Tit*" 1 *
SCENE PAI NTI N G
PAINTING IN DISTEMPER
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS DRAWN BY THE AUTHOR.
GEORGE ROWNEY & CO., 52, Rathbone Place; and
29, Oxford Street, W.
PRINTED BY RICHARD HACKETT
RATHBONE PLACE, OXFORD STREET, W.
The Painting Room ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... i
Painting Frames, various kinds of ... ... ... ... ... ... 3
A Painting Bridge with Fixed Frame ... ... ... ... ... 5
How to Paint Scenes without a Regular Painting Room 7
Materials and Colours most in use ... 14
Medium for Distemper Colour ... ... ... ... ... ... 17
How to Prepare the Canvas ... ... ... ... ... ... 19
How to Draw the Subject on the Canvas 23
How to Paint a Landscape ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 28
THE MIXING OF COLOURS and Laying In— 29
Second Painting ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 33
Third Painting, and Finishing ... ... ... ... ... ... 35
Mixing of Colours — (continued) ... ... ... ... ... ... 38
Coloured Diagrams, showing the difference between Colours wet and
Scumbling, Dragging, Thin Colouring, etc., etc. ... ,.. ... ... 45
Architectural Painting ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 48
Method of getting the Vanishing Lines without a Vanishing Point ... 49
Stage Perspective ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 53
How to Draw Borders ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 55
Interior Painting ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 62
How to Draw and Arrange the Set Pieces for a Set Scene ... ... 66
The Painting of Fairy Scenes ... ... ... ... ... ... 71
The Use of Foils and Dutch Metals, etc., etc 72
Hints on Effects ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 74
The Use of Cut Cloths ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 88
Distemper Painting as applied to Decoration ... ... ... ... 89
Pouncing and Pounces ... ... ... ... ••• ••• ••• ••• 9 1
Method of Painting a large quantity of Flowers in a rapid and ef-
fective MANNER ... ... ... ... ... ••■ ••• ••• 95
Conclusion ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ••• ••• 97
THE following Work is intended to afford practical information
and instruction in the art of Scene Painting and Distemper
Painting in general, as applied to decorating, ornamenting, and other
purposes of a similar nature.
When I come to consider the growing taste for private theatricals,
and the very numerous inquiries that have been made for a Work
of this kind, I feel confident that the present treatise, which I have
been invited to undertake, will help to supply a want that has long
existed ; for I have not entered upon my task without that practical
knowledge which is necessary for the due performance of it, having
had an extensive experience in the practice of Scene Painting in some
of the best theatres in the kingdom.
There are many instances in which a knowledge of Scene Painting
and Distemper would prove both useful and amusing. Officers of the
Army and Navy, and other gentlemen who are sent on their profes-
sional career to various parts of the world, generally find theatricals
to be their principal amusement, and the scenery their chief difficulty.
But I hope the following instructions and information may help them
to overcome that difficulty, and make the task of painting the scenery
a pleasant one.
To ladies, also, I hope this book may prove useful ; for I remember
once looking over the country mansion of a noble lord, and being
shown a room that had been decorated solely by the lady of the house.
The festoons of flowers, which formed the chief ornament of the room,
she had executed in water colours upon drawing paper, in the ordinary
way, a process which must have involved a considerable amount of
time and patience, nine-tenths of which she might have saved, had
her work been done in Distemper.
But this is nothing more than what might be expected in many
another country mansion, situate, it may be, far away from any town
whence the services of decorators could be obtained. Suppose some
festive occasion to arise, when the ladies of the house may desire to
exercise their skill in decorating a room, marquee, school, or church.
They probably possess the requisite artistic taste and ability, but, from
their want of a knowledge of Distemper, in which most decorations
are painted, they are unable to accomplish what would otherwise have
been a most agreeable task. I trust, however, that, by adhering to
the instructions contained in the following pages, they will no longer
experience any difficulty in carrying out their plans, but that their
labours will be attended with advantage and pleasure both to them-
selves and others. And let them not fear any injury to their health or
their dress, for the materials employed in Distemper painting are
perfectly harmless and of the most simple kind.
