The following post was written by Scenic Art (Paint) Intern Cayla Raymaker.
It wasn’t until after I interviewed, was offered, and accepted the Scenic Art (Paint) Internship at Seattle Rep that I learned I would not be working on mainstage shows. Instead, I was to spend my time working on “personal projects” carefully constructed to help me widen and improve my skills as a scenic artist. This sounded a little bit like school to me.
This was a little disheartening at first. I already knew how to paint. I was eager to be a “real” scenic artist and work on “real” shows. I wanted to prove myself, so to speak. I had a need to show the painters at the Rep and any future potential employers that I have enough skill to deserve a spot here. I mean, I wanted to spruce up my portfolio with some experience on regional theatre shows, you know? Alas, I was required to turn my attention to a series of projects.
What I quickly learned was that these projects were unlike any project I’d ever done in school. My supervisors assumed I already knew how to paint, so they designed these projects to help me take the next step as a scenic artist. Everything was tailored in such a way that I was forced to think creatively to solve problems. For example, for my first project I was required to paint a landscape with foreground, middle, and background using at least ten different tools – none of which could be a paintbrush. I got to learn unusual ways of applying paint and how to make them work for me. My finished result made me feel very proud of my work. Other projects included creating a black and white painting from a colored picture; designing a still-life and painting from a model; painting a translucent backdrop; and carving a 3-dimensional sculpture from a 2-dimensional drawing. I will have a perfectly well-rounded array of projects to show off my wide range of skills when I have completed my internship (yay portfolio building!).
I was told last fall when I began working on a faux marbling project that I would need to first do some research on marble and its origins before I even began laying out paint and framing my muslin. This was because I was to lead all the other interns in painting their own marble as part of a paint seminar. This made me nervous since realistic marbling is something I always considered to be a more advanced scenic art skill, but I was also really excited! Teaching is something I’ve always loved and it’s a goal of mine to inspire young adults to pursue the arts. Little did I know that the scenic artists at the Rep would create the perfect circumstances for me to practice my dream.
On January 21st, I spent the entire morning preparing all the sample pieces of wood, with a white base, laying out every tool we have in the shop (except paintbrushes – drawing from the creativity that was instilled in me on my first project at the Rep) and picking out some cool colors we had laying around to make it fun! I began with an explanation of the purpose of the project, reiterating that it was about having fun and practicing using new tools. Then I explained what marble is and where it comes from and a little about why it’s such an important skill for scenic artists. I described how marble is formed and the three main types of rock that make marble – reminding them that there is a virtually limitless amount of colors, shapes, and textures that marble can be, so they really can’t go wrong. I then showed them a variety of marble pictures and pointed out the lozenges and the veins. I explained how the shapes are formed from heat and pressure, causing the rock to crack and reform. I then showed them my own marble paintings. I pointed out the different techniques I used and which ones I liked better and why, but I tried to make it clear that because I found some more successful than others, that doesn’t mean it looks less like marble because marble is so abstract and each cut is unique. I wanted to reiterate that they shouldn’t be concerned with making their marble look “right” because there is hardly any right or wrong look. I then turned them loose on the tools!
The interns –myself included– spent an hour-and-a-half painting one or two (and sometimes three!) “marble” samples using at least ten different tools. I was able to let go of some pressure for once and just have fun with some paint, which I’ll admit I don’t do often enough. Being able to take risks actually gave me the chance to discover some new techniques that I think I’m going to experiment with more in the future.
In the end, I think each and every intern had a wonderful time making their own unique and creative marble samples! Even though I introduced them to the technical terms and techniques of marbling, they were all able to let go of that and make some cool art while discovering for the first time the individual benefits of the different tools. I saw a lot of creative and aesthetic needs satisfied in ways that a brush just can’t. I think the choice on behalf of the artists at the Rep to have me teach marble was a wonderful one. Even though it requires some skill to paint, it provided a launching point for creativity because of marble’s organic and abstract nature. Most of the interns abandoned the idea of creating marble quite early on and just started making patterns and watching what the paint would do. And it made for some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever seen. Without a strong starting point, it would have been hard to start painting without “something to paint.” Using marble as the subject matter perfectly walked the fine line between “mine doesn’t look like it’s supposed to” and “I don’t know what to do” where real creativity and growth happens for beginning artists.
Getting to experience this growth for the first time from the teaching perspective –rather than as a student– taught me more about arts education than I would have ever learned without ACTUALLY doing it. I learned that when you put fun at the front of your goals, you achieve more than you ever thought possible. I saw this in all the successful paintings and the smiles on the intern’s faces at the end of the seminar. I also got to feel this for myself. As soon as I stopped worrying about creating a piece out of my internship that was portfolio worthy and just started to have fun, I discovered some amazing new techniques for creating marble that I would have never learned in a class—and I’m definitely adding them to my portfolio! This internship has given me the time and the resources to make some much needed mistakes, to learn from them, and to share them with others. It has taken me out of my head and made me forget that young artists have a lot to prove. It has given me creativity, a whole lot of friends, and some time for us to have fun together!