I had the delight to work with one of my favorite scenic designers in the city William Boles. He designed a beautiful monochromatic set that illuminated the vibrant story and characters of Ragtime. But it wasn't all black and white. I also got the distinct pleasure to paint a sky backdrop. It is so rare these days to actually paint a drop here in Chicago. No one seems to have the time or money. I am so grateful I got to rock out my skills on a beautiful sky full of gorgeous clouds.
Read more to learn about the process of the sky drop below!
Sky Drop Process
This process started rather uniquely. In Chicago, we don't have many shop spaces equipped to paint a drop with little to no prep time available. Most of our shops are concrete floors that wreak havoc on your back. My Technical Director was a bit behind so he couldn't install any plywood for me and I knew the floor was extraordinarily uneven so the seams of the plywood were going to be more trouble than helpful to my process.
When I walked into the space, I first laid out rose paper and thoroughly taped it to the floor. I knew this was going to help anchor the drop. I then unfolded my fabric. I was expecting muslin but instead the team bought duck canvas, the same stuff you use in fine art land. This was my first drop painted on something other than scrim or muslin. It actually ended working to my benefit in the end. More about that later :) Anyway, I unfolded the canvas and tacked it down with tape instead of staples. I used a ton of tape. I was hoping since it was a heartier fabric it wouldn't stretch as much as muslin did. I only had 8 hours (including dry time) to paint this project so I skipped sizing or priming the drop and started to lay in paint right away.
The drop shrunk just a little and pulled up the paper only in one corner so I was really lucky. As I had a short time frame, I tried to turn my process into a circuit. If you don't know a circuit is when you paint spot A, move on to spot B, move on to spot C and by the time you're done with spot C, spot A should be dry and you start it all over again. I also tried to paint in thin layers that were going to dry fast. These clouds required many, many layers. The cool thing about painting clouds is that you get to discover how many colors those white poofy things actually contain. Depending on the angle of the sun and time of day clouds can display the whole spectrum thanks to the refracting properties of water. These clouds were almost sunset clouds so they had a beautiful golden warmth to them. I used a paynes gray color to pop out the shadows.
The special magic that was discovered after the drop was in the space was that it was a covert translucency. The combination of the heavy canvas , the opaquely painted sky and the many, many light layers of paint created a truly dynamic and surprising effect. The lighting designer took full advantage of this secret magic. The clouds had such depth and I loved the excited text message I got from William after he saw it the first time under light.
The canvas ended up being the perfect choice. The Den Theatre has no fly space so they rigged the fabric to drop and accordion to the floor. Had it been muslin, there would have been irremovable wrinkles all over that sky, we avoided that with the canvas because it had more structural integrity.
It was so much fun to paint a sky. The sky is what I take the most pictures of. I've been wishing for a bit of time and budget to paint big, beautiful, and intricate clouds. I am so grateful to William for designing something so very stunning for me to paint.
Stay tuned to hear more about Ragtime and the monochromatic challenges I overcame with the scenery!