A little while ago, I wrote a post about how I made my V-Flats, and how excited I was to use them. That excitement soon started to fade when I realized that storage and transportation ::might:: become a problem. So for three months or so my V-Flats have been sitting in storage, catching dust and generally just taking up space.
One day I was browsing through Facebook and came across Sue’s flower wall. She explained that she spent seven years pulling together the materials and carefully selecting the colors that she wanted to use. Everyone went wild over it.
While the flower wall was lovely, I knew that I didn’t have nearly a big enough budget to pull something like that off–but I knew that I definitely wanted one, and I knew that my clients would love to have something that feminine and beautiful to add to their own portraits. Without hesitation I began the search for an alternative.
The internet is an amazing thing…there were lots of articles about how to DIY your own backdrop. Lots of them involved the use of tissue paper, but I knew that my drop would have to withstand lots of abuse: transport, moving it around the studio, being handled and touched by lots of clients, and of course the possibility of younger clients trying to rip it apart. Tissue paper just wouldn’t do; I had to find something a little more substantial. What I came up with ended up being the most time and labor intensive project I have EVER taken on, which is saying quite a bit!
Gathering Materials and Prepping
Choosing the material was easy enough; I had quite a few packages of coffee filters left over from another project I had worked on and knew that they would be easy enough to work with, so I brewed some tea and coffee and prepped my workspace by laying down some aluminum foil (I had previously tried wax paper, but it makes the drippings off the filters run and it gets really messy…aluminum foil allowed me to fold up the edges to catch the runoff). I ended up having four bowls: one with 100% coffee, one with 100% tea,
one with 50% tea and 50% water, and one with one part grenadine syrup to 4 parts water. I could’ve used red food coloring to get a similar result but didn’t have any on hand, so the grenadine won!
Once the workspace was prepped I began to stain. I had the bowls set up side-by-side and stood the filters up on their ends so they could soak up the liquid gradually, which gave me a beautiful ombré effect.
Eventually I realized that I could maximize my time by lining the bowls up and putting a filter in them one by one. Once the fourth bowl had a filter, it was time to take the one in the first bowl out, and so on.
This process took about 5 hours (even with my fiancé helping me dye) and I let the filters dry over 48 hours. The coffee-dyed filters seemed to dry the quickest; the grenadine filters took the longest and were still a little damp when I began to work with them. My kitchen, understandably, was covered in coffee filters for two days and it was a bit difficult to go on with life as normal in the house while trying to maneuver around them all!
The aluminum foil ended up being a good call because when the excess liquid dripped down and pooled, the filters at the bottom sort of sucked it up, so I had a varying degree of color from the top of the pile to the bottom, with the bottom being darkest.
By far the most time consuming part of this whole project was actually building the backdrop. I used a 4-foot-by-8-foot polystyrene board (you can find them at The Home Depot or Lowe’s) that I already had on hand.
I began by literally dumping all of the coffee filters I had stained in the middle of my studio and found a comfy spot in the middle of the pile to sit. I made sure to mix up the colors well so that I wouldn’t have have to keep looking around trying to decide on a color; this method enabled me to just reach around and blindly select a filter, which ended up helping a little bit with time and also helped me to not subconsciously create a noticeable pattern.
The filters were folded in a sort of pinch-n-twist fashion, creating a flower-like shape while making an anchor on the underside that I then hot-glued to the polystyrene board. By the time I had an hour invested, this was all the area I had covered:
That’s a little over a 6×6″ space. By now I knew I needed help if I was going to get this thing finished in a timely manner (and I had already sold a session on the promise that this backdrop would be created and ready to roll, so there was no putting it off for a rainy day).
My friend Connie, who is a local florist and who helps me in my various projects, was happy to come over and help. We had used a similar method for another project we had collaborated on so she knew exactly what to do. We fired up another glue gun and went to work.
After three hours we had close to half of the polystyrene board covered. We ran into an issue with some of the filters not sticking on parts of the board (we later found out that there was a bit of oil running along the long sides of the board) but we took a nylon dish scrubber to it to rough it up a bit, which allowed the filters to stick.
Three hours later we had the whole board covered. It took over three thousand coffee filters to cover the whole thing, and a collective 14 hours to gather, prep, and construct the backdrop (and that was with the help of two people!). Standing end-to-end the backdrop easily reaches my ceiling, and it’s light enough that one person can move it on their own (although of course two people are usually doing it because some of the filters are still having a bit of a hard time sticking to the board, so it’s best to transport it flat). Another great perk is that it can also be clipped to a backdrop frame, so if I want to use it longways for larger groups that is an option. I’m hoping to build another one soon in a different color palette (I love the peachy-pink of this one, but wouldn’t mind having one with jewel tones of purple, navy, and emerald) and it’s pretty enough that I can leave it standing up in my studio as decor when not in use.
Finally, I had to do a selfie with my new creation because I’m just so darn proud of it!
The best part about this whole project? It only took about $30 to make!
If you decide to take on this project yourself, be sure to recruit a friend (or two) and order a pizza, because you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you-but the end result is worth it!