Behind The Scenes With Thick Strings Pictures
Somewhere in the rolling British countryside, beneath a majestic canopy of oaks lies the ancestral abode of the esteemed – or so it seems – Portraits family, the Portraits Mansion. And a new addition awaits at the door. The World According To Arthur has finally arrived back from his travels, where he’ll reunite with a parade of personalities that reside there…
In honour of The World According To Arthur’s launch, Penhaligon’s teamed up with Angel and Jack of Thick Strings Pictures to bring to life the Portraits Mansion, so that one may experience the living quarters of the most beloved aristocratic and fragrant family.
Thick Strings Pictures is a creative studio run by couple and artistic duo Angel Reid and Jack Farrell. Living and working in London, the pair call on a broad range of experience from the world of Fine Art and Design to produce show-stopping still life photography. The couple utilises a bold and minimal aesthetic, the studio provides the full package handling each stage of the creative process in-house, from start to finish.
To celebrate the launch of The World According To Arthur, read on to discover the making of the Portraits Mansion and the inspiration behind our latest campaign…
What was the inspiration behind the concept?
In a word, it was the character of Arthur himself that provided those first sparks of inspiration for us.
We had been charged with creating images that told stories: stories about a man, stories about a family and their interweaving relationships, and stories about the intrigue that runs through these connections. On a basic level though, our images would need to visualise a personality: and what a personality Arthur would provide! It was clear that our pictures would have to embody the duality in Arthur – to present his undying wanderlust set against the contrasting structures of his family home and the characters we find there. The ideas began to flow…
Could you walk us through your design process from initial sketches to building the props, lighting and photography?
Whenever we start a project we are always itching to put pen to paper and start sketching out our ideas. After all, this is the stage where we communicate our ideas most clearly to each other as a creative pair and in which probably 90% of our decision making takes place.
This series of images however would call for drawing to wait its turn. With narratives and characters firmly set in a specific time period and social strata, presenting Arthur would call for a good deal of research. The perfume bottle itself gives us Arthur the dragon, but it would be up to us to represent Arthur the man and what we chose to do with his surroundings would be key to doing this. We dove into the aesthetic trends of the turn of the century during a time when the aristocracy was at its height and Britain’s stylistic outlook was increasingly global.
Once feeling better informed, we added a certain fantastical feel to the spaces during the all-important drawing stage. These would be real spaces of course, but ones that perhaps had as much to do with Arthur’s own internal dialogues as they did about the real world around him.
And, it would turn out it wasn’t only that that had the power to visually represent Arthur’s personality: especially when it came to the characters outward-looking attitude. The use of strongly directional yet soft light on shoot day emulates the sun as it approaches the horizon, and whether that horizon is visible in the image or not, our minds trace the streaming light beams towards an imagined world beyond it.
What was the most challenging and the most fun part to build?
To create decorative moulding to hug the walls of our sets we used thin layers of plywood cut precisely to shape and meticulously assembled. We really hit a wall though attempting to create curved forms to match the architecture we had planned for the interiors and quickly realised that we too would need a curve: a learning curve that is! Inspired by techniques used in traditional chair manufacturing, we found we could steam the wood, repeatedly softening its fibres and resetting its shape in order to achieve the curves we wanted. This was by far the most challenging part of the entire process and took numerous attempts.
In contrast, making a tiny law book to signify the career Arthur left behind came together over the course of a single evening spent fine-tuning our props and catching up on back episodes of our favourite podcast ‘No such thing as a fish’. It’s such a breath of fresh air when the work reminds you that great things don’t always have to take forever to make.
Can you talk us through how you built the initial backdrop and each prop and how long it took?
Our aesthetic may be opulent but our materials are often far from fancy. Using little more than foam board (a biodegradable brand) and hot glue we created our overall structures much like you would the foundations of a liveable room, only on a much smaller scale. Ink-jet printed paper and ply moulded was then added to the surfaces to create the look we wanted.
For the most part, the specifics of our ideas call for our own custom-built props. On occasion though, this just isn’t possible, especially when time constraints come into play. The basic structure of the large staircase we created came from a supplier of parts for high-end doll’s houses, appropriate as what we make isn’t world aware from that very thing! After added ornamentation, some structural adaptations and a paint job, the staircase was ready to go.
As one of the most important and centrally visible of our props, we think the table we created was worth each of the three attempts it took to perfect. In the end, we used a mixture of materials, from balsa wood for the tabletop, to hand-formed polymer clay for the legs and even carefully cut sections of embossed wallpaper to decorate the edge. It represents a full day of work and a day well spent here at Thick Strings Pictures.
Which portraits fragrance is your favourite?
By far our favourite fragrance in the Portraits collection is Changing Constance. Here is a character that stands up to authority and knows her own mind all whilst toughing women’s rights and doing her own thing. And, with notes salted caramel and cardamom, what’s not to love!
What did you do with the set afterwards?
It is extremely important to us that we recycle everything we possibly can at the end of a project especially with our area of work having the capability to create a fair amount of waste. Our sets are stripped down, the props filed away for posterity and our materials reused wherever they can be and recycled where they can’t.
We take a great deal of pleasure in up-cycling our pre-used materials and are always amazed at how many different lives something can have. It certainly takes the edge off the pain of disassembling what one has taken so much time creating.
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