MTC Scenic Artist Tansy Elso has created a stunning replica of Flagstaff Station for the set of Melbourne Talam by Rashma N. Kalsie. Read on for insight into this creative process.
The Site Visit
One week prior to painting, Tansy and Andrew Bailey (Set & Costume Designer) visited Flagstaff Station to take reference photos and make notes about the location. Andrew wanted a naturalistic representation of the platform, so the pair used a paint fandeck to match the colours in the tiles. Tansy says, ‘we identified four colour tones in the speckle of the terrazzo tiles, and selected paint colours while we were on the platform.’
However, there were some artistic changes to be made too. For example, Andrew wanted the set to have yellow tactiles instead of white ones, and the level of aging, grit and grime was scaled back. Important discussions happen at this stage of every set design process, before painting commences – to decide what details to keep and what to edit out. While she was painting the set, Tansy often got off the train early at Flagstaff Station to check details of the site.
Turning Wood to Stone
Monday 9.00am – 9.30am
The workshop prepared panels of high-grade plywood with grout marks pre-cut using a circular saw. High-grade wood was used to help emulate the ‘flat’ look of the stone tiles. Tansy also chiselled cracks into the wood, and rounded off the edges of some tiles, to create further detail and show the ‘history’ of the platform.
The Painting Begins
Monday 9.30am – 10.00am | 1pm – 2.30pm
Tansy began by rolling thin acrylic texture paint onto the plywood. A second coat was applied later in the day. This helps to further smooth the plywood and eliminate grain, and prime the surface for the artwork to follow.
Tuesday 9.00am – 10.00am
At this stage, Tansy paints the dark colour that will sit in the grooves to mimic the grout.
Tuesday 1.00pm – 3.00pm | Wednesday 9.00am – 11.00am
The peach-coloured base coat was applied with a short nap roller to ensure the paint didn’t drip into the grooves. Tansy used a deliberately light touch in some areas to create ‘variation and character’ on the platform. Scenic art is about layering, mostly using a technique of building up rather than taking away. In this regard, the technique is similar to that used in watercolour artworks. While the grime and pitting on the real tiles has accumulated over time, Tansy mimics it here with the absence of paint. A second coat of this base colour was also applied the following day.
Wednesday 3.00pm – 3.30pm
Here you can see some of the colours Tansy and Andrew selected for the detail on the terrazzo tiles.
Tansy uses a paintbrush to splatter each of the colours onto the surface to create the terrazzo effect. The outcome varies depending on how thick the paint is, so Tansy didn’t dilute the paint in order to create a tight, fine splatter that mimics the stone.
Creating the Grime
Thursday 9.00am – 12pm
Tansy did several tests on tactiles to mimic the grime and dirt. A variety of different products were used, including spray paint and charcoal, until she found that a thin coating of scene paint and floor glaze rubbed into the surface created the desired effect. Washing liquid was also added to stop the wash beading on the surface.
At this stage Tansy applies a very thin layer of ‘dirty wash’. Tests are done beforehand to ensure the correct level of ‘dirty’ is achieved. An acrylic texture laced with perlite, which is a common gardening ingredient, is then used to create texture on the white non-slip platform edge. This is a ‘trick of the trade’ Tansy says, and creates a rough texture to replicate the non-slip edge of a suburban train platform.
Crafting the Splodge
Thursday 1.00pm – 2.00pm
To create the weird and wonderful ‘splodges’ we often see on the ground at train stations, Tansy mixes shellac with water to create an organic drying process that reacts with the paint. ‘You have to know your materials,’ she says. ‘If you stick to your references, pick out the details to focus on and know your materials, the paint will do a lot of the work for you.’
The Final Touches
Friday 9.00am – 9.30am | 1pm – 1.30pm
Once the artwork is finished, a clear satin lacquer is applied. This domestic floor sealer gives it the lustre of the tiles and protects it from wear and tear as the cast rehearse. Considering this production will tour and the set will be washed before each performance. Two coats of this lacquer are required.
Melbourne Talam features on the VCE Drama Unit 3 Playlist and will tour to Regional Victoria (Mildura, Warrnambool, Bendigo, Shepparton, Wodonga, and Geelong) from 23 May. Developed through MTC CONNECT, and the NEON and Cybec Electric play development programs, this vibrant production directed by Petra Kalive will put our city’s contemporary social issues at centre stage.
Melbourne Talam plays at Southbank Theatre from 4 May. Book now.