I have a big, empty wall adjacent to my shooting space that is ripe for transformation into something more usable for photography. This wall typically collects clutter; lights and stands end up leaning there, as do tables and chairs and really anything that needs an out of the way home for a little while. In an effort to turn the fairly plain space into something with a bit more built-in charm, I decided to attempt emulating the look of a downtown loft studio by building a brick wall and painting it white. I used a bit of creativity and some fairly inexpensive parts to transform this space—which could just as well be a big garage, for instance, or a basement shooting space—into a spot that at least hints at being a hip, cool studio wall. Here’s how.
The Necessary Parts
I didn’t technically use bricks for my brick wall. Instead, I started with 4×8-foot fiberboard panels. I wanted to cover a large stretch of wall, so I purchased five of these panels for about $125. Other important parts included a box of wallboard nails (under $3) as well as a tub of joint compound and a gallon of white paint—both of which I already had on hand. As for tools, I used a level, a hammer, a tape measure, a small drywall saw, a 3-inch putty knife, a 2-and-a-half inch paintbrush, plus a paint tray and roller. A healthy pile of rags (some dampened) also comes in handy because part of the success of this project requires making quite a mess.
Attaching To The Wall
After measuring and laying out the area for the wallboards I first checked to make sure I had a good match for the seams between the first two boards. In my opinion, it’s the camouflaging of this seam that determines how successful the project is. If you’re not hoping to make this installation permanent, you could probably get away with ignoring studs and simply screwing the boards into the wall. But I wanted to make something that would last for a little while, and I wanted to ensure that the boards would lay as flat as possible against the wall, with minimal bowing. So I used a stud-finder to mark the studs and then measured (and eyeballed, with the aid of the symmetrically repeating brick pattern) in order to ensure I could hit a stud with every nail. I could’ve used screws, but I thought their larger heads would be harder to camouflage, so I used fourpenny nails spaced 16 inches across at the edges of the boards (to hit the studs) and at 32-inch intervals in the middle of each board (doing about five rows of nails top to bottom through each board). They went up quickly, and only on the last board did I have to work a little harder to ensure the edges matched perfectly with the previous board. A little shimming and trimming with a utility knife worked well here.
Cutting Around Obstacles
The only real challenge was working around a couple of electrical outlets in my wall. Cutting the wallboards to accommodate them, however, wasn’t terribly tricky. If you’ve ever worked with drywall or wood paneling, you’ve done this. First, remove the faceplate from the electrical outlet, and measure the distance from the floor to the bottom of the opening in the wall. Then measure the distance from the edge of the adjacent wallboard to the opening, and lastly measure the opening itself. Then, flipping over the piece of wallboard you intend to cut (and making sure to understand that since you’re now working on the back of the board, left is right, and vice versa, so you make your marks and cuts on the appropriate part of the board) transfer those measurements to the back of the wallboard. So, for instance, you’re likely going to measure up about 12 inches from the bottom and make a mark, then the distance from the edge of the board and make another mark. Those represent the edges of the opening to be cut. From there, measure and draw a box corresponding to the size of the outlet opening you measured in the previous step. With the opening now marked, I used a drill with a large bit to drill a hole inside the box at each corner, being careful not to cross outside the lines with the drill bit. Then I used a drywall saw, although a utility knife would probably work fine as well, to cut between each of those drilled holes to remove the necessary piece of board to accommodate the electrical opening.
The Muddy Part
With the wallboard up, it was time to start further camouflaging the seams. I used plain old drywall mud to fill the visible vertical cracks between boards, but spackle would likely work just as well. I applied it thick, and then continued applying dribs and drabs and bits of mud elsewhere across the boards. I made big globs of it, applied it with my fingers, and sometimes used my knife to cover the width of an entire brick with mud. My hope was not only would the thick mud help to randomize any patterns visible when looking at the entire wall, it would also add a bit of texture and gunk—the kind of things that are bound to end up on an old brick wall like the one I was trying to emulate. In hindsight, I wish I had done a lot more of this, as it’s the texture and randomness that really looks great in pictures.
Painting And Finishing
A day later and with the mud now dry it was time to start painting. I knew that for my wall I wanted a white-on-white look. I wasn’t trying to create a dark or dramatic brick wall, but actually something more akin to a plain white background—but one with a hint of texture such as the kind you might find in a light and airy loft-style studio. I knew that if I just painted the whole thing white it was more likely to be flat and uninteresting. My goal was varying shades of white—again, the kind of thing you might find on an old brick wall that’s been painted several times throughout the years. So instead of simply painting the entire wall with a first coat, I painted a few random sections. I painted brick by brick, and I painted zigzagging, stair stepping cracks across the wall. My hope was all of these other random patterns of paint might eventually help to hide the vertical stripes from the between-panel seams. My other goal was to give the wall a textured look to keep it from being a flat, pure white. Instead, it would be pure bright white on some squares, off-white on others, and even a darker off white elsewhere. In the end, this technique doesn’t look like much to the naked eye, but in pictures, where it counts, it looks great. It’s plenty white, but it’s not just entirely white.
After the first pass of selective painting with a two-and-a-half-inch brush, I waited another day for the paint to dry and then proceeded to roll on a coat of white ceiling paint (latex, if you didn’t know, for easy cleanup) across the entire wall. This coat worked pretty well to even up the wall. I let it dry a couple of hours and then went back for the final touch-ups. For this, I used a roller and a brush. The main thing is to look for areas that catch the eye as too dark and go over them again with the roller. I followed the pattern of the bricks this time, though, so the division between a darker area and a lighter one wouldn’t fall in the middle of a brick. This helped to emphasize the brick pattern and again made the wallboard seams less obvious. I paid special attention to completing these partially painted bricks that fell across the seams between the boards, and in any other areas where a dark place met a light place in the middle of a single brick. Hiding these areas with a bit of carefully applied paint really did a lot for the overall look and in my opinion helps emphasize the brick pattern, subtle as it may be, and makes the end result really look like an actual brick wall. Of course, I can use a little Photoshop wizardry to mask any obvious seams that do appear in my photos, but so far, after a couple of shoots, I haven’t had to do that. And the feedback I’ve gotten has been resoundingly positive. Simple as it may be, people love the old brick wall. Turns out it’s an easy and affordable way to give a shooting space a makeover.