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Shellac: A Set Designer’s Dream

October 31, 2013 - Haunted House
After detailing our haunted house set, I can safely say that it wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without shellac. In case you aren’t familiar, check out liquid shellac online http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shellac. It’s a pretty expensive material that I could only find (in stores) in small quantities. However, it made our haunts so much more detailed.
Shellac is alcohol-based, which means that it resists water-based paints. This means that any time paint and shellac are mixed funky things tend to happen. For example, here’s one trick I used to achieve a nasty, dripping mold look. Fill one empty spray bottle with watered down white paint and a second one with shellac. Spray a little bit of the diluted white paint onto a wall until it starts to drip. Then, spray shellac over it. The two liquids will react together to make a gross, curdled-like texture. If that’s not dramatic enough, add another layer of diluted white paint over it. You can also throw in some diluted black, gray or dark green to get the exact look you’re wanting.
Shellac’s second magical property is its tendency to take on different opacities. Dip a paintbrush in a can of shellac and smash it onto a wall. The shellac will run and pool in some places more than others. The places where more shellac tends to settle takes on a darker shade of brown, which adds another dimension of realism to your detailing. This property was especially useful while detailing the trim on household doors. The ridges in the trim allowed the shellac to pool and create darker areas while the flatparts of the door remained relatively light.
Shellac is a material definitely worth investing in. Pick some up from your local hardware store and experiment with it. You never know what else it could be good for.