Interview with Brian Ball, Set Designer, Costumer Designer and Visual Artist

You are a set designer, a costume designer and an artist. Can you please share about your journey to embracing this unique career path. Looking back at your childhood, can you remember a moment that hinted being an artist would be in your future? 

I’ve always been a drawer, as long as I remember I would always have a scrap of paper and a pencil, doodling. I get this from my grandmother for sure. It was always a way to keep the grandkids quiet; huge rolls of newsprint paper (they lived in a mill town in Newfoundland where my grandfather worked in the mill) on the kitchen floor with boxes of markers and crayons.

Set Design - Theatre Under the Stars "Cinderella"

What training did you need to complete to become a professional set designer and costume designer. How about art? Are you self-taught or did you study?

After a few years in University working towards an education degree, I switched gears and went on to complete a BFA in Visual Arts at Memorial University (Newfoundland). It was here that I discovered Theatre - volunteering to paint sets, and later getting to assist some of the amazing guest designers brought in by the Theatre Program. Even though I graduated with a Visual Arts BFA, I was convinced to apply for my MFA in Theatre Set and Costume design(UVIC) where I received a two year fellowship (and that's why I ended up in BC).

Set Design - Douglas College "Heritage"

How do you balance your three careers, making sure you have time for each expression? Of the 3, is one your favourite or do you love them all equally. 

Set and costume design go very well together, although I have been doing much more set design lately then anything. Often a theatre will hire you to do both, but I think I am much more known as a Set designer, especially in Vancouver. Set Design tends to happen sometimes months before a production (planning, drafting, working with the set builders etc .). 

Set Design - Gros Morne Theatre Festival (Cowhead, NL) "Mary's Wedding"

Costume design is very different as it tends to happen much later in the overall process, and is so much more tied to the actors themselves and their physicality etc. 

My Artwork is something that I do in between theatre gigs (When I have ‘in between,' unless I have a commission, in which case I schedule it in just like any other contract. My main focus right now is my theatre career. Art is my retirement plan!!!

Set Design -Royal City Musical Theatre, Massey Theatre New West "Singing in the Rain"

When doing set design, how do you approach a new project? What is the process. Can you share a favourite memory or project you've worked on?

The first thing with set design (and also Costume) is to read the script. It gives you the majority of information that you need. Then you read and re-read, take notes, then talk to the director about their thoughts/ideas/approach. Theatre is a very collaborative effort. Nothing gets on stage that hasn’t been influenced by many many things: the script, the director, the location (size of the theatre, type of theatre etc), and other sources (budget, skill of builders, availability of materials etc). Many compromises have to be made in order to create a setting that works for all of the factors involved. 

Set Design - Theatre Orangeville (Ontario) "A Midsummer Night's Dream"

How about costume design? When you are hired, what are the steps you have to go through from first idea to final wardrobe? What was something that surprised you about this job that readers wouldn't know? 

Costume design goes through many steps as well. Once a concept is decided on (by the designer and director, usually based on what the script dictates but not always), you have to factor in the time to build or source (buy or rent) items. This varies. Is it a modern or period piece - a period piece is anything that can’t be bought at the local mall - or fantasy, which is almost always a full build. 

The costume designer dictates every single item that an actor wears, including hair (sometimes wigs) and makeup. It's very involved and can often alter once actors are chosen. The rehearsal process can lead to changes in how the actors approach their character as well. My job is to support the actors in their creation of these characters. I love seeing a character come to life when an actor gets to take the costume and make it their own!! 

Set & Costume Design - Capilano University Theatre Dept. "The Learned Ladies"

Last of all is your own artwork. How would your describe the visual art you create? Where does your inspiration come for new work. Do you have a favourite piece (or pieces) your have created?

I call my work Abstract Realism, which is a loose term referring to work that is based in reality (recognizable forms) but stylized and abstracted (as opposed to an attempt at simple representation). My main inspiration is Nature, specifically the beautiful East and West Coastlines of Canada, one which is now home, and one of which will always be home.

Left - The Battery (St. John's, NF), Right - Halfway Through the Wood

I find great spirituality in observing nature. The ocean, rocks and trees all have spirit, and I believe my work goes beyond the visual to the emotional and spiritual aspects of Nature. My other influences are varied, from graphite and graphic arts/design, to animation (specifically the fifties to seventies classic cartoons like Looney Tunes and Disney) to First nations art and the Group of Seven7. 

How about your life apart from your art? What do you enjoy doing most in your off time to relax and recharge?
What life?!! I do schedule a few sanctions a year with my partner and friends/family, but I feel most of my non-working life is just research: galleries, movies, hikes, live music, live theatre and fashion. I’m very lucky to get to do what I love to do, so the lines between work and leisure tend to blur. 

Left - Into the Woods , Right - Queen Charlotte

Anything you want readers to know about you? 

I’m presently working on set design for an amazing new musical at the Firehall Theatre, written by Sarah-Jeanne Hosie and Nico Rhodes, called ’Talking Sex on Sundays.’ The world premiere opens on Feb 19, 2020.  Information and tickets -

I'd love to close with your favourite quote about art or the importance of art to our world.
Thomas Merton. “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”

Social media links - 
Website/Portfolio - www.
Facebook Artwork - 
Facebook Set and Costume Design -
Instagram Artwork - @brianballart
Instagram Set and Costume Design - @bgballdesign