Glass Walls of Xmas Cheer - Page 2

Bay Area window painters use their art to bring holiday themes to homes, businesses
Fridays on the Homefront
Photo: courtesy John Brantley
Fridays on the Homefront
Photo: courtesy Franis Engel
Fridays on the Homefront
Photo: courtesy Franis Engel

Taylor and his two associates generally start a window with painting a white background, which tends to confuse observers.

"People are really curious [about] what you're doing because we're coming in with white," said Taylor, who started his business with a storefront in his hometown in 1982. As the figures take shape, additional confusion sets in before the final touch of painting eyes on the subjects.

"They all say, 'But the Santa has no eyes!'" he relates patiently. "We have to tell them, 'We're not done yet.'"

Taylor's Berkeley-based Window Painters does about 300 windows a year all over the Bay Area. Engel works only Marin County and is no longer climbing ladders to paint, but she has mentored several young painters and recommends them to interested parties.

"I have fished people out of homelessness with this," said the artist. "I've fished them right off the street!"

Engel used to use brushes to paint windows, but now favors Zig brand paint markers because "brushes take longer. It takes longer to change colors."

"I joke with people when they walk by that I'm tagging," she quipped, referencing the modern slang for graffiti.

As for subject matter, Engel said her customers most frequently request ribbons and snowflakes "because that's what I'm best at drawing." Nonetheless, she admits having done windows of Santa Claus in such pedestrian activities as talking on a cell phone, driving a car, and surfing the ocean waves.

Taylor finds Santa surrounded by a holly border to be his most popular request, noting, "That's a typical, traditional look that people like, and most homes choose that."

The Contra Costa native has noticed a "resurgence" in traditional Christmas images and messages in recent years after a couple decades marked by more generic holiday requests.

"We've also done Hannukah and Kwanzaa," he assures, adding, "Not for any homes yet, though, just for businesses."

For Engel's part, the mentoring is just as important as the business at this stage of her career.

"I know that window painting is a dying art. I want to train as many people as I can," she vows, noting that even the Ebenezer Scrooges out there like window paintings in December.

"Every year, someone says, 'Write me 'Bah humbug!'" she laughed. Regardless, the artist stated, "Basically, what I want to do is spread around the good feeling."