Distracted Paint Technique: Spraying Up From Black

Distracted closed last weekend, so I thought that it was about time that I record an account of the paint technique that I used on that production.  I call the general technique “Spraying up from Black”.  I devised this technique several years ago based upon observation of others painting certain effects and from my own experience.

It used to be, when I wanted to create a dark(ish) stone floor, I would paint the entire floor a middle grey value and then use a series of washes, spatters and sprays to darken the floor to the value that was my target.  This process seemed to be time-consuming and to involve a number of layers of paint.  After a while, I devised the following technique:

  • Base paint the stage floor Black (it is usually already some manner of black from previous productions or because we “painted out” the floor of the previous production to the default black)
  • Using a “Hudson sprayer” Spray a series of light to middle-value spatter coats over the black.  This can vary in density from just giving the black floor a kind of “presence” to considerably lightening the overall value of the floor and giving it a particular chroma or  color range.  By varying the output of the sprayer, you can range from an even uniform mist (usually not particularly dynamic or desirable) to a heavy dribbled, splattered texture.
  • Once dry, line the floor as needed
  • Add a series of thin washes or glazes over the individual “stone blocks” to give them “individuality”
  • I used this overall technique for the recycled walls and floor of the Distracted set.

Alice's Trip/Distracted screens painted black

The photo at the left shows the screens, which were left as raw muslin for the production of Alice’s Trip, with a base coat of black paint as the first step in painting them for Distracted.  I painted them using thinned black paint applied with a garden sprayer.  Since the stage floor on which I painted them was already and was to remain black, I painted them directly on the stage floor so that the black overspray fell on the black surface.  I laid the plastic down under the panels to protect the black stage floor from overspray from the subsequent light spray coats.

BlackScreensSprayedUpI used a light tan-colored paint to give the screens “presence”. The technique raised the overall value of the screens while also lending a texture to the otherwise flat expanses. This gave me a much more interesting base over which to apply a series of thin color washes.

SprayedUpSetFloorWithYellowGlazeI applied the same technique to the stage floor.  This photo illustrates the floor following the application of the light-valued spatter over-spray.  Note that the first of the 5 colors of washes have been “randomly” applied.  The “screens” from the previous photos can be seen finished at the back of the setting.  Red “rosin paper” masks overspray from damaging the finished paint on the finished screens and prevents the unpainted concrete stage floor from getting paint on it.

StageFloorSprayedUpWithYellowGlazeDETAILThe detail at left illustrates the texture a little more clearly while the photo below shows the finished floor.  I created the colored washes by combining water soluble polyurethane with paint and pigment to achieve both translucency and durability  with the color washes.  After the colored washes were applied to the various squares, lining of pale blue completed the application.

The Kitchen

The real key to the success of this process is the

SprayerAndThinPaintuse and care of the garden sprayer.  Often called a Hudson Sprayer (after one of the earliest and still premiere manufacturers of this type of sprayer) the garden sprayer consists of a tank that can be pressurized (usually by a manual piston-action pump) and an attached hose with a hand-activated valve that allows the pressure to release through a narrow wand that can be adjusted to vary the quality of the output from a fine mist to a robust stream.

  • The paint must be thinned to the consistency of skim milk.  If it is too thick, the paint will either not come out or will dribble or spit out the end of the wand.
  • All liquids going into the tank must be strained to remove impurities StrainingPaint2 (clots, blobs, threads, etc) that will clog the sprayer valve, wand and/or tip if permitted to contaminate the liquid.  I prefer to use a common wire kitchen strainer for this function.  Use a canning funnel to allow a faster pour and to prevent paint from spilling down the side of the tank.  Make sure to rinse all of the straining apparatus immediately to prevent impurities from clogging the mesh  or from working their way through the mesh and falling into the tank during a subsequent use.
  • The tank must be thoroughly rinsed immediately following each use so as to prevent dried paint from clogging the valve, wand and/or tip.
  • The final cleaning of the tank must involve pressurizing the tank and spraying several ounces of clear water through the system and out of the wand. This also assures that any subsequent color to be sprayed is not contaminated by paint remaining in the wand from a previous spraying application.  I often add a squirt of dish soap or Murphy’s oil soap to the water  during this stage for additional cleaning action.
  • While you can buy expensive sprayers with stainless steel tanks and brass or copper fittings and parts for $150 or more, a cheap $20 sprayer will do just fine if you observe good sprayer hygiene.

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!




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