How to Build Painted Canvas Backdrop On a Budget
I recently challenged myself to see how cheap I could make build a painted canvas backdrop, as well as some DIY Texture Boards, and DIY V-Flats.
The result? I was able to make all of these things over a weekend for less than $400! The backdrop alone you could make for as little as $50-60!
The one I made is a 9x12' 10oz canvas, heavily layered and textured with paint. You can choose your own size and colors, but you’ll need the same basic supplies. I was able to get everything from a local Home Depot and will provide links to the specific items or group of items.
Everything You'll Need to Build Painted Canvas Backdrop
- A 9x12' Canvas Dropcloth - You’ll find these in the paint section. I bought a 9x12' medium-duty canvas, but select your own desired size if you are making a larger or smaller backdrop. I recommend at least an 8oz weight.
- Paint Roller - I purchased a bundle that contained a 9” roller, two roller covers, a brush and came packaged in a paint tray. I recommend an extension pole to make things easier on you.
- Textured Roller - If you’re looking for texture in your background, I would recommend a textured roller.
- Plastic Sheeting - Be sure to either get plastic sheets that are larger than your canvas or multiple to cover a larger surface area.
PAINT & PRIMER:
For this DIY backdrop project get “flat” paint and primer. I encourage you to use exterior paint as it is more durable.
The paint department can be confusing, so don’t hesitate to inquire with the professionals at your hardware store.
- Primer - Use a flat white paint/primer combo. I watered down my primer and applied it in layers to start the texturing of my canvas immediately.
(IMPORTANT NOTE ON QUANTITY: If you are only making the backdrop, and not also the V-Flats or Texture Boards you can probably get away with only one quart of primer, maybe two. If you are doing the other DIY projects, especially the V-Flats, go ahead and get a gallon of the flat white paint/primer like I did. You’ll need it!
- Paint - This is the fun part, picking the color! I used two different shades of Behr green for my backdrop, which I textured in different ways. You can use whatever color or colors you wish, but you’ll need at least two quarts of paint to cover a 9x12' backdrop.
- Extras - Don’t forget to get a paint can opener and stir sticks. You can usually find these for free at the paint counter of Home Depot.
- Time Needed - You can do this whole project in a day if you’d like, or take your time and spread it out over a couple of days. You’ll need to allow 24 hours for your backdrop to dry before using it.
- Space - You can do this inside or out. You'll need a hard surface to lay the canvas on for the entire time and plenty of painters plastic to keep the space clean.
How to Prep Your Space to Create Your DIY Backdrop:
Mise en Place [mi zɑ̃ ˈplas]
If you ever worked in or around a kitchen, you probably heard this French phrase. It essentially means “Everything in its place.”
Take a second to clean your work area. Sweep the work surface, lay out all of your paint, tools, and trays, and plan ahead for washing brushes, rollers, etc. The few minutes it takes to do this will make your time painting a lot more fun!
Step by Step Guide to Building a DIY Backdrop
Step One: Lay out plastic sheeting and tape it all the way around.
I taped mine down all the way around with painter’s tape. You could simply just lay it out and hold the corners in place with something heavy, but I preferred the extra security of having it all taped and flat so I didn’t have to worry about it again.
Laying out plastic to protect studio floor from paint. | Preset: Fuji 160NS
Step Two: Lay out the canvas.
I didn’t find that I had to hold the canvas down with anything and it stayed in place while painting with no problem. If you buy one of the larger canvases, as I did, you may see a seam running through the center of it. I don’t personally mind this as I wanted it textured, and enjoy the character that it adds. If you do not like the seam, this is the time to iron that out. Be careful not to melt the plastic sheeting underneath.
Laying out the canvas | Preset: Tri-X 400
Step Three: Apply a primer to your canvas.
Using a roller brush, cover the entire canvas with a couple of layers of diluted primer (at least 15-20% water). Allow the primer to dry for 20 minutes between coats and an hour before applying any paint.
I knew that I wanted my backdrop to be textured and have a heavy vignette to it, with the outside edges much darker and dense.
I applied my primer with this in mind, making sure to cover the entire canvas but texturing the outside edges more heavily with alternating and sweeping strokes of the roller.
Applying the primer. By Chris Daniels. | Preset: Ektar 100
Step Four: Paint your backdrop.
For layering and texturing, first and foremost, don’t worry about it too much or overthink it. Just have fun and experiment with it.
I started this with one of my green paints, very watered down, and unevenly applied it before then spreading it out. I did this for a couple of layers, allowing about 15 minutes drying time in between.
Next, I applied another layer of the other green, still diluted but much less. Keeping in mind that I wanted a vignette and texture, I worked from the outside inward in irregular painting patterns.
Rolling paint on in irregular swoops and patters.
From this point, you're really just having fun and getting the backdrop to a place that looks good to you.
With hindsight, there's only one thing that I may have done differently, and that is to add a final even wash of very diluted paint over the entire thing as a final step. I believe that doing so would bring everything together even more.
Even still, I'm very happy with the results and have already had lots of fun shooting on my new backdrop! I can't wait to see the ones that you guys create so be sure to share them!
As always, never hesitate to reach out with any questions!
Self portrait with finished backdrop. By Chris Daniels. | Preset: Portra 160 +1
Self portrait with finished backdrop. By Chris Daniels. Preset: Portra 160 +1