How I made Bibliothèque Saltimbanque

This image is probably one of the most time consuming images I have ever made thus far. The image has been published on and on the website of Gebr. Sluyter B.V., a Dutch insurance broker.

As a liability insurance broker I wanted to express my workflow that is sometimes a bit artmaking!

Bibliotheque Saltimbanque

The surreal idea

First of all I already had in mind a surreal idea of a box with rooms within. I guess I have had this idea already when I hade my first mathclasses like 29 years ago. The first drawing of this idea I can find in my archives is this one on the right. I draw this about 5 years ago. Around the time I started with compositing in Photoshop. I never had the time to create this into a composite, but when this assignment came along the way I knew I had to use this idea into this composite.



I had made an image for each business page for the website of Gebr. Sluyter B.V. and there where 2 pages left. One of the pages was “Aansprakelijkheid” (which means “Liability” in Dutch). So that was my starting point for this image. How could I express the term Liability within an artwork? That was more difficult than I thought on first hand. I offcourse thought about a few practical liability cases that I could use for an image, but I wanted something different than the usual. Besides my life as a photographer and digital artist, I work as a liability broker at this firm and so I thought: “Why not let the audience see how I sometimes experience my job as a broker?”.

As a broker you have to have a lot of knowledge about insurances and laws. So I first started sketching a library with books about liability. At this point I didn’t thought about using my old idea about the surreal box. Sketching is so important for the creative process! So I kept on sketching some ideas untill I thought about the surreal box. I altered my idea about the surreal box and I wanted a library within the box. And so I made another sketch WITH the surreal library-in-a-box!


Photographing the table

The box somehow had to be on a table. As I already had in mind it should be an old library, I needed an old (fashioned) table with some chairs on the side. Luckily there is one perfect table at my work that I could use and so I brought my camera to the office and started photographing the table from different angles, so I had enough images to use for this composite.


The table had to be placed into a library scene. I first went into my archive searching for a good images of an old library. I thought about the pictures I had made in Dublin of the Trinity College Library, but those images where not shot from the right angle I had in mind. I have been to many libraries, but I already knew at this point I had to create my own library for this image. And that ment that I hade to draw the bookcases and to make it more realistic I had to photograph a lot of books for in the bookcases.

So I bought alot of empty books in different colors and made them look old by putting them into a bowl of tea and coffee. I also bought some books at the local pawn shop, and I borrowed alot of books (thanks Linda!).


Draining the books into a bowl of tea or coffee make them look old. After I while I threw them in the garbage because it started to mold.


The books where sundried, but as the autumn came I didn’t had the time to dry them well though (that’s why they mold).


In my studio I created a book shelf to get the proper look. 2 black cardboxes on the side, a grey background and a wooden plate to get the proper coloring on the books.

Photographing the books took a loooot of time. I didn’t thought it would be so time consuming haha. But it was a fun and creative process. I not only photographed books, but a lot of other items as well, such as my cameras, candlelights, flowers, baskets, etcetera. I didn’t use all the things that I photographed though. Little by little my library came to life!

In the image on the right I didn’t had the door yet in the middle of the image, because that wasn’t part of the idea, yet…


Problems along the way

I had a few hick-ups with my PSB file (Photoshop Big file). A few time it crashed and one time it was lost completely and I could start all over again. Luckily I made a copy of every cutout that I made on a different location and so I could reproduce the scenery pretty quickly. But still it wasn’t fun at that moment… I had to group many layers and convert them into smart objects, to keep the programm working, because the PSB file was over 6 GB pretty quickly. I used more than 200 layers in total for this image!!!

The clown

When I photographed the box and placed it on the table in Photoshop, I suddenly got the idea of a clownesk person holding a book, to make it look more appealing. So I quickly draw the clown into the scenery (I used a little puppet I bought many years a go at a show of Cirque du soleil as a reference), to see if it did fit. And it did!

So I posted a request on facebook if there was a stylist who could make the clothing. And I posted a request for a model. Thanks to Thirza Wijnja I got in contact with RumoeR Styling and design. Ruben provided me with the proper clothing for this idea. I also found a model who was perfect for the job. The lovely Sara Haket came all the way from Belgium!


I also searched for a good make up artist, and Gerdy (mother of Sara) told me that they worked before with Priscilla and had good experiences with her. So I contacted Priscilla and she was enthousiastic of the idea I had in mind. And so we arranged the photoshoot.


I also drenched a lot of paper into tea, to give it an used and old look. I made a stack of it that is laying beside the box.


Burgerlijk Wetboek (Civil law book)

I used the old papers for the “case law” files (in Dutch “Jurisprudentie”). But I also needed the big book “Burgerlijk Wetboek” (a dutch civil law book, that contains many laws of liability). Accidentally I stumbled upon a old fire insurance book at the office, and I asked if I could bring that book to my studio. Fun to read such an old book about fire insurances. I finally used the book as base for the “Burgerlijk Wetboek”. The book is laying behind the stack of paper in the image.

I first placed the book on top of the library-in-a-box, but that didn’t looked as great as I hoped. So I later put the book behind the stack of old paper. And that looked more natural en realistic.


Now it was time to build the “library-in-a-box”, the surreal element in this picture. I used an old box that I once bought in a local store. The original idea was to make a whole library in this box. I had to photograph a library from above. I wasn’t sure about where I could do this, so I asked facebook. And I got alot of ideas from my fb friends (thanks guys!) and I went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. There is a beautiful library there, which in the end, I didn’t used because it didn’t look that clear in the image. But I actually used other elements that I photographed in the Rijksmuseum.

But so I had to re-think about the surreal library-in-a-box and I ended up with a few bookshelves in a box. That looked more natural and clear to see the “surreal thing”. I actually did thought about how many books I should use to place them in order to get the term “Aansprakelijkheid” (which means liability).

I first used the term “Pandora” on the box, but later replaced that with “Bibliothèque” to make it more clear that it was a library in a box (and not the box of Pandora, which wasn’t a box anyway). I later on added “3D” on the side, referring to the front of the box where a paper is printed out. On that paper there is written text about 3D printing, which is a hot issue within the liability insurance scene.


Placing the model into the scene

Then I had to think about where to place the model (Sara). I photographed here in different positions, so I could choose the best later in the process. In the original sketch that I made of the clown, I placed here inside the box, but the beautiful make up and styling made me decide to give her a more prominent place in the picture. And that gave me the idea to play a bit with the books.


In the second image from the left you can see there is a colored clock in the middle. I later removed that part of the library to replace with a halfopen door with light. Meaning: the door is always open for you! And that did the trick!

The reading professor

So I was almost finished with my image, but I wanted to have my signature within it. So, unrecognisable, I put myself in the picture as the reading professor. I already bought the hat a long time ago, so that was the easy part. I painted over a new beard, because that looked nice for the image. A later on added the hand that made him look he was thinking of new cases.

My dear wife helped me out with this last detail, because I wasn’t sure if it worked for the image. With a few minor alterations, it did work for her as well for me, and so there was my signature!

I finally came up with the title: “Bibliothèque Saltimbanque“, named after the show Saltimbanco of Cirque du Soleil. If you take a closer look, you can even spot the title name within the image!


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