Six life lessons from a backdrop artist

The Smoky Mountain News asked Lyle Baskin, the scenic artist for Haywood Regional Arts Theatre, to share the secrets of his stage magic. We discovered a few life lessons along the way that we should all take to HART.

1. Remember who’s boss.

Baskin isn’t in it for the glory. While Baskin works in collaboration with HART Executive Director Steve Lloyd to come up with each backdrop design, he defers to Lloyd as the chief visionary.

“He decides what he wants and I try to make it happen. I am not here to impose my vision on the show. I am here to create an environment. Find out what they want and when they need it and make it pretty.”

2. Find your Zen.

Staying straight and level is a tough on such a grand scale. Baskin has to keep his roofs from sloping, his tree trunks from leaning, his doorways from being lopsided.

“After so many years you can see level without using a level and you can measure things without measuring them,” he said.

Vertical lines are easiest. “You paint the line down the center of your own gravity so you can feel where the vertical is.” Horizontal lines are tougher. “Walk along the canvas holding the brush really steady in relation to your body.”

3. Look at the world from different angles.

“Perspective is complicated,” Baskin said.

Baskin routinely takes a time out from his work and steps back to see the whole canvas, not just the corner he’s focused on.

4. Stay in shape. 

“The most challenging part is going up and down ladders. You have to keep going up and down the ladder and doing it really fast because you don’t want the paint to dry,” Baskin said.

5. Don’t be afraid to get messy.

“I ruin pants fast. I’m supposed to change when I get here, but as soon as I get in here, I forget and start checking paint and testing color and before I know it, I get paint on my street clothes. My shoes don’t last very long either. I only have one pair of shoes right now that don’t have paint on them,” Baskin said.

6. Know when to quit.

“You have to stop at some point. That’s a tricky one. You can refine and embellish it until you drop dead, but you have to move on,” Baskin said.

Photo by John Highsmith

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