Header Image—detail of Mercury Window

Stained Glass

‘Glass is a hard, brittle, more or less transparent substance produced by fusion, usually consisting of mutually dissolved silica and silicates that also contain soda and lime’.

I couldn’t have put it better myself, thanks Wikipedia! Glass occurs naturally as volcanic glass or obsidian, and as dung shaped nerdules after lightning strikes in deserts. These are called tektites, the lightning being attracted to the desert by buried iron, and fusing the sand on its way through.

The making of glass objects probably began around 8,000 BC. The discovery of glass is attributed to a Phoenician barbecue, to quote from Pliny the Elder:

‘A ship belonging to traders in soda once called here, so the story goes, and they spread out along the shore to make a meal. There were no stones to support their cooking-pots, so they placed lumps of soda from their ship under them. When these became hot and fused with the sand on the beach, streams of an unknown liquid flowed, and this was the origin of glass’.

Pliny, 362
Laminated Lamp detail, 2005
Laminated Lamp detail, 2005

Although Pliny was a Roman, 23 AD to 79 AD, this is a very modern interpretation of ‘history’, attributing an important discovery to chance. Thus, at the very beginning of glass making, and indeed at the very beginning of everything there is a conundrum: chance or inspired discovery? Random events or Intention? Did our ancestors simply stumble into invention or was there something else? Did a bit of raw flesh fall into a fire, to be hastily snatched out by a hairy hand and found to be finger-lickingly delicious? And what about the wheel? The working of metals? The domestication of animals? All chance discoveries? Of course, we don’t really know— and if we watch children at play in a sand-pit, they can be very inventive. Point is, there is something very random about chance and if we apply it to our own lives, might feel vaguely disappointed.

I moved back to the Cotswolds in March 1984, and by about June was well on the way to acquiring basic stained glass skills. I had finally moved from Thornbury (the place where I grew up) to be near the then ‘emerging’ Ruskin Mill venture. Ruskin Mill College has become a well-established institution, giving  practical training, guidance and a therapeutic environment, to the ‘socially challenged’. I got a gardening job at Cotswold Chine Home School, a then Steiner School for the ’challenging’. The principle (an enlightened man) wished to commission me for a stained-glass window. I had never done any stained-glass, but as ‘luck’ would have it, living right next to the school was the stained-glass artist Mr Edward Payne (no pun intended). His father, Mr A. Payne had also been a local stained glass artist.

I left my fine art college in 1978, having completed a sculpture course, with the vague sense that I somehow needed to add skill and knowledge of materials to ‘ideas’. The emphasis at college had been very much on ‘thinking’ and the actualising of thought. I wanted more, a kind of creative journey through materials and a conscious development of skills and tool use.

Mosaics

Kaspar Hauser, detail 2013
Kaspar Hauser, detail 2013

More or less the whole of 1983 was spent doing ceramic mosaics, working as an un-official community artist in Camphill Thornbury. This led to a re-awakening of interest in early Christian imagery, Icons and painting, particularly the Byzantine stuff, a going backwards in time, as it were. This excursion into the past was countered by developing a contemporary technique using randomly chipped shapes of tile of different thicknesses. This allowed for more expression and a more painterly style. Mosaic making prepared the way for stained glass. Both are sharp, brittle and unforgiving materials, whose surface or intrinsic colours cannot be mixed but need to work together, side by side, to create subtly and tone.

Interestingly, this was a personal and unconscious, (in-so-far as I did not have stained glass in mind) re-living of a process that had unfolded on the greater stage of history. One can imagine a sort of ‘metamorphic process’, in which the natural rounded pebbles used in Macedonian floor mosaics, become the square stone tesserae of Roman villas and courtyards. These underfoot mosaics are transferred to the interior walls of early churches as glass paste, and are finally transfigured into stained-glass by the Romanesque and Gothic Renaissance. Thus, there is a process of ‘shift’ through location and material, moving from dense, light-reflecting stone flooring, through semi-opaque glass paste wall decoration, to light transmitting coloured glass. Substance is refined!

Mr. Payne

Edward Payne was 79 when I began my once weekly, two hourly training sessions with him. Born in 1906, his life had spanned the greater part of the 20th century. He was a living bridge with a bygone era; a time when Britain still had an Empire, when decency and respect were still the general currency of human social interaction (at least at home), a time before the great machinery of commercialism had spun away all other values in its wake. He was probably one of the last living representatives of the Arts/Crafts movement. This movement, started in the 19th century and manifesting strongly in William Morris (1834-1896), John Ruskin (1819-1900) and Christopher Whall (1849-1924) proclaimed the ideal of ‘the total work’, that the artist should be both the designer and the executer. That he should be responsible for ‘concept’ and ‘object’; that the artificial barrier, the great divide between artist and craftsman erected in the Renaissance, be pulled down. The Artist/Craftsman was the ideal; inspired, contemplative, skilled and practicable.

My semi-conscious longing, expressed after leaving art college, to add skill and knowledge of materials to my artistic endeavours, seemed to be realised. Mr Payne embodied everything I could have wished for in a teacher. He was tall and bespectacled and, it would be no exaggeration to say, ‘shining with goodness’. Both his age and his temperament made him slow. It would probably be more accurate to say, he moved at a speed that was not rushed, that was not modern, not governed by the urgent short cuts of economy. Entering his house and studio was always special, the shallow nonsense of everyday life simply fell away and one could get on with the far more interesting business of ‘being’.

Madonna and Child Edward Payne 1987
Madonna and Child Edward Payne 1987

Mr Payne took me through the basics of traditional stained glass window making; design, colour sketches, cartoon, glass cutting, painting, firing and leading up. Much of his teaching was by example and focussed on– ‘This is how you do it’, rather than a detailed breakdown of a process into its logical components. This meant I had to fill in lots of gaps, do a lot of self-learning, it also meant I was left very free. Free to develop my own methods and free to make my own mistakes. Stained glass did not come easy. It was in many ways inimical to my nature– precise, exacting, disciplined, indirect, demanding both skill and patience. I am not naturally a very skilful person,– in fact I am probably quite dispraxic. I had always envied people who could, say- turn the key in a lock, skilfully transfer something held in the right hand to the left, possibly using their teeth, give the door a gentle nudge with a knee and slide in. I would always have to drop whatever I was holding, the key was always the wrong way around and I would usually have to unlock and lock the door several times before gaining entry.

Mr. Payne’s Last Commission

I assisted Mr Payne in his last big commission; the four windows for the Cirencester hospital chapel. He was eighty-three and in need of ‘physical help,’ but was as creative, conscientious and exacting as ever. With painstaking care, he had constructed a cardboard model of the chapel’s interior with little strips of ‘stained glass’, to give an impression of outcome. One peered into this tiny model and saw with what infinite care and patience he had constructed his dolls house panels; window glass, mosaiced over with colour and painted with black line. I was responsible for painting some of the lesser features, mainly patterns and was permitted to paint one picture panel; Jacob wrestling with the Angel. This panel was inspired by an El Greco painting. The two lancet windows flanking the altar depicted religious scenes, the two at the sides, badges and emblems.

