08 February 2015

James And The Giant Peach: True Love!!

Finally! After lots of promises and weeks flying past, I finally have time to sit down and write about James and the Giant Peach . . . I can't believe this took place before Thanksgiving--that's how far behind I am folks! Ah! But everything has been documented, looked at, and uploaded. So it's time!

Let me start by saying that these are my own pictures, ones that I took during the making of this play. And while I think they are somewhat of an accurate display of what took place, I am a bit disappointed about the feedback that appears in some of the images. Whenever I took a picture of the giant digital screen at the back of our stage, tiny little black dots appeared on the images. Those weren't there in real life, I promise. The screen in real life was completely clear and beautiful. My images? Not so much. But I digress . . . 

Back in late August, my friend and the lower school drama instructor Zoe came to me with some requests for her upcoming production, James and the Giant Peach. I was completely excited! And said yes almost immediately. Some days I think about what my life would have been like, if I had switched things up and majored in theatrical set and costume design instead of art. Instead, I just sit around thinking of ways to include sets and costuming in my art making. So I guess it's sort of worked out . . . 

The first task ahead of us was to figure out the peach situation. (The story's main character was a peach, after all. So it had to be right.) The peach had to be huge, and it had to grow on stage. Hmmm. We did lots and lots of research, but no one really had a huge peach. Not a semi-full one, at least. We definitely wanted a relatively full one, and we wanted to see it grow.

I did a few preliminary watercolors of peaches in the process of growing. I even drew a pit, but never painted it. All of my preliminary drawings were finished in watercolor. I probably enjoy watercolor more than anything else. So for me, it's the easiest way to round out shapes and think in color. I also drew a large diagram. We are lucky to be in contact with a set builder. All I had to do was get the dimensions right and send the design off to be built.

Our set builder, Mr. Lim, decided that it would be easiest to build the peach frame right on the stage. Zoe and I thought this would be fine, since we had to cover it with fabric anyhow. But because it was a 10 foot round peach, Mr. Lim had to move in the sides a bit to make sure it didn't topple over and roll off the stage. 

This made the interior of the peach much smaller than we originally thought. So the kids were a bit smushed at first. There was also this strange pole in the middle of the structure for support. And there was a set of stairs bumped up to the edge of it, for the kids to crawl around on. It was just odd, to say the least. So Zoe had him back the stairs up so that it surrounded the pole. You can see how it changed the spacing for the kids, a few images below.

Then it came time to wrap the peach. We went shopping for fabric in Chinatown, and found colors and textures that matched our peach exactly.

Except that it wasn't cooperating.

We tried pulling the fabric taught over the edges, like stretching a canvas. But then  the kids wouldn't fit on the interior shelves. You can see Zoe doing a test below. The shadows that we tested with lighting worked perfectly with the fabric exterior, but the sitting wasn't going to happen.

So we tried wrapping it loosely. We both loved how it looked, but felt like it resembled a giant cake. And while the kids could sit on the interior shelves if it was wrapped loosely, the shadows wouldn't work at all. I loved the idea of changing the play to be James and the Giant Cake. But, Zoe was right. It probably wouldn't have been a good idea . . . But just look how pretty it was all tucked in!

You can see below, from above the stage, how the pole was moved to the center of the stairs. 

At the end of the day, we decided to scrap the fabric all together. I don't know if it was the right decision to make, but it was the best one that fit with our time schedules. We were already staying late in the evenings and coming into school around 7:15am. It was getting a bit crazy. So we decided to sponge paint all of the wood facing. Of course when Zoe said "sponge paint", my mind instantly went to some pretty horrific looking kitchens from the 1980s, complete with goose stenciling. But we went ahead with it anyhow. Mr. Lim started the painting, and I finished it off. And--honestly--it resembled the inside of a peach, when you bite into one. So it kind of worked, you know?

And since we weren't covering the whole thing, I decided that it needed a giant leaf. (I had to get fabric involved, somehow.) So I made a giant 6 foot leaf. I made the template, my superhero mom-volunteer for one of my classes cut out the fabric, and then I stitched it all together with one of Sarah's machines from the textiles room.

I sewed veins in it and let it get all bunch-y for texture. And I filled it with some random stuffing that I had in my classroom. It worked out, and looked beautiful from the audience!

Once the peach was figured out and all was well with the world, we sorted through backdrops and created a list of watercolor paintings that needed to happen. The first one (above) was the house painting--where the aunts lived. It definitely took the longest to paint, and was inspired by a house set that I saw online. Once I finished the 24" x 18" painting, we decided that everything would be animated. That was the only way for us to be able to make the peach grow. So all of my paintings had to be done in parts. The house painting they kept, but I needed to paint a new sky on a separate piece of paper. And a tree on a third piece of paper. The peaches I painted, from above, could be used as well. You can see Ben working on it from the lighting booth, while all three images are displayed at once on the giant screen. Ben is from our ICT department. So we worked together with Zoe to create the watercolor/animated look she wanted. All of the scenes were done this way. 

I loved being able to work on the paintings and animated bits while the students were rehearsing. I found it hilarious to be using the giant screen as a humongous computer screen, while the kids were going over their lines and trying to concentrate. Overstimulation, much?!

Trying out the seagulls . . . (I really loved the seagulls!)

Testing to see if the peach could really grow . . . 

Seeing the built peach with the animated peach behind it (above). Watching the waves bounce up and down (below).

Up to the week of opening night, I had completed close to 20 watercolor paintings for the play. Some big, some small. And somehow we had forgotten about the rhino and the tragic opening scene, where James loses his parents to a wild rhinoceros on the loose. So I did a painting of what a fierce and scary looking rhino would look like and a newspaper. Ben took images of our students playing the mother and father roles, and we made it all come together in a matter of 6 hours. I think the rhino was still drying when we put him up on the big screen. (And--yes--I realize Rhinos don't have crazy snake teeth . . . )

Now for the stand alone set pieces and costumes . . . We had the peach and the white picket fence. But we needed a boat that could be carried on and off the stage by students. My sketch (pre-watercolor) above, the finished item below.

The costumes we sort of researched on our own. And Zoe had some specific ideas of what she wanted . I only ended up doing drawings/watercolors for 3 of the costumes. The one above, on the right, is the glow worm. I don't have my original drawing for it. But, she had a little push light that we had the costumer sew into the back of the dress. She would shake her tail and it would light up. 

Then I thought about the ladybug and the silk worm. Really, the silk work I had the most creative freedom on. I loved drawing that costume out--it was supposed to be more of a mint color. But the end result ended up being lime or chartreuse. And we ended up cutting their tails off and letting their heads show entirely. Didn't the girls turn out adorably?

My sharks were so much fun to see animated . . . I made 3 different versions of them. One poking it's head up, one with open jaws, and one profile (above). You can kind of see them in action below.

But of course, drawing the New York scenes were my favorite. And when Ben sent me the following rough draft for animation, I flipped out! See how subtly it moves and makes you feel as though you are getting closer?

It was so much fun for all of us! I mean, to see it come to life on the stage: to create the work that went into the animations, to see drawings become costumes . . . The whole process was so exciting and meaningful to me. I have worked on every play that has been put on by my school in the past 3 years. But never had I been given so much creative freedom and time to devote to the process. It was an incredible experience! I sincerely thank Zoe and the drama department for making things happen!


  1. That looks like so much fun and hard work! WOW!. You all really went all out.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Mrs. Jackson! XO

  2. Thanks for the blog loaded with so many information. Stopping by your blog helped me to get what I was looking for.
    builderall tools