Behind the Scenes – License Plate Art!

When I started this project in the summer of 2013, I had NO idea what I was getting myself into (and as is usually the case, that’s probably a good thing). I figured it would take me a couple months (tops) to photograph plates from all 50 states and create the final images. What was I thinking?! Closing in on three years later, I am finally wrapping up the last of the states. (And I’m a little sad about it!) Thought I’d share a little behind the scenes look into my process – enjoy!

I purchase all of the plates I use in my photographs. (I now have quite the collection.) Some I find at estate sales and antique stores, but most come from online shops dedicated to plates and from good old eBay. Shopping for plates is extremely fun (and addicting), and also very challenging. I have strict criteria I’m looking for, and searching through the sea of listings can be daunting, and there’s no guarantee you’ll find what you’re looking for – it usually takes several days of scrolling infinitely to find the right plate. I look for plates that are old (the older, the better – the ones from the 20s and 30s are my favorite), worn, and in a variety of colors that complement each other. Not all states have been around that long (Alaska, I’m looking at you), and others just don’t have a large variety of styles (Delaware!!), so finding the right plates takes time and patience. I keep a spreadsheet (no, that’s not true. I hate spreadsheets. It’s a pile of post-its.) with a list of the plates I have for each state, and then I search for plates to fill in the blanks. Here is a box of plates to be photographed:

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Once I have a good assortment of plates from each state, I begin to make a big mess. My studio often has piles of plates on the floor, like this:

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Then comes the organizing. I arrange and rearrange the plates until the lines and colors and words and worn spots find their places. Then I photograph. I love natural light more than chocolate, so I always photograph outside.

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Once I’ve photographed the plates, I edit the images and begin to place them in their state outlines. This gives you a little idea of what that looks like:

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I make notes on the images, find what needs to be adjusted, and typically reshoot another 2-3 times before I’m happy with the image. There are lots of fun little challenges with this, like making sure certain letters don’t accidentally get cut off and leave bad words all over the image (like Massachusetts – that was a fun one – all the Ms were cut off of ‘Mass’. Oops.)

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Then I take my final image and make fun stuff like tea towels, magnets, and prints!

 

When I started this project, it was just going to be the 50 states. Now that I’m finally getting close to completing it, I don’t want to stop, so I’m collecting plates from the US territories and Canadian provinces. Then I’ll probably move on to other countries, too, because it really is addicting.

Thank you for reading about my process! You can see all License Plate Art here. (Stand by for the full collection – coming soon!)

PS – did you know that the text on all my images is customizable? Sometimes you want your image to say ‘heart’ or ‘north’ instead of ‘home’. And sometimes you just want it left blank. All possible!

I always buy too many plates. I keep every plate I use in my images, but sell off the ones I don’t use on my vintage Etsy site. In case you’re looking for some plates: MustardYellowVintage.etsy.com

 



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