In later years, I sometimes took people to see these chapel windows as an example of our collaboration. Then one time, I can’t remember the year, the two religious windows were no longer there. Nobody seemed to know what fate had befallen them. I speculated that they had been removed in a misguided political correctness pogrom by some atheistic quasi-socialist director. Naturally, it goes without saying, that it’s totally inappropriate to have Christian themes in a Christian chapel in a Christian country! I mean– how exclusive is that–where are the Hindus, Muslims and Jews to go and pray? What these haters of religion fail to understand completely, is that the truly religious, respect Religion where ever it is found and however it is practised. But then –  we live in a post-Christian society, where, along with, the churches’ many transgressions, indifference and ignorance is the norm. Here’s an incident which just about sums it up. Two ‘Youts’ at Christmas time passing a little illuminated display of crib figures outside a school, the one says to the other;

******* hell, they’ve even put religion into Christmas now’!

Workshop Teaching

The very first students started their training at Ruskin Mill College. a pioneer group of two. I taught mosaics and stained glass. As so often in my life, I was put into the strange position of having to ‘jump ahead’, teach stained glass when I was very much a beginner. If I had aspired to be a craftsman, this would have been anathema; the very idea of passing on un-perfected skills and instilling ‘bad practice’ in the next generation, would have made the true practitioner wring his hands and cry out in agony. But then, I never thought of myself as a craftsman– I was an artist using stained glass as a creative medium, and as such, had no scruples about teaching. My strange torturous journey was the strange and torturous journey of my students. It forced me to rationalise all the various processes and to develop an appropriate curriculum.

Stark economic necessity dictated my role as stained glass teacher at Ruskin Mill. Usually I was just a little ahead of my students, but sometimes I got myself into deep water. Eventually I was running four separate courses; Ruskin Mill students, Wynstone’s Steiner school pupils who were bussed to me once a week, private evening class students and a contingent from Stroud Art College as it was then called. My un-readiness sometimes had amusing consequences. One gentleman from the art college group, had just finished puttying his piece (a somewhat mucky procedure) and wished to cleanse his hands– frantically I searched everywhere for white spirit– alas I had run out. I still see his futile efforts to depart, the smeary blackened fingers working furiously around the unmoving door knob of my workshop. It was indeed a steep learning curve, but brought in consequence, the absolute need to fill in the gaps– to internalise each process and articulate it.

Stages of Making

tools image

Number one

Make a design. Keep it smallish and very simple. Use wax or oil crayons (or something equally forgiving) and sketch something out. Blocks of colour with a few details will do. Don’t make a very ‘fancy’ shape. Stained-glass is like a picture, concentrate on what you see ‘in it’, rather than what’s around it. Tools; from left to right; hammer, nails, pincers, putty knife and oyster knife.

Number two

Trace your colour design. Use good quality tracing paper, fix it down with masking tape so that it doesn’t move, select and trace the main features. Cover the back of the tracing paper with graphite and retrace the design onto clean, white paper. You can now make adjustments, change the angles of divisions, modify the shapes and clean up the design.

Number three

It’s a good idea to practice some glass cutting at this stage, before the design is fully ‘hatched’. Practice on 2 or3 mm clear glass. Place glass onto a piece of cardboard or rubber (to cushion the cutting impact) and choose your cutter—see illustration. The standard glass cutter is the best for following templates but is not the easiest to manipulate. Practice making straight ‘scores’, pulling the cutter towards yourself. Many people seem to learn by pushing the cutter. This does not work so well, there is less control and the danger of a wobble. Break the glass using a grozier, see illustration. Practice curvy lines, break the glass by tapping lightly underneath. Practice using a template. Cut out a piece of paper, (don’t make it too complex), stick the paper to the glass with Blue tac, (thank God for these humble inventions) and cut around it). You will discover that certain shapes are easy to cut while others are near on impossible. If you observe how glass ‘smashes’, this can give you a clue as to how it should be cut! You will notice that right angles and extreme horn-shapes are uncuttable. In Medieval times people did not have glass cutters, the relatively small pieces of glass that could be produced, were all either nibbled with grozing irons or scored with heated dividing irons and then cracked apart. It is very likely that the design was sometimes based around the available glass. Back to the drawing board. Re-design with the new knowledge of glass cutting experience.

Grozing a curve, image
Grozing a curve

Number four

Put some over-lapping sheets of carbon paper (yes you can still get it), between your design and a new sheet of paper beneath it. Place nice, crisp, good quality tracing paper above the design and stick the whole lot down with masking tape (another brilliant unsung invention). Strap everything to a board rather than to a table, as this gives you more room for manoeuvre. Trace the design carefully. Do not separate the papers! There’s one more process. Get a special modified fork, see illustration, and go over all the lines except the ones on the outer edge. This creates a kind of ‘train-track’ or double line on the lower sheet of paper, making the templates. Separate the sheets and hope they are not all blurred and smeary. You might have to make some corrective pencil lines. You are now ready to cut out your templates.

Number five

Cut out the templates with sharp scissors, you need to make two cuts for each edge. You are cutting away tiny strips of paper, 2mms wide, these are the ‘gaps’ that will be necessary for the leads. Many modern craftsmen no longer use templates, drawing Sharpy lines directly onto the glass. I guess I am an old-fashioned sod and would recommend them. They are more economical on the glass and give you a real opportunity of ‘getting to know’ your piece. Stick the cut paper templates onto your original design, using Blue tac.

Number six

Place the tracing paper which is called a cut-line on a light box. Play with various bits of scrap glass (cullet) select the colours you like.

Number seven

Eleventh century stained glass St Augsburg Cathedral
11th century stained glass, St Augsburg Cathedral

Now you are ready to start cutting the stained glass. This is the time to look at it, appreciate it, marvel at it, learn a little about its history, manufacture, composition and cost. Interestingly, it’s the only art form to arise out of Christianity, all the others, painting, sculpture, etc. have a long pre-Christian history. The earliest stained glass is from the 9th and 10th century, although only small fragments survive. Stained glass really came into its own in the Romanesque and Gothic era. Suddenly and magically (with a little help from the Rosicrucian Alchemists) this new art form appears. Chance or Intention, who can say? If we wander about in a cathedral we can perhaps pick up a few hints. The overall effect is one of darkness illuminated by light. We gaze up at the stone patterns and traceries, the blotches of coloured light on the floor, and we may think — trees, sacred groves. Perhaps the beautiful gothic church with its rhythmic and fluid architecture, its relationship to light and space, is nothing but a kind of crystallised sacred grove. The humanisation and Christianisation of a long Pagan past.

Originally all stained-glass would have been mouth-blown or spun. If mouth blown, a glob of molten glass is inflated by blowing, stuck into the furnace again and shaped into a ‘cylinder’. This cylinder is cut, the two curved sections re-heated and folded out, creating a flat surface. Spun glass is produced by centrifugal action. The heated glob of glass is spun rapidly at the end of a rod, resulting in a disk. This disk is then cut up into plates.

Cylinders being opened out, image
Cylinders being opened out

The colour in stained glass is due to the inclusion of metallic oxides or metallic elements in the glass. Copper produces blue, as does cobalt, green is made from iron, yellow from selenium and red from gold. This is colloidal gold as gold does not oxidise and therefore has to be incorporated as an element. The price of gold is currently so high, that certain forms of pink or rose glass are no longer produced. This gets us onto the matter of cost. Stained glass is expensive, great economy should be exercised. Make sure the cuts are not wasteful!

