So you want my job?
UK-based Prop Stylist, Laura Sawyer, shared her tips for getting to the top and tells us why you don’t need a background in art to break in to the industry...
A prop stylist shops for and gathers a selection of props and dressings for photo shoots. They match these props to the colour scheme, style and narrative that has been decided by the design team, and then styles the set ahead of a shoot.
1. Did you always want to be a Prop designer?
No. Originally I wanted to be a fashion buyer, which is what I did for 10 years. I worked across the high street as a fashion accessories buyer, handbags, shoes, jewellery all that fun stuff, but I got really disenchanted with the industry – it’s not as glamourous as you’d think it is, or creative.
2. What path did you take to get your role?
I didn’t study art at university or anything like that, I did languages, so I sort of fell into it. I fancied a change and it was actually a good friend of mine, who I’d worked with in the industry, who asked if I’d thought about propping. I asked ‘what’s that?’, I didn’t really know what it was, she explained it to me a little and said she had a shoot coming up if I wanted to give it a go. The skill set that is required for being a prop designer is very similar to that of being a buyer. Bottom line, you’ve got to be able to understand a brief, you need to understand the client, deliver on time, within budget, and be creative.
3. What does your typical day look like?
I don’t have a typical day, that’s the beauty of it! Yesterday was spent doing propping, so browsing the shops and sourcing props that I need [for upcoming shoots], as well as having meetings, then delivering props that I already had for a different job. On Sunday I’ll be at the flower market, next week I’ll be on a photo shoot…
4. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job?
There are two elements. There is the problem solving element, someone will call and they need something really obscure and specific and they’ll be like ‘Where can we get one? We need it tomorrow…’ and of course they only want to pay £2 for it. It’s a little bit like you’re on ‘The Apprentice’. Inevitably you’ve got to solve it, you’ve got a timescale and I love it when I get it done. The other element I love is when you’ve been setting up a shot and you’re tweaking it and you’re at the last stages. Finally everyone is like, “Are we happy? Ok strike.” And then you take the entire thing apart and set up for the next shot. There’s just something really satisfying about it being done and then you can move on.
5. If you could change one thing about your job, what would it be?
I’d just be to have two of me! Or three of me! I wouldn’t actually change anything, the only thing I find difficult is managing being freelance, that’s the only thing. On a day-to-day basis it’s fine but month to month is tricky when it comes to managing things such as cash flow.
6. What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I shot Naomi Campbell, which was pretty cool. I built that whole set and it was on the cover of The Guardian magazine. That was quite early on in my career too. There’s a lot of hype around Naomi, and sensationalism, but she was really nice! Meeting Vic and Bob was another one, I have a really cool picture of me with them, on set, surrounded by my grandad’s china!
7. What advice would you give to anybody who wants to be a prop designer, what do you wish you had known?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Ask people for advice, favours, contacts… The advantage of being freelance is that you are generally out there doing something you love. If a job needs doing, and it means you have to work through until 10 or 12 o’clock at night, you do that. That’s what the work is, you get it done. But I never resent it and I suppose if you find yourself resenting that then it’s probably not the job for you.
8. To you, what makes the ideal home?
The ideal home for me is light, tidy, but homely. I like space, I don’t like things shoved into corners, I like to pull things away from the wall, making it a lot more light and airy. I also like to have an element of the unexpected so I like to have a few elements of humour in there. At the moment at home I’ve got a rhino’s head hanging on the wall with a wedding veil on… silly things like that are a conversation starter! Oh and a spare bedroom, so you can have people stay over. And back doors to open out onto a garden… now I’m daydreaming!
9. Describe your personal interior style.
I’m a big fan of white, and pink it turns out which took me by surprise, I wasn’t really expecting to be quite so girly. Also florals but in a really modern way. I really like mid-century furniture and classics but also mixed in with modern pieces. The fashion element is quite prominent for me, obviously not too literal but it plays a big part in the colour palettes and the lines and things like that. You want to achieve a sense of ease. Nothing that is jarring, nothing too cluttered.
10. Favourite Furniture Village piece?
The Mikado Acrylic Dining Chair – I just love it.
Quick Fire Questions….
Modern or vintage? Vintage
Warm or cool? Cool
Refined or rustic? Refined
Simple or eclectic? Simple
Minimalist or opulent? Minimalist
Below are some examples of Laura's work.