Tips for Selecting a School Theater Backdrop

Backdrops are designed to catch the eye or mask things you don’t want the audience to see. Students may be painting the backdrops to create scenery and add to the story. Other backdrops block out the people and equipment that are waiting backstage. With hot theater lighting, safety measures should have you thinking about backdrops that are flame retardant. The materials you chose is just as important as the color, size, and weight. When choosing a school theater backdrop, follow these tips.

Keep it Simple

As tempted as you may be to create grand backdrops, avoid the temptation. Elaborate school theater backdrop plans often take longer than students, teachers, and advisors imagined. Paint doesn’t have time to properly dry. Rushed construction projects fall apart. It’s always best to keep your set design as simple as possible. Fabric backdrops eliminate the need to construct backdrops using wood, cardboard, and other construction materials.

Understand What the Different Fabrics Are and How They’re Best Used

Many fabrics are useful in a theater setting, but they all have their strong points. For budget set designs, burlap, duvetyne, and muslin are three of your best theater fabrics. Here are the fabrics that are available along with a tip at what they’re best for.

Burlap – The natural look of burlap helps it add texture to backgrounds plus it absorbs sounds. It’s also one of the more economical fabrics, so it’s great for a school theater group that needs to stay on budget.

Canvas – Canvas comes in a variety of options at Chicago Canvas. For a theater backdrop, look at primed canvas. It’s already primed and ready for you to hand paint backgrounds for your theater production.

Chroma-Key – Chroma-Key is used to create green screens. If your theater production will use special effects, chroma-key is a flame retardant material that helps with visual effects.

Commando Cloth – Commando cloth is a machine washable cotton material that absorbs lighting. It can blackout the lights from backstage as your stage crew prepares for the next scene.

Duvetyne – Duvetyne is commonly used to skirt the stage. It’s a popular choice because it’s budget-friendly. It’s also a perfect solid black background that absorbs light and is fire-retardant.

Muslin – Muslin is an affordable plain cloth that can be painted. It’s perfect for inexpensive backdrops you plan to paint by hand.

Poly Silk – This lightweight, luminescent fabric allows colors to come through thanks to its translucent nature.

Rip-Stop Nylon – If a tear starts, it won’t go any farther. Rip-stop nylon is perfect for heavy use because it won’t tear easily or continue tearing if something snags it.

Scrim – Scrim is see-through when it’s lit from an angle, but when the theater lights point straight at it, it hides actors who are waiting in the wings. We offer Leno-filled, Sharkstooth, and Theatrical Gauze.

Sound Absorbing Fabric – While Commando Cloth and Duvetyne can block light, they’re not good at blocking extraneous sounds. The sound-absorbing cloth is thicker, fire retardant, and helps block sounds from the backstage action.

Velour – Velour is another choice if you want to absorb extraneous sounds from backstage. It’s flame retardant, so the heat from bright theater lighting won’t be an issue. It’s commonly used for theater/stage drapes.

Measure Multiple Times

Make sure you have the right measurements. Take the measurements for the opening you’re filling with the backdrop. Take them two more times and make sure they always match. Once you have this measurement, pay attention to the ordering guide. When you’re ordering a customized canvas backdrop or curtain, the hem will shorten each side of your curtain. As long as the measurements you give Chicago Canvas & Supply are correct, the extra fabric needed to hem the backdrop can be factored in.

Utility Rope and Backdrops Make It Easy to Change Scenes

Make sure you consider the features that will help your backstage crew. You can pick fabrics that can be primed and painted with the scenery you need. With some grommets and rope hung from a higher point, the school theater backdrop can be drawn across the stage in seconds, which makes for very quick set changes in between acts.

Chicago Canvas & Supply has 70 years of expertise in fabrics and textiles. We’ve helped many theater groups find the right materials for theater backdrops, scrims, and stage curtains. Don’t hesitate to send us an online message or call 1-866-389-2218. We’re happy to help you find the right backdrop for your theater production.

