After I gave up on my idea for a galvanized metal backdrop, I decided to spray paint polystyrene (insert link) to use as a lightweight and affordable dessert table backdrop for my son’s Monsters, Aliens, and Robots themed 2nd birthday party. I wasn’t completely sure how this was going to work out, but at less than $5 for the entire 4 foot by 8 foot sheet, it seemed like a good idea to at least give it a try.
I had the perfect Monsters, Aliens, & Robots themed birthday party color palette picked out already – Brilliant Blue, Key Lime, and Dark Gray, but when I saw the silver color Rust-Oleum offered, I just had to have it. I swapped out the Dark Gray for the Metallic Aluminum.
While at Menards, my favorite hometown hardware emporium, I asked one of the guys working if they could cut my polystyrene so that it would fit in my car. I had ulterior motives here – I knew this 8 foot piece of styrofoam wasn’t going to possibly fit in my SUV, but I also anticipated that they’d be happy to professionally cut it for me on the spot. I had grand ideas of them measuring out and cutting my piece of polystyrene in perfectly portioned thirds. I had not anticipated that the guy out back would just slice right through it all willy nilly with a box cutter without any idea of the type of perfectionist he was dealing with. I chose my battle. I shut my mouth and happily accepted my jagged lines, forced all three pieces in my car (leaving an unforgettable trail of styrofoam pieces), and was headed home to “make it work” as Tim Gunn says.
I started off by using a razor blade to straighten out the rough edges.
I then stacked the pieces to make sure they looked pretty similar, without taking away too much of the width. I ended up placing the thinnest piece in the middle in order to cover up the other jagged edges and use up as much surface area as possible, while maintaining some balance.
I decided to make the middle panel blue, since it was the darkest color, and make the outer panels silver and green.
I laid out a dropcloth in the backyard to keep things clean and spray painted each panel individually, starting with the edges and then working my way in, allowing for some drying time between colors.
The green color gave the polystyrene a crazy spotted effect after applying it. I thought it was just perfect for alien skin though, so I wasn’t stressed.
The silver ended up melting the polystyrene very quickly! I totally freaked out for a bit, waiting to see if it would just melt the foam completely. Luckily, it didn’t turn to complete liquid and I kind of liked the crater effect. I’m guessing it was the metallic element of the paint that caused this effect, but I’m no expert, just a mom with a can of spray paint.
I left the completed panels in the garage for a couple days to fully dry. The night before party day, I started the dessert table setup. I was working in a pretty small space with a 6 foot banquet table and a custom backdrop that was definitely no longer 8 feet wide.
As a seasoned party photographer, I have a few things that make me go a little crazy. My number one pet peeve is a gorgeous, custom backdrop that is the same size or smaller than the table itself. Stylists and planners – you NEED to make it larger than your table! Here’s why – when photographing the setup, you WANT to continue seeing the gorgeous custom backdrop, not the ugly background!
After I got the panels in place, I figured that maybe, just maybe they’d be happy to stay in place, but I started preparing for battle, just in case. I had a few ideas in my bag of tricks and tape seemed like the most logical answer, with glue coming in at a close second. The thought of gluing the panels together caused me so much anxiety that I’m relieved I didn’t pursue that option. Then I had a new idea – push pins!
They were just perfect to keep the panels close together without any shifting.
They were also super easy to use and so tiny that they were unrecognizable!
After inserting several in the front of the backdrop, I wanted to play it safe and keep the backdrop secured to the China hutch it was leaning against. I’m not real sure how secure this actually was, like, don’t try this with a paying client, but it worked for me! I just used some scotch tape and put a piece on several sections of the top of the backdrop and the top of the hutch. Knowing full well I was dealing with non-sticky polystyrene, I decided to go a step beyond and insert a pin into the center of the tape too. I repeat – it worked for me.
This is definitely a very affordable DIY project! The polystyrene costs just under $5 and the spray paint costs just under $4 per can, so overall, you’re looking at an investment of $17. I don’t know how safe this project is – I haven’t been told to the contrary – but then again, I often prefer to ask for forgiveness rather than permission…