What do I know about making window displays?

Thanks for reading this blog, if you would like to know more visit windowwanderland.com (updated Jan 2019)

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 that ping around online are the best resource, but I can share what I have learnt through my own personal making process. If you have your own ‘top tips’ for displays please share them to me at admin@windowwanderland.com.

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,  assuming 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, affordable, and making you want to buy it, but these images were mainly daytime.

<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 of course. All of the displays I found were either themed, stained glass, but mainly daytime images and mostly commercial. So I had to make my own as it was important to show a few possible displays for the first event. That’s when 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 you almost need to think back to front.
Colours do different things, paints change hue, paper you thought was transparent turns out to be surprisingly thick. After all, 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. So I lit candles for one image, that was easy enough, though Mr Healthansafety wasn’t keen, my kids loved lighting them. Then I created displays out of black card, tissue paper, netting, loo rolls and made dodgy images in photoshop of lots of people having a disco in the front room. It got the message across though for the first event….

I recommend that first you think about what you want to say, then say it as simply as you can. Limit the 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. Remember, most people will pass by pretty quickly on their way to the next surprise but ANYTHING you do will be noticed.

Look from outside at night
This is by far the most important element, as every display is ‘site specific’, where your window is, and what it is surrounded by is crucial.  Go outside and look at your window, think about what you want to see in it, you will get ideas from being outside. Lighting is one of the key parts of the displays, so have a look at the light from your window, and around the outside of the house.

Decide what to do
: 2D display, a ‘set’ inside the room or lights in the garden? Do you want to make a display on the window or open the curtains and create something inside the room? Can you make a communal display with a neighbours window as well? Is there a tree you could hang stuff on? If you make something in the room will people be able to get in to see it? These are questions you can answer by looking outside, imagining you are looking in.

Materials to use, discover tracing paper!
If you want someone to focus on a silhouette, the best medium to use as your ‘canvas’ is tracing paper. This is for two reasons, one it means you can create the display anywhere that is comfortable, like on a table, then hang it once finished. Two, it makes sure the background is not distracting. Below you can see the difference: your eye is drawn to what is inside the room until you use tracing paper or tissue paper. Make sure it is not see through, like cellophane, as although it is coloured you will still see through it. This also allows for you being in your room and not being seen…


If you make your images on tracing paper keep layering tissue paper onto them, it’s a fantastic medium. You can use greaseproof paper/paper tablecloths as well just as a ‘background cover’ with tissue paper on top.

Wet glue is a disaster, with tissue paper use dry glue like pritt stick straight onto tracing paper. Sellotape is fantastic for sticking and after three days comes off without marking, blue tack may fall off, and you can see the shadow!. If the sellotape leaves a mark, use WD40 or lighter fluid which gets anything off!

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. Sugar paper is good as it’s thick enough so you can use colours for daytime, thin enough to cut well 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!

Tissue paperbishopston-rhino-lion-giraffe-elephant-tree-bird-plants-wildlife-field-grassland-animals-nature-sky-sunset-sunrise--1024x675
Is fabulous for ‘pop art’ style block colour, and if layered up can make interesting images. It is fragile though, which is why it is worth using the tracing paper as a canvas. If you want a very specific image with ‘black lines’ between the colours, you can use black paper or large chunky ‘paint pens’. These are expensive, but if you have a lot of lines to do it might be easier than cutting out black paper. I know that I have been far too hasty, thinking intricate designs would be easy….

You can use ‘sharpie’ pens on tracing paper, but  they can become less vibrant. I recommend at least 90 gsm tracing paper if you are going to draw with marker pens, less weight may bleed through. If you want to do bright images then you can buy lightweight white paper from Art shops which is what the sharpies were on for my ‘skeleton’, in honour of my father’s peaceful exit from this stage. It took a long time, but was meditative!

You can use paint on windows, but generally the colour will not be the one you expect without specialist paints. This ‘local fish’ was painted on special acetate, it looks great! Less specialised paints will not be so vibrant, but they can still look wonderful if you are going for a monochrome style.

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
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, send your images to pr@windowwanderland.com so we can share them!

I would say that the best displays I have done have been the simplest. The first year was the giraffe as my neighbours 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 expensive cutter machines  which allows you to scan in a small image and cuts it 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 their customer services line in America twice as the cutter machine wasn’t talking to my computer, and I was losing the will. So it was a very shouty, monstrous me, ordering my family about, including my elderly 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.


no-place2-1080x1449Sometimes I overstretch myself, 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 show.
One year the theme was ‘No place like home’ as I had been in my house for fifteen years, seen my gorgeous kids grow up and been very frustrated all in one. 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 60 seconds was far too long. No one hung around to ‘get it’, who can blame them in the freezing rain?

motherhood cake wholeThis was also the problem with my ‘recipe for Motherhood’ next to my fake cake, as far as I know only one person read it, I realised I did the display for myself and I vowed to be simpler for future displays…

Share your tips or stories with me at admin@windowwanderland.com.





10 thoughts on “What do I know about making window displays?

Add yours

  1. Hi Lucy. Amazing images, very helpful tips, thank you so much for sharing! I see tissue paper comes in all sorts of weights, measured in gsm, what weight of tissue paper is best to use do you think? Best wishes, B.


    1. HI Brian,
      Thanks for your comments. In my opinion you are best to get the lightest weight tissue paper as you can double it up to make more concentrated colours. Enjoy! thanks, Lucy


  2. Great article, thank you. For your larger (amazing!) safari design, did you use tracing paper as your base for your design, and if so did you find larger sheets/rolls that covered each half window, or stick smaller ones together? Thanks 🙂


  3. Hi Emma, thanks for your kind comments. The safari design was a local window to me one year, so I couldn’t see how they did it but I thought it shows brilliantly how you can use coloured paper. Having used smaller sheets stuck together, I personally now use the rolls of tracing paper, I bought a roll five years ago and it is still going! If you can afford to buy one, you can always split the cost with friends or use it over years and I find the quality is really good. Happy creating! x


  4. I placed my window display with the tracing paper facing outside and the tissue paper and silhouettes facing inside. I wasn’t sure which way to do it and decided I’d rather look at the design on the inside, but I’m not sure if turning it around next year would be better, and having the tissue paper facing outside?


    1. Hi Deb, I know, it’s hard to decide, but it looks better for passers by during the day if it is facing out. I decided to face mine out as during the day the light comes in, so it looks good for me inside anyway, even thought it’s facing out, and at night it works outside. It is a hard thing, working back to front and inside out! Thanks for your comment. Lucy


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