How to Make Your Own Canvas Backdrops

Canvas backdrops are seen all over the world in magazines, online, and fine art prints. You see celebrities and politicians photographed in front of them all the time. However, they are extremely expensive, ranging anywhere from $400 to over $8,000 depending on the exact brand (if you can find a price for them at all).  

So, this week, The Creative Contrast has brought us a tutorial on how to make our own for much, much cheaper. 

It's always nice to see channels give us some DIY projects to do, and making a big canvas backdrop seems like a perfect weekend project. I've always wanted to make a nice canvas backdrop, one of those things that seems both incredibly simple and totally overwhelming at the same time. It's nice to see just how easy it really is as well as some great tips that I never would have thought of. 

The process is simple: get some canvas, some primer, and a bunch of different colors of paint, and then go wild, but the tips involved in the video, like watering it down to make everything blend, and starting thin and building up, are fantastic tips. It was great to see the photos using the backdrop in the video as well, showing the many different looks you can get with the backdrop just by pulling the subject forward or back. 

What did you think of the video? Do you have plans for making your own backdrop, even if it's not as big?

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11 Comments

Ben Silverstein's picture

Great video! If I could make a suggestion, you could get some of the hospital-type paper foot coverings to protect both the canvas and your footwear when making the background. You could also use them as roller covers. Here is an example: https://goo.gl/DbDYZE. They also come in handy if you frequent crime scenes. I hope you make more videos like this. Good job!

Chase Wilson's picture

Those canvas drop-cloths always have a giant seam running through them. I recommend getting raw canvas from Joann’s or a fabric store.

Also, painters use Gesso as a primer. I don’t know why, but it seems like it’s worth researching.

Gesso is a primer used to prevent deterioration of the support from the paints and chemicals used in painting, over time, along with helping to ensure that any chemicals and impurities in the support also don’t affect the paint. Not applying gesso to a canvas pretty much ensures that it is not archival. Worth noting that gesso will stiffen your fabric, so not really needed given you’re unlikely to use the backdrop for decades.

Crystal Johnson's picture

I'd not recommend painters drop cloth at all unless you intend to have it look like muslin(lots of wrinkles like theirs) rather than an Oliphant. They have massive seams at larger sizes, and the weave isn't always tight (10oz and under)for heavy painting.You can buy rolled canvas from Blick by the yard, unprimed and primed, for pretty cheap .
If you can get away with it, paint on a really flat surface so you can tape the canvas down without the painters plastic. You want it flat as possible, and not creasing like theirs.

https://www.dickblick.com/products/blick-cotton-canvas-by-the-yard/

When I painted mine, I bought a 12oz 72" wide x 3 yard canvas from Blicks. It came to $20ish then, and they shipped pretty quickly.

Ben Silverstein's picture

Dick Blick sounds like an STD. (I'm sure he never heard that one before.)

Dan Howell's picture

https://www.rosebrand.com/customer/contact-us.aspx?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgJr...

this is where Oliphant studio and other background painters get their raw fabric material, canvas and muslin. if in the NYC area, you can drop by and check out their remnant and pre-cut specials. I am fortunate that they are nearby.

Speaking of nearby, Oliphant Studio was my next door neighbor for 5 yrs and I had the fortune to watch Sarah painting on several occasions. While I have occasionally painted fabric and other surfaces for shoots, I would be skeptical of anyone thinking they can achieve similar results without a great amount of practice. Maybe buy small cuttings to practice with first.

William Howell's picture

Thank you for this info! I have wondered where she bought the super wide, tightly knitted, heavy canvas.
And no, you can’t make them look right the first time or two or three, mine that DIYed look only ok. I searched YouTube and the internet for Sarah Oliphant, and I watched her make one with a simple foam squeegee. Now I know she has more techniques that just that one, but that is the route I took.
New York City, the Earth’s greatest metropolis!

William Howell's picture

Making a canvas backdrop was one of the best things i ever did, as far as photography goes.

William Howell's picture

If you live in the Chicagoland area, this is where I get my canvas,http://tarps.mauritzon.net/item/canvas-fabrics/flame-and-water-resistant.... And use this type of squeegee, https://www.lowes.com/pd/Ettore-Foam-Rubber-Floor-Squeegee/1087125?cm_mm... to apply paint, also make sure the paint is flat or matte.
The lower the number on canvas the thicker, thus #10 canvas is thicker than #12 canvas. The canvas I linked to doesn’t require primer. This type of canvas that yields a texture like Oliphant is Army Duck Canvas.I know a little bit about the different kinds of canvas, we use them where I work. And it’s surprisingly cheap.

David Love's picture

PLEASE talk to the lens and not the monitor. Feels like someone can't stop staring at my bald head.

James Strength's picture

If you will look on amazon you can find painters drop cloths without a seam. Just look up seamless drop cloth. Use a mixture of water and PVA as your first layer this will keep the cloth from puckering in areas and make it lay flat. 1 part PVA 3 parts water. Give the PVA 24 hours to dry before you apply your first coat of paint.