I now commit my book to the reader, leaving him to judge of its
merits by the amount of benefit he may derive from a careful and
persevering study of its contents.
SCENE PAINTING & DISTEMPER PAINTING.
THE PAINTING ROOM.
The first thing necessary in the study of the art of scene painting
is to have a suitable painting-room. I shall, therefore, commence by
giving a description of the sort of room a professional scene painter
generally works in.
The length of a room of this kind is usually about fifty feet and the
breadth from twelve to forty feet, with walls about twenty-five feet in
height and a roof of still greater elevation. On the long sides of the
room are two movable frames, facing each other, on which the scenes
are painted. The dimensions of the frames vary with the require-
ments of the stage for which the scenes are designed ; but forty feet
in width and twenty-five feet in height is a very convenient size for
them. They are made as light as possible, but strong enough to bear
the great strain of the canvas as well as the weight of the framed
pieces of scenery that have to be painted on them.
In order that the scene painter may be able to reach every portion
of his scene at will, the painting frames are hung upon lines and
slide up and down a " cut " or opening in the floor of the room, the
lowering and raising being effected by means of a windlass. (See
diagrams Nos. I and 2.) I, purchase wheel ; 2, shaft ; 3, counter-
weight line ; 4, counterweight, to balance the weight of the frame ; 5,
lines for raising and lowering frame, winding on and off shaft ; 6,
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
purchase line, led over small wheel to windlass, 7 ; 8, painting frame
For a medium-sized scene
and light set pieces, a very
simple kind of painting frame
may be fitted up which would
not necessitate the use of a
windlass (see diagram No. 3),
the counterweights enabling
one to raise the frame and the
canvas on it, with the hand, in
the same way as in a window
sash, while a rope attached to
the top could be used for the
purpose of lowering it. This
kind of frame, which would
also require a cut in the floor,
will likewise serve to hold
framed or heavy set pieces,
the balance being maintained,
when necessary, by adding to
THE PAINTING BRIDGE.
When the theatre or build-
ing in which the painting of
the scenery is to be executed
does not admit of a cut being
made in the floor for the frame
to be lowered through, another
contrivance, called a painting
bridge, must be resorted to,
and the frame rendered immov-
able by fixing it to the wall.
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING. 3
The form and structure of a painting bridge will be sufficiently
4 SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
understood by referring to the illustration at page 5, where it will be
perceived that the platform or bridge (No. 1), on which the artist
places himself, is made to slide up and down between two pieces of
framework standing upright at each end of it, the frames being fixed
firmly to the floor, and, at the top, to the joists of the roof. The sides
of the framework have a rectangular form, and their angles serve as
grooves along which the four corners of the bridge are moved. These
grooves should be kept well coated with black lead, in order that
there may be as little friction as possible between the bridge and the
framework. The raising and lowering of the bridge, so that the
painter may have access to any part of his canvas at will, is effected
by means of a windlass, in nearly the same way as that referred to
when speaking of movable painting frames. The axle of the pur-
chase wheel (2) works between an iron plate let into the wall and
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING. 5
either one of the joists of the ceiling, or a wooden beam attached to
it. Lines (3) support the bridge at each end and pass to the
axle over small wheels placed at the top of the pieces of framework.
The purchase line (4) is led over a small wheel to the windlass,
O SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
and a line (5) with counter-weight attached counterbalances the
weight of the bridge and renders its motion an easy one. There is
also a shelf (6) for palettes, pots, and other painting materials.
No. 7 is the sheet of canvas on which the scene is to be painted, and
should stand back about fifteen inches from the bridge.
I must now inform the reader how the two ends of a painting room
are fitted up. At one of them there is usually a frame similar to and
as high as those before mentioned, and as broad as the room will
allow. The other end of the room is furnished with a stove or
kitchen range, for melting size, drying the colours when testing them,
and for several other purposes. Here also a space is reserved for
grinding the colours in, as well as for shelves on which to set the
stock colours, both wet and dry, and other necessary materials when
not in actual use. Whilst the artist is at work, he deposits his pots,
palettes, and any other things he may require, on tables ranged in
rows in the middle of the room.
