The following appeared in Issue #26
(Fall 2001) of Haunted Attraction Magazine, a publication
for the dark amusement industry, and is reprinted by courtesy of
By George F. Ledo
A recent article in Issue # 22 of this
publication described a technique for producing a nice three-dimensional
faux brick effect fairly quickly, but did not address the issue
of how to paint the surface to make it look real. As a theatrical
designer who recently caught the haunting bug (cryptococcus terminalis,
and the prognosis is very dark), I'd like to share a scenic painting
technique for creating realistic-looking brick.
The interesting thing about brick,
from a designer's point of view, is that there are many variables-including
the way it is laid, the colors used, and the size and evenness of
the mortar joints-that can be used to create a specific effect.
It all depends on the visual impression the designer or art director
wants to present to the audience, such as the mood of the scene,
the time of day, the location, the type of brick wall, its age and
condition, and similar things.
For this article, I wanted to create
a brick wall in the basement of an old house. I selected a fairly
common brick pattern and what is known as a "flush" or
plain joint, which is made (in a real wall) by simply scraping off
the excess mortar, level with the face of the brick. This joint
is often found in old structures where appearance and/or weather
resistance were not an issue, and is very appropriate for a haunted
house. And, for our purposes, it can be created quickly because
it is painted totally on a flat surface.
The technique, assuming that the substrate
(in this case, 4' x 8' plywood sheets) has already been treated
with a flame-retardant product, is very straightforward and consists
of three steps. First, we lay down a base coat of the brick color
to define the overall appearance and character of the wall. Then,
using brick-sized plywood cutouts (as described in Issue # 22) to
mask the surface, we spray the mortar color. Finally, we remove
the cutouts and spatter the surface with two or three additional
colors to create the pockmarks and other surface imperfections in
Since a lot of old buildings in my
area (upstate New York) were built from a reddish-orange brick,
I selected three suitable paint colors for the base coat: two slightly
orange red-browns and a more intense sienna color. Then I used a
"warm" gray mixed with a bit of flat white for the mortar.
"Warm" grays, such as the color of cement, old bleached-out
wood fences, and elephants, show a hint of brown, while "cool"
grays, as seen on storm clouds, battleships, and the color you get
when you mix black paint with white, show a hint of blue.
To lay down the base coat, pour some
of each brick color, thinned just a bit with water, into separate
buckets, and some plain water into a fourth bucket. A great deal
of scenic painting is done with the material flat on the floor because
it's convenient and allows one or more painters to work standing
up, move around on the surface, and see what they’re doing from
a few feet away. In this case, all you need is one long-handled
brush, which is made by taping a four-inch paintbrush to a dowel
or piece of old broomstick. Using this one brush, mix all three
colors onto the surface at random to create a mottled effect, using
a bit of water occasionally to help smooth out the paint. This is
called a "wet blend," although the paint should be spread
out thinly so it dries quickly. Avoid hard edges—the colors want
to flow and mix together, not start and stop suddenly.
Once you're done, stand back and look
at it. Is it too light here or too dark there, or is there too much
of one color in one area? If so, just put on a bit more paint and
blend it in. But be careful not to overwork it: the trick in scenic
painting is knowing when to stop.
When the base coat is dry, lay out
the brick cutouts and cover the surrounding surfaces with a plastic
dropcloth. I used a 4’ strip of plywood, with the brick spacing
marked off in pencil, to speed up the layout process. Apply the
mortar color using a garden tank sprayer (the hand pump type used
for bug spray), making sure to strain the paint through cheese cloth
or a very fine metal strainer before use. The paint should be just
thin enough that it flows smoothly and provides good coverage without
soaking the surface, and the pressure should be low enough that
it will not blow the cutouts around. It takes a few tries to get
the paint and the pressure just right, so be sure to practice on
a scrap first. Two or three light coats will cover as well as one
heavy coat, and will dry much faster.
Before you remove the brick cutouts,
spatter the entire surface with two or three darker shades of the
gray mortar color to create some visual interest in the joints.
For this, I mixed a small quantity of all three brick paints into
some gray to get a dark brown color, and then added a bit of black
and some water. Don't use straight black paint for this, as it is
too intense and usually reads like black paint instead of like pits
or shadows. If you apply the spatter coat lightly enough, it should
be dry enough for you to to remove the bricks in a couple of minutes
and move on to the next section.
Now stand back again and look at the
overall effect. Is the brick spacing too regular, or are the mortar
lines too narrow or too wide? If so, simply adjust them for the
Once the entire wall is painted, use
the gray mortar colors that you already have, and maybe a bit of
white, to spatter the surface lightly to give it some texture and
variation. Maybe one area wants to look darker than another, or
needs more of one color. Since the spatter coats are light, they
will dry fast, and you can go back over them as needed. Stand back
frequently, look at your creation, and stop just when you think,
"it needs a bit more."
Please note that a brick wall doesn't
always have to be "brick" color. A nice moonlit effect
can be obtained by painting the surface, including the mortar, in
shades of blue. For instance, a few years ago I designed a set for
an outdoor show at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.
Part of the set represented Merlin’s castle, a large pile of rock
in the middle of a lagoon, complete with Stonehenge-type arches.
Because the show was only presented in the evenings, I had the set
painted in shades of blue to reinforce the feeling of a mysterious
castle in the moonlight.
For the example in this article, I
used two 4’ x 8’ sheets of plywood for the wall, and made enough
brick cutouts to cover about a third of a sheet. It took me about
half an hour to lay down the three base colors, and maybe five to
seven minutes to arrange the bricks each time. The mortar spray
and spatter took only a minute to apply and maybe ten to dry before
I could move the bricks (although I got carried away a couple of
times, put on too much paint, and had to wipe off the bricks before
re-using them). The final spatter coats took a bit longer because
I was adjusting the overall effect, but they dried fast.
The end result was exactly what I wanted:
a quick, accurate representation of the brick walls in the old industrial
buildings in my area.