Posts Tagged With: cloth

Full speed ahead into the New Year


As the first blog of 2016, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year and welcome you to an exciting peek at what we’ve have been getting our teeth into in Design Realisation.

The start of the new term has given our DR students three shows to work on, which means their hands have been full and the workshops bustling but they have produced some great work.

The first to go up was combination of two drama’s ‘Pinter’ and ‘Dealers Choice.’ The set, designed by Amelia Jane-Hankin, had to adapt to both pieces of drama and is a simple yet effective, uniformed structure made up of wood panelled columns and flooring.


In construction our students prepared the frames fro the columns by making each side as a separate flat which were then screwed together to make the cuboid structures. Plywood was then cut to size on the wall saw and used to clad the sides of the columns.

Sam took the ‘assassins’ approach to the task at hand.


In scenic art the team painted the ply cladding with a smokey brown woodgrain effect and highlighted areas using a dry brush effect in a lighter grey.

The floorboards were given a woodgrain treatment in two shades of brown, a wash was then applied on top to blend and finally they were glazed over.


Alongside work on the Studio Theatre drama, our DR students were also preparing and beginning work on our Milton Court drama, ‘Top Girls.’ The design, by Dora Schweitzer, includes a collection of wonderfully distorted and somewhat frightening drawn and sculpted figures of women and children.

Scenic art have had their hands full with this one; the first task being to attack the large back cloth. The design featured several sketchy figurative drawings of women which were to be drawn in pastels and oil bars onto a black cloth.

Our scenic artists began by producing several samples from the references that had been given by the designer. The drawings were mainly created with a white chalky outline and then had highlighted elements and shading added in a selection of yellow, red and orange hues.

Once the designer was happy with the samples it was time to start work on the cloth.

Once the images were traced out onto the cloth using the projector, the students were able to work on individual figures to build up the collective figurative piece.

In addition to the back cloth the design included several sets of tables and chairs which all requires a heavy paint treatment. They started their life as white ikea dining sets and were transformed to look like dark, heavily rusted metal. This effect was achieved in a variety of stages.

Firstly the table frames and chairs had to be sealed with transparent polish and covent garden primer to allow the paint to stick to the metal and plastic. They were then primed with a mix of black and blue/grey paint. Sections of silver foil wrap were glued to small areas and the excess peeled off, to give metallic highlights and pieces of bogus paper were stuck to the table tops to create some texture. After this all the surfaces were given a rusty orange and blue sponge wash and once this had dried then the painters were able to go over elements of the chairs and tables adding more detailed and saturated rust colours before glazing over them to seal the paint treatment.

The results were pretty impressive…


Our students in props also had their hands full making a number of dummies that were to be flown in over the set.

These were made by pasting brown paper with glue around a foam figurine, cutting the dried paper shell away from the figure and filling inside with two part expandable foam to make the figures solid. Armature wire was then inserted into the bodies to create joints to enable the figures to be manipulated into different positions.



No comment…  :-/

The props department then added hands and facial features using armature wire and mod-rock and the figures were painted and clothed ready to be placed in the set.


The last of the trio of shows is the Opera which this term is, ‘The Rape of Lucretia.’

The design, by Jamie Vartan, resembles that of a war trench which has required scenic art to create a ‘mud’ floor which covers the stage. This was achieved by covering sheets of MDF with a layer of idenden and working into the texture. The texture around the edges of the floor were enhanced by mixing the idenden with foam crumbs and layering that onto the MDF.

Once dried the floor was then painted.

The set is surrounded by a timber border which is made up of the largest lumps of wood I’ve ever seen! Getting these into the building took an act of God!….Or perhaps just an incredible team effort!

These along with the treads made by construction are all in the process of being treated with a paint wash before they are glazed.


Props is probably the busiest department with regards to work on the opera. As part of the final scene there is a dramatic reveal of a graveyard complete with 1 million white crucifix’s and a blooming meadow. Lana and Jonathan have been working hard to create these pieces using a combination of artificial turf and dried shrubbery which they are painting to resemble wild flowering plants. As the plants have to be harvested as part of the Opera, each plant stem had to have a hole drilled into the plywood base under the turf for it to be planted in and harvested from. This was no quick job!