Number eight

Cut out the stained-glass. Note, some of the glass is textured, cut on the smooth side. If the texture is wanted on the front surface, turn the template round. Some of the glass maybe flash-glass, this means that it is layered, has a very thin layer of colour over a clear or light colour. Flash-glass is used for etching and sandblasting, where two colours are required in one piece of glass. Always cut flash-glass on its clear side, the glass is less hard. Place all the cut coloured bits on the cut line above a light box. If no light box is available, place them on white paper to maximise the amount of light that can be reflected through them. In the olden days, they did not have light boxes, and are sometimes known to have used big sheets of linen to lay the glass out on.

Number nine

Make a mock-up. Turn the tracing paper over and place it underneath a clean sheet of window glass. You can see the lines better if you put some paper under it. Mix up some black gauche paint and paint on black lines following the tracing lines. It’s a good idea to start in the top left hand side and work your way across, (if you are right-handed that is). When the paint is dry, turn the glass plate over and fix the coloured pieces to it using plasticine. Make sure the glass is properly stuck down as you are going to put it upright against a window. The Victorians, who had a massive stained glass industry, used melted beeswax to adhere the coloured glass to the backing plate. You can now see the coloured glass framed by black lines. This gives you a fairly clear idea of how it will look when it is leaded. You now have the opportunity to replace any pieces of glass you are not happy with.

Leads

Number ten

Before we get into stretching the lead, I should say something about the metal. It has been mined since ancient times, as its ore Galena, is easy to smelt. Galena is a combination of lead and sulphur with traces of silver. In fact, it contains enough silver to make extraction worth-while. It appears in the periodic table of elements as PB, which are the Latin initials for Plumbum. It is used for roofing and was extensively used for pipes. Lead, being a ‘radio-active’ material has a half-life. This half-life lasts for one hundred and twenty years. All the leading in churches and cathedrals has to be renewed after this period. The melting point of lead is 327degrees C. Leads or cames, come in various shapes and sizes. Broadly speaking there are two types; round and flat. The round is slightly more expensive, but works better, does not kink when bent. Modern leads have been cast in iron moulds and milled, they also contain other metals. They are stronger, more durable and solder together better than the old leads (at least some things improve!) In the olden days, cames were cast into special stone moulds using willow withes or rushes to create the grooves. Store your leads in their original boxes, or hang them up, loosely looped on a big nail. Stretch the leads either by using a lead vice, or apply the good old fashioned method which involves a foot and an arm. If the lead is too long for you to handle, cut it in half (cutting will be explained shortly). Gently bend one end of the lead and put it under your right foot. Holding firmly onto the other end, pull it upwards. This straightens and torsions the lead. Cut off the bent end and open up the flaps. This is done by placing the lead along a long strip of wood nailed onto a board. The lead can then be opened using an oyster knife or an opening tool. Prepare a few lengths and lay them near your board.

Number eleven

You can now start leading up your work. This is where the cut line (the tracing paper) comes in. Place this on a board, chip board is best. The cut line should show a net-work of double lines, one pencil, the other a sort of groove scored in by the fork. The gap between these two lines denotes the inner core of the lead, the so-called heart. The glass should always be positioned in such a way that the outer edge touches either one or the other of these two lines. If the panel is square, place the outer lead along a piece of wood, slip in some bits of glass and position them accurately. Nail the wood down. Lead up by framing each piece of glass with lead (see illustration). The leads should abut, the closer to each other they are the better the solder joint will be. One can buy fancy lead knives, but I have found from experience that an Opinel is best. Lock it to open, and then tape up the catch. If the blade suddenly closes you might cut your fingers off. Cut the lead by gripping it firmly with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand. Place the tip of the Opinel knife on the cutting board right up against the knife and then rock it gently backwards and forwards as you press it down words through the lead. Make sure the edges of the cut are open, if not, gently ease them upwards with the knife blade. Slide the lead into position and trim where necessary. Remember you need to cut the lead just short of the edge of the glass, to allow room for another lead. You will find, rather Inevitably, I am sorry to say, that some of the coloured glass will not fit into the leads. Put them into position and using a Sharpy, following the curve of the lead into which you are trying to insert the glass, mark the glass. This will give you the exact shape. Trim off the access, either with a cutter or a grozier.

Number twelve

Nailing. Traditionally the glass and lead are held in place with horse shoe nails. A small slip of lead, or a ‘rider’ is temporarily placed against the glass and a horse shoe nail banged in to hold it. The protecting lead strip is used in case the nail twists as it is bashed in, chipping or breaking the glass. Keeping the work firmly ‘nailed’ is important as it will otherwise slide around disastrously. Knock the nails in carefully, coiling your fingers around them. It is better to smash your fingers than the glass! I have found that longish glazing nails work better than horse shoe nails and can be hammered in right next to the glass.

Soldering image

Number thirteen

Soldering. Modern electric soldering irons are probably the best thing to use. In the olden days-before the use of gas and electricity, soldering irons were heated up in braziers. They had wooden handles, an iron shaft and broad, pointed copper heads. They would be heated in succession, more than one on the go at a time. and passed to the Master by a useful small boy or girl. Pre-literate, or should one say selectively literate societies possessed an abundance of useful small girls and boys Training started early, and it is quite clear that the kind of excellence attained by craftsmen in the past is no longer generally achievable. We start too late and have become confused by intelligence. I guess everything has its price, and to save children from the abuses of the Industrial Revolution, it was essential to instigate universal education. What is possible now, is to become a craftsman consciously– more about that later. But—back to the business in hand. Clean all the lead joints (which should be neatly abutted) with a fine wire brush. Apply the flux. This could be either tallow, (animal fat) or for vegans, a nasty chemical compound that doesn’t quite work properly. The flux ‘cooks’ the solder, enabling it to flow and adhere better. Allow the soldering iron to heat up (give it 5 minutes), scrub the tip vigorously. Solder comes in stick form, use C grade for lead, it is composed of 60% lead and 40% tin.

A word here about tin. Tin has been used since very early times 4000 to 5000 BC. It is the other main component of bronze and was extensively mined in Cornwall. It occurs as the ore cassiterite, which when pure, forms clear, brilliant tetragonal crystals. Like lead, tin has a low melting point, 232.8 degrees C. It has a few interesting qualities. When a stick of pure tin is bent, a strange crackling sound arises, this is called the ‘cry of tin’ and is due to its crystalline structure. When exposed to very low temperatures for a long time, it will crumble into dust. This was a very sharp lesson for Napoleon on his retreat from Moscow, as the tin buttons on his soldier’s uniforms disintegrated, leaving them virtually, ‘hanging onto their trousers’. Float glass is manufactured by floating a layer of molten glass on a layer of molten tin. This makes it possible to create a comparatively large expanse of absolutely even, flat glass. Tin has the quality of always ‘seeking the level’.

Many stained-glass activities are best done standing, cutting the glass for example, but soldering should definitely be done sitting down. Bring the soldering iron, the solder and your work into contact with each other. The stick of solder and the soldering iron should form a V shape. Press the soldering iron down firmly on the joints and allow the metal to spread. The temptation at this point is to start spreading the solder. Don’t. The desirable outcome is a neat little mound. When you have soldered the one side, turn the work over and do the other. If there are any gaps, fill them in with lead-leaf. This can be made by cutting away the ‘flaps’ on a wide H lead with a pair of scissors or tin snips. Put the leaf down flat on a board and scrape away the remains of the heart. Make sure both sides are clean. This strip of leaf can then be cut into little squares or triangular bits and soldered over the gaps. Make sure you follow the lead lines, no unsightly repairs sticking out into the glass. Clean all the leads on both sides, scrubbing away the residue of the flux.

