Live Design Part II - Joseph Forbes

October 2, 2017

 Joseph Forbes: A scenic artist must be a jack-of-all-trades. He or she must be a little bit sculptor, a little bit architect, a little bit art historian, and a lot of pure painter. It helps if you are also a little bit of a mad scientist, able to create and invent new tools and techniques to solve problems. Scenic artists should have a thorough working knowledge of the history of architectural and decorative styles. You should not only be able to draw a relatively accurate Corinthian capital, but know the difference between a Corinthian, an Ionic, and a Doric capital.

"Live Design: Is scenic painter a rigorous role? How so? What skills are needed?

Joseph Forbes: A scenic artist must be a jack-of-all-trades. He or she must be a little bit sculptor, a little bit architect, a little bit art historian, and a lot of pure painter. It helps if you are also a little bit of a mad scientist, able to create and invent new tools and techniques to solve problems. Scenic artists should have a thorough working knowledge of the history of architectural and decorative styles. You should not only be able to draw a relatively accurate Corinthian capital, but know the difference between a Corinthian, an Ionic, and a Doric capital.

A scenic artist must have strong working knowledge of the human form, good drawing and color matching skills, and the ability to mimic another artist’s style. A working knowledge of the history of art is an incredibly valuable tool. You also need to be able to communicate, not only with designers to understand their requirements, but also with carpenters, electricians, and automation technicians all of whom are trying to accomplish their goals at the same time as you. It’s essential you be able to work in a group. The ability to listen and understand the problems of other people in other departments helps everyone get their work done in a smooth and timely fashion. 

Scene painting can also be a physically demanding job. There is a fair amount of time spent climbing ladders, troweling heavy textures and finishes, and unfortunately, a lot of time spent on your hands and knees. A single injury can significantly limit your ability to work. I had been in the business only a few years and was painting the original Broadway production of Cats for Nolan’s Scenery Studios when I took a fall off a ladder and blew out my knee. For a number of years thereafter—even after surgery and a lengthy recovery—I remained limited in the tasks I could perform. Many scenic artists suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in their wrists and hands that requires corrective surgery, as well as having back and shoulder problems. 

 

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