As opera fit up approaches, our DR students are making the finishing touches to the set. I would usually be saying there’s a frantic rush or final push to get everything finished but there is actually a rather calm and relaxed atmosphere circulating the workshop… I’m expecting there to be a huge panic next week when we realise we forgot to build that life size carousel!


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It’s a race against time..

Week 9 is upon us and we are onto the last leg of this term’s marathon of productions now… curving round the last bend and heading towards the finish line.  And it’s a fitting metaphor for this term too as the last drama of the season is Marathon ’33, a show about dance marathons in the 1930’s.  The opera double bill is out of the silk street theatre now and the space is being prepped for the our last production of the term.  Fit-up starts today and as such the workshops are packed full of set and props being built and painted ready to head on stage.  The set is a really interesting design that utilises the flexibility of the Silk Street Theatre and the ability to move the seating banks and create a variety of shapes and levels in the space.  A lot of metal work has been taking place in the main scenic workshop over the last few weeks and some interesting curved platforms have been made.   If you walked though the workshops you’d be mistaken for thinking that we had a full qualified team of fabricators working in here and not second and third year students who only learned to weld a couple of weeks ago- the quality of work is as usual very high! Here are some shots of the team welding…

The props team have also been working hard making props for Marathon ’33 as well as well as this term’s Opera Scenes which is the first opera scenes to take place in our Milton Court Studio.  The props department have a variety of props to make and have been working on some of the signs for Marathon ’33, bunting and camp beds to name but a few.  Here are some photos of the team in action, more to come…

There’s been no rest for the scenic art team either who have been painting cloths and signs for Marathon ’33- good job they have steady hands as there has been a lot of very detailed signwriting and painting going on.  Here is just a snippet of what the team have been doing…

As you can see we’ve certainly been busy as there’s no stopping quite yet; fit-up starts today and there’s only a few working days left before all the props have to be completed.  Luckily we are up to the task and used to pressure…get your running shoes on team, it’s time for the sprint finish! More photos to come…

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A busy week four in the workshops…

It’s the start of week 5 now and as such the design realisation workshops are full of interesting set pieces and props being build and painted ready for this term’s productions.  Both of our shows being presented in our new Milton Court building as part of our Chekhov season are opening this week and as such the last week has been spent adding the finishing touches to the final props for The Seagull and Three Sisters.

The construction team have also had a busy week.  The opera double bill begins its fit-up in our Silk street this week so the workshop has been full of set pieces being completed ready to go on stage later.  Here are the team working on some of the scenic components for the opera…

There’s been no rest for the scenic art department either, they have been continuing their work on the opera as well as two paintcalls for the Three Sisters.  The paint calls were extremely tricky as the floor of the stage had to be painted to match the floor cloth so that the design was extended out to the sides of the acting space.  Here are some photos of the painters working their magic on stage as well as in the paintshop…

Well that’s a lot of photos with very little explanation but hopefully the shots will be good enough for now! I told you we’d been busy! Photos of the fit-up and more from scenic art and props soon…

Stay Tuned!

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It must be musical time…

Now that this term’s opera Owen Wingrave has opened, the design realisation department have turned all their attention to this year’s musical which takes place at the end of our summer term.  This year, the musical is Rags and as you’d expect from a Guildhall School musical, it’s going to be quite spectacle!

The whole of the technical theatre department have their work cut out for them over the next couple of weeks and for the design realisation team, this means building and painting all of the scenery and props.  As you’d expect, the department are working full-on realising Susannah Henry’s design.  Here’s just a snippet of what’s been going on in the scenic workshop and the paintshop…

The construction team have been ‘stepping up’ (couldn’t resist!) their game this week building a series of treads for the musical.  There are 6 full sets of treads on stage, three pairs of various sizes which have been expertly constructed by the team with a woodgrain finish added by the scenic art department.  They also have a stone-like effect  which creeps up the treads; added after the woodgrain.  Here are some shots of the treads being made and painted…

Another element of the set that has been made and painted this week is the Yiddish Proscenium.  As you can see from the pictures, the pros is a dusky pink with ornate gold detail added.  The whole thing is aged with some dirty washes and a dark spray which really gives it some character.  This piece of scenery is a real collaborated effort from the design realisation department as the proscenium itself has been built by the construction team and painted by the scenic artists with the swags being made by the props department.  I’ll be sure to get some shots of the finished set piece during fit-up next week.