Number fourteen

Blacking. Blacking the leads is done with something called Black Patina. The Black Patina reacts with the tin content in the solder, changing its colour. This unifies the effect, the solder points stand out less and the leads take on a dark hue. Some people black the leads with Zebo stove blackener. Personally, I find this too dark, it’s nice to see the natural patina of the lead.

Puttying image

Number fifteen

Puttying has three purposes: weather proofing, strength and aesthetics. If you are working on a large window its worth using the stained-glass cement. This comes in a tin and has the consistency of very thick treacle. It is brushed into the gaps between the glass and the lead with a stiff brush. Apply saw-dust to soak up the access liquid and clean off. The saw-dust dries out the cement and makes it possible to more or less ‘confine’ it to its appropriate place. I remember Mr Payne concocting a rather messy cocktail of ingredients. The cement consisted of a mixture of whiting, plaster of Paris, red lead, some lamp black, white spirit and boiled linseed oil. Your small panel is better puttied with ordinary bog standard linseed oil putty. Make sure the putty is fresh, take it out of its pot and mix with a generous squirt of black oil paint. Kneed together well and add a small quantity of white tile cement. This gives the mixture more body, absorbs some of the excessive oiliness and makes it slightly abrasive. Work the putty in with your thumb and fingers. Run around the leads with a sharp stick, and gather up the excess. Brush the panel thoroughly with a nail brush. In a week or so it will be set enough to clean properly with a glass cleaner—enjoy!

Reflection

To generalize horribly, one could say there are three basic, traditional art/craft making processes: Modelling, Carving and Construction. Modelling involves all those making activities where the material is of one kind and whilst moist or pliant, is bent, pulled or in any other way manipulated. Pottery is a classic example and by a long stretch, modelling could include forge work. Carving also implies the ‘oneness’ of the material, and involves the reduction of its mass, the removal of material and refinement. Construction is a synthetic process, where different elements and materials are brought into relationship with each other. Stained-glass is definitely in that category.

The basic elements brought into relationship with each other in stained glass are, glass and metals. Lead and glass are polar opposites, lead is dense, soft, malleable and definitely non-see through. Glass is brittle, hard, sharp and transparent. They are ‘wedded’ together by tin, which becomes temporarily liquid to achieve this. The putty reinforces this unity.

If we run through the stained glass making process again mentally, we can observe how it really does involve all our faculties. The first step is the design, which could be a very contrived thing or a semi-conscious splurge. This initial design is then defined and traced, involving choice, selection and boundaries, a much more intellectual process. Our feelings are strongly activated when we choose our colours. The will is engaged when we start cutting the glass and leading up, meeting resistance.

Running through the entire stained-glass making process is a kind of switch between positive and negative, between something that is lively and creative and something that is dull, possibly boring and repetitive. We pour our energy into the design, this should be as colourful and interesting as possible. The next bit, all the tracing is perhaps not so sexy. Yet something interesting has occurred; all the positives, the colour patches have been reduced to negatives, to lines. When the templates are cut out, the negatives become positives again, temporary planes that define the boundaries of the glass. The laid-out pieces of glass have negatives between them, the gaps that will be filled with lead. This moving between positive and negative is good for the mind, it keeps it fluid, flexible and creative, and you never know, might mitigate some of the toxic effects of lead use!

Glass Painting

Right from it’s very beginning in the 9th century, stained-glass was painted. Let’s be very clear – the colour is intrinsic to the glass and is incorporated into it through the manufacturing process, painting in this sense is something else. It is a darkening or an obscuring of the colour, traditionally the paint consisted of iron oxide, finely ground glass and borax. Now-a-days it’s made of some rather un-pleasant ingredients: cadmium, lead, silica, quartz, cobalt, chromium and iron, a mask should be worn at all times. It comes in three powdered ‘colours’, black, sepia and red. I have found that a warmish to neutral mix is best. You can either use the sepia or mix black and red to make a rich brown. Place about three heaped tea-spoons in a mortar and add three drops of gum arabica. If you add too much gum the mixture will become too ‘hard’ when painted. Add water, only a very small amount is necessary, enough to create a thick creamy consistency. Grind in the mortar with a pestle for 5 minutes.

Brush marks and brushes image
Brush marks and brushes

You have taken your stained-glass process to the mock up stage (black lines painted onto the back of a backing plate with coloured pieces well stuck on). Clean the surface of the coloured glass with some old glass paint. Just dab it on with a brush, making sure that any traces of grease are removed. Wipe clean with a rag or some kitchen towel. The lines of your design can then be traced onto the coloured glass. If your colours are rich and intense, it’s a good idea to draw out the linear element of your design onto a separate piece of tracing paper using a black marker pen. Place this under your backing plate, sandwiched between another clear plate and put the whole lot on a light box. Trace through.

Either leave the glass paint in the mortar or pour it out onto a small square of glass. Use a fine brush with special long bristles. The ‘paint’ has to be continually stirred, as it consists of particles in suspension, which would naturally gravitate downwards. Trace all the lines, do this quite freely, perhaps breaking some of them up with a pointed wooden stick to make them less pedantic and sluggish. When the lines are dry, carefully remove the coloured glass from the backing plate, and arrange face upwards on a kiln shelf. The shelf needs to be covered with a layer of ceramic paper. This is an excellent invention. In the olden days (my youth), the glass had to be laid out in special metal trays that had a layer of plaster of Paris spread in them. This plaster had to be absolutely level, and had to be ‘raked’ rather like a Zen garden. Plaster or ceramic paper, they both serve the purpose of preventing the glass from sticking to the kiln shelf when heated. Most firing programmes are now computerised, set the programme to take the temperature up to 700 degrees, leave it there for no more than five minutes and then let it switch off. The glass will be ready to take out in twenty-four hours. It is vital to let it cool slowly, rapid exposure to cold air will crack the glass.

Wipe the dust off the coloured glass and re-attach it to the mock-up with plasticine. You can now paint the half tones and washes. Place the work against a window (north facing is best), or use a glass easel. Daylight is essential at this stage and you can really have the powerful experience of etching with light. Use a bigger, fine bristled brush and apply the somewhat more-watery paint rapidly. If an even layer is required, use a badger brush. This is a very fine bristled brush, in appearance not too dissimilar to a house painting brush. The bristles are very lightly ‘stroked’ across the surface, creating an even layer.

You can experiment with all kinds of brushes and implements. Stippling the wet paint, rubbing it off when dry, scratching it with a wooden stick or the cut short bristles of a domestic brush. Painting creates detail, texture and modifies the light that is transmitted through the glass. It changes the tone of the colour and acts as a defuser. When you have painted your half-tones and washes, fire the glass again using the same procedure. You are then ready to lead up the panel. Firing has made the glass more brittle. If there is any re-cutting or trimming to do, do this very carefully.

