Chicago artist spends month in Albany painting backdrops for ‘The Nutcracker’
Amy Larink has a specific goal for her time at Linn-Benton Community College: finish four backdrops and two sets of legs in 12 days for Legacy Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker.”
“It’s ambitious so I’m working a lot of hours,” said Larink, a scenic artist based in Chicago.
Larink spent the month of November bringing to life the conceptual images by LBCC art student Jessica Purkerson for Legacy’s production, which opens Dec. 13.
The original art is on display in the theater’s lobby.
Transferring the conceptual design to the 22-by-44-foot backdrop is a multistep process.
Larink took Purkerson’s 11-by-22-inch vision and overlaid the images with grid paper. Working in a 2-foot-by-2-foot grid, she then draws it out square by square on the backdrop.
The same process is used on the “legs,” the smaller drops that hang at the sides of the stage.
“It took me eight hours to draw it all out, and then I paint following the marker lines,” Larink said.
An average day for a scenic artist is 10 hours, but to complete the project by Monday, Nov. 26, Larink worked 16- to 18-hour days, each drop taking about four days to complete.
Unlike other forms of art, there are no fine lines in set design.
“This doesn’t necessarily have to look perfect up close,” Larink said. “Sometimes you have to make it look heavy instead of fine so that it stands out from far away.”
Theater backdrops are meant to be viewed from 20 feet away (and sometimes more), so often the edges of the picture lack the refined edges you would find in smaller paintings. Because of the roughness of the image, it is often hard to gauge up close if the backdrop is going in the direction the artist intends.
“Every time, you get to the point where you hate how it looks and have to trust you know what you are doing,” Larink said.
The first drop for “The Nutcracker” is Clara’s house with large windows encrusted with snow. Larink started the crosshatching on the windows around 2 a.m. and after five brush strokes, she was convinced she had ruined it, she said.
Of the approximately 40 backdrops Larink has painted, her work with LBCC is the first time she’s been able to immediately hang one to see how it looks.
From the back of the house, the rough lines and the crosshatching that she was worried about appear smooth and refined, and the colors look vibrant with the light reflection.
The paint she uses is made specifically for theater backdrops and sets. It has a higher pigment content and reacts differently to lights than household paints.
Larink is originally from Michigan, but bounced all over the country as a tour actor before she entered the two-year art program at Cobalt Studios in New York.
She missed working with her hands, and scenic design combined her bachelor’s degree in theater and her experience with her parents, who are contractors and interior painters.
She completed the program in May 2011 and moved to Chicago, where she freelances for a company that works with production companies that have “shipped out” the painting work. She has worked on a lot of pieces for museums and children’s shows, but it’s not unheard-of for her to spend time out of state working on projects like this one for Legacy and LBCC.
“I just really like to paint,” Larink said. “I like the challenge of taking someone else’s pictures and making them a reality.”
In additional to “The Nutcracker,” the snow backdrop will be used during the “Holiday Treats and Some Sweets” performance on Saturday, Dec. 8.