Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Seahorse Fossil

This is the first of probably several posts about "Lighthousekeeping" with New Leaf theatre. It will be performing at the DCA storefront space in the loop starting on Thursday the 9th.
This prop is a fossil of a seahorse. In the script the actor finds a cave filled with fossils and pries one out of the wall to take with him.
I decided that carving the fossil out of wood would be the best option. The wood is light and will be easy to stick to the wall with a dot of hot glue or a bit of velcro. It also is not very likely to break when dropped, or over the course of action in the show when it is being carried in the actor's pocket.
 I started by drawing a basic seahorse shape on a chunk of basswood. Basswood is available in most craft stores and is great for carving and whittling because the grain is not terribly strong (so it doesn't resist cuts in any particular direction)
 I used this set of whittling chisels I inherited from my grandfather. One thing to keep in mind when using any chisels is that they are incredibly sharp and can slip easily. If the chisel slips, it will slip in a straight line, if your hand is in that line, you can get injured pretty seriously. It is important to be constantly aware of how you are gripping the chisel and the project and to adjust your grip as you cut in a new direction. It is also important to keep your chisels sharp. A sharp chisel cuts more smoothly and is easier to control.
 After carving a basic outline, I cut out the majority of the shape with a series of deep cuts with a V-shaped knife to create the ribbed look of a seahorse.
 And I used a shallow curved knife to create the head.
 After I got the seahorse to where I wanted it, I used my chisels and the sanding attachment on my Dremel to rough up and round out the rest of the piece of wood.
 I especially concentrated on edges and ends, where square edges and sharp corners are most obvious.
To finish it off I used my wood burning tool to darken the deep parts of the shape, smooth some rough edges and add definition.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Connecting the Community

I've been trying for a while to find ways to connect the Chicago props community. I think we're probably a fairly small group (though it's hard to know) and that we could all be a lot more efficient and a lot saner if we had ways of helping each other out. It's tricky to get to know each other though, most shows I work on have only one props master...me, so chances to interact with other artists who do the same thing are incredibly limited.
Recently I went out to have drinks with another Chicago props master, Doug Kupferman, who shares the same goals. We talked through some of our wishes and some of the ways we were going to try to get things off the ground.

First, a random list of things that we hope our group could accomplish and questions it could address-

-We could share sources. It's a big city and there are lots of hidden gems. When I do get to talk to other prop masters I find they often have never heard of some of my favorite stores, and I haven't heard of theirs.

-I would like to have an efficient way of messaging other props masters when I am looking for a piece. We are all familiar with different stocks from different theatres around the city. It would be nice to find out if someone has that perfect Victorian couch before I resign to spending half my budget on one.

-I would also like to be able to share online resources, tips and tricks. While we were at the bar the other night, Doug showed me an app he uses on his smartphone that takes pictures of and then catalogues receipts for you, I was amazed! (as soon as I break down and buy a smart phone it is going to change my life!)

-I would like to have a forum for seeking advice (and warnings) about different theatre companies, ideally with a more positive tone ("These are some things that I learned along the way that will help you to know from the start with this company/director/designer" as opposed to "These are the horrible things that person X did and you should never work with them ever and no one else should either"). I would also like to be able to offer recommendations ("This company didn't pay much, but here are the awesome things they were able to offer me/things I learned from the experience")

-I often get emails about open positions that I can't take. It would be nice to be able to email a list of designers to a company looking for one, or to be able to email a job opening to a list of designers and see if anyone is free or interested.

Our initial solutions-

-First we started a google.doc spreadsheet of local Chicago suppliers. It's still pretty rough, right now it is divided into three lists: Antique and Thrift Stores; Fabric, Lumber and Craft Supplies; and Rentals. If you would like, you can check it out here, Chicago Props Resources. If you would like to help us expand the list and edit it, please send me an email and I will add your name to the list of approved editors. I would especially love to add more theatres interested in renting out stock to our Rentals list.

-Second we are starting a google group. chicago-props-forum@googlegroups.com. Essentially it's a list-serve. Once you are added to the group, I can send an email just to the one address, and it gets forwarded out to everyone who has signed up. This should be a great place to start in terms of finding items, and sending out job referrals. Once it gets up and running hopefully we can find a way to expand it into forums, lists or catalogues where we could keep a list of helpful hints on working with the designers, directors and theatre companies in the city. If you're interested in being a part of the list, you can email Doug at douglas.kupferman@gmail.com.