The last thing I shall mention in my description of a professional
scene painter's painting room is the method adopted for admitting
the light. In the daytime this comes from skylights which have
movable blinds of stout brown holland, for the purpose of intercept-
ing the direct rays of the sun, whenever it would otherwise shine on
the canvas and hinder the work of the painting. A row of gaslights,
suspended along the middle of the room, allows the painting to be
carried on during the dark hours.
But I fear some of my readers, who may not have the necessary
accommodation in their houses, will begin to think they have
no chance of being able to avail themselves of the advantages
such a room as I have just described would confer. 1 ask them,
however, not to be discouraged, for I am now about to explain how
they may contrive to have a room on their own premises, in which,
with a little management, they can paint their scenery with tolerable
ease and comfort, and, at the same time, dispense with the use of a
After having selected an apartment of convenient size for your
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
private theatre, mark off the dimensions of the stage, leaving a space
of ten or twelve feet at the back of it. Let this space be your paint-
ing room, and fit it up, in all respecls, in the same way as the one
before described, except that, in this case, only one frame will suffice.
And, as the stage of a theatre is generally higher than the floor of
the room in which it is erected, you will be able to lower the frame
through a cut you can make in the floor at the back of your paint-
ing room. But if the floor of the stage is too low to allow so much
of the frame to pass through the cut as will enable you to reach
the upper parts of the scene when standing up, you must make use
of a pair of trestles, or "flying horses," as they are often called.
These can be hired from any builder, plasterer, or house painter ;
but, should that not be convenient, your carpenter could easily make
you a pair at a small expense, either to fold up or not. Then, a two-
inch plank, stretched from one trestle to the other, will form a suitable
scaffold for the painter to stand on, while another, placed higher up
and behind him, will serve to hold the palette and such pots and
brushes as he may require. (See diagram No. 5.)
8 SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
Another and very convenient kind of scaffold is also often made
use of, which, being furnished with wheels, can readily be moved
from one part of the scene to the other, without the necessity of
taking down your painting materials whenever you have occasion to
shift your position. (See diagram No. 6.)
But if a cut in the floor is altogether impracticable, on account of
the low elevation of the stage, your frame can still be fixed against
some part of the wall where the best light will fall upon it. And
remember my former advice — namely, to make your frame strong
enough to resist the great tension the canvas will exert after it has
been sized and primed. You must, likewise, take care that the
trestles or end frame pieces are sufficiently lofty to enable you to
reach the highest parts of the scene. A common ironing stove, to be
procured at any ironmongers, would answer the same purpose as a
kitchen range, which it might not be convenient to put up, and its
flat top would serve admirably to set the pots on to warm and to melt
the size, &c.
There is still another method of proceeding, which the French,
Italian, and, indeed, some of our own English painters adopt ; and
that is, to paint the scenery altogether on the floor. If you prefer this
plan, and have, for instance, a cloth to paint, it must be stretched
and tacked down to the floor, and there prepared and painted.
Framed set pieces will, of course, simply have to be laid level with
the floor, and boards to walk on must be placed across them to
prevent the canvas from being dented or torn. The brushes should
now have their handles lengthened, in order that you may use them
without stooping too much ; and three or four large pots should be
placed in one or twoboxes with
tall handles, for the purpose of
carrying the mixed colours
about with greater facility and
safety. The straightedges, too,
should be provided with long f~ —
handles fixed in their centres, as in the accompanying diagram (J).
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING. g
But it may, perhaps, be impossible to adapt your stage at all to the
purposes of a painting room. In that case, your only resource would
be to have a shed erected, or, if in the country, even a barn prepared
for the occasion. And the same appliances and arrangements as I have
already mentioned would then, likewise, be found equally suitable.
