Madame Butterfly Ceiling

This was my favorite project for this job, despite the challenges.

This is the rendering I received. What the rendering is lacking is information explaining that the background is gold leaf. Unfortunately I didn't get that information until we had bid for the job and ordered the paint. The panels were designed to be heavyweight muslin stretched over a steel frame. This would be the first time I ever gilded fabric. I went with imitation leaf to save on cost and for size. The rendering shows squares that are 6 3/4 inches....the largest leaf I could obtain was 6 1/4 inches. The designer had no issue with the change.

I treated the fabric as I would any drop; squaring it out, stapling it down, starching and basecoating. The base color is the color between the squares on the rendering.

Ceiling Base coat

I drew the florals out on grided craft paper and made a pounce. Then I pounced with with powdered charcoal and then markered it.

Line drawing

Ceiling line drawing

First I laid in the major areas of color:

Color added

Then the black areas:

Black added

Painted florals

Then the rest of the color went down:

Florals complete

It got a couple coats of sealer to make sure the sizing would sit on top of the fabric.

Ceiling detail

Ceiling painted

We decided to stretch them on the frames before I gilded them. I took me much of a day to apply the gold leaf sizing to the fabric. The sizing was brushed on all the areas where the gold leaf would remain.This is what it looked like after a day of applying the leaf. I had about a 36 hour window from when I applied the sizing to adhere the leaf. I would apply the size one day, then the leaf the next. The third day I would clean up the edges and burnish it.

Ceiling Leafed

This shows what an area looks like after it has been leafed.
Leaf applied

This is how I ended up removing the leaf from the areas where there was no sizing, as well as burnishing it into the fabric.
burnishing scrubbing

And this is what the same area looks like after. It was like I had a magic brush and the painting just miraculously appeared from it.


And here are the finished pieces:

Ceiling panel

Ceiling gold leaf

Butterfly ceiling complete


Butterfly Detail

So that is it. I sealed them since the imitation leaf has a tendency to tarnish. I would probably change a few things if I were to do it again. I'm not sure I would stretch it first the next time, or not. We did have some issues with sag; the sizing pulled it tight but it ended up sagging again later. Some of it has to do with the size and some with how it was stretched to begin with.

Cave Drop

This project was one I dreaded from the moment I saw the rendering. The drop is based on a picture of a chalkboard full of math/science jargon. My main concern was getting all of that writing onto the drop. I lack a large projection wall.

Here is the drop, starched, and base coated. I think this is the first time I remembered to put the bridges in before stapling it all down. I sprayed and broomed the base coat.

Cave drop base

Then came the gradual sprays

Cave drop spray

Then it came time for the words. I ended up having to draw it all out by hand. I have no clue what I was writing.

CaveDrop Lettering

Then it came to paint...this is the part that really I really had issues with. I wanted to make it look as if it were written with chalk, as opposed to painted with a brush. Sometimes I can get obsessed with a perfectionist detail. I searched for something to use, time and budget working against me. I ended up settling and doing it with a brush.

Painting Cave drop

The colors of the writing fade from strong and bright in the middle to barely readable in the dark edges.

science jargon

The other challenge I found was that the person who wrote on the chalkboard was left-handed. I'm not.

Drop Complete

I don't seem to have a picture of the completely finished drop. The bottom is jagged cut. I did do a bit more painting after this picture adding more chalky smudges and some overall sprays to break up the lettering more.

Doors and Yoga Balls

These are more set pieces for Opera North's production of The Magic Flute. These are the doors used in scene at the gates of the temple. The lettering is hand done, first in pencil and then with paint pens. I use to resist paint pens, thinking that using them meant that I couldn't do it the "right" or "real" way. I've gotten over that. They are a tool, that's all. I know I can do it by hand with a brush, but if a paint pen can save me time, then I'm all for it.








The wisdom door is only functioning door out of the bunch.

Another miscellaneous project was large 'yoga' balls painted with scientific symbols to be used in the scene with the Cave Drop (next post). The most difficult part of this project was finding balls large enough for what the designer specified. Spheres are expensive in any material; when you go above 24 inches the costs get astronomical. The designer requested balls that were 5 and 6 feet across. We ended up using large beach balls, but even then we had to settle for smaller sizes.

These are the larger balls...the smaller ones are the old fashioned beach balls of color segments. The trick is to inflate the balls, paint them, and keep them inflated. They have short rings of sonotube glued to the bottom with construction adhesive to keep them from rolling, especially since they will be on a raked stage. I coated the balls with a mixture of Flexbond, Sculpt or Coat, and tint. This give the balls a durable and flexible skin to keep the air in and will allow the paint to stick. I applied two coats of this.
balls in various states of completion

The next step was the solid base coat; a mixture of paint, tint, and Flexbond. The addition of the glue to the paint makes sure it will adhere to the surface as well as making sure it won't flake off. It took two coats of coverage to completely kill the colors of the beach balls. Then I projected the symbols on the balls, and painted them in.

Here's the finished product:

Magic Flute Balls