The first step in most scenic art projects is the process of making samples, to figure out which materials and colors are going to work best for the project. On the left are the research images that the designer has provided. My samples are in the middle of the photo. The brown thing on the right is a prototype for what will be our large stencil.
The carpenters cut out the stencil on the CNC router table. The stencil is based on drawings made by Scott Bradley, the scenic designer. When we did this project at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2004, I cut this stencil out by hand. Call me crazy, but I really enjoyed that part of the project.
In order to have the most seamless floor, the floor was be painted on the back side of regular old flooring vinyl. Why is seamless important? Well, they'll be dumping hundreds of gallons on the stage every night, and we want to keep water from seeping into the flooring
I primed the vinyl and when that had cured, painted the colors that the grout between the tiles would be.
The next step was to measure out the distances between the tiles. In our case, this was the not-so-easy-to-work-with measurement of five and thirteen-sixteenths of an inch. (Why, oh, why did we not adopt the metric system?) Because I knew that the chances of screwing up the math were pretty high, I had one of the staff draftsmen plot out the increments on the computer, but it was Tracy who really had her brain plugged in that morning. She had the carpenters cut out a giant customized ruler or "story stick" on the computerized router table. I don't have one of these at my shop, so it never occurred to ask for someone to make me a story stick. I was just going to draw one out by hand, and hope that I didn't mess up the measurements.
Next, we marked all the grout lines, and covered those lines with quarter-inch automotive masking tape. We painted the basic tile color on top of the tape. Then we selectively stamped some of the tile with accent colors. The stamper was make of custom-cut upholstery foam, mounted on a plywood backing and attached to a long pole. We scenic artists find ways to put as many of our tools as possible on the ends of poles. Nobody wants to spend hours and hours, crawling around on the floor, painting scenery.
We spray custom-mixed colors of paint through our stencil with an auto-body spray gun. The stencil is inside a box-frame to keep "over-spray" from getting all over the place.
We wear respirators to avoid breathing or ingesting tiny particles of paint. (The photo of me spraying is actually from 2004, in the old shop, before it burned down.)
We skip sections when we lay down our stencil. This way, we're not risking smearing the fresh paint with the stencil frame.
Here's a detail of the finished floor. Did I mention that Tracy and I painted all this, start-to-finish in just two days? We're super-heroes.
And, as promised, the floor held up just fine to water.