How To Make Fake Wood


Right now, the Berkeley Rep Scenic Studios are working on a production of George Bernard Shaw's Heartbreak House. This show is going to feature huge, monolithic scenery. We've finally finished all the blue walls, and have moved on to the wood trim for these walls.

In theater, we spend an awful lot of time painting one material to look like another. (Although, we also seem to spend a fair amount of time painting steel to look like steel, and making one kind of wood look like a different kind of wood.) I have been referring to our current project as Franken-Wood, because the final creation will be pieced together out of pine, plywood, poplar, medium density fiberboard, styrofoam and steel. And the goal is to make it all look completely unified.

We start by priming our "wood" (in this case, medium density fiber board) and then figuring out the best base color for the wood we are trying to match. It seems that in our shop, we tend to refer to our colors with food names. The outrageous yellow color has been dubbed "nacho cheese" and the color of the grain pattern is being referred to as "peanut butter."

Because purchasing real wooden moulding as large as the stuff pictured above would be prohibitively expensive, and because we have to bend this moulding into a soft curve, we had these parts custom made from styrofoam. Of course, styrofoam isn't particularly strong, so the scenic artists in the shop glued cheesecloth to the foam to protect its surface and make is a better substrate on which to paint.

In some cases, we are building out of wood, so our phony woodgrain has to relate to the real stuff. We have to be careful about the scale of what we're doing, so things seem seamless once they go on stage.

Here are some of the completed medium density fiberboard slats. We've painted on a translucent reddish glaze, and hopefully, when everything is finished, we'll have some lovely "wood" trim on our scenery.


Cellissimo said…
Is all of that fake wood? It looks very impressive - I bet it's a lot of work!
Kristen said…
yay my cut-list cart hasn't collapsed yet! i figured everything i made would somehow break after i left.

your graining is beautiful. i love painting wood to look like wood.

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