I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to illustrate two shop windows lately – the first at Sheen Bookshop, and the second at the House of Illustration. I’d never done one before, so I asked around amongst my illustrator friends and was given lots of good advice. So to return the favour in the future to anyone else who gets the opportunity (and to remind myself if I do some more), I thought I’d note down some tips.
- Ask the shop to send through a photo of the window. This gives you the chance to layer in some different design ideas in photoshop and see how they look in the correct proportions of the window. Keep different elements in different layers and move them around till it feels right.
- Print it out, and then flip it and print out again in reverse. This will help massively especially with text, as you will most likely be working from the inside for something to be seen from the outside so will be working in reverse.
- I used Posca pens, though I know some illustrators favour acrylics. The benefit of the Posca pens is they are so clean and easy to use – but the drawbacks are that they are expensive and don’t last long, and it’s hard to get large flat areas of colour (I solved this problem by smudging with a clean cloth immediately after applying the paint, then letting it dry, and then adding a covering of little marks. Looks good for fur but painstakingly slow! You can blend two colours eg. yellow and red to get an orangey effect, but you have to work really quickly with the blending cloth.
- The window will need to work both ways – from the inside and from the outside. One difficulty I found was that in bright light black tends to become almost invisible from the outside. I got around this as best I could by taking the infill colour right up to the edge of the black.
- Start with the black lines (if you’re using black that is) and give them a good half hour to dry really well. Blue by the way shows up really well from the outside.
- Have plenty of clean cloths or rags to wipe away any mistakes.
- Back to the pens – they come in many sizes. I found the 8mm chisel tips PC-8K were good, and also 4.5-5.5mm bullet tip (PC-7M). The 2 windows shown above used up the best part of two pink pens, and the yellow and white had pretty much run out too.
- Keep nipping outside to check how it’s looking.
- The Sheen Bookshop window took about 3 hours, the HOI one 4 hours.
- If you get a chance, go for it! The shops really appreciate it and it’s great promotion for your work, as well as fun to do. Good luck!
In 2019 I did three windows for King Otter (thankyou Nomad Books, Pickled Pepper and Salt and Pepper cafe). This time I avoided any fill-in colour, which has several advantages: it looks cleaner and neater, it’s quicker to do and it doesn’t use up the Posca pens so fast. So I have definitely concluded that this is the way forward. I also avoided using any black at all, as I find it becomes almost invisible in this context. Bright colours like blue and pink work best. The other development was to use Posca pens of different sizes, so I had a few smaller-tipped ones for details (like the veins on the leaves or the dots on the flowers. Don’t forget you can practice on your windows at home.
I have been chatting on this topic with fellow illustrators and another tip I heard was to flip then print out your image/text LARGE then tape it to the outside of the window facing in – this gives you something to trace from (and can be re-used for future windows).