How to create an intricate pop-up menu

Joe Wilson and Helen Friel pop-up menu for The Savoy Hotel

Illustrator Joe Wilson explains how he produced a stunning pop-up menu for The Savoy Hotel.

Illustrator Joe Wilson was approached by The Savoy's head barman Chris Moore to illustrate a luxurious pop-up menu. Fifteen recipes were brought to life in intricate 3D, featuring their ingredients and inspirations. Wilson goes behind the scenes on the process…
The Savoy's barman, Chris Moore, had the idea of a pop-up cocktail menu. There is a history at the Savoy of working with illustrators to create something special and they wanted to keep this tradition going.
Chris had created 15 recipes inspired by various influences and things he was experimenting with. He had seen my work and thought it was a good fit, and I put Chris in touch with paper engineer Helen Friel. He was pretty blown away by her work, so it was decided that we would work on the project together.
It was very important to have the drink in the design. Every drink is served in a vintage glass or a special cup, with an element of theatre. The Ernest Hemingway cocktail, for example, is served with a book of his and a little ashtray with a burning cinnamon stick.
Bringing that into the illustration along with the ingredients and the drink, was what we were aiming for. It was also about conveying this intricate and high-end feeling – the whole thing had to be super-polished. There was a huge amount of freedom, which is so unusual in my everyday working life. Here's how we did it...

01. Think in 3D

Helen Friel and I had to plan a way of working at the beginning of the Savoy Hotel pop-up menu project that would suit us both
For each recipe, I had a description of the ingredients, reference pictures of the drinks and what Chris wanted in the image, and then it was left to me to decide how it would work. Helen and I both had to work on rough compositions but also think about it in a three-dimensional way, which I don't do very well.

02. Create flat drawings

For each recipe I did a flat drawing as a rough idea of how the design would look
It was quite complicated and took us a few runs before we had a system that we could work to and it started to make sense. For each recipe, I did a flat drawing that would give a rough idea of how the pop-up would look face-on, and then Helen took that, singled out the individual elements, and found a way to make it pop up.

03. Make the pop-up work

Helen would find some way to make the pop-up work and then send a photograph of a mock-up back to me
Helen then sent me photographs of mock-ups with shapes based on the original drawings I had made. This way I knew what I needed to draw individually and how I needed to separate my flat drawing into a four- or five-part drawing. Everything was drawn separately; once in the book everything would merge together.

04. Get client approval

I would do a detailed pencil rough after we had approval from The Savoy
There was a lot of back and forth between the two of us. Throughout the process, we sent the drawings and mock-up pictures to The Savoy to get approval. It pretty much worked in a similar way to my normal process, with me doing a detailed pencil rough after we had approval on a very early rough.

05. Work within a die-line

Helen designed the guidelines around my drawings
The design then went back to Helen, who would create a die-line I could work within. From my rough drawings she created a soft edge – she could only cut so much detail, as the final book had to be sturdy. My drawings would sit inside those edges, and I'd carry on in ink and colour as normal. Then it would all go back to Helen.

06. Make modifications

We modified the designs as we went
Sometimes I had to modify illustrations, making shapes a little simpler, to make it more robust. It's flat-printed, so the detail was never a problem, but shapes could be an issue. For instance the stems of champagne flutes had to be as thick as possible – if they got too thin they would collapse after a few uses.

07. Determine glue points

We spent a year doing the whole project, it was a long journey; the menus are lovely things
Finally, Helen made a white mock-up, so that the printers could determine how many glue points there were. With pop-ups it's all about glue points – the more you have the more complicated it is. They printed 1,000 copies. They're lovely things, and it's nice to see my work doing something that I've never seen it do before.
UK-based Joe Wilson is an illustrator specialising in highly detailed, hand-drawn illustrations and print. Working with a combination of pencil, ink and digital colour, his work focuses on detail and strong drawing, merging the traditional and contemporary.
Words: Anna Richardson-Taylor
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