Written by Amy Orangejuice McCarthy
This week the topic is my love and mild obsession, be warned before you read on, it is a highly addictive craft! I have got the help of two of my favouraite Folksy glass artists to help me explain all about Stained Glass, all three of us run small studios and work in all the main glass art methods, though the results of our labours are strikingly different! I have done this post a bit differently from normal and just concentrated on the process of making glass art, for further information on the artists included and their back ground and inspirations please click on the photos or their links and visit their shops and websites
There is nothing quite like picking up the piece you have been toiling over (sometimes for several days) for the first time and seeing it come to life as the light shines through the colours. Everything you make in stained glass becomes slightly magical with the daylight streaming through it and has been part of our architecture for over a thousand years, sometimes I find this sense of history a bit overwhelming, but bringing something new to an ancient craft is what I love best about working with glass.
There are several methods glass artists use to create pieces, traditional leading (like in church stained glass windows), the copper foil technique (most widely seen in Tiffany style lampshades) and applique glass, where the glass is stuck onto a backing of glass and then treated like a mosaic, just one you can see through. The basic tools required include, glass, lead or copper foil, lead knife, gronzing pliers, glass cutter, window cement and a soldering iron/solder.
Through the Round Window starts off with some basic facts about stained glass windows and glass, “..people might not be aware that the colour in a stained glass window is not painted on. The colour is actually part of the glass, produced when metallic compounds are added to the molten glass during the glassmaking process…The coloured glass sheet is then cut into small pieces, which is held together within a framework of lead, each colour being a separate piece of glass”.
To make a leaded panel start with a design, then cut the glass exactly the shape of the design, but slightly smaller than the design to leave room for the centre of the lead came. Once all the glass is cut you can begin building the panel up by joining glass together with lead, the glass and lead jigsaw is held in place with horse shoe nails until the whole panel is in place. All the joins in the lead are then soldered together with a soldering iron and the messy process of cementing all the gaps in the lead can be done. Then you wait…….several days for the cement to harden and give the piece a final clean up and blacken the lead and solder joins with an acid called patina, give the whole thing a shine and there it is, a traditional leaded panel. Glass cutting is often thought of as the hardest skill to acquire, but working with lead and cutting the came to the right length also takes skill. However, you have to first get the design right for the piece to work.
The other main way of constructing stained glass items is to use the copper foil technique, much lighter than leading and great for small items and 3d shapes, like lamps. DIOMO glass kindly explains the process, ” One of the techniques I often use is copper-foiling. It was developed by the Tiffany studios around the early 1900’s and no matter how big or small the piece, the same process is followed. It allows for more three dimensional work too. I cut every individual piece of glass, grind the pieces to remove the sharp edges, wrap copper foil tape around the edges and burnish. Each piece is then tin soldered. The pieces are then assembled and soldered together. Some items are assembled flat and some on a mold (like the lampshades) Finishing touches may include a black or copper patina on the solder, a hook and a few other decorative elements. It’s the choice of glass available to me and the design that make every piece unique! But when the design involves hundreds of pieces of glass…!” DIOMO glass uses this technique to great effect in her Tiffany style lamps
Once you have mastered constructing simple designs it is great fun to start playing with the surface texture of the glass and adding painted detail or etching the surface of the glass with acid, a pen or by sandblasting the surface of the glass. I (amyorangejuice) love to etch glass, I start by painting my design on the to the glass with PVA glue and then when it is dry I cover the piece with gloopy acid creme, which eats the surface of the glass and makes it matt, once I have washed this off I can do further etching to get deeper tones. A good example of this is in my columbine panel.
Through the Round window does lots of painting on her creations and she explains the process, “The paint comes in powder form and can be mixed with a variety of media (water, oil or vinegar)…then applied to the glass and fired in a kiln… This makes the paint fuse to the surface of the glass and gives it permanency….Another way of adding detail to glass is by the use of silver stain. This is not paint at all, but as the name suggests, it is a silver compound that, when applied to the glass and fired…produces a wonderful clear yellow colour. If used on pale blue glass, a greenish colour will be produced. You can see an example of silver stain on my “Here Comes the Sun” piece – the sun is a piece of yellow glass, but the hands are in fact silver stain on the clear textured glass of the cloud”.
Glass techniques take a while to learn and years to perfect, Through the Round Window explains some of the pit falls of our trade , “Sometimes, things don’t always go to plan. I’ve had a few disasters where the kiln has over-fired and ruined a whole day’s work, or a design just hasn’t worked out for various reasons, but I love taking the traditional craft of stained glass and bringing it up to date. The techniques I use are centuries old, but the pieces I produce have a contemporary feel to them”.
I can certainly empathise with that experience! Glass art can be a frustrating process and it takes a long time to perfect the craft, however, it is also really absorbing and very rewarding, so why not give it a go yourself?
Local education authorities and private studios around the country do a wide range of courses, from taster sessions to post graduate degrees and the best place to start to look for a suitable course is on this website http://stainedglassnews.co.uk which holds the register of stained glass artists.
Libraries are full of books about stained glass and U Tube is another great source of videos and tips. A long time ago when I had just started on Folksy I did a make for a small leaded panel with acid etched detail and you can see that here http://www.folksy.com/makes/250-Little-Bird
Items pictured are availaible at www.folksy.com – please just click the images for more details.