Painting the Vision – Richard Mongiat
Richard Mongiat has been a Lead Scenic Artist for almost 20 years. He has taught painting at Central Technical School and Ryerson University in Toronto. In addition to painting the unique and stunning transparent backdrop for our production of Doc, Richard has exhibited his own creative work in galleries across Canada.
Painting a transparent backdrop is always a tricky proposition because they can be so unforgiving to paint! Just to explain, a transparent drop is different from an ordinary backdrop because it is painted much in the same style as a watercolour painting. An ordinary backdrop is usually painted with a primer coat first and the successive layers of paint are applied (mostly) opaquely like an oil/acrylic painting. Because of the opacity of the paint you can easily fix mistakes by just painting over them! With a transparent drop each mark you make is permanent – there’s no going back! The advantage of this process of painting in layers with watered down paints is that the weave of the actual fabric never becomes filled or “blocked” allowing the lighting designer to place/focus lights directly behind the drop to create a glow in areas as well as other lighting effects.
Painting any kind of backdrop is a demanding physical proposition because as the scenic artists you’re transforming a designer’s rendering of say 12 x 24 inches into something 20 x 40 feet! You need lots of open floor space because the backdrop is squared up and tacked flat on the floor. A grid is applied to the drop (no different than when the renaissance masters painted their murals) in order to scale the drawing up from the designers rendering to the drop (usually 1/2″ on the rendering would represent 1′ on the actual backdrop). A variety of painting techniques are employed to reach the desired effects. Paint is brushed on with the paintbrushes attached to bamboo sticks as you’re standing on the drop as you paint it. It is sprayed on with garden variety weed sprayers using hamster bedding purchased from a pet store placed on areas of the drop to act as a “mask” stopping paint from going where you don’t want it to (and leaving an interesting texture once removed). Finally, in this case it is also “spattered” on. This technique involves dipping your brush in paint and literally throwing it on the drop. This creates a fine to coarse speckled effect depending on how loaded your brush is with paint.
Scenic painting is a very collaborative process involving lots discussion and strategizing – between the designer and the painters and between the painters themselves. Elizabeth Bailey and I worked closely with the designer Astrid Janson to reach the final effect. Astrid would visit the paint shop to witness our progress, make comments and suggestions as to direction and to seek suggestions from us on the best ways to achieve her desired result.