The scenic art team have also been busy working on one of the cloths for the musical.  The huge New York skyline cloth has an interesting brick effect around the edge which you can see has been started here.  One of the challenges of this cloth which makes it different to many of the cloths we paint here at the Guildhall School is that it has to be backlit.  Because of this, we are using a filled cloth which is left unprimed.  This means that we can build up several layers of paint on the areas of the cloth that needs to be more opaque and use thinner washes of colour for the sky which will need to be more translucent so that when lit from behind, the light can shine through.  The cloth has been split into grids to allow the team to easily pinpoint which part of the reference they are working on, which is standard practice for a cloth such as this.  The skyline itself has been projected onto the cloth to get the outline, which will then have the details such as the windows drawn in later.  Here is where we are up to…

Well I think you’ll agree that we have been busy this last week.  Next week is going to be even busier; there’s plenty more set to build and paint before the fit-up starts, plus we start another cloth on the paintframe this week; the harlequin cloth so I’ll be sure to get some more photos of both cloths taking shape.  Some very interesting props are being made in the props department too; there are some carts, flags and a gramophone for the musical, as well as a defibrillator for Opera Scenes.  Photos to follow…get ready for a busy week ahead…

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Welcome to the summer term…

Well one thing is certain; we don’t hang about here in the design realisation at the Guildhall School…

Last week was the start of the summer term.  Instead of taking it easy and enjoying the sunshine out on Barbican lakeside, we were already building and painting scenery and props for our first two productions (it IS what we do best after all!), introducing some of the 1st year technical theatre students into the world of design realisation and welcoming new faces onto the teams for this term. 

Our summer terms have a reputation for being the busiest, and most impressive of the year, with huge productions that show of our capabilities as a department and most pleasingly, when students at the end of their year of study really step up and show us everything they have learnt so far.  For our first year students this term is a busy one; they start by completing their associated studies sessions, sampling techniques and processes in other streams.  Then they join us in the workshops helping out with the public productions (we are always grateful of a few eager and talented pairs of hands) before completing their final first year project.  Our second year students don’t get a break either…this is their last term working as scenic constructors, scenic artists and prop makers before taking on the leadership roles next year.  And of course who can forget our third year students.  It’s always a bittersweet term for them; the excitement of entering a vibrant and challenging industry coupled with the sadness of saying goodbye the Guildhall School.  Well we’ve still got 13 weeks of them here in our workshop, so let’s make the most of it!

Our first production is May 08, a devised piece which will be performed at the Bridewell Theatre.  The main thing to point out about the design for May 08, which is designed by James Cotterill, is that it is very…well…yellow! The whole of the Bridwell Theatre will be completly transformed next week into a sunny paradise complete with a bold yellow floor and two painted canvasses.  The scenic art team have been working hard this last week perfecting the right shade of yellow and painting all of the floor ready for it to be taken down at the end of this week.  It’s harder than it looks getting a good even coverage without patches or streaks, but as usual the team headed by third year Nancy are up to the task! They have also started work on one of the large canvasses which have a solid yellow bottom that fades into white as it moves up the cloth.  Here you can see them using ‘bobbly’ rollers to apply a broken up first coat of yellow which will then be sprayed into to create the wonderful blended look.

In the props department last week, work began on the upcoming opera Owen Wingrave which will be performed in our Silk Street Theatre next month.  For the production, the props department have a lot of interesting things to make but they started work on some black glossy ornate picture frames.  The props department was also busy last week with a final group of associated studies students learning some of the basics of prop making.  The group worked with a variety of materials including clay, plaster, latex, expanding foam, wood, plastic and paint to name but a few and seemed to have a brilliant time.  One of the highlights of the week was learning about the new machine in the props- the vacuum former.  The vac former works by heating a sheet of thin plastic and them creating a vacuum that sucks the plastic down over an object, leaving the shape of the object imprinted on the plastic.  Lots of plastic toys for example are made in a similar way and as usual within the props department the uses of the vac former are endless.  Some possible uses include making moulds, casings and even intricate vac form mouldings.  Here are some photos of the associated studies team learning about the vac former and making a shield.  What do you think?