I will now suppose that the student or amateur has succeeded in
securing a suitable room, and that he is thoroughly prepared to make
his first essay in scene painting. But, as the instructions contained
in this book are intended to be of a practical description, I shall also
presume that he has a fair knowledge of drawing, perspective, light
and shade, composition and colouring. Those, too, who wish to
learn from this work how to apply the art of distemper to decorative
purposes, would find it very advantageous to have previously acquired
a tolerable proficiency in fruit and flower painting, as well as in illu-
minating. Messrs. Rowney & Co. have published some useful little
treatises which I can confidently recommend to those of my readers
who are desirous of studying the above subjects, or else of improving
whatever knowledge they may have already gained of them.
10 SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
IMPLEMENTS, MATERIALS, AND COLOURS USED IN
When you purchase any canvas to paint your scenery on, I would
strongly advise you to confine your selection to specimens of the real
article, which should be all flax, not too thick, of a close texture, and
light. Much of that which is now being sold as canvas has certainly
the appearance of it, but possesses none of the properties of genuine
In the place of canvas, stout unbleached calico is frequently em-
ployed, but it does not, by any means, answer so well. Union is
only used for transparencies.
With respect to the width of the canvas, that which is manufactured
two yards wide is the most preferable, as your scene will not then
require so many seams, which is a great desideratum. For ordinary
scenery, these seams should always run horizontally ; but for a
moving panorama, they must assume a perpendicular direction, since
the canvas on which it is represented has to be unrolled from a
cylinder placed vertically on the stage at the time of exhibition.
On a subsequent page I shall show you how to prepare the canvas,
it being my present object to give you a list of the articles you will
require, to be followed by a few particulars concerning the necessary
These, then, are what you will find most needful : —
A common iron or tin kettle, in shape resembling a fish kettle, to
melt the size in ; and a ladle to pour it out with when required for
An earthenware pan, about fifteen or eighteen inches in diameter, to
contain the whiting that has been moistened and made fit for use.
About four dozen earthenware paint pots, from the smallest to the
A grindstone and muller, or what would do still better, a patent
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
A large palette knife.
A good sized sponge.
A plumb line.
Some chalk and a couple of chalk lines.
Some common charcoal, of which only the softest and finest pieces
are to be selected.
Some drawing charcoal. The large French is the best.
A couple of pounce bags. These can be made in the following
manner : Take a piece, about eight inches square, of very open
canvas, of an old stocking, or of any other material that will just
allow the pounce powder to pass freely through the surface of the
bag. Pulverize some charcoal, chalk, or whatever other substance
you may consider best adapted to the purpose, to as fine a powder as
possible. Place a sufficient quantity of it on the middle part of the
canvas. Then draw up the four corners and tie them together with
a piece of string so as to form a round pad which is to be rubbed over
the pounce you wish to transfer to the canvas.
Foils. — These are used chiefly in fairy scenes, for the purpose of
imitating gold, silver, and jewels of every shade and colour. They
can be purchased at any theatrical wardrobe and ornament maker's,
as well as at a few oil and colour shops.
White, gold, and copper-coloured Dutch metal. This is also sold
by the above-mentioned dealers.
Mcdong. — This substance is used in a hot and liquid
state, to fasten Dutch metals with. You will, there-
fore, require a madong pot, in which you can dissolve
the madong and keep it hot while in use ; but as you
will, most likely, be obliged to have one made, I shall
endeavour, with the aid of the accompanying woodcut,
to explain the construction of it. A madong pot con-
sists of a tin pan (C) to contain the madong, and a tin
vessel, about nine inches high, with an open top d
through which the pan is dropped till it rests on the rim. This vessel,
which is of a conical form, resembling a beer can or a sugar loat
12 SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
with the top cut off, has an opening at the side for the purpose of
introducing a small glass spirit lamp (E), of which the flame serves
to dissolve the madong and keep it hot. The tin vessel has also
two vent holes near the top (F F), the one opposite to the other,
to promote the draught. The madong is taken up from the pot and
applied to the scene by means of long camel hair pencils, of which
the annexed engraving represents the real size. They should be
fixed firmly on wooden holders, and must have been steeped in lin-
seed oil before being dipped into the madong.
