used here is simply an older spelling variation for the word “show”. Originally published in The Decorative Painters’ and Glaziers’ Guide, by Nathaniel Whittock. London: Isaac Taylor Hinton, 1828, pp 24-25.
I totally forgot to remind everyone this Wednesday (July 24th) was Propmaster’s Day. At the moment, most of the US prop masters are at their annual conference in Kansas City; I couldn’t make it this year, but hopefully I can share some of it next week. In other news, today is my last day at the Santa Fe Opera. I’ll be able to share some more things I built here in a month once the operas close. For now, enjoy these links from around the Internet:
At this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Adam Savage dressed as Admiral Akbar, with a mask built from the original movie molds. Check out the epic voyage of molding and casting it took for him and a team of skilled artisans to get there.
In the same vein, here is another intensive tutorial on sculpting, molding and casting brought to you by the creators of the indie film, He Took His Skin Off For Me. This one shows you how they made an actor’s arm appear to have no skin on it.
Disney Research is developing software to help design mechanical creatures and automata. They have videos and animations to help explain it better, but basically, you tell the program how you want something to move, and it shows you wear to stick hinges, pivots and motors to make it happen.
Rich Dionne has a great post up describing how to keep your painters happy. The simple rules he lays out are essential for getting the show up in time and not making everyone miserable in the process. Even if you don’t have a separate team of painters for your prop shop, these are good rules to make a mental note of while planning out the build and finish of each prop.