How to Create a Halloween Village: Chapter 7
Chapter 7: Adding a Background & Ambient Lighting
To complete the atmosphere of a village consider adding a backdrop. You can paint a decorative scene, hang fabric, display other Halloween props, or even buy a pre-printed background. Since villages tend to be quite dim consider adding colorful lights behind the village as a backdrop or incorporate LED light strands throughout your display. LED lighting does not heat up, uses minimal electricity and is safer than the older-style incandescent mini lights. Hide the lights behind other foam pieces or add a backgrounds to your display. You can also add rope lighting behind or underneath display tables for ambient lighting.
Village are dimly lit, and displays can lose much detail, and no one wants to turn on a lamp and ruin the creepy fun. Consider adding a row of simple string lights behind the display to illuminate a backdrop (or wall) and bounce soft light back onto the village. This will also create depth and outline the exquisite silhouettes of buildings and accessories. LED lights are cool burning, emit rich light, and likely the safest option. LED spotlights pointed up from behind the display are also quite effective, although they can be a bit pricey. Regardless of what you use, make sure the light bulbs are masked either by the foam platform, or buildings – exposed bulbs cause an unpleasant glare!
One way to hide exposed light bulbs is to create silhouettes and place them in front of the light strand. You must use LED light strands since regular incandescent bulbs get too hot. Cut out silhouettes from dark paper in the shapes of trees, hills, mountains or other simple shapes. It doesn't have to be very detailed to be effective. If you are not a crafter, simply search the internet for silhouettes, and mimic the general shapes or print them out, trace onto cardboard, and cut them out. I've also used thin pieces of packaging Styrofoam to carve out rocky shapes and stalagmites. This picture uses cutouts of flames to mask the yellow lights behind them.
Foam board or corrugated project display boards from the office supply store serve as a quick canvas for your painted backdrop. These will stand on their own, if needed, and will hold up to quite a bit of paint. If you place your village against a wall, you can always tape butcher paper (sold in bulk rolls) directly onto the wall. You don't need to be extremely fancy with artwork. Use blue paint to create a night sky and a rubber stamp to create stars. Use a sea sponge to tamp on mist or fog. Use a large brush to lay large swirls of paint or to suggest wisps of trees. I've painted large tendrils of red, orange and yellow that suggest a burning hellfire. Search the internet for reference pictures of woods, night skies, or other locations to help you. Make sure to use light paint colors to ensure that it will reflect the minimal light available.
A simple, effective and quick technique is to hang fabric behind your display. A trip to the fabric store will reveal a world of Halloween-themed fabric that can include stars, ombré patterns that mimic the sky at dusk, or sheers that add a touch of sparkle. Don't feel like you need to commit to realistic backdrops. Something simple like tattered burlap or cheesecloth hung ominously behind a display can add much depth. You can also create gauzy curtains in front of the display that look like the proscenium of a theater and add even more dramatic flair. Keep the colors light to allow the light to reflect back onto the village.
There are many places to but pre-printed background. Department 56 and Lemax both offer interesting backdrops that fold away neatly after the season. However, one of my favorites is the MyVillage backgrounds, which are larger than most other pre-printed backgrounds, have slots for cords, are double-sided, and can be positioned next to each other for a larger village. There are six panels to each background, and you can easy fold them back for smaller villages.