Set Design Do's and Don'ts

Set Design Do's and Don'ts

I have grown to love doing set designs in our kid's ministry environments over the last few years. I have many wonderful memories from set design days, and there is nothing like seeing the kids' faces light up when they walk into a room with a fresh set design. However, along with the many great memories, there have been a lot of learning experiences. Some set designs turned out amazing, while others required a lot of repair. I've definitely learned some things the hard way through trial and error, so I decided to write this post hoping to save others from my early pitfalls and missteps. Here are my top set design do's and don'ts.

1. Do use lots of tape to hang decor.

I learned the hard way that a little bit of tape does not go a long way. This is especially true if you are hoping to keep your set design up for more than a week. Put the amount of tape you think is enough, then put some more on. Trust me on this, tape is not the place to cut corners.

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2. Don't use the wrong tape for the job.

All tape is not created equal. There's a reason there are many different types of tape out there. I've learned the hard way by using tape that either took paint off the walls or wasn't strong enough to hold my decor. Here is my list of tapes to use for various purposes:

  • Gorilla Tape - A shiny black tape you can find at Walmart or any hardware store. Used for taping decor semi-permanently to surfaces that are not painted. I use this tape for taping up decor on pipe and drape, trussing, and staging. This tape will take the paint off the wall.
  • Gaff Tape - A dull black fabric tape you will have to purchase online. I buy my gaff tape on Amazon. It is pricey, but worth it. Used for taping electrical cords to the floor and walls. Taping decor on fabric or carpeted surfaces. Gaff tape doesn't leave a residue on anything like gorilla tape or duct tape. It normally is safe for painted surfaces. The only time I had a problem with it taking paint off the wall was when I used it to black out windows for VBS. I believe the excessive heat caused the tape to react differently than normal.
  • Double-sided Duct Tape - A light blue roll of tape, usually found at Walmart. Used for taping decor together. I mainly use this tape when I'm too lazy to pull out the hot glue gun. I use it to tape decor together to make it double-sided, or to tape paper decor to cardboard to make it sturdier. It's a real lifesaver when you're in a pinch. It takes paint off the walls. Speaking from experience, here.
  • Mavalus Tape - A white or cream roll of tape. You can purchase it at teacher's stores, but I believe it is cheaper to purchase your mavalus tape from Amazon. Used for taping lighter decor to walls or ceilings. This is a recent discovery for me. I used up the three rolls I bought quite quickly during VBS this year. I have to say that it held everything up, and didn't take any paint off the wall. My only complaint is that they need to start selling this tape in bigger rolls.

3. Do hang decor from the ceiling.

It might seem like a lot of extra work, especially if your ceilings are high enough to need a large ladder. Hanging decor from the ceiling takes your set design from the stage to the entire environment.

4. Don't make your ceiling decor one-sided.

There are lots of awesome decorative signs you can buy or create to hang from the ceiling to fit your theme. Don't make the mistake of hanging your decor, then realizing that you can only see it if you happen to be standing in the right place. Take the time to make your decor double-sided, so no matter where a person is standing or sitting in the room they will see it.

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5. Do use clear fishing line for hanging decor.

Fishing line is a wonderful tool to have in your set design box. It is nearly invisible and so cheap. You can buy a giant roll of clear fishing line at Walmart for about $3. It is perfect for hanging light decor like signs or paper lanterns from the ceiling.

6. Don't forget to triple knot your fishing line.

I learned early on that when you knot fishing line once, it comes undone. This is particularly annoying if you have just hung twelve decorations from the ceiling using a tall ladder, and you come in on a Sunday morning to everything lying on the floor. Been there, done that. I have learned to always at least triple knot fishing line every time. It is worth the extra effort to not have to pull the giant ladder out, again.

7. Don't be afraid to use paint.

I used to be afraid of using paint because it seemed so permanent. Paint really isn't that expensive, and items can always be re-painted. We recently bought some stage pieces that were in good condition, but desperately needed a paint job. We saved hundreds of dollars by simply being willing to put in the work to re-paint them.

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8. Do make sure you use the right tools.

Before you start your painting project, make sure you have everything you need to get the job done correctly, and avoid a total mess. You will need lots of drop cloths, gloves, paint brushes, painter's tape, and clothes you don't mind ruining. If you are going to be inside, make sure you have proper ventilation. If you are painting outside, don't just assume the rain will wash away the paint. I spray painted some cardboard rockets on the lawn at the church once, and we had silver rockets silhouettes on the lawn for weeks.

9. Don't get stuck on your curriculum.

Curriculum is an incredible tool that many of us have the privilege of using. It's a great place to start, but don't be afraid to go off curriculum every once in a while. You don't have to write your own curriculum all the time, but if you get an idea that doesn't line up with where the curriculum is going that month, don't ignore it.

10. Do pay attention to culture.

The kids in our ministries are immersed in today's culture every day. Do you know what movies and TV shows your kids are watching? What bands or artists are they listening to? What toys or video games are on their Christmas list? If you know the answers to these questions, it will help you create set design themes your kids will love. Sometimes, your curriculum will do this for you, but other times the curriculum can be way off. Don't depend on your curriculum to tell you what your kids are excited about right now.

I hope this list of do's and don'ts made you laugh, and will help you avoid some of the failures I have experienced in the world of set designs. For more info on the tools I like to use for my set designs, check out my Top 10 Set Design Essentials post.

What are your favorite do's or don'ts when it comes to creating set designs in your kid's ministry?

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