Tuesday, 6 November 2012

KIMBRA KRAFT TIME: Designing the Backdrop for her 2012 headline USA tour...

Backdrop Illustration by Jose Vigers

Earlier in the year, whilst on Kimbra's video set for her single Come Into My Head, I was asked whether or not I could help collaborate on something visual to add another stage dimension for her US tour. Always up for a fresh challenge I gladly accepted! We needed to create something with colour, depth, imagination but also practicality. It would have to be packed up every evening and because each venue had different stage measurements we had to have some flexibility. Detailed, durable and easy to compact. So it was decided that we would create a beautiful backdrop to extend upon the world created by Kimbra and her band. They're all pretty stellar musicians, so I felt the pressure to do something cool!

'Stay Hard' - Jose Vigers

Rewind a few months before this project, and during one of my extensive internet black hole moments I'd stumbled across the work of artist Jose Vigers. Jose is originally from Queensland but is now based in Berlin. I was really attracted to his use of colour, and being a big fan of portrait artworks I was really taken by his technique. The bright colour screams joy but his characters heavily feature grotesque qualities. I love how Jose celebrates his unusual subjects - making ugly into beautiful. His work stood out to me and I made a little mental note that somewhere down the track I wanted to incorporate him into one of my projects. I just wasn't quite sure how.

PHASE ONE: Initial Concept Layout

So after a lot of back and forth with Kimbra and her team, we finalised that we wanted to create more of an enchanted forest type feel so that we could create a sense of depth behind the band. We wanted the audience to have a feeling of stepping into another world during the performance. I mocked up this image above to begin to get a sense of shape and structure for how to create the backdrop. Then it occurred to me that this would be the perfect chance to collaborate with Jose. I could create the skeleton of the image and get Jose to appropriate it into his illustrative style with the required dimensions. I got a hold of him on the Skype and lucky for us, he came on board! Can I also mention that we were working to a very tight time schedule, so Jose had only five days to create this piece! That's cray cray, but he didn't flinch. Hats off to the man!

PHASE TWO: The Transformation

Check out the crazy amazing detail above of Jose's illustration. I was blown away with how he incorporated the animal characters. Poor thing had to deal with me checking in at each stage of construction and working with a colour scheme that was stage light friendly. But he totally pulled through with the goods. Now that we had the final illustration sent digitally to us from Germany, I had to find a place that would print the image on a 6m x 12m canvas (that's about the size of a two front storey house). It also had to be on a type of fabric that was compatible with US fire safety standards. Which was quite the challenge... None of the traditional digital printers that I was aware of via my fashion industry background printed at that scale. Then I remembered something I'd seen on my travels.

Anthony Lister Billboard - Look Printing Sydney 

In Leichhardt, a suburb in Sydney, there is an amazing billboard done by artist Anthony Lister. Anthony collaborated with fashion brand Colab earlier this year on a range of sunglasses. Subsequently I was hired to shoot the campaign and referenced his style in my imagery. The photography above does not do justice to how huge this billboard is. It's three stories tall, super wide, super amazing. Significantly bigger then what I was looking for - so after a little research I discovered Look Printing were the ones to blame for this fabulous piece of public art! A special shout out to Dan at Look who helped me through this whole journey of printing such a giant piece of art. He had to deal with me constantly harassing him re: safety certificates, deadlines, fabrics etc. He was amazing! So we sent everything in for print, and it would take five days to piece it all together.

PHASE THREE: Crystal Hunting!

One of Kimbra's ideas in the initial brainstorm was to incorporate crystals in the backdrop to add a little sparkle magic! So to incorporate this idea on a scale this large I was going to need to channel my inner Jaime Lee! I realised I was going to need reinforcements, and with Jaime being based in Bali I would have to solve this another way. That's when I called for help from the only woman I knew could help me get around the bedazzling process! The forever glamorous burlesque star Rita Fontaine! If anyone knew how to get those crystals looking their best, she could guide me! Once again, we had only a week to get our hands on 20,000 swarovski crystals. We would have to track this down whilst the canvas was bring printed and put together.

PHASE FOUR: Crystal Application

At first when we visited the big distributors here in Sydney we asked if they had plenty of crystals in stock - we were assured that they did. After choosing a colour palette, we nervously laughed when we were informed that they had just under 1000 instock! We had a minor stress out because no one could get swarovski's delivered in that time frame and ordering online from the internet would take too long. Luckily with Rita's burlesque contacts we found a performer in Western Australia who had a large stockpile (in case of emergency I suppose) so we had them sent over. We also purchased thousands of sequins... I couldn't tell you how many. But it was a lot!

