Season: 2013

Makin' a Scene: Creating and Aging Headstones

Posted on May 8th, 2013 in Artists & Company
headstone work

Scenic Artist Sandy Phillips takes on the work of making realistic headstones!

Working in our Elizabethan Stage can at times be a challenge. It's outdoors and exposed to any element that might pass our way, the brown paint absorbs the sunshine that can create a little Elizabethan skillet, while at the same time the backstage area remains in shadow and connected to the basement, leaving it frigid even on the best of days.

We have been fortunate this week, however, to have the perfect weather for working here. The painters have been finishing up the forest in the inner above—with plenty of sunshine, a slight breeze, and our surroundings, it was like painting in a treehouse.
In addition, groups on the Backstage Tours come through the Elizabethan, and I love listening to the tour guides—answering questions and giving great information about our very complex operation. I always seem to learn something new.

The carpenters continue to fit and install pieces as we finish them. Recently, our new paint shop assistant, Leah Ramilliano, Erin Young and Gabriel Barrera have been cranking out floor pieces and boulders that look SO realistic; I had to take a picture of a real rock and hold it next to theirs.

headstone workProps are beginning to come in too. This week, I had the opportunity to work on the headstones for Cymbeline's Mother and Father who have been dead for 20 years. Diane Green, a props artisan, built two headstones from wood (for durability) and covered them with foam to be carved into a headstone shape. Next, I covered the headstones in a roofing product called jaxsan. Jaxsan is super versatile. It is waterproof and easily takes on many textures from smooth to rough and dries to a flexible rubbery hardness. It is perfect for all of our outdoor projects, and we have used it in the stones, and even the wooden floor for the Elizabethan is actually faux-grained jaxsan. In this case, I used a wet trowl to build up layers and give the jaxsan the smooth texture on the face, and the rough carved texture on the back.

When faux finishing, it is important to keep three things in mind: 1. Texture 2. Color 3. Finish. We now have the shape of the stones. Once the texture is as we want it, we need to paint the stone the right color. I use a wet blend with sponges of a few different greys and a series of spatters to give the stone that speckled granite color. Last, the finish. Granite has an uneven finish. It has a bit of a sparkle to it as you walk by. To achieve this effect, I alternately spattered the stone with flat and gloss sealers. In my experience, it is the finish that really can sell the realism of a piece. You make something flat when it should be gloss, and you can tell immediately that it is fake. It is this combination spatter finish that really sells the granite realism.

So now we have brand new looking stones. Time to age them 20 years in just a few hours. We have previously made a whole barrel of fake moss by taking powdered sawdust and mixing green paint in with it. I clump on thick glue in places and bunch the sawdust in the glue so it looks like moss. Next, I wash down the stones with a raw-umber dirty wash to bring down those fresh bright colors. I contour the rock with shadows to bring out the carved look and so that the cracks will read a little better and add an almost white highlight to the high points in the stone. The stones are looking pretty good. But, another trade secret to creating super realism is to add a super dark and a super light to create realistic dimension. I add a color almost black to the low parts of the moss and then drybrush the moss with a bright lime green on top. And voila! We have 20 year old headstones. Look for them in Cymbeline!



To read more about Sandy, go to her blog on her website.

And if you want to read Sandy's weekly blog on the OSf site, click the RSS feed button over in the red box on the right (the little tiny icon to the far right) to get the alerts.