Tips on Painting Stage Backdrops

The backdrop, which is used to change settings in a play or musical, is a crucial part of the theater stage set. Backdrop artists work hard to give these sets as much realism and detail as possible so they enhance the audience's viewing experience. Here are some tips you can use to create stunning backdrops that will transport the audience to another time and place.

Gather Your Materials

You can use paint stage backdrops on paper, cloth or wood. Heavy paper is the canvas of choice in most instances. Cloth is harder to work with and wood is too heavy, though much more durable. Paint choices include latex and acrylic. An assortment of brushes, rollers, sponges, stencils and pencils also should be part of your toolbox.

Sketch Your Backdrop

Sketch your entire backdrop before you begin painting. The goal is to get the composition down before you add paint. Pay attention to perspective, too. Hang your backdrop up as you work on it so you can step back from it and ensure the elements are working from an audience's perspective. Use photographs as guides when they are available. Start by finding your horizon line and building from there.

Painting Techniques

Use wide, flat brushes to paint scenery in the distance, such as the sky or rolling hills that disappear into the horizon. Keep the colors in the distance lighter to help with perspective. Bringing darker colors into the backdrop as you work your way closer to audience perspective helps deepen the overall effect. Layering and fading one or two colors can help add depth and dimension to distant scenery.

Use the edge of your brush and sponges to add trees and other landscaping in the distance, then add detailed landscaping up close. When possible, position people in front of your backdrops, especially if you're painting a room the actors will be standing in together. Painting around real people also will allow you to gain better perspective as you paint the floor and walls.

Use latex paints and a roller to get the base coat of distant landscape, then switch to paintbrushes to add detailed clouds, trees and other elements that require more focus. Clouds can be difficult to paint well. Consider cutting out cloud shapes in stencil and using white and gray aerosol flat acrylic paint to create the clouds for your setting.