Aciding and Sandblasting

Aciding is done using flash glass. The coloured surface is prepared with Bitumen, which protects the colour you wish to retain. An alternative is Fablon, which can be bought from most hardware shops. Make sure your glass is clean and stick the Fablon to it. Run a Stanley blade around, just inside the edge, cutting away about 2mms of the material all the way around. If you don’t do this, the acid will get under the Fablon and spoil the process. Trace the design onto the Fablon and cut away the bits you don’t want with a Stanley blade. The sheet of glass is then emersed face downwards in a plastic tray of acid. It’s best to use something like a photographer’s tray, the sort of thing they sloshed chemicals around in before digitalization. Hydroflouric acid is used, now nearly un-obtainable. In the good old bad old days one could go to chemists and order it. ‘One pot of Hydrofluoric acid please and make it 60%’. I suppose bad things happen, and series such as ‘Breaking Bad’ don’t help. It’s probably a good thing you can only obtain it with a licence, and then you need a lot of kit to play with it: a fume cupboard, a breathing mask and good rubber gloves, better to use sandblasting.

As with aciding, you can use Fablon to block out the coloured glass. Most people probably won’t have sandblasting equipment. Go to somebody who does, the makers of memorials for the dead, or a stained-glass supplier. They might even let you use it. There is something distinctly gynaecological about the experience. You lift a viewing lid, put the glass inside, shut the lid and turn on the power. The ‘sand’ is blasted with terrifying rapidity out of a nozzle, you hold your glass by inserting your hands into thick rubber gloves that project into the cavity. You control the blasts using a foot peddle. It is possible to be quite painterly, running the nozzle across the glass and creating different degrees of colour intensity.

Silver Stain

Silver stain was invented in about 1300. It introduces various shades of yellow to the glass, making it possible to edge garments with ’gold’ and put in hallows. It was extensively overused by the Victorians, at the expense of the pure flat colours of former eras. Still, let us not denigrate the Victorians, it was through their thorough chemical researches that stained glass made a come-back.

Silver stain is essentially silver nitrate and comes in a little packet of powder, like glass paint. It is applied in the same way with gum Arabic and water to clear glass. Traditionally it was painted onto the outside of the glass, as it withstands the effects of the weather.

Some Other Methods

Non-cut method

An easy way of starting stained-glass work is to use a non-cut method. Haul out the cullet boxes (glass off-cuts), of which there are always too many. Get a large sheet of white paper and play with the coloured pieces, arranging them and re-arranging them. When you have laid out a harmonious and well-balanced design, draw round the shapes in pencil to ‘fix’ them. Perma Led is then crimped around the edges. Perma Led is a stick-on tape of lead foil, that usually serves the rather inglorious purpose of transforming rabbit hutch homes, into ye olde Georgian cottages. It is covered with an adhesive on the under-side, protected by a plastic coat. Measure the lead strip along the edge of the glass you are going to cover, allow for some mms play on each side. Score the lead strip on the adhesive side with a blunt blade as exactly down the middle as you can. Then fold it into a shallow V shape with a grozier. Tear off the plastic and crimp the foil around the glass edge. Make sure there is lead on both sides of the glass. Lay the glass flat and smooth the foil flat with an opening tool or oyster knife. Cut off the overhangs with scissors and foil the next edge. Make sure the foils overlap. When all the pieces of glass have been ‘framed’, clean the metal with a fine wire brush, place them on a board and nail them into position. They can now be carefully soldered together. Make some fine loops of copper wire to hang the panel with. Recycled electrical cable is good. It’s sort of satisfying to transform technology into art! Sand paper the wire to remove dirt and oxide. You now have to solder on the loops by putting the panel upright. Construct a type of wooden vice, use two bits of wood (or several nailed on top of each other) and fix them to a board at a sharp angle to each other, see illustration. When the panel is lodged in, the vice should hold it upright. Put the little wire loops into position, grate flux over the joints and solder. You can hold one side of a loop in place with blue tac while you solder the other. Thread a thin wire through the loops and hang in a window.

Glass Mosaic Type one

The coloured pieces of glass are glued onto a clear glass backing plate. Draw a simple coloured design onto A four paper, trace it and simplify it. Cut out a square or rectangular sheet of 2 mms glass of the same size. Lay the glass sheet over the simplified line drawing and hold it in place with strips of wood. Glue small pieces of cullet which are fit for purpose, or that you cut, onto the glass plate. You can use multi-purpose Bostic or a special glass glue. Bostic is messy and leaves fibrous strands and splodges, but is OK to use for beginners. The glass glue, manufactured by Wilco is best. It responds to ultraviolet light and gives you a few minutes gluing time. It sets absolutely clear and is permanent.

When all the coloured glass has been glued into place, you need to frame the panel with lead. Stretch the lead, open it up, measure it and temporarily put it into position around the edge of the panel. Hold it in place with strips of wood. The came has then to be glued to the edge of the glass to stop it from sagging. This is done using clear silicon. Undo one lead strip at a time, apply the silicon with a silicon gun (don’t overdo it, a small dribble is enough) and slide it back into position, making sure it’s held firmly by the wooden frame. Allow the silicon to set for twenty-four hours. Any excess can now be cleaned off with a knife blade.

Solder the leads at the corner joints on both sides and make a couple of wire twizzles that can be soldered into the edges in the top corners. Use well sand-papered steel wire. The twizzles are made by twisting the wire around itself, holding the looped end in a grozier. When all the soldering has been done the glass-mosaic can be puttied or grouted. Use a standard linseed putty, stain it with black oil paint and add a tile cement. The mixture should end up being fairly dry and crumbly. One of the problems with grouting is that, the wet oily putty can slide between the glass plates, creating an unseemly and unsightly smear. Avoid this by using very dry putty. Press it into the gaps between the glass fragments with your fingers, always making sure there is some putty between you and the glass. Brush it in with a nail brush.

Glass mosaic type two

Wax crayon image

This process is very similar to type one, except on two counts: every piece of glass is ‘designed’ and three layers of glass are used. There is a backing plate of textured glass, an intermediate plate of 2mm glass and the coloured bits. Start by making a lively and free design, use Stockmar wax crayons. This is not just salesmanship, Stockmar is best. The crayons are made from pure beeswax, which means that they respond to the warmth of your hands and spread the wax effortlessly and smoothly. The colours are also ’fine-tuned’ with each other. This means that the primary colours and complementary colours correspond exactly. You can test this by making little spots of colour on a white sheet of paper. Gaze at the spot and then move your eyes to the side of it. An aura of colour should appear around the spot or by its side. If you have gazed at yellow, faint purple will appear, if at blue, orange. The colours can be layered on top of a white layer, the colour built up or scraped away.

The Sheffield Windows, Freeman College – Jupiter
Jupiter, detail, Seven Life Process, Sheffield

When your design, which is also called the cartoon, is finished, trace it with nice, crisp, good quality tracing paper. What you are doing at this stage is picking up the directional ‘flow’ lines. Work very quickly, just concentrate on the energy. This should be a very rough impression, no anguished pencil biting. Turn the tracing paper over and apply the graphite stick. Turn it again and trace onto a sheet of good quality white, cartridge paper, select the lines you are going to need. Carefully work out the design, creating fluid curves, large and small pieces and straight lines. Rub out any unwanted lines, make the design as neat and clean as possible. Trace again and make the templates using carbon paper (as above). This time there is no need to make the double train track lines, as no lead is used. Place the tracing paper onto a light box, and begin cutting out the glass. I used to number each template, but this is unnecessary and tedious (there might be thousands) cut out the templates one by one as you need them. Note: you need to cut out the templates in such a way that you leave a gap of about 1 mm either side of the pencil line.