Meanwhile in scenic construction, more students have been taking part in associated studies.  The group have been learning the basics of scenic construction including making flats and treads and how to use all of the machienery safely.  Here are some photos of the team in action making some flats for the production of May 08 and two very smart sets of treads…

The rest of the construction team have begun work on the set for Owen Wingrave which starts it’s fit up in only a couple of weeks.  Lucky the department has a large team ready to take on the challenge…

This week it’s the turn of the scenic art department associated studies.  Plus, scenic construction and props power ahead full steam on the production of Owen Wingrave…stay tuned for some more photos…

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Picture of the week…

Not the most fascinating or captivating of photos granted, but here is a shot of the scenic art team showing some old scenic cloths to an artist for a potential project.  I like how the crisp, modern façade of the ‘Figaro’ set (our current Opera on its down day) is seen waiting in the shadows whilst old cloths from previous shows are laid out for scrutiny. 

 The productions here at the Guildhall School, and indeed in many theatres, have such a short shelf life.  Soon weeks and weeks of hard work gets disassembled and striped ready for the skip or recycling.  Such is the short-lived magic of theatre.

 Yet here, a little glimpse of the mystery and excitement of theatre remain in the scenic cloths laid out, lobbying for their chance in the spotlight once more.

 So in fact I find it both fascinating, and captivating.

 But that might just be me…

Cloths laid out

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It’s Opera time…

It’s week four of the spring term which means just one thing…the opera has taken over the design realisation workshops!

The upcoming production of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro opens in a month’s time in our Silk Street Theatre with the fit-up starting just a week and a half away.  This means that all three of the design realisation workshops are focussing their attention on building and painting the scenery and props for what is bound to be another brilliant Guildhall School Opera. 

The props department is currently dominated by a series of 7 meter trees stretching through the space.  The  team have been sculpting and texturing polystyrene which has been fixed to large lengths of timber and painted to look like tree trunks.  The process is quite a long one with texture being applied and working into to create the bark effect.  Layers of paint give the trees more character and a mossy feel and some branches have been added to give the impression of realistic trees that stretch far beyond what the audience will see.  There are seven of these tree to make so the props team have their hands full as they also have several other props to make including a traditional Adirondack chair and a pair of gilded eagles which will adorn the tops of flagpoles.  It is fair to say that the props department are going to be busy for the next couple of weeks but as usual it’ll be interesting too.  I’ll be sure to get some photos!

In the paintshop the scenic art team have been working on one of the cloths for the Opera.  The basement cloth is painted to look like a wall of shutter concrete that has been cast in wooden moulds which has left a wood grained relief on the surface of the concrete.  This is an interesting process for the scenic artists as they are utilising their knowledge of woodgraining techniques but considering the different material for things like colour and texture.  Here are some photos of the cloth in progress where you can see how they have used dragging techniques and washes to achieve the finished result. 

Noises of grinders and metal cutters coupled with sparks of bright blue welcome us into the world of scenic construction.   The construction team are all currently clad in overalls, gloves and ear defenders at the moment as they are working primarily with steel building the scenery for the opera.  Third year Ceri and second year design realisation student Jenny have been welding ceiling pieces for the set.  As the frames are longer than a length of steel, Ceri welded extension pieces onto the end of the box section (with the use of a fancy jig for holding all the elements straight and square) which form the sides of the frames for the ceiling, which Jenny and Ceri have been welding today.  Here are some photos of the girls welding…I do love a welding photo, can you guess?

It’ll be a fast-paced week this week with lots of interesting makes so stay tuned for updates on how the opera is panning out!