How Long Do Different Types of Tarps Last?

A tarp’s lifespan should be a main consideration when choosing the right tarp for your needs. You could be spending hundreds of dollars. For that kind of money, you want years of use. Here’s a general guide that can help answer “how long do canvas tarps last.”

Tarp Materials and Uses

Different tarps have different intended uses and thicknesses. At Chicago Canvas & Supply, we sell provide several types of tarps.

Canvas Tarps

Canvas tarps can be treated or untreated. Treated cotton canvas is a popular choice for people looking to cover cargo, equipment, and supplies found at construction sites and farms. As the cotton canvas is treated with oil and wax, they can stain a car’s finish,which makes them unsuitable for vehicle covers. The oil and wax treatment helps control mildew growth and repels water.

Untreated tarps do not repel water and should not be used outside when it is wet. The natural cotton fiber is durable and can last years, but if a tear starts, it needs to be mended as quickly as possible.

Clear PVC Tarps

Clear PVC tarps are meant to be used as curtains. The sheer material allows for light to get through and people to see through. The material is waterproof and stands up to wind, which makes it a popular choice when covering a door in the winter or extending the use of a covered deck or patio as it gets colder. The 20 mils thickness does help them last a long time.

Iron Horse Polyester Tarps

Iron Horse Polyester tarps are designed to last. They’re waterproof and stronger than canvas. This doesn’t mean that these tarps are indestructible. They can develop rips if you do not properly care for them. With proper care, you will get several years of use from this tarp.

Mesh Tarps

Mesh tarps come in a variety of materials and are designed to be breathable while blocking some of the sun’s UV rays. Vinyl coated color mesh doesn’t block as much sun at 55 percent. Polyethylene mesh tarps are made from polyethylene mesh and block almost 90 percent of the sun’s rays. Polypropylene mesh offers the most protection from the sun with UV protection reaching 95 percent.

These tarps are designed to allow air through while keeping debris contained. They make great pool covers or covers for trucks carrying lightweight items like wood shavings that would otherwise blow away.

Poly Tarps

Poly tarps can be designed for light use or heavy use. Blue poly tarps are the tarps you often see in discount stores. They’re only 4 mils thick and don’t tend to last long if used or maintained incorrectly. Heavy-duty poly tarps are designed to last longer.

Vinyl Tarps

Vinyl tarps are poly tarps that have been coated, laminated, or tempered with vinyl. As they’re designed for industrial use, they are strong and resist tearing. Expect these tarps to last several years in severe conditions like heat, heavy rain or snow, or cold temperatures.

Proper Care and Maintenance Helps Them Last

Do you want to keep your canvas tarp in great condition for as long as possible? Proper care and maintenance are important for a long lifespan. There are three key steps to making your tarp last.

Stick to the Intended Use

Let’s say you want to cover your swimming pool with a tarp. You should never use a canvas tarp. The wax or oil on a treated canvas tarp would get into the pool water. An untreated canvas tarp would develop mildew.

Make sure you’re using the tarp correctly. If you need a furniture cover while you paint, untreated canvas tarps are ideal. If you want a tarp to put down on the lawn before getting a delivery of mulch, a blue poly tarp is perfect.

Fix Damage Immediately

As soon as you notice damage, take time to fix it. Before you store your tarp, look for loose or missing grommets and small rips or tears. If you have to make repairs, we recommend the following products:

Grommet Repair: Replace damaged grommets with the Set-It-Yourself Grommet Kit

Mildew and Water Protection: Add extra protection from mildew and water damage on a canvas tarp by coating it with Canvak

Rips and Tears: HH-66 Vinyl Cement for poly or vinyl tarps or Tear Mender for canvas tarps

Store It Properly

When the tarp is not in use, make sure you have cleaned it off and hung it in the sun to dry completely. You do not want to fold the tarp while it is still damp or dirty.