Your backing plates are going to be 3mms wider than the coloured glass all the way around the outer edge. They will be held by the lead frame, the coloured glass will only abut it. You can contrive this by marking the outer edge of the templates with a felt pen and cutting it away. When all the coloured bits have been cut, carefully move them off onto the pencil design. Frame with lead and glue the backing plates in with silicon as previously described. You will need to use wide heart lead. This is extra wide lead which will hold the two backing plates. Solder the corner joints and put the twizzles in place. You are using two plates for two reasons: one, the outer plate acts as a defuser, softening the colour contours and playing with the light. Use something like Cotswold, Flemish or Warwick glass, all made by Pilkington. Two: by gluing the coloured glass to the inner plate, the glue spots do not appear. The inner plate should be ordinary 2 mm glass. When the piece is glued, grout as previously described.

Semi-precious Stone Panels, Jewellery

Semi precious panel 1

I could divide my work with stained glass into three areas: Jewellery, sculpture and painting.

Right from very early childhood I was interested in ‘crystals’, indeed at one point wanted to be a jeweller. This devotion to minerals, precious and semi-precious stones re-surfaced shortly after my training in stained-glass. This was in part triggered off by a tiny piece of stained glass that my wife Jeanie owned, made by her aunt Olga in America into which a slice of agate had been incorporated. How true it is that we choose our influences! A thousand others may have seen this object and not responded to it at all, for me it was a Damascus moment. From then on, semi-precious stones, particularly agates, became an important source of inspiration. The idea being that the stone itself could set up a kind of chain reaction or ripple, a little like casting a pebble into a pool. Setting the agate meant creating an environment around it, a worthy home.

I used this process as a first step stained glass teaching tool. So instead of the student being faced by the terrifying prospect of a pencil and a blank sheet of paper, she had a beautiful stone to play with. The stained-glass object also had a certain ‘organic flexibility’, in other words, it did not need to conform to a rigid right angle but could expand and shrink a little as it absorbed inaccuracies.

The internal ‘gaps’ containing the stones can be edged with lead foil, for greater fineness and elegance. As you are working around the stone when leading up, You need to move from the outside to the inside and back to the outside again, otherwise you will block yourself in, and won’t be able to fit the inner bits of glass. This is a good exercise in lateral thinking!

Two new steps need to be mentioned at this stage, the setting of stones, and the finishing off of the edge. I found that the semi-precious stones came into their own when a small gap is created around them, when the lead and glass do not ‘thrust’ themselves into their proximity. This is where another metal can come into play. This other metal is copper. Mined since very ancient times, it pre-dates the bronze age. It is sometimes found in its native state when it has a branching plant-like form:

‘Pure copper can be rose-red, sunrise-red, red-dish-yellow or brown red. In transparency of extremely thin sheets it is a shadowy blue-green, complementary to the orange-red of the polished metal’.

Pelikan, the Secrets of Metals

When hammered it assumes the hardness of steal, if it is annealed, heated to a low heat and quenched in cold water, it becomes soft and pliant again. Copper can be used to bridge the gaps between the flat semi-precious stones, such as agates and the stained glass. Wrap small sections of Perma Led at strategic places around your agate slice, see picture. Crimp them down and round them off. Attach copper wires or slivers of cut copper sheet between the gaps. The ends of the copper wire can be flattened on an anvil and trimmed to size. Make sure the copper is very clean before you solder it into place. Larger ‘collars’ of copper can also be made. These are hammered on a solid, pre-formed lump of hard wood. The copper imparts an element of delicacy, beauty and refinement to the piece.

Rock crystals can be incorporated into the work with loops of thin copper wire. These are twisted around the stone and then soldered into place. This maximises the colour, clarity and shape of the crystal.

The other polished semi-precious stones, are surrounded by collars of Perma lead, which is glued and smoothed around the edge. The lead foil should overlap slightly and be soldered together. Place the stone on a ball of plasticine or clay to do the soldering. Put the ‘collared’ stones into the gaps provided and solder. Always solder the rounded, 3D stones in at the very end, it’s much easier if you maintain the flatness of the piece for as long as you can.

Make sure your hands are absolutely clean when handling the stones. If necessary wash repeatedly. Before blacking the leads and solder joints, protect the stones with cling-film or masking tape. Only remove these after you have puttied.

As these panels are like large pieces of jewellery, careful attention should be given to the outer edge. This edge can be filled in with solder, filed and sand-papered. I know that C lead is available for edging, but the self-filled edge is somehow more dynamic. Wire brush the outer groove and reduce the lead frame slightly with a metal file. Make sure you don’t file into the edge. Solder your hanger into position, this can either be a small section of copper tubing or a couple of twizzles. For the tubing, plumbing micro-bore is best. Cut off a section, 20 to 30 mms or so. The cut edges need to be filed. Make sure the bore hasn’t got a rough fringe of burr. Use your wooden vice to hold the work. When filling the outer rim of your panel, always keep the top level, otherwise the solder will run down-hill and make a mess. When the edge is filled, smooth with a file and sand-paper until you have achieved a wonderful glinting grey patina. Using the liquid solder in this way, gives a great experience of molten metal, and creates a polarity to all the sharp horrible glass you have been using.

Semi precious panel 2

My work with semi-precious stones began to have a very profound effect on me. Not only was this way of working a useful teaching aid, it gradually led to a place of silence. The painter when he is confronted by ‘rose’, if he is honest, has to admit that anything he may do, however clever, can never in any way come near to ‘rose’. Yes, he can create something that guides the eye and mind into a greater appreciation of ‘rose’, capture some particular angle never yet explored before, but ‘rose’ itself is unattainable. We can express it, but the thing itself we cannot make. And thus it is with agates, quartz crystals, fluorites, amethysts, carnelians, calcites and tourmalines, they need to be celebrated, placed in among colours and shapes that do not smother them or vie for attention. My contribution had to be thoughtful, sensitive, humble almost. I became the stones servant; these ancient jewels, perhaps millions of years old, formed under extreme conditions of heat and pressure, buried for aeons beneath the earth’s crust and then wrenched out, cut, polished and carried into the light. I felt that there was something very fitting in this combination of glass and jewels. In a sense glass is our ‘jewel’, this extraordinary substance, not quite rigid, yet hard and brittle, a threshold through which light becomes coloured light. As Goethe so poignantly says: ’Colour is the pain of light’. The Phoenicians had invented it, and the Egyptians were the masters of its use in combination with gold and semi-precious stones.

Stained-Glass Lamps, Sculpture

Stained-glass lamp image

I suppose it was inevitable that with my long commitment to sculpture I would want to take my glass-work into 3D. My first efforts were very humble, a small candle lamp with bits of faceted slab-glass set into it. Proudly I showed it to Mr. Payne, he dismissed it with absolute scorn saying; ‘Stained glass is if anything an art form in the service of the Divine and should not be frittered away on little lamps’. This seemed to contradict his other principle; ‘No job is ever too small to consider, even if it’s only a lavatory window’. I suppose this was a step too far in the direction of craft and commerce. Mr Payne’s displeasure not-with-standing, I continued to work three dimensionally, creating both candle and electric lamps.

The lamps can be seen as ‘little buildings’, architectural features, out of which light shines. They are a kind of inversion of the window through which light pours into a space. In the lamp, the light is within. Once again, I used semi-precious stones, but it also gave me the opportunity to experiment with slab-glass. This is essentially a three-quarter inch thick slab of glass which has been caste in a mould. Too thick to lead up in the normal way, it is usually used in a technique called del deVere, hardly seen in Britain but much used on the Continent. The slab-glass is ‘cut’ using a tungsten tipped hammer, and the chunks are laid out on a Perspex bed. A mixture of concrete and synthetic resin is then poured into the spaces between the chunks. After being vibrated, the mixture sets and can then be installed in a window.