Receipt for Making Madong. — Take equal parts of pitch, Venice
turpentine, resin, beeswax, and Russian tallow; put them into the madong
pot and melt them together, but should the mixture work too thick and stiff,
add more wax and tallow. The more tallow that is added to the mixture,
the more pleasantly it will work, but if too much is added it will never
harden, so care must be taken not to overdo it. The resin and pitch form
the hardening part of the mixture. In hot weather it can be used much
harder than in cold as the heat keeps it tacky, which is required to make
the Dutch metal adhere to it.
A couple of wooden palettes, one three feet by one and a half, the
other four feet by two, which any carpenter can make. They should
have a ledge three inches high at each end, and one at the back to
prevent the colours from flowing off. They may be made with a
separate division for each colour, if preferred. Before making use
of the palettes they must have three or four coats of white lead laid
over them, and afterwards be rubbed down with sand paper to get
them as smooth as possible.
A Jlogger. — This implement is employed for clearing away the
charcoal after the sketching in is completed. To make one, cut off
a piece, about two feet long, from a broomstick, and round one end
of it nail about a dozen strips of canvas or calico, each strip being
two feet in length.
Straightedges. — Of these, three or four will be required, one being
SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING. 13
exactly two yards long and four inches wide, and marked off in feet, to
serve as a measure. They should be made of thin deal and have a
flange at each edge. One of them should be thin and pliable enough
to bear being bent whenever you wish to draw curves or arches.
I advise the student to have handles fixed to two of his straightedges,
thus : —
The mode of proceeding will then be as follows : Grasp the handle
with the left hand and press the lower edge of the straightedge
against the canvas, keeping the upper edge away from it. Now,
resting your brush on the upper edge, draw it along the canvas and
a line is ruled. It would be advisable to practise ruling lines in this
way, as it will be found to present a little difficulty at first.
Brushes. — Of these you will require : —
Two each flat hog tools, Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8, 12 and 24.
One each sash tools, Nos. 1 and 12.
Two do. do. Nos. 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10.
One 4-in. flat camel hair brush.
Two each quilled tools, Nos. 2, 4 and 6.
Six do. do. No. 1.
Two g-oz. ground distemper brushes.
Two No. 8-0 oval ground brushes.
One No. 4-0 do. do.
One No. 1 do. do.
One No. 3 do. do.
14 SCENE PAINTING AND DISTEMPER PAINTING.
These I will name in the order in which I find it convenient to place
them on the palette, commencing from the extreme left : —
White. — Procure the best gilders' whiting, as it is well washed and
has more body than common whiting, and less lime. It is sold in
large lumps, and only requires to be broken up and plunged into as
much water as will serve to soften it without bringing it into a liquid state.
[This last remark applies to all the colours when they are put into
the stock pots ready for use.] Whiting is used to mix with almost
all the colours, to reduce them, in the same way as Flake White is
used in oil painting, or as water is used in water colour drawing.
Flake White. — A fine white, very solid, but turns a little brown
in distemper, after a short time. It is only used where extra bright-
ness is required, and for the highest lights. It is sold in lumps,
and can be crushed in water with a palette knife, to be ready for use.
Zinc White. — Very white, but has less body than flake white,
though more permanent. In all other respects it is the same, and is
prepared in the same way for use.
Lemon Chrome. — A brilliant light yellow, sold in lumps, and only
requires to be crushed as above.
Orange Chrome. — A fine rich bright colour, in all respects of the
same nature as the other chrome.
Dutch Pink. — A most useful yellow for distemper painting, and
mixes well with any other colour. It is sold in lumps, but must be
ground in water to be ready for use.
Light Yellow Ochre. — This is a very useful and cheap colour. It
is sold in a powdered state, and only requires to be plunged into water