So I don’t know how well it may have come across on video, I generally tried to frame somewhat carefully, but the shop as it existed from around the middle of 2015 onwards was a nightmare. Stuff- tools, materials, trash…- strewn across every available flat surface, including the floor, piled up against benches and walls, some bench tools on the floor… Working in it was like playing Jenga in a hurricane.
So, this summer I made good on my threats to actually do something about it, and put a good couple weeks’ of effort into really turning the space into something useable. It’s a huge amount of work, and really has to be broken down into two phases, but the first phase (create more workspace, clear most of the floor, give all the tools a permanent home) is now more or less complete.
I did what was supposed to be a quick video giving something vaguely resembling a tour:
While I love my seamless, sometimes I wish there were another option in the studio than flat colour. Sometimes I feel like a subject, particularly one simply lit, would have a little more depth if the background had some texture to it, something for the light to “catch” on and “anchor” the image in something real.
Usually this is achieved by shooting on location, particularly with a shallow depth of field. It can be achieved by lighting the background through a gobo, throwing patterned light on the background. But none of this quite achieves either the right level of reality, or the right level of texture uniformity and colour/tone control required for the shots I envisage. While they both have their uses, there just isn’t anything like a proper backdrop to blend “real” and “fake” in the right quantities.
So, how to create the right backdrop? Be warned: I go into detail… This is 2800 words of research and experimentation. You might wanna skim from section to section.
Enter the painted backdrop. More specifically, fine-art painted backdrops; those painted according to very specific criteria with some degree of skill for a fairly specific spectrum of purpose. These can include scenery, skies, abstract or even full-blown Hollywood matte paintings. Not those generic printed school-portrait backgrounds!
My inspiration here is, perhaps entirely unsurprisingly to some, Oliphant Backdrops, a small company producing fine art backdrops for high end clients from Hollywood studios to Vogue that are consistently beautiful and inspiring. I Googled the prices on these, and found a couple of forum discussions between previous clients placing custom work in the low four-figure range and rentals in mid-three-figures. Firmly out of my budget levels for the near future.
Naturally, my immediate instinct is to DIY instead. So what’s required to set about that? I spent a month working on that very question, so I could show you…
To clarify, I don’t have a fine art degree or anything along those lines, so I’m not approaching it with any significantly greater degree of skill with a physical paintbrush than anyone else. Given this fact, nothing I produce will likely ever be as good as an Oliphant without years of regular practice. On the other hand, I have a decent idea of how paint works, and I have some muscle memory from digital painting, so it shouldn’t be impossible. I’m aiming for it to be achievable by anyone with a modicum of artistic inclination like me, so my lack of experience is important. Anyone can follow along!
First you have to figure out what you’re looking to create. Personally I’m not looking for anything too extravagant, my favourites are the abstract ones which vary between “cloud-like” and “shoddily-painted decaying plaster”. They strike the exact right balance between block-tone uniformity and reality-grounding detail for my aesthetic taste, so that’s the style I’m specifically looking at for this project.
After completing the how-to article for Phototuts, I still have a number of images and sequences to show from the month-long project. I wanted to show my most recent completion as a sort of how-to sequence, showing how I worked it and how the paint builds up over the layers.
It’s not yet perfect, but I’m pretty happy with it and it’s definitely a positive direction.