Fold the tarp with the help of another person. Fold in half and then repeat until the tarp is compact enough to be placed in a plastic tub that has a tight-fitting lid. Why store it in a plastic tub? If you store the tarp in a shed or garage, there is the risk of mice chewing holes in the tarp.

A Smart Purchase Will Last Years

The bottom line is that material, care, and use all impact how long tarps last. Make sure you match the material to the intended use. Keep it in good condition.

Each of the tarps we offer has an option allowing you to see the intended use. Refer to this as a guide on which material to pick. If you have any questions, contact Chicago Canvas & Supply’s live chat help desk for immediate help!

Tips For Painting On Canvas Fabrics

There is always a choice when it comes to artistic expression, and the products we use can really define our work. Now, there are many different surfaces and products that are used to paint on. Among these are paper, cardboard, wood, glass, metal, and even silk. Canvas, (generally referred to as a fabric that’s being painted on) however, is one of the most common things to paint on — and for good reason. It is usually made with cotton or linen. With cotton, there are benefits of its affordability and ability to stretch well. Cotton canvases last a long time and are generally the most popular kind of canvas to work with. Linen canvases are also used; they are strong and durable to work with, but a little less easy on the wallet.

Working With Canvas

Canvas is well liked for painting because it absorbs well, has a durable and nice texture, and is lightweight and easy to transport. Since there are so many different types of canvas to work on, consider which will work best for you and your particular project.

When working with canvas, or any art project, you’ll want to figure what you need to get started and how to set yourself up. You will need your canvas, of course, paint brushes that are longer and have generally thicker bristles, some containers or jars for water, and whatever you use to hold your paint. You can use anything from a actual palette made for paint to hold each color separately, or even a piece of newspaper. The canvases come in a variety of sizes, and are commonly pre-stretched over and fastened to a wooden frame. This makes them very convenient to work with, not to mention affordable.

Once you have your things and are ready to set up your space, think about what angle you will be the most comfortable working from. This could be upright, or in an angle, or even flat; this will also depend on what type of canvas you are using. After setting up the canvas, you can figure out where to best place your paint, brushes, and water. To make it easiest, plan to use a couple of separate jars or containers for water so you can clean dip and clean the brush into a water jar that is of a similar color.

For example, you might want a jar for your lighter colors and another for your darker colors. After dipping brushes in the water to clean the paint off, it can be helpful to keep a paper towel or rag of some sort nearby to gently blot the brushes dry. They don’t need to be perfectly dry, but doing this will absorb some of the excess moisture (and recently used color). Don’t forget to thoroughly clean the brushes in some warm water when you are finished working with them. Depending on how long you were painting for, the brush might require a work through with your fingers to eliminate any excess paint. Laying the brushes flat to dry may also help them to dry better. This way, the bristles can dry with a more even distribution. You don’t want them to clump together!

As you set your paints out, consider the distance or proximity of the paints to your canvas. Having the placement of the paints at an appropriate distance to and level from the canvas will enable greater ease as you navigate your space (and could give a break to your arm!). However you choose to set out your paint, if you are using acrylic paint (common for a canvas), just put out a smaller amount of paint to being with. Acrylic paints tend to dry pretty quickly, so this way you don’t want the unused paint to dry if it’s out for too long – and, you can throw away less paint if you take what you need as you go along!

Canvas Priming

As mentioned, canvas comes in varying styles. One thing to consider when working with canvas is whether or not it has been primed. Whether or not a canvas has been primed can affect the integrity and life of the fabric. The colors may come through differently. If you have a canvas that has been pre-stretched (sort of like pre-made), it may already have been primed, meaning it is ready to be painted on. If the canvas you are using has not been primed, you can do so by coating the canvas with gesso, which is a ready-made product you can buy. It is basically an acrylic paint that has already been thinned. Typically it’s white, but there are other colors to choose from as well. This way, you can tailor it to the needs of your unique project.

