Theater And Drama

Theater Set Design Scene Painting Techniques

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Painting a theatre set is much different than painting a house – the solid colours and muted tones of most residential homes would wreak havoc with stage lighting and not speak well to the emotional tones of the play. Set painters must be bolder with their use of colours, and almost every set requires some sort of paint technique to make the walls (or whatever the set may consist of) look more pleasing to the audience’s eyes. Common set painting techniques include the following:

Rag rolling

Basecoat the set with colour one, and let it dry. Take a paint roller and wrap it in an old rag, cloth or towel and fasten it to the roller with elastics. Dip the rag-roller in colour two and apply to the set. Adjust pressure depending on how much of colour one you want to see showing through.

Dry brushing

Basecoat the set with colour one, and let it dry. Take a wide, good-quality hand brush and dip it in colour two, but pushing the bristles against the rim of the paint can to remove most of the paint. Gently run the brush over the set to create gentle, broken lines of colour two over the basecoat. The lines are usually done vertically, but may also be sideways, diagonal, or in a random pattern, depending on the look you’re going for.


Similar to rag rolling, this technique is done using a piece of natural sea sponge, gently dipped into colour two and then dabbed in a random pattern over the base. This technique works well when three or more colours are being used – just be sure to wait for each coat to dry before starting on the next to avoid smudging.


This is a simple technique, but often quite time consuming. Gently dab the end of a hand brush into colour two and then gently dab it on the set in a random pattern, similar to the way you would with sponging. If you like you can also vary the pressure applied to change the effect, or twist your hand slightly when pushing down to create differing patterns.

Wet blend

This technique is good for fading one colour into another – like a sky at sunset or a transitional place between two specific places. Paint colour one and colour two up to the point where you would like them to begin to fade, then paint one colour all the way over to where it should fade completely out, using progressively lighter and lighter brush strokes.  Repeat with the second colour while both colours are still both wet, so that they blend together.


Fun but often messy – drop cloths and painting clothes are a must. Dip a hand brush lightly into colour two and then hold it one to three feet above the set piece. Gently flick the brush with your wrist, or tap it with the back of your hand, so that little dots of paint fly from the brush. Adjust the height of the brush and the amount of paint to get the desired consistency of dots on the set.

Colour washing

Sometimes sets stand out too much – colours and paint techniques are too vivid, and are distracting, or look too “perfect” to be in line with the play (i.e., a grungy underground dungeon is unlikely to have a bright, freshly painted door). Use a colour wash to take it down. Simply mix a very small amount of black paint with some water, and then apply to the set with a roller. It may take one or more washes to “bring down” the set to the level you want.

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