A Tale of Two Christmas Windows

Bent at the waist, brown paint-marker in hand, Ross Carvill draws a semi-circle, and stops.

A scarfed man peers at him through the other side of the window in the door of RóCo Café on Lord Edward Street.

“Hello!” says Carvill brightly, stepping back to let Barry Darmody in to order his coffee.

The door swoops closed. Carvill adds more brown lines. The shape of a coffee cup takes form, and soon more details appear, of steaming liquid and white marshmallows.

Next to it, Carvill’s pen sketches a floating yellow banner, in which he freehands the red words “Come in and warm up!”

Darmody looks on, holding his latte. “Very warm and fuzzy,” he says with a grin, and Carvill steps aside again to let him out.

Barista Danny Shum cranks up the Christmas playlist.

With customers coming in and out of the café, Carvill’s window work is constantly interrupted. But he doesn’t mind, he says. Even if it’s different from illustrating in a studio or park, as he often does.

“I live for people and I crave people, so any opportunity to bring people into my work is what I want,” he says, adding falling snowflakes around the coffee cup with a pearly white marker.

“People are less distracting than my own brain, to be honest,” says Carvill.

Baristas Eric Levy and Danny Shum watch Ross Carvill as he decorates. Photos by Claudia Dalby.

Carvill plucks red and green markers from his tote bag, which he’s decorated himself with a sketch of blue birds emerging from the smiling head of a tiger.

Tattoos of otherworldly animals travel up his arms. He opens his daily sketchbook to show a leopard man sitting on the Luas.

He favours vivid, fantastical characters in his cartoons. “I like to give people a window into places that you might not have imagined before.”

RóCo Café owner Róisín Hallahan says she complimented Carvill’s hand-drawn peacock mask when he picked up a coffee from RóCo, around a year and a half ago.

Carvill left his business card.

“I was delighted to get his art up there. It’s lovely and vibrant, and fun and colourful,” says Hallahan.

Normally, Carvill doesn’t like parting with original work, he says. “When you put so much of yourself into something you grow quite an attachment to it.”

Heaps of spent sketchbooks fill his rooms. “It’s a storage crisis as much as anything.”

During lockdown, he got caught up researching the longevity of art materials, seeking out the paints that take the longest to fade.

In sharp contrast, Christmas windows are wiped away come January. It’s forced Carvill to think about parting with his artworks.

“It’s actually interesting to be brought back to temporariness,” he says, because a window will be a never-ending canvas. “It’s not just going to be me hogging the window for the rest of eternity.”

Still, lots of people in the city will see his art on windows, he says. “I hope that it’s adding a bit of joy and happiness into people that come by.”

Ross Carvill decorates the window of RóCo Café.

Carvill crouches beneath the breakfast bar.

He’s drawn a gingerbread man with a cheeky grin, inspired by RóCo chef Deangelyn Hernandes’ homemade cookies.

“Drawing big is fun,” says Carvill. “When a character’s literally like the size of your head, it’s always very exciting.”

A toddler rolls by in a pram. Under a knitted hat, their curious eyes fix on the gingerbread man.

Hallahan, the owner, says she would come into town with her mam and dad when she was a kid. “We’d go and see the windows and we did that every year.”

That’s why she loves Christmas windows. “The excitement, the magic of Christmas, it all kind of filled into that, creating a big buzz,” she says.

Carvill’s drawings make her smile, she says. “It’s a real warm feeling.”

Shum, the barista, says he’ll create a Christmas smores coffee to pair with the ginger cookies. “Trying to put the vibe back into us.”

The last year or two has been low, he says. “The feeling, I missed it. Definitely missed it, because I love Christmas!”

He turns back to the coffee machine, with a jolly chuckle.

Under the breakfast bar, Carvill squiggles a yellow star atop the green outline of a Christmas tree.

“I feel very proud to be able to provide a window to other worlds beyond the four walls,” he says.


Later that day in Lucan, Louise Butler squints up at a window.

She spins her paintbrush in a pot that once held hummus, coats it in yellow, and lifts it to the glass.

Butler, a multimedia artist, has been decorating Christmas windows for five years.

Today, she’s painting the windows of Alexandra Holeiciuc’s house. The brief has come up from Holeiciuc’s son Lucas.

Holeiciuc asked him what he wanted. He laid his Pokémon cards out on the sofas, she says, with a laugh. “Pokémon everything.”

Butler glides the paintbrush along an outline of Pikachu, the fuzzy yellow cutie from the Pokémon franchise.

In the window, he’s frozen in a gleeful leap, wearing a Santa hat.

Painting Christmas windows is fun because it makes kids happy, she says. “It is kind of an escape from my normal way of doing things in the studio. It’s all so quick.”

She keeps her studio loaded with paintings. “That are never going to be finished,” she says.

She works on portraits of well-known figures, like the Queen of the United Kingdom, Jesus, and George Michael. She paints animals too, on big canvases scattered with blurred colours and shapes.

She’s always changing them, she says, never fully happy.

“I’ll document it along the way and then a few years later, I’ll come across a photograph of a painting as it was a few years ago and go, oh, that was really good, what have I done to it?” she says.

Louise Butler paints a candy cane.

When Butler first started painting Christmas windows, she used too much paint. Watering down the paint is key, she says. “You’re much quicker, and it’s easier to wash off and everyone’s happy.”

Pikachu, fully painted now with his yellow ears and red mouth, looks strangely washed-out.

“It does look pretty rough from inside,” she says. “But I gotta trust that there’s enough paint on it.”

Holeiciuc takes Lucas’ hand and they step out** **of the front door, arching their heads around the side of the house where the windows are.

“Oh my goodness,” says Holeiciuc, standing back to take it in. “It’s woah, woah woah. It’s different.”

She raises her hands above the window, imagining more decorations and lights. “Icicles, I’ll buy this year, and I’ll change that one. It’s exciting.”

“It looks so much cooler out here,” says Butler, glancing at Holeiciuc’s pleased face. “Coolest house on the road.”

“You like it?” Holeiciuc asks Lucas. “You want to show your brother later when he wakes up?

“Yes,” he says, with a shy smile.

Holeiciuc picks him up and he points at each of the snowflakes, freshly painted on the window.

 

Author:

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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