Priming the canvas is much like adding primer before painting a wall. Adding a coat of primer to the canvas will prevent the paint from absorbing (oils or acrylics) too much into the canvas. Artist Thaneeya states that you can put the gesso on any surface and paint with acrylic over it!

Another thing that you can do with your canvas is add a coating of your color of choice to the entire canvas to start with, setting a background for it. Since the canvas might come with a certain color or texture, you can add this color of paint to the entire canvas so the canvas is more closely matched with what you want to do with it. Using acrylic paint on canvas, for one, it is very easy to add many different layers on top of each other — this provides a different depth and texture, too. Fortunately, they generally dry pretty quickly too.

Wrapping Up Your Project

We’ve learned that if you’re using a canvas with acrylic paints, that the paint dries pretty quickly. This is something to keep in mind for what surface you will paint on in the first place, and regarding clean up. If you paint over a newspaper or paper of some sort, you’ll want to very carefully lift the painting from the newspaper, as it can stick to the paper and ruin any paint that may have been touching the paper itself. Don’t forget to clean your surface and your brushes once you are done! Keeping the brushes well maintained makes a big difference in their quality, and the way they will work for you the next time you’re ready to use them. With some of these tips in mind, you can figure out which canvas is the right one for you!

Canvas vs. Vinyl Tarps

Selecting the right tarp is not as easy as it may seem. There are many different options to choose from, which makes finding the right one much more challenging. It’s best to narrow down your options by choosing the tarp material first. Two of the most popular tarp materials are canvas and vinyl. Canvas is a natural material made out of 100% cotton, whereas vinyl is a synthetic plastic. Which is the right material for your needs? Take a look at these pros and cons of each material before making this decision:

The Look and Feel

The most obvious difference between canvas and vinyl tarps is the look and feel of each material. Canvas is known as a more rugged and natural material, so it has a coarse texture and matte appearance. On the other hand, the surface of vinyl is slightly glossy, so it has a bit of shine. Vinyl has a rubber-like texture, making it much smoother than canvas.

The Durability

Another important factor to consider when choosing a tarp is the material’s durability. Both canvas and tarp are heavy duty, durable materials that are designed to withstand wear and tear. However, the durability of canvas cannot compare to the unparalleled durability of vinyl. Vinyl tarps tend to last longer than other tarps because they are difficult to damage, so keep this in mind when making your decision.

Resistance to Environmental Elements

Tarps may be exposed to a number of environmental elements, including heat, water, and wind. For this reason, it is important to know how well the tarp will hold up when exposed to these elements.

All vinyl is waterproof whereas treated canvas tarps are water resistant. These two terms may seem similar, but they are actually very different. Waterproof means that the material is not affected or damaged in any way when exposed to water. This means there’s no need to panic if a vinyl tarp is accidentally exposed to water. However, the term water resistant means that the material can prevent the penetration of water to some degree. A little bit of rainwater or a splash of water may not damage a canvas tarp, however if water is left on top of the tarp, it will eventually seep through and cause damage. Therefore, it is best to choose a vinyl tarp if it will be exposed to water.

Vinyl is also more resistant to mold and mildew growth than canvas. Mold and mildew grow in warm, damp environments. It can be very difficult to get rid of mold and mildew once it starts to grow, so it’s best to prevent the growth altogether. But, prevention is hard when you are working with a canvas tarp. This is true regardless of whether or not the canvas tarp is treated to slow down or prevent the growth of mold and mildew. For this reason, a vinyl tarp is the best choice for people who plan on working in environments where mold or mildew growth is a real possibility.

Canvas is a breathable fabric, whereas vinyl is not. As a result, a canvas tarp will not trap as much heat from the sun as a vinyl tarp will. However, vinyl tarps are typically treated with a solution that protects the material from damaging UV rays. Heat should not negatively affect either one of these tarps, but if you want extra protection from UV rays, vinyl is the best choice. Vinyl can also withstand extremely cold temperatures, making it ideal for all environments.

