How to make a hand-painted photography backdrop

Mia and me

Mia and me

So I always wanted to paint my own backdrop for a really custom feel. I finally got around to it and wanted to share some tips if you plan on creating one yourself. Quality hand-painted backdrops can cost upwards of $400 or rentals from places like can be even more expensive for multiple day rentals. This tutorial will cost you about $200. I came across 2 other tutorials above all the others that helped educate me the best:


Let's start with the materials.

-A large canvas, unprimed is cheaper, I got mine from Blicks Art Supplies which had a local store to shop at, but the size I wanted had to be ordered. 96 inches by 6 yards, or 8ft by 18ft; the second time I got 8ft by 15ft it just depends on how big you want to go. ($82)

-White or Black Gesso Primer 1 gallon ($21)

-Acrylic Paint - 2 quarts for the base color, 1 quart solid, the second quart will be blended to create a variant but similar color. Highlight color, don't need much maybe 16 oz. jar or tube. However the first time you do it you may want to buy extra in case; blending can be difficult. Research the color you want and how much to blend; it's not as easy as it looks to get the right color. Also be sure to test the color on scrap canvas before starting to see how it dries and if it changes colors.($9 - 1 quart)

-Latex gloves, I used a lot, you don't want to mix the colors when you're running back and forth so grab a box. ($10)

- Roller tray, pack of 10 ($6)

-Roller and roller brushes, 3pack ($16)

-Paint mixing sticks, 10 pack ($1)

-Painters plastic ($20)

-Duct Tape ($4)

TOTAL: Approximately $180-$200

You'll need a large place to set up; If you can do this outdoors without interference for en entire day that would be best, sunshine also helps them dry quicker. I did it on a windy day or you can use fans to help dry. If you can stretch the canvas that would be best. Make sure nothing is underneath the canvas to create ripples. These are things I learned the hard way that can cause a headache. I'd also recommend a journal if you don't already have one to document what works best for you.

Wear socks or bags on your feet and start with the gesso primer, use about half the gallon and add about 50-60% water to it, the first coat should be thin. After drying do the reverse on the second coat, about 30% water this time for the final coat. Paint or roll in columns, makes it much easier to see where you've been and don't try to stretch out the coatings by using all the paint until the roller is dry. Keep dipping into the primer when you run low.


After the primer has dried it's time for the base coat. Using acrylic paint, you can add a tiny bit of water but not much, diluting the paint too much won't work as well (All these tips came from my brother who was a painting major)


After the base dries you want to start adding the highlights, the first time I did this it was too obvious and I got frustrated:

My brother stepped in and went back over it with the base color, green. This is the hardest part, blending in a natural way. Have a bucket of water near by and add water to the canvas before you apply paint, water is your friend that helps spread the paint in a less obvious pattern. When adding highlights and shadows to the base color you want to add very little paint from either and blend them together at the same time.


Patience is key here. If you get frustrated take a breather, and come back to it; you can always add water and continue again.

For the final steps I took a container of water and added a very small amount or paint, a quarter size maybe, and loosely flicked it onto the canvas; less paint the more the water will dissipate. Do this for both the highlight color and the darker color and then very lightly go over these flicks with a roller again to blend them, do multiple layers for your desired look. The most important factor is BLEND, BLEND, BLEND, if you want a smooth transition so take your time. If you want something with a little more obvious pattern that's your call.

Good Luck, THPHOTO.

Good Luck, THPHOTO.