I did not make any del deVere windows, but used it as insets in stained-glass lamps. You can split the slabs (fairly randomly) by tapping the glass smartly with the ball-end of a copper beating hammer. Hold the glass in the left hand, wearing a thick gardening type glove. You can also facet the chunks. Hold a piece firmly in your gloved hand and ‘knap’ it with the flat end of the copper hammer. This makes the chunks more jewel-like and throws the light around more interestingly.

You are now ready to design the sides of your lamp, use the chunks as centre pieces. Having previously made a template the lamp face, trace around it, creating three perfect replicas for the three sides. I would recommend a three-sided lamp, as this will stand more easily. Place the chunks near the middle of each side and draw a simplified shape around them. Give yourself a bit of room, you need space around the chunks to pour in the molten lead. Design each of the three lamp faces and then construct lead collars around the chunks. Cut the leads, abut them as accurately as you can and then wire brush and solder the joints. Here’s a trick worth knowing; slip some little pieces of glass into the corners where the solder joints will be. This stops the solder from dribbling down into the leads, blocking the spaces into which you want to put your glass. When the collars are complete (soldered both sides) you are ready to cast the lead.

You won’t need to ‘lift’ lead from churches, as you’ll always have plenty of it to hand. In fact, this an opportunity to recycle all your little off-cuts. Add some bits of solder, to give the mixture a brighter, longer lasting shine. Get an old stainless steel source pan to melt your metal in. Either place it on a trivet over a little fire, or use a gas camping type stove. It’s best to melt the lead outside as the fumes are none too healthy. Stand away from the smoke and poke the metal with a long poker. The lead will begin to crumble as it melts. Skim off the dross with a long-handled spoon. If much tin has been used in the mixture, you will see what appears to be a kind of skin on the surface, with an extraordinary shimmering network of lines. The lead/tin mixture (pewter of sorts) is cast using a very dry bed of clay. You don’t wont to super-heat the water in the clay, this will make the lead spit, and could be dangerous. Prepare the bed by flattening it with a wooden beater. The bed has to be absolutely level, otherwise the molten metal will pour out over the tops of the leads. Place your lead collars and your chunk glass on the clay surface. Do not press it in, just gently adhere them through suction. Draw up a little clay into the surrounding grooves to seal the collars. The molten metal should neither be too hot or too cold. If it is too hot, it will be bubbling, if it is too cold, there will still be flaky bits on the edges. It should have stopped smoking, as all the impurities which haven’t been skimmed away, are burnt off. Exercise extreme care when handling the molten metal. Wrap a cotton cloth around the handle of the source pan and lift it off the fire wearing thick gloves. Walk slowly, and always have a place ready on which you can place the pan if necessary. A flat stone or a slab of concrete will do. Pour the molten metal into the gap between the glass chunks and the lead collar. You need to pour it all in one go, as the lead does not stick to itself. When you have poured the metal, stow the hot source pan safely. The set chunks will be cool enough to handle in a few minutes. Clean them thoroughly with a wire brush. Place the set chunks back on your design and modify it. You are then ready to do the tracings.

When I started making the lamps they had flat tops, giving them a somewhat Byzantine form. Eventually in 1996 this evolved into something more Gothic. Arched tops, finished with Perma lead, created a much lighter, more elegant design.

Put your cut line down on a board and nail a baton along the edge of it. It’s best to slide a few pieces of glass into the edging lead to get the correct line-up. Once the baton has been secured and the edging lead put into place (use a wider lead, 8 or 10 mms round), you can start leading. If your central piece is an agate slice, proceed normally, working across the panel. If it is a large chunk of glass, start with this, working from the inside out. This is apparently how the Medieval windows were made. You can use C lead for the bottom strip. Wire brush, flux and solder. The top arch of glass can now be leaded with foil. Remove the batons from either side, they are just in the way, and replace them with glazing nails. Measure out your Perma lead, fold it and affix loosely to the curved edges. Only crimp it down where it touches the thick side leads. Spot solder. Pull the glazing nails out, lift the panel into the vertical and adjust the lead foil so that is equal on both sides of the glass. Nail your panel down again and solder.

Stained glass lamp 2 image

The glass panels, weather using slab-glass chunks, agate slices or lamination are surprising strong and robust and when soldered together hold their form well. However, it is necessary to make legs to raise them off the table, to allow a candle stick or a light-fitting to be placed inside. This is where the other important metal used in stained glass comes in; iron or steel. Iron nails are used for leading up, iron supporting bars are used in large windows. They are cemented into the stonework and then fixed to the stained-glass windows with soldered-in lengths of copper wire. It is also possible to buy special steel reinforced cames. For the sake of Alchemical completeness, I should say something about iron.

The Iron Age is the one just preceding ours, the Silicon Age. The Iron Age was the age of ‘Earth Conquest’, of Empires, and of materialism. The core of our planet is iron and the iron in the blood is necessary to build up our haemoglobin.

Iron as connected with ‘self-hood,’ can be seen in a picture from the Apocalypse of the Woman clothed in the Sun, standing upon the Moon, wearing a crown of twelve Stars. The Great Red Dragon wishes to devour her Child; ‘Who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron’. (Book of Revelation, chap. 12).

‘A new born baby has a certain store of iron in his liver. In relation to his whole organism a new born person has five times as much iron as the adult. This is not without reason. Human milk contains very little iron. The new born is thus forced to develop his own iron in his blood and in doing so, take hold of his own ego (self). So, man’s drive towards independence begins already during the first months of his life.’

U. Steuck, Metals of the Bible.

Iron is the fourth commonest element on the earth, sometimes occurring as whole mountains of iron ore. Pure iron is extremely rare, occurring on the island of Disko, off the coast of Greenland. It can also be found as meteoric iron having come to earth from elsewhere. Much magic and secret wisdom was associated with its working, and in many societies smiths were feared and revered. But to return to the business of lamp foot making. Cut three lengths of thick steel fencing wire. As your fencing wire has probably been coiled, you need to hammer it straight on an anvil. Do this by tapping the wire lightly and rolling it at the same time. When the wire is straight, sandpaper it, scratching the surface and removing any gunk. It is then bent into loops, using both hands. Make sure the bend is tight and that the straight wires run parallel. Cut off some of the inner flap of came on each panel. Use an Opinel and taper it so that it gets narrower towards the top of the panel. Wire brush the groove vigorously. Nail two slats of wood onto a board and position the two panels between them at an angle of about 40%s. Place your first steel ‘clip’ into position. It is crucial that the legs are the same height, so mark them off from the bottom loop with a marker pen. Flux and solder. When all three legs have been soldered into position, fill the wire frames with lead. Cut a came to size, trim off some of the flap from the underside, and insert it between the wire. This can then be soldered and filed. Fold down the abutting edges of the panels with an oyster knife or an opening tool. Lead leaf can then be spot-soldered across the abutting edges of the panels, to create a finer, more integrated lamp. Crystals are fixed into the corners. Wrap an overlapping strip of lead foil around the shaft of each crystal and solder the overlap. Position them temporarily with plasticine and then solder them into place. Make sure the crystals are positioned in such a way as to transmit the light fully. The light should be held in the crystal tips.

