Thursday, August 4, 2011

Planet in a Pail

I realize that normal people probably don't really get what I do for a living. I am the "paint shop manager" for an events company. But unless you've worked in the entertainment field you probably have no concrete idea what I do on a day to day basis other than maybe paint stuff.

There are many daily tasks that are specific-project-related (painting the actual pieces of scenery for any given trade show, for example. Or bringing in over-hire painters to do that painting if we're busy enough to need extra hands.) but there are also the basic maintenance tasks like cleaning or ordering shop supplies. Today I did one of those odd kind of tasks that don't make sense to most people outside of my industry (or theater scenic artists, which is my background anyways).

I mixed up a bucket of back paint. And it was pretty (at least it was until I stirred it all up. After that it was just kinda brownish green)

It's okay if you're confused. Allow me to explain...

Most of the scenery we build is used in trade shows or corporate special events, often held in hotels or convention centers. The rules and laws vary from state to state, but many of them require that there not be any bare wood on any of the pieces... This usually has to do with fire codes (bare wood will catch fire much faster than painted wood, both due to properties of the paint as well as simply the fact that the splintery rough surface has been smoothed down when it is coated). So this means I paint the back side of everything, because even if the particular place it is going doesn't require it, there's always the possibility that it could be used again elsewhere and really... better safe than sorry. So any paint used just to cover the backs of things is referred to as "back paint" (crazy logic there, eh? I know.)

The way I make back paint is by recycling all the little leftover paint colors from past shows. Each time we send out a set, I put together a touch-up kit with small containers of pretty much any paint color that was used. That way if anything gets dinged up on the truck or during an install, the project manager will have any color necessary to do a quick fix. When it is all over and everything comes back to our warehouse, the touch up kit (often unused) returns as well. All those deli cups full of paint have to be disposed of somehow... I don't want to pour them down the sink or toss them in a landfill (I'd have to dry out the paint by putting sawdust in it or some other drying agent first anyways as per our local disposal laws). But since it doesn't matter what color the back paint is (nobody's going to be seeing the backs except the guys installing the show) it becomes a perfect way to re-use all that paint instead of letting it go to waste. I often use it as a base coat for some things as well, depending on the final color I'll be using.

Today's particular bunch of little paint cups was so many bright pretty colors and dumping them one by one into the big bucket kinda took on a Jackson Pollack artsy quality:

Although over the years (I used to do this as a theater painter too... then it was often as much about saving money on buying paint for the backs of things as it was about not having an easy way to dispose of unwanted liquid paint) I've realized that no matter how pretty the colors you start with are, the back paint pretty much always ends up some shade of baby-poo brown. (I'll spare you the visual on that one.)

This time I was inspired to take photos because it reminded me of a lush green planet. The magic of photoshop makes it even more so:

This is certainly not the strangest job task I've done. (That would probably be back when I built theater props for a living and my answer to "What did you do today?" was "I painted fake carrots to look more like real carrots then attached them to sticks as spear heads." Extra credit will be awarded to anyone who can name the show I was making those for). But it is certainly something the average office worker doesn't do. And that my friends, is why I love my job.


  1. So glad you took photos! I love the abstract design.

  2. Thank you CC!

    I've found that owning an ipad (my awesome papa got me one for my birthday this year) means that I take more photos just because it is always in my bag and available. I wouldn't be as likely to drag my camera with me everywhere. I've really enjoyed documenting some of my early days at this new job so I can look back at them later and see where I started here.

  3. I love the image, it does look like planet Earth! THanks for sharing.
    How blessed to be able to do what you love! I wish everyone could make a living doing what they love, I also wish there was an special test to discover what you truly would love to do; for my Daughter who has yet to declare her major as a junior!