What do I know about making displays?

Some people have asked me for ‘tips’ for making a display, to which I reply that I’m not sure I know much. My feeling is that the galleries of other people’s work are the resource, but I can share what I have learnt through my own personal making process. The applies to ‘window displays’ as many people create ‘sets’ inside their rooms, which is another matter.

When I put together the first flyer for Window Wanderland I needed images of displays to inspire neighbours to have a go. So, doing what any self respecting artist would do, I looked to stealing images (like the ‘eye’ on the left, stolen from my friend Jules). I assumed that there was a world of images created by others, so I went to visit Mr Geoffrey Ooogle and typed in:

<Search: window displays> I got many amazing images of Posh shops making their stock look lovely, daytime mainly.

<Search: window displays at night> That’s when Santa and all of his mates arrived, followed by Pumpkins and ghosts then some Ladies of the night.  Not what I wanted, all of the displays I found were either themed, stained glass, but mainly daytime images and usually commercial.

So I had to make my own and I learnt quite quickly that it is no wonder Mr G. Ooogle was short of images: if you want to create an image  on your window, and make it backlit…for it to be seen at night it can be tricky. Colours do different things, paints change hue, stained glass isn’t an ‘Art’ for no reason, it’s all in reverse,it takes time and I am not known for my patience. I lit candles for one image, that was easy enough, though Ms Healthansafety wouldn’t be too keen. Then I created a display out of tissue paper, netting, loo rolls and made dodgy image in photoshop of lots of people having a disco in the front room. It got the message across though as you can see from the fact people made their own.


It was from this that I learnt a few things which you probably already know, but as I was asked I will share:

Look from outside at night
Go outside and look at your window, think about what you want to see in it, you will get ideas from being outside. If you make something in the room will people be able to get in to see it? Can you make something with a neighbouring window as well? Is there a tree you could hang stuff on? Do you want to make a display on the window or open the curtains and create something inside the room?

Cover the window
If you want someone to focus on a silhouette, cover the rest of the window. Below you can see the difference: your eye is drawn to what is inside the room until you use tracing paper. If you want to see out, make a hole in the paper but remember it may distract from the image. You can use tissue paper, but make sure it is not see through, like cellophane, unless you want people to see in.


Tracing paper, Outlines and glue

The heart below is made with tissue paper using dry glue like pritt stick straight onto tracing paper-  wet glue is a disaster. If you make your images on tracing paper you can cut them out and keep layering them, it’s a fantastic medium. I recommend at least 90 gsm tracing paper if you are going to use markers, less weight may bleed through. You can use greaseproof paper/paper tablecloths as well just as a ‘background cover’
The heart looks great but without the outline it could get lost. Sellotape is fantastic for sticking and after three days comes off without marking. If it does use WD40 or lighter fluid which gets anything off!  If you use blue tac remember it might show, see below! Generally black paper works best but can look a bit severe during the day, you can use any colour, even white, so long as it is thick enough to form a silhouette, if that’s what you are going for. Sugar paper is good as it’s thick enough so you can use colours for daytime and it will go dark at night. My windows are above the radiator so condensation wasn’t a problem but you might want to consider that, top tips welcome!


Testing and light
By far the best way is to see your display against the light. Sharpie pens will lose their intensity, tissue paper will change when it’s overlapped and that wonderful gift wrap you found might be too dense as a background. Put it against the window and test it at night to be sure, you will be amazed at how much it will change when you put a light behind it. Although it is dark outside so you do not need masses of light, it is worth testing. You may have to move a light behind it, I almost blew the house up balancing lights on tables!

If you want to make something that needs working out, just draw it to scale first using the grid method, its easy, wiki describes it best here. You can then measure your window and draw it at a scale of 1:10 putting in a grid and copy the artwork across.

Taking a good photo

Please do not use a flash when taking photos of your creations as it distorts the colours and does not render the lovely night-quality of your display. Square the window and get the frame in as well. If you can get hold of a good camera the higher the resolution the better.

I would say that the displays I have done that have worked well have been the simplest. The first year was the giraffe as my neighbours, Sue and Tony, were away and said I could have their house, they happen to have roll down canvas blinds on all of the windows, perfect.

I borrowed one of those cutter machines which allows you to scan in a small image which gets cut to size. That was tech porn for me, it was so exciting until 4 hrs later, an hour before the event, I had been on the phone to America twice as the machine wasn’t talking to my machine and I was losing the will. So it was a very shouty, monstrous me, ordering my family about, including my mother, with some scissors on the kitchen table and 30 mins later up the giraffe went. Technology was not necessary for this. For my house I used a tree, fairy lights and lots of kids shoes which I had covered with red glitter, They hung outside like advertising a glamorous drug dealer, though no one asked for any so that reference was just in my head.



Sometimes I can overstretch myself, and having been uncreative for many years I suppose I wanted to ‘express myself’. I thought that people might hang around on a freezing night and look in for a while. In this regard Window Wanderland is best kept simple as my failures showed. The theme for the second year was ‘No place like home’ as I had been in this house for fifteen years, seen my gorgeous kids grow up and been very frustrated all in one ball. I made the sign using the annoying cutter machine, but getting the words illuminated was really hard. Behind those words are loads of fairy lights hanging on for dear life with sellotape that kept falling off in the heat of the radiator. I created a 60 second slide show of all the images taken in that room, with the kids sitting in the same places, on the same sofa, goggling at the same TV ten years apart. I screened it on a sheet inside, but it was too long. No one hung around for a minute to ‘get it’, who can blame them in the sleet. I realised I did it for me.
This was also the problem with the recipe for Motherhood open in a cookbook, as far as I know only one person read it.  The third year was about life and death, in honour of my father’s recent peaceful exit from this stage. The skeleton was something I wanted to do, colouring in with sharpies and outlining was its own meditation, like making stained glass. Though I am glad I did it, but it was complicated so this year I have my thinking cap, it says ‘Simple’ on it.



I recommend that first you think about what you want to say, then say it as simply as you can. Don’t make it hard work unless you want to spend that time creating as it as it may put you off doing it again, there is no judgement in a Window Wanderland. Most people will pass by pretty quickly on their way to the next surprise but ANYTHING you do will be noticed and will brighten their world.