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Instructions for a Painted Backdrop on a Nativity Scene

Updated April 17, 2017

Many churches put on a Nativity-themed Christmas play or program to celebrate the holiday. Whether your group uses plastic Nativity characters or live actors and animals, a backdrop helps to add realism to the scene. Commercial backdrops are available from craft, holiday and art stores. If you choose to make your own, however, it can be an opportunity for church members to work together on a project. With a large piece of fabric, coloured paints and some advance planning, you can create the perfect painted backdrop for your Nativity program.

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  1. Cover the ground where you'll be painting with the dust sheets. Spread the sheet or canvas flat on top of the dust sheets. Place a heavy rock or book on each corner of the canvas to keep it from moving while you paint.

  2. Sketch the outline of the stable centred on the canvas. Draw some small rocks on the ground. Add a palm tree or two on one side of the stable. If desired, add a small cluster of simple mud and clay dwellings in the background. Finish the drawing by outlining a large gleaming star just slightly off-centre over the top of the stable.

  3. Paint the stable and tree trunks brown, the palm fronds green and the rocks grey and brown. Paint the background houses dark brown and black.

  4. Add texture to the painted items by highlighting each item with slightly darker shades of the appropriate colour. Allow the painted portions to dry completely; it may take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.

  5. Paint the entire sky background a deep midnight blue, extending paint all the way to the edges. Dot the sky with small stars in white or yellow. Paint the large centre star in light yellow with gold highlights. With a small brush, add a few randomly placed yellow or gold lines extending out from the large star to give the impression of bright light shining out. Allow the completed canvas to dry.

  6. Tip

    Choose a work area where the in-progress painted backdrop can remain undisturbed for at least four to five days. If your nativity scene includes an actual wooden manger or stable, delete that from your painted backdrop. Remove the rocks or books on the edges of the canvas and paint under them so there are no blank spaces on the canvas. Hang the painted backdrop from hooks, ropes strung across ladders, or a wooden or PVC plastic frame.

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Things You'll Need

  • Plastic dust sheets
  • Plain white heavyweight sheet or canvas
  • Heavy rocks or books
  • Dark lead pencil or marker
  • Tempera or acrylic craft paints
  • Paint brushes

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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