Authentic-looking props are essential to setting the scene in a theatrical production. Set designers create stage props out of a variety of materials, including one of the most common materials, expanded polystyrene (EPS).
Lightweight and versatile, EPS foam makes a good choice for set design. Once coated with sculpting products, EPS foam becomes a sturdy material that you can reuse. EPS will help you bring your production to life with realistic props that will fool the eye.
Glue smaller pieces of EPS foam together to make one piece that will be big enough to carve the prop you’re making. Use liquid nails, glued dowels or specialty glue to make the foam stick together. Follow the directions of the adhesive material you’re working with to ensure that the foam will be firmly glued in place before you attempt to use it.
Use a knife or saw to carve the foam into the desired shape of your prop. A chainsaw will work for cutting less detailed designs, while a Japanese handsaw should be used for pieces that require precision. Fix any mistakes you make while carving by spraying insulation to fill the cracks you’ve created. Once the spray hardens, you can resume cutting.
Add a protective finish to the prop by gluing cheesecloth to the carved foam using diluted white glue. Prevent the cheesecloth from showing through the finished paint by applying a light coat of wall joint compound on top of the cheesecloth. You can also give your prop a hard finish by brushing on a sealant.
Apply two or three coats of latex paint on the foam, allowing each coat to dry overnight. Once the prop is completely painted and dry, apply another coat of sealant to give it a durable finish. If you’re using a non-water-based spray paint, treat the prop with a water-based latex product before painting.