How To Create Realistic Faux Grass For Your Set

Thanks to our new partnership with The Guild of Scenic Artists, we’ll be sharing select stories from their members that you’ll also find inside their blog – The Scenic Route. Below is a story from GoSA member Rachael Claxton, the charge scenic artist at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, who shared her story below about creating realistic fake grass for a recent production.

Realistic grass finishes have always vexed me. There’s no turf in the world (at least not one that theatres can afford) that will give any designer the look they desire – and if you want the grass to feel dead or muddy, forget about it! Over the past few years, I’ve been asked to do more and more grass floors and I’ve tried carpets, astroturfs, and homosote as bases, all with varying degrees of success. But after working on a recent design in this year’s Humana Festival, I’ve finally figured out my favorite technique.


Original rendering by William Boles

For Cry It Out, scenic designer William Boles designed an incredibly cool set where four backyards intersected and each yard was slightly more dead than its neighbor. The trick with the Humana Festival is that all of the shows run in rotating rep, so we had to make sure that any treatment we did was extra durable and flexible so it wouldn’t get ruined when the grass got rolled up multiple times a week. Because the whole thing needed to quickly change over to a completely different set, we decided to purchase pre-fabricated artificial turf and alter it in the shop.

The first hurdle we had to clear was getting each blade of grass to stand up straight; it was laying flat from the way the mat had been rolled up in the factory. Our first idea was to take a weed whacker to it, in hopes that we could rough up the grass enough so that it would lie in different directions. When that didn’t work, we decided to melt the grass with a heat gun.

Melting the grass with a heat gun.

The heat was great because it reacted with the plastic blades and caused them to straighten up and curl. Depending on how many times we went over a specific area, we could add variety in the height and curliness of the blades and get spots to look more dead than others. So we donned our respirators, goggles, and settled in for 8 hours of melty fun.

Halfway through melting the grass into submission

We wanted the yard to look like it had been through one winter since the sod had been laid – so, after melting, we went in and added dirt patches in areas where the yard would have been worn down by foot traffic or neglect. The “dirt” was a combination of Rosco FlexBond, Cal-Tint, and Rosco Off Broadway mixed into clean sawdust. I watered down some FlexBond enough to go through a Hudson sprayer and worked in sections, saturating the areas we wanted dirty. Then I sprinkled on the sawdust mixture, rubbed the dirt into the blades of the turf, and soaked it again in FlexBond. In the areas where we had melted the grass to be shorter, the dirt sat on top of the blades, making it look like bald patches of earth. In the areas where the turf had only been slightly melted, the “dirt” sank further down, making it look more like the grass was thinning.

The lawn after sawdust dirt had been applied

To turn the grass from bright green to shades of brown and yellow, we mixed up 3 washes of Off Broadway to apply: grey, raw sienna, and brown. Because the turf was plastic, the paint didn’t stick by itself, so we added a few cups of FlexBond to our Off Broadway washes to make sure the color adhered well.

Three-quarters of the way through with the grey wash

Since we wanted the lawn to look a bit dry and dead, I covered the entire piece in a grey wash first to kill some of the bright green color and allow the more subtle yellows and browns we were going to put on top to show. Letting each wash dry between steps, I kept layering on more grey, raw sienna, and brown until I was happy with how dead it looked.

Finished with the washes!

Since the audience was going to be so close to the grass – sitting right on top of it in the case of the first row! – we decided to add some realistic elements as a finishing touch. We purchased a few pounds of flame-retarded floral moss, bleached it so it was the correct color, then used another spray of FlexBond to adhere it to the finished turf. The moss was great because it came mixed with little twigs that added a level of realism we never could have achieved with paint alone.

Moss, twigs, and leaves all added and ready to get loaded in!

Luckily it was winter when we did this project, so we were able to grab some dead leaves from our backyards, flame-retard them, and glue them down to the lawn as well. I ended up using Rosco CrystalGel to attach larger sticks and leaves. It was really easy to push a stick down into the thick gel and keep it stationary once it dried, no matter how roughly it was handled.

Relaxing on the lawn with a (Murphy’s Soap) margarita – the perfect way to spend an afternoon!

After the project was all complete, the entire shop took a quick moment of relaxation on the lawn before it got loaded up and trucked over to the theatre. All in all, the largest lawn look me too about a week to complete, while the rest of the shop worked on the smaller yards. I was glad we had started purchasing FlexBond by the 5-gallon bucket because, by the time the show was open, we’d finished off about 13 gallons. Everyone was very happy with the end results. Throw in a couple of puddles and some bits of fake dog poop, and even I could hardly tell it was fake!

Commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville, “Cry It Out” was part of the 41st Humana Festival Of New American Plays that ran March 1 – April 9, 2017. To see more of Rachael Claxton’s marvelous scenic art, visit her website – If you’d like to learn more about the products Rachael used to make her faux grass more realistic, visit the Rosco Coatings & Glazes and Off Broadway Scenic Paint product pages.








About Angelique Powers

A Founding Member of The Guild of Scenic Artists, Angelique Powers has an MFA in Scenic Art Design from the California Institute of the Arts and has been professionally painting theatrical scenery for over 16 years. Angelique also shares her knowledge, passion and experience with her students at the University of Minnesota as a scenic paint instructor. To see Angelique’s work, be sure to explore the portfolio on her website –

12 thoughts on “How To Create Realistic Faux Grass For Your Set

  1. Heidi Hoffer

    Wonderful pictures. The progress shots are really good. I wondered how toxic the melting would be. Was it comfortable in bare feet? (did he actors get to go barefooted?) The umbrella pose is perfect!

  2. Joel Svendsen

    Great questions Heidi! We’ll forward them on to Rachael and see if she can respond. It’s always good to hear from you – thanks for the comment!

  3. Rachael Claxton

    Hi Heidi!
    Thanks! The grass was alright to walk on barefoot – definitely not as nice as real grass, but it was doable (although none of the actors went barefoot so we didn’t test that too much). We had to be careful though because the grass could go from slightly curled to totally melted, hard, and sharp very quickly. We melted the grass in 2 steps just to make sure we didn’t go too far the first time. While we worked on those steps we wore respirators with 3M 60926 Multi-Gas/P100 cartridges, as well as goggles to protect our eyes from the fumes. We made sure to vent to turn on all our exhaust fans and thoroughly vent the shop, as well as close the paint area off from the other shops while we were working. Using a heat gun on the grass was not my first choice, but it ended up being the only way we could manipulate the turf to how we needed it to look. Thanks again!

  4. Nicole Deibert

    Looks amazing! I also have the task of dealing with artificial grass for a show. Using Artist’s gel medium as my binding agent which for tests is working at the moment. Once the hill (did I mention the grass is on a hill?) gets fully turfed, then I get to finish the painting on it. This article has been immensely useful information. Thank you!

  5. angelique powers

    You are welcome! Its a team sport these days, and we can all learn from each other!

  6. Carrie Ballenger

    We have not melted it. I don’t have the ventilation for that and the carps share our space. We had to do this in our theater as well. We used oscillating tools to cut and shave out areas of lower grass and make bald areas. It’s a lot of work, but does the job pretty well. Would have been much easier if we had been able to do it at the shop. So there’s an option for those who don’t have good ventilation. Flexbond has not been my go to, but sounds like I need to add it to the arsenal more often. Thanks

  7. I didn’t see anything that mentioned what brand/style astroturf you started with. Seems like there might be different compositions of fake grass out there, some of which might not respond the same way.

  8. Hey Paul,
    We used the Lawn Special (Grn/Brwn) 75 from US Sports Turf. I’ve also used the stereotypical low-pile AstroTurf in the past and it does not do well at all. What’s important with whatever turf you start with is that the blades of grass are long enough to melt or cut down to give variety, and then the Flexbond will stick the paint to almost any plastic-type surface.

  9. Thanks. Lots of good info. We are about to launch into a lawn her at Kitchen Theatre.

  10. Joel Svendsen

    Thanks Stiller – let us know how it goes!

  11. So I am about to start distressing a turf for a show right now and this article is saving my life. But I have a few questions. We decided to go with a recycled turf company and because of that we ended up with a really nice high pile football field turf. My show is not about football… So. Would you say these methods would be effective on turning white and blue turf green? I have never used flexbond but it is looking like my best option to do this.

  12. Joel Svendsen

    Hello Samantha, and thanks for your comment. I ran your question by Angelique Powers. She’s the scenic artist that worked with Rachael to write the article. Angelique’s response:

    “If I am understanding correctly – they need to turn Blue and White turf back to green? If so, my answer would be: yes, but it could take a few layers/passes to make such a dramatic transition in color.”

    The other advice I know that both Angelique and Jenny Knott – our paint product manager – would give you is: Test-Test-Test. Get some Flexbond and some Supersaturated paint, cut up some samples of your turf, and then experiment with ratios that A.) work in your sprayer, while B.) provide the coverage you’re looking for. From there, you’ll be able to figure out how many coats/passes it will take to turn your blue & white turf green.

    Let us know how it turns out!

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