The right background

Choosing the right background for a food shoot is a hugely important part of my job as a stylist and sets the scene for the picture. Whether it’s a moody rustic winter look or a clean white summer feel, without the right background the shot just will not capture what you are hoping to portray. Over the years I have been commissioned to put together hundreds of different styles for magazines and cook books so I thought it would be fun to share a few of these and look at a few options you have to do this yourself.

Still Life (Women's Weekly Books)

Still Life (Women’s Weekly Books)

For this shot of autumn produce I chose a zinc table top with an old metal sheet marked with rust immediately creating a rustic feel – implying an old farmhouse kitchen – with quite elegant props. A pewter cake stand and pitcher and French wine glasses. I love this contrast, which is further emphasised by an old distressed linen cloth with frayed edges.

Prop Stop, Sydney

Prop Stop, Sydney

Now that I live in the rural France I no longer have access to prop house like the one above (Prop Stop in Sydney ) where you can hire all the props you might need in order to fulfil a brief. So I have to  ‘ad lib’ and either buy or make backgrounds that I can keep to use in future projects. This could be purchasing a roll of wallpaper and pasting it onto a large sheet of ply so the image represents part of a room.

Wallpaper and Rust Paint

Wallpapers

Or perhaps I may have to paint up some surfaces to make a mock wall or table topLuckily there are some fabulous paint products available today which will create an instant rust look, or crackle glaze effect. All these skills are essential if you going to be a stylist.

Food and Travel 18

Rust paint product with a painted rust wall behind

I remember one of my most taxing and head scratching briefs was to create a look that said ‘heroin chic’! Taking the example from the fashion world where beautiful young models were made to look half dead from drugs, I determined the look should be a combination of old, damaged, rustic surfaces with very clean, beautiful plates and exquisitely plated food.

I trawl as many flea markets or brocantes as I can to pick up bargains both smaller pieces like plates, glasses, cutlery etc. as well as old tables, doors, shutters, chairs etc. These get stacked in the barn or painted  varies colours, all of which add to an ever growing props cupboard.

Spring Brocante Bordeaux

Spring Brocante Bordeaux

Below is an old trestle table bought on ebay, plus an old door sourced from a reclamation yard.

Old floor boards, still covered in old peeling paint can be cut into lengths and set into a frame, making a lovely rustic table top (thanks Mick) and even discarded skip items like the piece of zinc below that was at some point used to mix cement on. All add atmosphere to a shot.

You could also try creating your own distressed zinc table top – buy a sheet of new zinc from your local hardware store and then using a solution of copper sulphate, available from art stores or a pharmacy (as powder) wipe over it to create an instantly aged zinc top. It’s like magic working in front of you – I love it. Here’s one I made earlier this year and now it takes pride of place in my kitchen!

Zinc table top

Zinc table top

Of course in the real world you just use your kitchen table or work top but as a stylist it’s your job to create an image for the reader and for me, it’s why I do the job. Creating something from nothing and being satisfied with the end result. It’s very rewarding.

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A good rummage

Since moving to France last year Ian and I have taken to the art of brocanting with a vengeance. If you are not yet familiar with this French pastime, basically every weekend throughout spring and summer (as well as a few in the winter) there are literally thousands of flea markets held in villages and towns all over France. Aside from this however there are many permanent brocantes many of which are a combination of antiques and junk, but quite often after a good rummage there are bargains to be had…………. a stylists ‘Aladdin’s cave’

Photo Ian Wallace

Photo Ian Wallace

Hours of pleasure can be had in amongst cracked plates, dust covered pans and piles of old sheets, napkins and tea towels and I have been known to whoop with glee and jump up and down at something that even the owner considers worthless!

A few minutes drive from us is the small and very pretty village of Bors de Montmoreau and at it’s heart is one of my favourite such places L’Incontournable Brocante or The Essential Brocante. It is a collection of out buildings and barns in the courtyard of a family home. A warren of small and large rooms packed to the rafters with everything from tables, chairs and cupboards to shelves of antique glassware, plates, objets d’art and paintings.

The owner Benoit Le Grelle is always on hand to offer his advice on his latest acquisitions and can often be found in his workshop repairing and renovating old pieces. ‘My favourite pieces are the old original pieces in need of some TLC from house sales that would otherwise end up as fire wood’ Benoit told me.

He has been sharing his love of the old at Brocante L’Incontournable for the last 6 years and although many of his customers are visiting English holidaymakers he also sells to a loyal following of French, British and Dutch locals. He tells me that he scours ‘vide maisons’ or house sales around the area for the majority of his pieces and has a particular love of old paintings, which you can tell by the amount he has pinned to every spare wall.

I usually pop over when I need plates or glasses for a shoot as he has a great selection of both at very reasonable prices, although occasionally we will buy something larger for the house or garden. On my most recent visit I was delighted when I uncovered a stack of pretty dessert plates, a few off cuts of lace and lovely little mother of pearl handled tea forks, which I will no doubt inspire some wonderful French fancies or desserts – new blog post to follow soon.

Benoit also has collected masses of fabulous galvanised pots that are perfect for garden planters and other non food related items and this time Ian found the perfect old ships bell for the front door. No longer will our visitors have to bang long and loud on the window, this toll of this old beauty can probably be heard in London!

Photo Ian Wallace

Photo Ian Wallace