This gives you an idea of the sheer size and difficulty of individually crystalising the backdrop by hand!

The canvas was running late in the printing and we ended up having only five days to get every sequin and crystal hand glued to the backdrop. With this terrifying deadline looming Rita called in for backup. I tell you I was a lucky man because I witnessed the wonderful sense of community between Sydney's burlesque scene as various girls took shifts in coming in to help Rita finish the backdrop. Even I got in there in the last two days. Shout outs to Danica Lee, Venus Vamp, Lou Lou and a very special thank you to Maygen La Fey who was extraordinary. I can tell you now, I've never seen crystals being applied so fast! These show girls are pros!

Sparkle! Sparkle! The effect of the crystals with the coloured lighting via my iphone.

In the end, it looked fantastic and we got it sent off in time. It was held up for a couple of days in customs in Canada, but made it through fine in the end. The whole process from conception to final product ended up taking about four weeks to create, and although stressful I loved the whole experience of breathing a giant piece of art into life. I want to thank Kimbra for creating such an extraordinary channel with her music and the live performance of her band. Most pieces of art get trapped in boring old galleries, this one got to live like a rockstar and tour across the USA. I just wish that I been there in the flesh to witness it all live on stage.

Instagram pictures from the fans!

One of my goals at the start of this project was that I wanted to create something that when all the cool kids at Kimbra's shows shot her using their camera's that they would all be able to take an amazing image. So one of the really rewarding parts of this process was testing that experiment! I scanned all things tagged Kimbra at the end of the tour on the Instagram stratosphere and found all these amazing images. Each containing the colour, life and sparkle of Kimbra and the performance. I've always believed photography belongs to everyone, so to know that I helped to colour that live experience with art and to be able to see this colourful tangible evidence of it brings me a deep sense of satisfaction. 

Although I didn't get to come to the USA to see the show, in another way a piece of me actually did. I got to join in on the action via the backdrop. I'm a lucky man. On a final note, I really believe in Kimbra and what she's capable of achieving, and I am very grateful that she asked me to be a small part of this tour. It took a lot of people, not just me, to make this backdrop happen so a massive thank you to all of you! You know who you are! And a big thank you to you Kimbra!

Bringing the art (and smart) back into pop culture!


  1. Hi Thom,

    This is Adam Daniel Arditi. Thanks for posting this blog - I had no idea how involved this piece was especially for ONLY 4 weeks. That is truly awesome! Good on 'ya :)

    I will respond more in the email.



  2. Hey Thom
    I work for Cactus Imaging Large format digital printers in Silverwater, Sydney so I'm interested to know what material (substrate) you ended up going for? and what size? also out of curiosity did any of the crystal come off after folding & unfolding, it must of been hard for the packers to not dislodge any after every show. Anyway congratulation on a amazing job & well done to all involved,looks fantastic. Would of also loved to experience it live as I am a huge fan of Kimbra!


  3. Thom,

    That backdrop was incredible! And WHAT? You didn't see her in concert? Kimbra's Chicago Metro show was the best concert I have seen this year (and I have seen a lot). That backdrop was viewed pretty much up close and personal by nearly 1200 people in that tiny little venue. The sound in there like wearing headphones everywhere you stand. The entire concert a complete work of art. A sleek little personal show for some of Kimbra's biggest fans, many of which traveled from all over the country to see. I drove 450 miles, round trip, others doing the same. Ever get to see a concert at Metro Chicago, GO! Great job on that gorgeous work of art!


  4. Thank you SO much for posting this overview! I am infinitely inspired by the level of perseverance and collaboration that brought this dream to reality. I saw the show live and INSTANTLY had to know more about the backdrop, it's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen onstage. Thank you x a billion.

  5. Thanks to share these amazing billboard,pretty and impressive arts and design.I have visited your great post.

    Fabric Backdrops

  6. It was quite amazing to see in person on 10/20 and 10/21. I was lucky enough to be able to ask Kimbra a bit about it in person. Needless to say, I had no idea what a passionate and gigantic manual effort it was. A person could assume something like this is just simply made by machines with little to no human involvement. Quite a surprise to learn that others and myself could not be more wrong. Fantastic work, everyone involved. I hope to see more of your work on stage in the future.