Tips on Painting

What should I use to prime or base coat my flats and drops?

That depends on your final desired effect, and how you plan on getting there. As usual, different methods will yield different results.

Priming serves to:

  • Size (tighten) the fabric
  • Provide a smooth painting surface
  • Saturate the fibers so they don't soak up expensive pigments
  • Flameproof (when needed)
  • and, in some cases, provide the base color for the rest of the painting

Several products can be used for priming drops and flats, including scenic paint (a special primer or regular scene paint), gelatin glue and whiting, white glue, or starch.

Leftover Scene Paint: If a brown or gray base color works for your design, mix leftover scene paint together, add white if you need more paint, and water it down to a milky consistency. Add Flamex if you want to flameproof. What a great way to cut down on waste and save money!

We don't recommend mixing leftover house paint to make a primer. The fillers will gum up the fabric, and the binder may not hold well when watered down. Your flats may look chalky and will crack before their time. Also, Flamex may not mix properly with all house paints, but is designed to mix well with all Rosco Scenic paints (Iddings Deep Color, SuperSat, Off Broadway).

Priming White: You can't beat Rosco's ready made primer for speed and ease of use. Priming White, designed for priming new muslin, is less expensive than other scene paints, yet offers the same quality treatment for your fabric. It dries off white, a nice neutral starting color for the rest of your painting.

Gelatin Glue: The traditional primer is made from gelatin glue, water, and dry whiting. Soak one part gelatin glue in one part cold water for one hour, then heat in a double boiler until glue is completely dissolved. Mix one part of this hot glue with ten parts hot water to make glue size. Mix one part glue size with one part dry whiting and you have got your primer.

Laundry Starch: For translucent drops, try priming with Argo Gloss Laundry Starch. Dissolve one pound starch in one gallon cold water. Then slowly pour the starch into three gallons of boiling water, stirring constantly. Let it cool, then strain into a paint sprayer. One person sprays ahead while a second person follows brushing the starch solution into the cloth.

White Glue: If you have a lot of white glue In your shop, try mixing it very thin and using it for a primer. It dries clear but not flexible, so is not useful for painting drops.

Regardless of the primer you choose, these guidelines should be followed:

Keep it thin. The primer should be watered down to the consistency of milk. Don't apply it too thick; just enough to soak the fabric but not leave much of a layer on top. The thinner your base coat the more layers your muslin will take before cracking.

Work it in. Use a big brush and crisscrossing strokes to work the liquid into the muslin. Don't let it just sit on top.

Flameproof now. Flameproofing is most effective at this stage. You can use Rosco's Flamex alone as a primer, but mixing it with scenic paint makes it easier to apply and saves the extra step. See Flameproofing info on back.

Conserve money and energy. Choose your primer to match your needs and accomplish as much as you can with that coat. When possible, prime and flameproof all in one step. It is often useful to tint the prime coat with dry pigments or scene paint to a pastel of the following base coat. For instance, a brown base coat will cover beige better than it will cover white. But don't add too much pigment.... the whole point is to keep it thin and light.

Practice. The more you work with the products, the easier it will be to choose the right primer for the job.

What about priming foams and metal?

A. Different products are geared for priming different materials. Rosco's Tough Prime sticks to almost anything, and is designed for priming metals and plastics.

Q. The columns we just built have a variety of surfaces that may or may not take paint the same way, what can we do?

A. Sculpt or Coat will cover a variety of different surfaces including foam, wood, fabric, plastic, glass and metals. Use Sculpt or Coat to make one uniform and paintable surface. Great for props and maskmaking. You can also use Sculpt or Coat and cheesecloth to prime and strengthen the surface in one step. This method is also used to 'even out' different surfaces to make them appear to be made of the same material.

Q. We need to create durable ponds and pools of water on stage. What can we use that is water-resistant and will create a useful texture?

A. Foamcoat, the only water-resistant priming product PNTA carries, provides a durable coating that withstands chipping and cracking. Use Foamcoat for coating foam, concrete, fiberglass and other tough-to-cover materials.

Why use scenic paint?

Why spend the money on paints created specifically for scenic use? Household latex paint can be used, but paint formulated for the stage works better because:

1. Scenic paint uses pure, vibrant pigments without chalky fillers, so you can mix paints without getting 'muddy' looking colors.

2. Scenic paints have enough binder (glue) to allow for considerable thinning, making them economical and versatile.

3. Scenic paints dry to a very matte finish, which
contributes to the illusion of depth and richness of color when lit.

How do I choose scene paint?

