Illustrator Joel Howard has captured over 200 of London's most iconic and charming shopfronts in his latest book, which immortalises the diversity of the city's stores in his inimitable style.
Titled London Shopfronts, the book also includes accompanying descriptions by London-based Time Out journalist Rosie Hewitson that detail the history and culture of each building. Acting as a sequel to his previous book, NYC shopfronts, this carefully-crafted edition acts as a trans-Atlantic love letter to a city Joel is very fond of.
Featuring illustrations of some of the capital's most-profiled stores, including Hamleys, Fortnum & Mason, Beigel Bake and Daunt Books, London Shopfronts also contains hidden gems such as Khan’s Bargains and the Peckhamplex cinema. Divided into Central, North, East, South and West areas, the book is a visual celebration of everything from restaurants, to bookshops, tattoo parlours to florists.
For Joel, the idea for his shopfront books came from a lifelong love of hand lettering and the sign painting that would appear on older small businesses. "I have sketches from years and years ago of local shops in Brooklyn or Manhattan, New York," he tells Creative Boom. "During the lockdown I started in earnest to draw shops that mattered to me and my family. This became my first book NYC Storefronts."
It was while working in this book that Joel and his editor Ali Gitlow started discussing ideas for a sequel that documented other cities. "She had just moved back to the States from London and I’ve always loved the city, so it was a natural progression," he adds.
"I was excited as it was during the time when you could see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel and businesses were dusting themselves off and starting up fresh. I wanted to capture and celebrate that energy and honour those local shops/owners."
With the project originating during lockdown, this made it difficult for Joel to fly out and draw the buildings from life. Luckily his archive of photographs came to the rescue. "I haven’t been to London for a few years, so for some of hte drawings I used my images from previous trips and checked online to see if they were accurate," he says.
Thanks to the help of Rosie and the team at Prestel, Joel was able to make sure his illustrations were up to date and that key details had not been overlooked. And as for working from photos, this appears to be Joel's preferred way of working. "Even in New York I would take pictures and draw from reference at home. Much more comfortable!"
Completed over the course of six months, the 200 plus illustrations in London Shopfronts have been primarily drawn with ballpoint pen on paper. "Occasionally I used brush markers and some of my kid’s blow markers that have an airbrush quality," Joel adds, with his style getting more and more detailed as the project progressed."
When it came to selecting which shopfronts should appear in the book, Joel reveals that it was a team effort. "Ali and I had our selections and we worked with Rosie Hewitson who wrote about each shop," he says.
"Rosie’s insight was vital to the book working. We strove to make it as inclusive and complete a representation of the city as possible. We wanted to include the big name, must-see shops as well as the independent smaller ones that give the city so much flavour."
And with so many shopfronts on display, Joel finds it difficult to choose a favourite. "What I love about these books are the stories that come up when someone remembers their own experience," he says. "In that regard I think fondly of one of my first visits where I went with friends to Bar Italia then Ronnie Scott’s. Working on those drawings was a really fun way to remember the moments spent there."
He concludes: "A few other favourites would be Khan’s Bargains! Drawing all of the bits that they sell was so fun I can’t wait to explore the entire store and see what they have. I’m a big coffee drinker so Algerian Coffee Stores for my fix is another highlight. Oh, another spot is Papo’s Bagels, drawing their shop was difficult as it’s at the end of an alleyway but I’ve heard very good things about their New York style bagels…"
London Shopfronts is available to buy now from Prestel for £19.99.