Problem solving: a brick wall with no dutchmen

Back in school, we learned how to “dutchman” two adjoining flats to help conceal the joint: we would tear a strip of scenery muslin about 2″ wide, apply it (with paint) over the joint, and feather out the edges. The idea of using paint instead of glue was that the dutchman would come off readily once the show was over, and the strip was torn, instead of cut, it to create soft edges instead of hard edges. Once painted over, and if done carefully, the joint would be invisible.

Nowadays, the tendency seems to be to use painter’s tape or masking tape instead, although I have seen a few times when duct tape or gaffer tape was used. Personally, I don’t like the heavier tapes, since you’re liable to end up with two visible edges instead of just one.

However, we don’t always have to use dutchmen if we plan ahead.

Some years ago I designed a large brick wall as part of a set for Marc Camoletti‘s comedy Don’t Dress for Dinner. The wall was on the end of a renovated French farm house, and it was about sixteen feet wide by twenty-five high at the apex.

Since painting brick is a time-consuming process, I didn’t want the scenic artist to have to paint the wall vertically after it was assembled, or to have to deal with dutchmen after the fact.

The solution was to plan out the flats (which were built for the show) so they jived with the dimensions of so many courses of bricks plus the mortar lines. Then we went a step further and made the bricks a bit larger than standard modern bricks, in order to save some time (i.e., fewer bricks and mortar lines to paint). So an eight-foot-high flat started out with a course of 3 1/2″ high bricks at the bottom, then a half-inch mortar line, then another course of bricks, and so on until the final mortar line at the top. The flat on top of it then started out with a course of bricks, and the joint at the flats was hidden in plain sight by the joint at the painted mortar line.

The vertical joints were hidden the same way, by sizing the width of the bricks so vertical mortar lines would fall right at the edges of the flats. This meant that every other course of bricks did show a vertical line, but we minimized it with a little extra paint where needed, and the tapestries and other elements helped too.

The end result was that all the brick wall sections could be painted flat on the floor where it was much easier to pay attention to detail and much faster to get those mortar lines right. You can see more photos on my web site, on the Don’t Dress for Dinner page.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we used the same technique with a small concrete block wall for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, where the mortar lines jived with the horizontal joints on the flats.

Dutchmen are a time-tested and effective technique, but sometimes we can do without them by doing a little pre-planning.