A Prop Girl’s Bag-o’-Tricks

I few things I know I’ll be using to make props this summer for 2x4BASH are the items I’ve listed below. You could make almost anything out of these things. I’ve worked on props for the Western Stage for almost 8 years and I don’t think I could get by without these products or tools.

If I could carry this all on a tool belt, I would

1. Sculpt or Coat – This is like a really thick glue-type product that I use for giving props a protective plastic coating. It works really well for fake food items and disguises foam to look like other things. You can use it as a semi-gloss too or tint it with paint or thin it with water. Most paints will adhere to it as well so you can coat your prop, let it dry, and then paint over it. Great stuff.

2. Glue gun/Hot Glue – Hot glue is my wonder adhesive. It works on almost all types of materials, especially plastics and wood, and hardens quickly so I can keep working without stopping. Most people use hot glue, so it’s not like this is some hidden secret of the prop world, but I love to use hot glue in ways that aren’t usual. Hardened hot glue

I think I need a glass of prop milk

looks a lot like glaze so I often use it for prop food as a sugar glaze or icing. Here is a donut that I made out of a piece of foam sculpted into a ring, some Sculpt or Coat to coat the foam, paint, hot glue for the chocolate icing glaze on top, and some little tan nugget things I found (I think they’re used in fish tanks) that I used as peanut pieces.

Hot glue has so many uses in the prop department, we’d never get by without it.

3. Sculpey (or other polymer clays) – Sculpey is a brand of polymer clay that I use to make all sorts of props. It’s easy to mold, comes in many colors, and can be painted once it is baked. Sculpey often comes in handy for smaller props such as fruit and

WARNING: Not as delicious as it looks!

pastries. If you need to make something that’s bigger than 1/4 inch thick, foil should be used. For example, I made a mango last year out of only Sculpey, foil, and paint. You ball the foil up so that it takes up most of the space and then apply the Sculpey over it. Since foil is oven safe, there is no problem with baking it like this. Once it’s cooled you can safely paint it any color you want, if needed. For my mango, I painted it with blended colors of red, yellow, and green to make it look like a nice ripe mango.

4. Spray Adhesive – Outside of hot glue, spray adhesive is probably my next most used glue. It works pretty well for paper crafts and applying fabric to surfaces like wood. It can be a sticky mess though. This glue is very tacky and if you get it on your fingers you will start to stick to things. Also it will get in your hair and eye lashes and clothing, so if that doesn’t sound like a fun time, cover up before you spray. I wear eye glasses and often end up doing all my spray gluing half-blind, because I take the glasses off while using the glue to save them from a nice layer of sticky speckles all over the lenses. Prop making is serious business, people.

5. Paint – As with set creation, the prop department also uses a bit of paint to make our props. Since I usually don’t need nearly as much as the set does, I prefer to stick with little bottles of acrylic paint since I tend to waste less and it’s easier to pop open one of those bottles than it is to crack open a can of paint that you need to stir. I’m also not very efficient at color mixing, so when I use the big cans of paint I always end up mixing a cup of paint together to get the right shade when I only needed about a teaspoon amount. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with the little bottles.

6. Foam – Any type of foam is valuable to me. I’ve used anything from insulation foam, to cushion foam, to packaging foam to make props. My most used foam is the cushion foam though, because it’s spongy and bread-like (I used it for the donut up there), so it comes in handy for all sorts of different breads. We had a whole bakery of breads set up once for The Baker’s Wife made mostly out of insulation and cushion foam.

7. Design Master Glossy Wood Tone – This spray paint tint will automatically make every thing look better. I don’t know how it does it, but it can. It can make things look antiqued or old and used. It can make things look slightly glossy and intensify the colors the prop already has, while knocking down those colors that might be too bright under stage lights. I just love this stuff. It has a sister color, Cherry Wood Tone, that can also be helpful. Cherry Wood Tone is, as the name suggests, a bit more red tinted and worked wonders on our berry tarts that the props department made once. These were made out of Sculpey for the crust, fake strawberries and grapes glued on top, a hot glue glaze like I used on the donut, and a little touch of Cherry Wood Tone.

Starting to get hungry?

Just looking at an unused glue stick, you’ll notice that it’s milky colored and slightly opaque. That’s what our tarts looked like before we sprayed them with the Cherry Wood Tone. The spray instantly cleared them up somehow and gave them a beautiful glossy sugary glazed look. I couldn’t believe how much just the spray improved them. The Design Master’s Glossy Wood Tone tints are like magic prop sprays and I’d be lost without them.

You’d never know from this post that I’ve made things other than fake food props, but I work on all types of props ranging from designing book jackets, folding fake flowers, to fashioning fake ice sculptures out of plexiglass! The fake food props are often more prevalent though because real food is often too messy or too hard to use on stage. It does happen but requires a lot of nightly cleaning and proper food storage, so when the food product isn’t actually eaten on stage, a fake prop is much preferred.

I must give credit to my prop department partner, Leslie Lancaster, as she has shared with me many of the techniques and products I’ve talked to you about today, and I wouldn’t know about any of it without her.