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A scenic painter at work at the Semperoper in Dresden, Germany

Theatrical scenic painting includes wide-ranging disciplines, encompassing virtually the entire scope of painting and craft techniques. An experienced scenic painter (or scenic artist) will have skills in landscape painting, figurative painting, trompe-l'œil, and faux finishing, and be versatile in different media such as acrylic, oil, and tempera paint. The painter might also be accomplished in three-dimensional skills such as sculpting, plasterering and gilding. To select the optimal materials, scenic painters must also have knowledge of paint composition.

containers and trays of coloured paint, an black floor, paint brushes, a splash of water, and some scenic elements around the edge of the floor
Preparation for painting the stage floor at Circa Theatre for the pantomime Puss In Boot

The scenic painter takes direction from the theatre designer. In some cases designers paint their own designs.

The techniques and specialized knowledge of the scenic painter replicate an image to a larger scale from a designer's maquette, perhaps with accompanying photographs, printouts and original research, and sometimes with paint and style samples. Often, custom tools are made to create the desired effect.


The first written description of scenic painting as an art form is from the Italian Renaissance, when Leon Battista Alberti examined Greek stage painting and decoration in the time of Aeschylus.[1] During and after the Renaissance, the ability to draw in perspective became core to painting for the stage.[1]

In the late 19th century, it was not unusual for successful scenic artists to achieve celebrity status, as spectacular backdrops became fashionable.[1] With the emergence of modern stage design in the early 20th century, painted scenery came to considered "quaint".[1]

Since then, he practice of modern stage painting has evolved and continues to flourish today.[1] Although the best scenic painters are rarely credited in theatre programs on the same level as scenic designers, they are highly respected in the theatre profession and critical to the creative process.[1]

Scenic paint

Scenic paint has traditionally been mixed by the painter using pigment powder colour, a binder and a medium. The binder adheres the powder to itself and to the surface on which it is applied. The medium is a thinner which allows the paint to be worked more easily, disappearing as the paint dries. Today it is common to use brands of ready-made scenic paint, or pigment suspended in a medium to which a binder will be added.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Crabtree, Susan (2012). Scenic Art for the Theatre: History, Tools, and Techniques. Amsterdam: Focal Press (Elsevier). pp. 3–5. ISBN 9780240812908.

Further reading