It’s becoming a Christmas tradition – making a paper cut ‘stained glass’ window display for my studio window. I almost didn’t this year, snowed under as I’ve been with plans and work for 2017*, taking my suitcase of art to markets and fairs, trying to keep up online and generally tying up loose ends.
I thought I might give making the window a miss. One Sunday in late November, as I was raking the leaves in the front garden, a passer by stopped and asked when the window would be ready. I leaned wearily on my rake. Inside my head, I was explaining why I wouldn’t be making one this year, but out of my mouth merrily came ‘Oh, not long now! Perhaps two weeks!’**
And so that was that. Sometimes it takes a stranger to point out the obvious, in this case the fact that people are beginning to look forward to my Christmas studio window. I’m so chuffed to bits at the thought of that! How could I disappoint?
The trouble is, every year I make it, I forget how tricky it is to achieve. Like childbirth, or untangling the Christmas lights, the future of the human race depends on forgetting the pain, and only remembers the prize. And so it was, again. To prevent this hair tearing and teeth gnashing happening next year, here follows a step by step how-to guide, for my own benefit, and your amusement over a coffee and a mince pie.
Think of a Christmas carol you would like to illustrate. Spend a happy morning looking up carol lyrics, and singing out of tune. Find a phrase that resonates and conjures something up***. Spotify your way through the entire Christmas cannon from Silent Night to Fairytale in New York.
Get drawing. Decide on a design. Scrap that one, and decide on something that will fit the shape of the window, and be at least possible to cut. Prerequisites: bold, graphic, charming, clean & sharp.
Get out the black paper**** you sensibly bought double quantities of last year, and find the tissue paper. Clean the scalpel (covered in paint).
Measure the window. And again. And again. Loosely tape the black sheets of paper together and draw out the exact dimensions of the window.
Original sketch in hand, and using a white pencil, freehand the design onto the huge black paper canvas, trying to prevent the elements of design crossing over from one sheet to another. (You’ll be glad of this later!). You can’t always avoid it though.
Loosely disassemble the whole thing into separate sheets. Lock the door and do not answer the phone. Put cats outside (sorry, kitties!). Using cutting mat and scalpel, carefully cut out the design. Treat blisters from scalpel as you go.
Lay out each fragile sheet carefully (most are just a series of holes by this point) and layer/glue tissue paper ON THE BACK. Start to picture the effect of the whole thing (if you should ever reach that point). Layer different colours of tissue paper to achieve the colour you require.
Add little details ON THE FRONT of each sheet (eyes, mouths, hair clips).
Almost there! Clean the window, clear the windowsill of this year’s treasures – feathers, seedheads, stones, keys, vintage tins. Resolve not to hoard so much next year. Hop on and off the desk, taping up each sheet in its place on the window, and praying it fits. This is where you will be glad each sheet stands alone, as matching the design from one sheet to another requires immense patience (and more of the below, see next point).
Run up and down two flights of stairs a million times, out the door, across the road, look up at window, spot what’s going wrong, run back upstairs, adjust. Repeat again and again until all looks good… I can’t believe it. It’s up. Have a little cry.
When the light falls, turn on the overhead lights, and position two lamps shining on the window. Run up and down and in and out a few more times until all is perfect. Receive a text from the neighbours over the way: ‘Thank you.’
You’re welcome, truly. It is always worth the work! I’m glad I did it. It’s for you all to enjoy. Have a good Christmas!
*Plans for next year – a new portfolio, new website, a new series of paintings, poems published, more illustration work, pitches for children’s books. Yippee!
**Assertiveness training required in 2017. If you have any ideas for courses, let me know 🙂
***I wanted to conjure up something of my Christian faith. As well as the gorgeous words of the carol, the adoring animals and the musicians worshipping the newborn King, the key I’ve depicted on the angel’s belt speaks to me of Jesus being the key to the Universe. I’ve found He unlocks things; the trap of anxiety and worrying, the troubles we face, the agonies we hear about. I keep His key in my pocket daily. I don’t shout about it, but that key keeps me going.
****Canford paper, good quality stuff. It won’t tear.
*****Down in one!