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My job explained: Scenic artist

Rowan Plinston sets the scene to explain how you can use your artistic skills to create stage sets for the theatre.

Could you tell us a bit about your job?

I work for The Royal Opera House as a scenic artist which means I paint all the sets for the ballet and opera shows created there.

Can you describe a typical working day?

I am in the paint shop from 8am and finish at 4.15pm. The work I produce can vary widely depending on the design of the set so I could be painting, carving or texturing, for example. Generally I would be working from a scale model of the set given to me by a designer. My task is to recreate the feel of the model 25 times bigger. 

Why did you choose to be a scenic artist?

After finishing my illustration degree I decided I didn't want to carry on with the discipline as a career. I enjoyed painting and drawing on a large scale, and was doing some mural painting when a friend gave me a leaflet about the scenic art course at the Bristol Old Vic and it sounded like exactly the kind of work I enjoyed. I got a portfolio of relevant work together and applied. At the end of the course I got my first job through work experience.

What qualifications do you have?

I have A-levels in art, design technology and biology. I also have a national diploma in art and design, a BA degree in illustration and a postgraduate diploma in scenic art.

What other skills do you need?

You obviously strong drawing and painting skills. But it’s also important to be good at communication as you work very closely in teams, and to have a lot of stamina as it is a very physical job. You also need flexibility and creativity as you need to be ready to adapt and change your ways of thinking in order to solve problems and good time-keeping to meet deadlines.

What's the best bit of your job?

The design will be different each time so there is always a new creative challenge.

What’s the most challenging bit of your job?

Sometimes it can be physically hard and time constraints can add an element of pressure which can be stressful.

Was it hard to get your first job?

All my work has come through work experience or being given a trial so I had to work as hard as I could to impress my employer. This was a bit stressful but also enjoyable because I love the job.

What advice would you have for people who want to follow in your footsteps?

Do as much drawing and painting as possible to improve your abilities. Research good scenic art courses and get as much work experience as you can.

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