My first encounter with the Saltaire Living Advent Calendar was a leaflet through the door not long after I moved to the village in 2015. Saltaire Inspired was looking for local residents to create a window, and the leaflet emphasised that you didn’t need to be an artist. I loved the idea and signed up immediately. What better way to cheer up dark December nights?
That year, and every year until now, I went to social events where people who’d taken part before shared top tips. For example, what materials to use, or how to avoid a foggy window. It was a lovely way to meet neighbours and feel part of the community. Unfortunately, as with so many events, in-person socials and artist workshops can’t happen in the same way this year.
The good news, though, is that the Saltaire Living Advent Calendar CAN happen. As #helloSaltaire demonstrated early in lockdown, window art can be enjoyed in a socially distanced way. It brightens our daily walks, and it can also be shared online with people who can’t visit us this year.
I’m so excited to light up my window for the 6th year in a row. As Saltaire Inspired can’t host the usual social and workshop this year, I’ve put together a few tips and tricks for other houses taking part.
1. Let the light in
I learned the hard way with the first window I designed - a 7 swans inspired snow queen painting - to use transparent materials. It’s much easier and visually more effective to backlight a window. More importantly, it doesn’t matter how fabulous a painting looks from the outside, after a month of permanent darkness in your living room you will hate it being up! I’ve used tissue paper every year since.
2. Beg, steal and borrow
Every year, my window planning process starts with a sort-of idea, then a search of Google images for other artwork on that theme. I’m not great at making up designs, so by browsing and saving pictures that I like, I can pick and choose elements that I think would work well. 2016’s window, for example, was a composite of a northern lights painting, tree silhouettes and a photo of Joni Mitchell ice skating in a nod to my favourite Christmas song, River.
3. Keep it simple and playful
By 2017 I’d learned that a black silhouette on a white background shows up best by far, especially if your windows are a little foggy. Mine and Jed’s homage to our favourite Christmas films was easy to make, because each panel had its own cutout that we could work on individually. It was also our most popular window, as everybody loved the quiz element of trying to guess them all. (We heard a LOT of wrong guesses from our living room and were often tempted to shout the right answer!)
4. Save the date
When you volunteer to do a window, you can request a particular date to switch on. You can also get creative with the date you’re given. One of my all time favourite Saltaire Living Advent windows was a clever neighbour who requested December 23rd for a ‘Delia Says Defrost’ turkey themed window! In my first year taking part, I chose the 7 swans theme for 7th December. In 2018, I asked for winter solstice - the darkest day of the year - as the perfect date to unveil a ‘Hope in the dark’ window.
5. Make it personal
One of the things I love most about Saltaire Living Advent Calendar is reading the stories behind the windows when the photos are posted online. It’s a little glimpse into the lives of people in our community and what matters to us. You might include something in your window to mark a special event - 2018’s lighthouse design was a nod to Jed and I getting married at Buchan Ness that year. Or make a window to celebrate something you love, like our 2019 Star Wars window! (Though please note, for copyright reasons, designs like this don’t make it into Christmas card packs.)