Rosco's three scene paint 'systems' have different characteristics that make them suited for different types of scene painting projects. All are high quality scene paints with pure pigments, no fillers, and are inter-mixable, and will take Rosco Flammex Flame retardants. All Rosco paints are lead-free. In order of expense...

Off Broadway: This is Rosco's least expensive paint to buy, and is designed as a 'first step' for those making the move into scene paints. This vinyl acrylic paint is used right out of the can without dilution. Depending on the surface, one gallon will cover 250-350 sq. ft. Choose Off Broadway when you want the water resistance and good sticking power of a vinyl acrylic base in an economical product. It's flexible and adheres to almost any surface. Availabler in gold and silver with bronzing powders added for a metallic effect. Sold by the gallon. White, black and white-white also available in 5-gal. buckets.

Iddings Deep Colors: This casein-type paint by Rosco comes as a concentrated paste, which must be diluted at least 1 to 1 with water. Thus one gallon of Iddings yields 2 or more gallons of usable paint. One gallon of the paste, mixed 1 to 1 with water, should cover 500-700 square feet. Choose Iddings Deep Colors when you want a really flat (no gloss) finish to the paint for maximum appearance of depth in the finished product.

In addition to 23 brilliant colors, the system includes priming white, which is economical for sizing flats.

Because of its protein base, Iddings paint is subject to bacterial attack once it is opened. See "Tips to keep your paint fresh".

Super Saturated: This paint system is formulated to be diluted with substantial quantities of water without losing binder strength. Best worked as watercolor, the paint is thinned from 3:1 to 20:1 and layered on the primed surface from light to dark. This creates a sense of translucent depth, particularly good for painting skies. One gallon of paint and water mixture covers about 250-350 square feet. Thinned 20:1, one quart of paint can cover as much as 1750 square feet with a translucent wash!

Because of the flexible acrylic base, Supersaturated works well for roll drops or other soft goods. It will adhere to non-porous surfaces such as plastic and metal.

What about Flameproofing?

Flameproofing is recommended (and required by many fire depts.) for all flammable materials to be used on stage. It is especially important to flameproof materials that could come in contact with hot theatre lights, candles, or other open flame. To be most effective, flameproofing must be applied to the material before paint, to saturate the fibers and seal the surface.

Roscoflamex offers a full range of flame retardants for scenery. The clear liquid is applied with roller, brush, sprayer or by immersion as a flame retardant treatment for muslin and other materials. Flamex C26, mixed 2 or 3 parts water to 1 part Flamex, can be used to size and flameproof muslin covered flats in one operation; the diluted C26 can also be mixed directly into water-based scenic paints for one-step application. Flamex W40, (for raw wood that is not to be repainted), and S33 (for synthetics) are to be used "straight" without diluting. Do not use on costumes.

Rosco's new P50 Paint Additive makes flameproofing your props and scenery easier than ever. The 12 oz. jar of clear liquid can be added directly to one fluid gallon of water-based Rosco paint, turning that paint into a flame retardant coating. Perfect for treating back drops as you paint them, and backpainting hard scenery. Add P50 to Rosco Clear Acrylic to create a fire retardant clear sealer.

How to test for flame retardancy

Rosco gives the following method for testing a flame retardant treatment: Hold a completely dried three-inch-wide strip of fabric vertically, and light the lower edge for ten seconds with a butane lighter, propane torch, or long wooden kitchen match. The material should ignite, but after the flame is removed, sufficiently treated material should self-extinguish within five seconds. For info on flame retardants, see back

Which sealer should I use?

Q. We can't afford real leather. What can we do?

A. Mix PHLEXGLU with dyes or shellacs and apply to muslin in repeated coats. This process will produce both a great looking and flexible stage leather.

Q. When painting marble, we need a product that will allow us to make several transparent glazes. What should we use?

A. Rosco's Clear Acrylics, flat or gloss, are perfect for this use. After thinning with water and adding pigment, they have the perfect consistency needed for success with glaze layers. These clear acrylics can also be used as an "extender" or binder extension to make any scene product paint further.

Q. Our stage floor needs to be protected with a strong clear finish. What should we use?

A. Plastic Varnish provides the toughest coating for a stage floor. Marble, tile, or any painted surface, would be best protected by a Plastic Varnish Gloss coat. Plastic Varnish Flat provides a protective finish for your roughly-handled props or where a flat finish is desired.

PNTA Tips to keep your paint fresh

1. Only mix with water the paint that you are going to use within a few days, as water speeds up spoilage.

2. For Iddings, add one tablespoon of Lysol to one quart of paint to kill bacteria.

3. Keep the lids on tight.

4. Store paint in a cool place.

5. Store unopened or well-sealed cans upside down (the liquid helps seal the lid).