Vinyl tarps are often used as truck and trailer covers because of their high resistance to wind. This material is flame retardant as well, so it is highly resistant to fire. These are two more examples of the many environmental elements that will not severely damage vinyl tarps.

The Price

Price is another factor to take into consideration when choosing between a vinyl and canvas tarp. Prices can vary depending on the size and quality of the tarp, but in general, vinyl is more expensive per foot than canvas. Vinyl is actually one of the most expensive tarp materials. However, it’s important to think about the price in relation to the lifespan of the material. Many people are willing to pay extra for vinyl because of its durability and resistance to environmental elements.

The Impact on the Environment

Living a green lifestyle is important to a lot of people, so many customers are eager to find out which material has a lesser impact on the environment. Canvas is much more environmentally friendly than vinyl. A lot of pollution is released into the atmosphere during the creation of vinyl, but the same cannot be said for the production of canvas.

Vinyl is recyclable, but many recycling facilities will not accept this material because they do not have the equipment to process it. Finding a facility that processes vinyl is challenging, so this material often ends up in landfills. However, canvas is a cotton material that is easy to recycle and widely accepted at recycling centers across the country. Plus, cotton is a natural fiber that is completely biodegradable, so it will break down naturally even if it is accidentally sent to a landfill instead of a recycling center. If you’re concerned about choosing an eco-friendly tarp material, canvas is the clear winner in this category.

Are you ready to choose the perfect canvas or vinyl tarp? Chicago Canvas & Supply is your leading source for textiles, theatre fabrics, tarps, dropcloths, and more. Tell us what you’re looking for so we can help you choose the right products for your needs. For more information, or to request free material samples, contact us today by calling 1-866-389-2218 or emailing email@chicagocanvas.com.

DIY – How to Prepare a Canvas

Whether you’re trying out a new hobby or are looking to delve into professional artistry, you should know how to prepare a canvas. See all the tips you’ll need below.

Canvas Prep

Is it important to prime a canvas before painting acrylics?

Even if you buy primed canvas vs. unprimed canvas, most artists still like to prime their surface with gesso before applying any type of paint.

What is gesso?

Pronounced as “jess-o”, this primer is painted over canvas before actual paint is applied.

Why do you put gesso on a canvas?

The most common type of gesso looks just like white paint (but can also come in clear, black and other colors); it has a binding agent in it that protects the canvas and makes paint application smoother. Without it, your initial paint layer will bleed into the weave of the canvas, meaning you’ll use up a lot of paint making layer over layer until your lines are clean and colors are vibrant. Canvas can also deteriorate over time when certain mediums, like oil paints, are applied; gesso helps prevent that from happening.

How do you apply gesso to a canvas?

There are different kinds of gesso that are best suited for various types of acrylic and oil paints. No matter what type of gesso you use, you will apply it evenly with a large brush or sponge, let it dry, and then repeat 2-3 times. In case your gesso doesn’t dry smooth (and that’s the intended texture you’re going for), carefully sand it down to the desired level bit by bit, while being careful not to over-sand and damage the canvas.

How to Stretch Canvas

For professional painters or artists who paint often, it’s more affordable to buy materials in bulk and stretch it to size by hand, instead of purchasing pre-stretched canvases. Note that it’s difficult to stretch primed canvas, so it’s recommended to use unprimed canvas then coat with gesso before using.

To stretch your own artist canvas, you’ll need:

  • A large, clean surface to cut your canvas to rough size
  • Unprimed canvas
  • 4 stretcher bars (2 pairs of equal length; You can make your own stretchers  or buy them from a craft store)
  • Fabric scissors to cut canvas to size
  • Staple gun with stapes
  • Canvas pliers
  • Tape measure
  • T-square

To see each step, check out the excellent video tutorial by John Peters on the right-hand side of the page. →

Have any expert tips to add? Leave your comments below! Let’s learn and grow our skills together.

