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Painting houses for a drama set

The drama for Christmas Eve was set in a village. We rewrote the whole thing (more on that later) and it was much more upbeat and fun. We used the original design from WillowCreek “God With  us” package for the village but added our own touches to it.

I used a photo from the package that showed all the houses.

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We liked the quirky look of the houses, kind of a Dr. Suess feel, which fit the story that we wrote. But we were looking for something a little brighter.

We decided on having only 3 houses, and I cut each one out in Photoshop, used the Distort tool to make the houses look right and overlaid some colors using the Overlay blend mode.

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Then in Photoshop I used:

  • Image > Adjustments > Black and White and adjusted the colors to increase contrast.
  • Filter > Stylize > Find Edges created a black and white drawing.

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After printing it on a transparency, Sabrina, Dave, Ashley and Glen drew the houses onto 2″ thick styrofoam with a black Sharpie and used a saw/electric knives to cut out the outline. Glen used shishkabob sticks to stick the panels together, then used Liquid Nails and cardboard to reinforce the crack in the middle.

I had not planned on painting all the sets myself, but due to a series of unforeseen circumstances, many things got delayed and our painting help went out of town. So three days before dress rehearsal, I got to painting.

This past year I have used latex paint to try to paint a mural in the children’s area (which I am not very happy about how it looks, as it is the first time I have ever painted a scene with latex paint), but I gave it another try for this project.

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Amazingly, the painting went really quickly and after 5.5 hours of painting, this is the end result.

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The next day, I started on house #2.

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I learned some things this time that really helped me figure out how to paint more realistically with latex paint:

  • Start from the top and go down. Latex paint tends to splatter and to avoid having to repaint things, I realized I needed to start from the top.
  • Use cups for mixing. What I would do was use a stirring stick and drip the paint into the cup. I would drip different colors on different sides of the cup and mix some with my brush and start painting. This meant that I was painting a combination of colors at once, but it would be mixed on the styrofoam as I painted and I could do shading better that way.
  • Don’t try to layer colors. Latex paint dries opaque. You can’t water it down (looks awful) and you can’t blend with dried already-painted portions because it is a different color when wet than dry. You have to put it down all at once, which leads to the next learning…
  • Paint entire sections at once. What ended up slowing me down later was I didn’t paint all the walls at once and then had to go back and try to mix the same color again.
  • Paint back to front. Paint the things farther back so you can paint over it with items that are closer to the foreground. For example, I painted the glowy windows (the reflected walls behind the windows) and then went to paint in the window frame.
  • Watch the thickness. If the paint is too thin, the background will show. If it’s too thick, it will drip as it sets.

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Here’s finished house #2. I think this one took about 8 hours because I kept getting interrupted and having to go run and do other things, which slowed me down a bit. Also it had more wall sections than the other house so I slowed down because by the time I got to a new wall section, the old one had already dried.

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This is a more direct angle view. Lighting is  a bit different but you get the idea.

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I ended up having to repaint the doorknob because I wasn’t paying attention and realized that between the first and second house, the doorknobs were at different heights. It’s a small thing but it bugged me as it looked really odd. Who would’ve thunk about the height of doorknobs?

More tips:

  • Use colors in the shadows, not just black. (See the snow by the tree above.) It felt a bit odd to be painting purple shadows, but it totally worked. (It was really cute that a little preschooler saw the house and said, “Why is the tree purple?”)
  • Print out multiple reference pictures and tape them everywhere. The first day I kept moving the picture and by the last house I was super lazy and just put up a couple pictures so I didn’t have to move them.

House #2 took the entire second day. 2 more days left until dress rehearsal.

The third day I started on house #3.

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  • Organize your paint buckets in a row so that it is easy to pick a color to mix. Here is the third day of painting, and by this time I had figured out instead of having my buckets all helter-skelter, it was a lot easier to line them up. By the last day, the buckets were farther back on the table and the cups were up front; there was more space to put the cups down.

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Here you can see the top-down progression of the painting. This house was a tough one to paint. I realized from the beginning that the reference photo had multiple and inconsistent light sources, but I figured, hey, this is Dr. Suess. Anything goes. But this house had a lot of planes and angles so it was a little tricky working out the lighting and shadows.

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The triangles on the wall took some time too. The first house was a lot easier with the outside walls being plain. I guess I could have left the triangles out, but I liked the character they added to the houses. (Notice by this time the cups were all lined up on the front of the table.)

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Other tips:

  • Have A LOT of brushes. Then you don’t have to slow down to wash your brushes constantly. I used mostly 1″ and 2″ flat brushes, and up to 4″ for the blank walls.
  • The paint actually takes a while to dry, so put down the final color immediately instead of putting down a thin layer and then building up darker colors. Latex paint doesn’t push around well like oils. It gets into the grooves of the styrofoam and then doesn’t want to move. This meant that instead of painting the entire roof green and then going in with lighter paint on top and darker paint on the bottom, I discovered it was better to just start with light paint on top and remix darker and darker as I painted down.
  • Have a lighting source in the room of the windows so that the walls look colored. There is a “glowy” spot and from there it spreads out darker. It makes it look like there is a glowing light in the room. I actually observed this last summer as I was doing a lot of Thomas Kinkade puzzles and got to study how he painted houses!

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I finished up the final house right before dress rehearsal started. It was too wet to use so they practiced with two houses. The final house took about 11 hours between two days, painted between all the other details of the program that needed to be taken care of.

What I learned the most about latex paint: It is really great for painting quirky, crooked  houses. You don’t have to worry if you mess up… just make the line of the house more crooked. It’s great for painting blank walls and giving it kind of stucco finish.

I’ve never painted anything like this before (neither houses nor a stage set) and it was a HUGE learning experience and a ton of fun! I am also super appreciative of Glen, who kept filling me up with chai lattes so I wouldn’t fall asleep with a brush in my hand.

During the service, all the lights went down for a video and the drama people grabbed chairs and put them on the stage so the backs were facing the audience. There were loops of duct tape stuck along the top back of the chairs. Other people brought up the houses from the other side of the stage (our stage doesn’t have wings to hide them so Glen built a pipe and drape stand to hide the houses) and placed them in front of the chairs and then pressed them against the duct tape. When the lights came up, the stage was transformed into a village. (We practiced this with a stopwatch because the video was 1 minute 20 seconds and they had to get everything in place before the lights came up — chairs, houses, podium, rope, props. They got everything done pretty much within 45 seconds. Awesome!)

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Peter lit the houses with a flat wash (no gels), which brought out the true color of the sets and people. (Also we didn’t have enough lights so we didn’t really have the ability to create dramatic lighting. :-))

It really helped contribute to the feeling of the drama. David Cripe (below) was the director and during the last week we made a major role change and he ended up having to learn a ton of lines. He did an amazing job! Matt Robbins came back from his paternity leave and helped at the end too — great to have him back.

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The actors did a fantastic job too. We are soooo blessed by these amazingly talented people.

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It was very cool to see how it all came together…lots of people in so many different roles, from tech to behind-the-scenes stage management to a super creative individual who made all the amazing props. Truly a team effort, everyone working together to glorify God!

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1 Comment

  • Reply Carmen Lin

    The performance was highly enjoyable, and I’m sure the lesson of things vs. relations left deep impressions on the audience. My prayer partner called me to ask about the worship time because her daughter’s family came from Bay Area to visit her. She took them to one of these services and later she told me this: her kindergarten-age grandchildren was delighted and said “ithings”!

    January 5, 2013 at 4:07 pm
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