Triple Laminate Glass, Painting

Ahriman, detail, Mourne Grange Chapel windows, 1996-97
Ahriman, detail, Mourne Grange Chapel windows, 1996-97

In 1995.I made a significant breakthrough in my work and succeeded in combining two apparently opposing techniques; lamination and traditional leaded glass. Lamination eliminates to a large extent, the dark aspect of stained glass. The colours are placed next to each other and can move more freely, all kinds of shapes and sizes of glass can be used, the technique has a satisfying contemporary quality. When however, it is compared to Medieval glass, it lacks some essential qualities. The old leaded painted windows are rich with ‘soul’, the colour bursts out of the darkness of the stone lattice work and is focused and concentrated by the lead in a way that contemporary glass cannot really match. How to do both? How to achieve the lightness and freshness of modern laminated glass and the richness, texture and soul of the old masters?

Like so much else, bought with experience, the answer came through teaching, or should I say, facilitating the artistic activities of special needs people. One woman let’s call her Jane, spent her time tracing illustrations of old stained glass, these tracings were then coloured in, a few were made into small stained glass panels. These combined, painted fired glass with a mosaic technique. Great things come from small beginnings! I used this technique for my next big commission; the triptych of the Trinity for the Mourne Grange Chapel in Northern Ireland.

Having worked out the process, it was possible to make these windows with an entirely new technique. I had done the colour sketche’s, the next stage was to make the three life-size black and white cartoons. I wanted the painting to have the free ‘smudgy’ quality of my wax drawings. I used wax crayon and built up the image in layers, scraping away and applying the wax boldly. The next stage was to take a linear impression of the cartoon, to select directional qualities which would inform both the coloured glass mosaic and the lead lines. I took a tracing (using tracing paper) picking out the leading lines and then transferred my hasty impression back onto paper. These scribblings were converted into a clear matrix of lines defining each piece of coloured glass and the lead structure.

Mourne Grange Windows of the Trinity
Mourne Grange Windows of the Trinity

The fully worked out design is then re-traced, creating both a cut-line and templates. The templates for the larger painted backing plates are cut out first, the glass for both layers cut, numbered and stored. Then the business of the colour can begin. I wished to do this process very spontaneously, only using the colour sketches as references. One of the challenges of stained glass is that it goes through phases of vitality and dullness. Each creative step is balanced by a rather exacting and repetitive one. The trick is to end up with something that’s vital rather than boring. Bit like life really.

I tackled this problem as a painter, made myself a special long glass shelf up against the windows and played with the colour fairly freely. I forgot to say—I also constructed temporary light boxes and a large cutting table. It was exciting working out of saturated primary colours, red, blue and yellow, harmonising with complementaries and inserting tiny random traces, breaking up the predictable, adding more nuances. The next step was to paint the backing plates. They were temporarily stuck onto sheets of 4mm glass with good old plasticine and had lead lines painted on them. Laid on a table they could then be traced from the cartoons. This first tracing was like the skeleton, a structure of lines upon which the half tones and washes could be hung. I then had the glass fired. Re-stuck onto the glass backing plates and placed above the light box. This enabled me to the subtle bit, the stippling, badgering and scratching. Another firing and then the somewhat laborious task of temporarily leading up. This had to be done so that the glued bits of coloured glass fitted inside each lead frame perfectly. Once glued the whole thing was taken apart again, each triple plate section sealed and then leaded up.

Having practised stained-glass for many years now, I would say that there are three distinct phases; Resistance, Mastery and Improvising.

Resistance

Resistance is certainly something I encountered! As I said, there was always something slightly cack-handed about me, cutting glass and accuracy did not come easily. Resistance is about suffering, cutting yourself, leaning on glass splinters, having to endlessly re-cut mis-fitting bits of glass. Resistance is about filling in holes, pushing yourself against the material. Resistance is about not knowing–is it my lack of ability, the bluntness of the cutting wheel or just bad luck that blocks me from doing the job properly? Above all resistance is about learning and a commitment to learning. You have a goal, something worth achieving, and resistance tempers your ardour, holds you in check, develops your skill and knowledge, confronts you with your limitations and expands your potentials.

Mastery

Mastery is something that happens in time, through a process of repetition and a striving for excellence. For me it happened very gradually over the years and could never be taken for granted, you can have good days and bad days, good moments and bad moments. When I was working very intensely with mosaics, I had a much clearer experience of mastery. Sometimes a kind of ‘Zen’ state would pervade me in which I worked automatically. This state was accompanied by a mood of emptiness, not negative emptiness, vacuity, but the emptiness of not thinking, filled with joy. It always took a long hard slog to reach this state, and then, almost imperceptibly, and never as a matter of course, an easy effortlessness would set in. A bit like aiming a stone at a tin can and missing again and again; turning aside, casually picking up another, throwing it and then as if by chance scoring a clean hit. The memory of the movement had somehow embedded itself in my organism, and could be summoned by the unconscious. At this point the work would flow unimpeded; every fragment fitted perfectly, was just ‘right’.

Mastery, means mastering the materials and processes, but it also imposes limits, restrictions. One of the side effects of mastering a craft is the possible sapping away of spontaneity. The kind of ‘devil may care’ attitude where the whole emphasis is on process and in which there is very little focus on ‘outcome,’ vanishes. There’s a drying up, one’s energy is directed towards the practicable rather than the experimental. This is something Mr Payne warned me about, saying; ‘you must carry on drawing and painting, the craft of glass can kill your creativity’.

Improvising

On one level there is a fundamental difference between art and craft. In craft, there is a striving towards excellence, the perfect tea pot for example. The master-piece stands as a kind of archetype that needs to be constantly re-attained. In this sense, the craftsman is a conservative. The artist is forever trying to shift the boundaries, trying something new. There is no external measure of excellence, there is only the ‘creative resonance test’. This basically means- do I like this? Do I find this stimulating? Does it have potential? The challenge is to unite these two tendencies, which could be called; knowledge of materials and skill, with creativity and inspiration, see diagram.

In the pre-Renaissance world there was no division, craftsmen and artists were one. Attempts to bring these two worlds together again have met with varying degrees of success. One could say the Baroque and the Rococo, the Arts and Craft Movement and Art Nouveau were such attempts. They show high levels of craftsmanship, but perhaps some of the ‘art’ falls short. Perhaps art exists in a sliding scale between two extremes: the unapproachably sublime and the merely decorative. Post Renaissance movements of reintegration have tended to slip towards the merely decorative. This is not necessarily the case with individuals, men like Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926) bridge the chasm between the arts and crafts much more completely. Today the boundaries are far more permeable. Certainly, when I was at art college in the 70s, the divide between the applied arts and the fine arts was insurmountable.

I came to the craft of stained glass from the perspective of an artist and had to struggle very hard to master craft skills. It was in my nature to experiment and innovate, so I suppose the three stages of Resistance, Mastery and Improvising, happened for me simultaneously. The important thing when making anything is to somehow retain an openness. Never ‘seal’ the piece completely at the design stage. Keep it fresh, allow for changes, play with the colours. As mentioned before in the ‘Reflection’ stained-glass making goes through stages of negativity and positivity, the boring and the exiting. By exercising a certain degree of self-control, and metering out the creative input, you can end up with something lively and energetic rather than with something whose dynamic has already been exhausted in the design stage.

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Stained Glass
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