Introduction by Tammy Honesty – Scenic Designer
As a scenic designer, scenic artist, and educator, I am always looking for ways to challenge the students and introduce them to new materials on a budget. My design for Western Illinois University's WILD PARTY was conceived on the idea of a skewed reality influenced by German Expressionism and Art Deco. One skill that the students in the shop needed to learn was how to work with steel. This choice was an economical option for Western Illinois University as well as a pedagogical choice. We had purchased a lot of corrugated steel roofing panels for another project that were available. It was blue on one side and white on the other. The decision was made to put the white side facing the audience because it gave the carpenters more to weld to the frame.
As a veteran scenic artist, I was concerned about paint sticking to the powder coated steel. At first, I thought we would use Tough Prime. Tough Prime is a great product, but it does one thing well - it primes. Rosco's CrystalGel does many things well. It remains flexible, can be painted or carved, can be tinted and, because it sticks to just about anything, it can be used as an adhesive. The uses of CrystalGel are only limited by your imagination. If we were going to make an investment in a new product, I wanted to be able to have multiple uses and demonstrations of its effectiveness. Although I had never used CrystalGel as a primer on metal, I had seen the samples at the Rosco booth at USITT for years. We tried the technique out on WILD PARTY and I was thrilled by the results! The CrystalGel adhered to the powder-coated steel perfectly. Below, the student charge artist describes our process and shows off the results!
How to use Rosco CrystalGel as a Primer by Ely Mattson, MFA Scenic Design Student at Western Illinois University
Powder coated steel before treatment (L) Corrugated steel primed with CrystalGel with a grey base coat (R)
For the set of WILD PARTY, the design required corrugated steel to detail the walls of the buildings. These large panels needed a heavy rust paint treatment applied to them with sponges, so a thin layer of crystal gel was primed directly onto the steel and left to dry before a grey base coat was painted over it. The CrystalGel worked perfectly for this as none of the base coat slipped off, left heavy streaks, or chipped away.
Sponging blue and orange latex paint onto the steel
The many layers of paint sponged on after the basecoat were applied easily. There were no paint runs or pools and the paint dried fairly quickly. It was like painting on wood, without the absorption of paint that occurs with wood. In a paint test, the CrystalGel also took fairly well to diluted paint sprayed on with a Hudson sprayer. There was minimal streaking with a layer of just the CrystalGel over the corrugated steel, whereas the CrystalGel mixed with latex paint did not take to the sprayed paint at all. Although the rust technique for WILD PARTY ended up requiring sponges, I doubt a treatment using spray bottles would have had much more difficulty with CrystalGel on steel as it would with luan.
For painting on steel, particularly on larger surface areas requiring detailed treatment, I would definitely use CrystalGel again. I found it far easier than leaving the metal out to rust, and with much prettier results. The CrystalGel provided an excellent surface for a heavily textured paint treatment. It removed the extra steps and time that painting on bare steel would have required. While Tough Prime is adequate, I personally felt that the CrystalGel held onto the paint better. It would be interesting to play with the texture of heavily applied crystal gel on steel now that I know a thin layer of it works perfectly well as a primer. I appreciated the opportunity to test a new metal primer, especially since it helped me quickly meet my deadlines and looked great on stage.
Welcome to WIU Theatre & Dance's WILD PARTY!
Many thanks to Tammy Honesty and Ely Mattson for sharing their experience using CrystalGel as a metal primer. We're excited to follow Ely as her scenic artist career blossoms. We're thrilled to find out that, beginning in the fall, Tammy will be Faculty Scenic Designer at Kent State University's Department of Theatre and Dance in Ohio. Visit the CrystalGel website to find out more about this ultra-versatile scenic product that Ely and Tammy put to work in this production.