RCS PGCert Project
Production Arts and Design (PAD) students are based in Wallace Studios, purpose built workshop facilities where production work and practice based learning overlap. The scenic art students are taught in the paintshop, a large open space fully equipped with a paint frame that has a 12 metre movable paint bridge. The paint frame can fit a professional cloth, sized 12 metres by 8 metres. The paintshop can also be used as a classroom with enough space to fit 12 students on projects or to lay out floors, wooden flats, metal structures and a myriad of different scenery produced by the carpentry department. The paintshop is fully equipped with all the tools, equipment and materials necessary to a fully functioning paintshop.
The scenic art students are based in the paintshop Tuesday to Friday, nice to five, and sometimes evenings and weekends. There are 11 students across three years and two staff members. This makes the contact time between staff and students extremely high compared with a traditional university setting. The students engage in a practice based learning environment, classes are kept at a minimum, the majority of the student’s time is spent working on productions; learning how to follow references, mix colour, produce finishes, textures and prepare surfaces. Each production provides a multi faceted learning experience, no two productions are alike. When the students are not on production work, they set themselves personal projects, the aim of these projects are to engage in techniques or materials not thrown up by the productions. The structure of the three years mirrors that of a professional paintshop, first year students are in the role of assistants, their duties on productions are mixing colours, preparing surfaces, drawing and learning from the upper years. The second years work more autonomously on productions in the role of scenic artist and will usually get whole set pieces to lead on. In third year the students can take on the role of Head Scenic Artist for the production. They attend the design meetings, estimate the cost of materials, create samples for the designer and direct the other students in what to do. This gives the students the opportunity to gain experience at every level so they understand the team structure of theatre productions and where they fit in that model.
The physical environment is similar to that of professional paintshops; students transitioning into the industry will find theatres, TV studios, workshops have familiar set up to Wallace studios. The staff have close links with the industry and this helps keep the RCS paintshop at the forefront of techniques, materials and styles. The paintshop is the appropriate environment for this research, the students have easy access to materials and tools during the class, space to work on large areas, they can work alongside their peers so others can ask questions and they are easily monitored by the tutor and the lecturer who can easily input in to their work.
During their three years the paintshop should become a second home. It is a space where the students are free to explore their subject, succeed, fail, have fun and work hard. The staff promote an open environment so the students can question or disagree with the staff, it is a place where everyone learns, not just the students.
This environment has been chosen to host this project’s learners as part of the delivery of the class on faux finish marble. During the course of the class the paintshop will be bustling with activity as the production work on the musical ‘Chess’ will be underway and student’s complete personal projects. Space in the workshop will be at a premium so those students participating in the class and those working on productions will have to be aware of each other. On of the drawbacks raised by this situation is a health and safety concern about students working whilst scenery is being moved around the paintshop, however the students are well experienced at sharing the space with classes and projects, at manual handling scenery and alerting those around to moving objects. The students participating in the class will be static at the opposite side to the production work so it will not be a significant issue. The benefit of using the paintshop outweighs the negative. The students will be engaging in production work as part of the class, by being around this work as it happens they become more aware of the context the marble is sitting it. It also allows other students to look at what is going on, ask questions and input suggestions. Scenic art is a collaborative artform, shutting the students in a separate classroom away from their peers betrays that principal.
In this class the students will be supported by in the same way they are supported through the production work. Since every production is different the techniques and skills needed differ, the students encounter something new every production. To teach these techniques the scenic art staff employ different methods and in accordance to the student’s individual needs. Some processes, for example putting a large canvas on to the paint frame requires discussion, physical examples and observation to ensure it is being done correctly. However, when painting natural surfaces, the staff allows the students to experiment, try different tools and offer advice and feedback on their efforts. No matter what the approach the staff are always on hand to help the students, we encourage autonomy and peer to peer learning. As all students learn differently, the staff try to identify the best learning method for them early in the student’s time at the RCS.
The students participating in the class are placed in two separate groups, group one will have access to the online resource and the video tutorials; group two will not. During the class both sets of students will receive the same level of guidance through the tasks and techniques. Group two will receive more time on the techniques as they will be experiencing these for the first time. Before every exercise the tutor and students will discuss the process, the materials and tools. After each exercise the students and tutor will discuss the positives, negatives and what could be done next. This guidance is to make the students think about the steps they could take or potentially take away, what tools suited the technique and how the application of paint layers effected the finish. The aim is to engage the students at this stage so it prompts them to become more autonomous during their production work. Working smarter not harder.
The paintshop is the ideal environment for the students to learn. For students studying in a vocational degree in a professional industry standard paintshop this is the best possible place to explore new ideas and skills.