It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) Theatre Backdrop

I have been working on a canvas backdrop for the Hub Theatre production of The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged) . The director of the theatre, Lauren Elias, contacted me through Marc Ewart, a stage manager, prop-builder, and all-around crafty person I have worked with on several other productions. They needed a lightweight canvas backdrop that could be used as a curtain for the actors to slip behind for the many quick changes required for this show.
Lauren had some different ideas about what she wanted for an image. One idea was to have an image of the original Globe Theatre, and be labeled as such, The other idea was to have large comedy and tragedy masks. She wanted it to have an "old-timey" feel, look interesting, but not so interesting as to draw focus from the actors.
I did some research and collected as many images of the Globe as I could. The two I was most attracted to were both taken from an old period engraving showing the Thames River, and the adjacent section of London including the Globe. One was a detail.

The other was a more modern interpretation of the same structures.

I liked the line work of the  engraving however, it would need to be simplified in order to be painted, and read clearly. Both images were just too busy. I tried a simple layout.

I had done some research on comedy and tragedy masks, but frankly did not like the idea of the masks alone. I then had the idea of combining the masks and the globe into one composition.

Lauren liked the basic idea, but it was still way too busy, and needed "The Globe" type as well.
I introduced a decorative frame, both to contain the image, make it look more theatrical, and to simplify by eliminating a lot of  unnecessary detail.

The backdrop was originally set up to be 12 feet wide by 9 feet high. It soon became apparent that this would be impractical for the performance space, so it was reduced to 9 feet by 7 feet. The resizing squashed the images of the comedy/tragedy masks. I also wanted to simulate the coloring I was going to go for on the final painted version. So I came up with this, final version of the sketch.

Lauren approved this version. Now it was time to start painting. Marc purchased a10 foot by 20 foot canvas dropcloth. It was the only way we could get a  piece of canvas large enough without having to stitch it together ourselves. We found a wall at my office large enough to pin the canvas to. We then primed it  with gesso. The cloth was very absorbent so it took nearly a gallon for one coat. After the first coat was dry, we mixed up a combination of yellow-ochre and gesso to give the background the yellow tone of aged parchment.

Next, we used a Panasonic Digital Projector to project the sketch onto the canvas.

Using a brush and raw umber acrylic paint, Marc and I outlined the image.
Here is the first day's progress. You can see that we have outlined all of the major areas, and roughed in some areas with various shades of brown.

The second day was spent coloring the various areas. Although I originally wanted to keep the banner strictly monochromatic, I soon realized that some color would help the banner read more clearly in a theater. I tried to keep all of the colors subtle earth-tones. The hardest part was keeping the colors consistent and wet enough to cover a large area before drying out.

Here is the banner in progress.

Here is the final banner.

And here is the final banner on stage on opening night.
Managing Director and co-founder Lauren Elias said " ...the banner is beyond my wildest dreams! "
Thank you Lauren!

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) is playing at the Club Café , 209 Columbus Ave, Boston from July 18th through August 2nd. Their website is here:

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