Get Canvas in Multiple Colors and Sizes

GG Knows – A Dictionary of Textile Terms

Meet GG, one of the beloved founders of Chicago Canvas & Supply. Although she’s no longer with us, her vast knowledge of industry terminology lives on in this textile dictionary! Each month, we’ll pull from GG’s personal collection of terms—don’t miss out by subscribing to our blog over on the right-hand side of this webpage.

Ready to learn something new? Let’s get started!
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How to Choose Your Portrait Background

When we think of good photographs, we usually defer to the lighting, shadows, the emotion it evokes, and so on. But the background of your photo is what pulls everything together, with the ability to enhance or detract from some of your photos best qualities. To find out which fabrics to consider for portrait backgrounds, keep reading.

What to Consider Before Choosing a Photography Backdrop

The background of your portrait or studio photo helps draw attention to the subject. That being said, a backdrop can really make or break a photo. When it comes to choosing the best portrait background for your shoot, here are a few things to consider:

  • Fabric size and weight: Something that’s too heavy or bulky isn’t ideal. What’s going to be easy to carry around?
  • Location: Your fabric size and weight must accommodate your location. Will you be inside or outside? How much room will you have? Will it be windy? Will there be humidity? All of this may have an effect on your fabric.
  • Your subject: Are you shooting a person, or an object? Product photography requires clean backgrounds. You can get more creative with texture if your subject is a person. When shooting people, your background works to add emotion and context to what you’re trying to convey.
  • Color and texture: Remember to emphasize, not draw attention away from, the subject. Your fabric’s color and texture will help create the look and feel you want for your photo shoot.
  • Lighting: Your lighting technique will vary between dark and light backgrounds. Understand your fabric’s light reflecting qualities beforehand!
  • Budget: Are you looking for a short-term fix or a long-term reusable solution?

 

Muslin Backdrop

Muslin is a finely-woven cotton fabric with multiple uses. Used heavily within photography and set design, muslin is a favorite among creatives for its versatility, light weight and flat, “clothy” effect and feel. The durability of the fabric helps too (it won’t rip like vinyl or paper).  Muslin can be hung as a solid backdrop, or easily draped over chairs or other items.

 Why Muslin?

  • Non-reflective cotton absorbs light
  • Light weight; portable and compact
  • Durable and reusable
  • Washable; can be steamed and ironed
  • Versatile; different styles and colors
  • Less expensive than canvas

Canvas Backdrop

Some photographers want a heavier background, in which case canvas would be a good choice. Canvas backdrops provide a high-quality look for clients. However, if your project has tight budget or weight/portability restrictions, we would recommend muslin, vinyl or paper instead.

Why Canvas?

  • Professional look
  • Compact
  • Durable and reusable
  • Doesn’t wrinkle like muslin
  • Versatile; different styles and colors

Two Backdrops for the Price of One

Tips on Creating a Stage Flat

Stage and set design is an art form. Whether it’s for a professional Broadway show, or your local high school production, it’s the job of the set design team to find a way to transport you from the stage to another land. The tricky part is creating scenery that captures your imagination and can also be moved easily and quickly—this is where stage flats (or theatre flat) comes into play. Read more

Understanding Cotton Duck Classifications

What is Cotton Duck?

Cotton duck is a handy and versatile woven cotton canvas fabric. Also known as duck cloth, duck canvas, or natural canvas, cotton duck is known for its durability and has historically been used for a diverse range of heavy-duty applications, including boat sails and work clothing.  With a variety of types available, it can be confusing to determine which type of cotton duck canvas to use. Read more

FR vs. IFR for Stage Curtain Fabric

What Is The Difference Between Flame Retardant And Inherently Flame Retardant Theatre Fabric?

Fabrics are an important element in theatre and arts. However, determining the proper type of fabric can sometimes be challenging, especially when it comes to differentiating between Flame Retardant and Inherently Flame Retardant.  While they only differ by a few letters, there is a definite difference between the two.

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