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More pieces of the puzzle…

 Looking around the design realisation workshops yesterday it’s clear to see that our first years have mastered the art of multi-tasking…a skill that is needed nearly every day when working in design realisation and one which will be very useful when working in the industry! No sooner have I taken a picture of a prop or a piece of scenery being worked on, by the time I’ve posted them on here the prop has moved on about three stages in its process and a new task has been started. 


In the morning, Anna finished her marbled floor by adding her veins and a cream glaze whilst Giulia continued working on her artwork (you’ll see where this goes later in the week!). 

 Meanwhile in the props workshop, things are starting to take shape and get very colourful indeed.  Pieces of glitter fabric embellish what used to be dull MDF and bright colours adorn almost every surface.  Here, Kim, Jasmine and Jess are all working hard, I can’t wait to see the finished articles!


Back in the scenic art workshop, the girls are working on their second cloth for the DRP…there’s no keeping it a secret anymore…


Vanessa showed the girls how to project the Las Vegas image onto the cloth to scale it up to the right size and Giulia, Jasmine, Anna and Clare get to work drawing up the sign in chalk and begin blocking in the image in white paint.  You thought the night sky cloth was colourful? You’ve seen nothing yet…

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Can you guess what it is yet?

Week 11 kicks off at a speedy pace today with all of the design realisation workshops whirring with the sound of machinery, the steady hum of the paint bridge moving up and down…and the odd Christmas song sneaking its way onto the radio.  Christmas might be just around the corner but there’s another event in the design realisation calendar that holds more charm than good old St Nick at the moment; the Design Realisation Project, lovingly known as the DRP…

 This year’s DRP is designed by Pat Shammon, our Props Lecturer and is aimed at giving the 1st year design realisation students a small scale (yet equally big!) design to fully realise.  The project means the students need to draw on the skills that they have learnt this term as well as learning a lot of new techniques and processes. 

 As is tradition with the DRP, we are keeping the entirety of the design a secret for now, although it will inevitably leak out before the big unveiling I’m sure.  Good job it’s only a week away then so we don’t have to hold our tongues for long…

 One element of this year’s DRP is a beautiful night sky. 

Kim, Sophie and Clare have been working very hard on their first scenic cloth; stretching the canvas onto the paint frame, priming the canvas, accurately marking out the horizon and the lines of lights and finally using fine paintbrushes and spray guns to achieve the finished effect.  It looks stunning not only under normal lighting but, because it’s painted in ultraviolet paint, it really comes to life when lit by a black light!

Another theme of the DRP is marble.  Both Anna and Giulia have been learning about marbling techniques this week which involves building up layers of paint and glazes.  They’ve been forming a textured foundation using scrunched up plastic bags and sweeps of paint, creating swirls of movement by ‘puddling’ watery paint onto this base and adding detail by finely veining onto the top surface, all topped off with a rich coat of gloss glaze to bring add shine and bring out the feeling of depth and realism.  Anna is working on the floor section and Giulia is focussing on the balcony, both of which are completely different but utilise a similar set of skills. 


So you’ve seen the sky cloth and the marble…any ideas what our DRP could be this year? One thing is certain; it’s going to be spectacular! Keep an eye out for more photos this week…

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Another one ‘bites’ the dust…

Remember that epic cloth for the production of Three Sisters that will be opening in our new theatre at Milton court?

 Thought it was finished? Think again…

Our paint frame is massive and accommodates some colossal canvases up to 16 meters wide.  It can hold a canvas with a ‘drop’, which is the height of the cloth, of a generous 6 metres but the size of the Chekhov cloth, a massive 12 metres by 8 metres, means that the scenic art team have had to incorporate a ‘bite’ into the cloth.  A bite is when there is too much canvas to fit onto the frame so there is a section left unpainted until the entire cloth can be dropped and re-hung.  In our case, there was a 2 metre bite running along the top of the canvas that the scenic art team have been tackling this week…


These photos show the cloth being repositioned on the paint frame, re-stretched and primed ready to begin the entire process again.  

You can see here that third year Lai and her team used their grid system to ensure that the pattern on the bite matched perfectly with the rest of the cloth and the model…



Finally when the bite was complete, it was time to drop the entire canvas and fold it neatly, ready to go into storage for its debut in our new Milton Court theatre!




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