The Techniques of Kiln-Fired Stained Glass Painting

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How to paint stained glass

Find out more about the techniques of stained glass painting

First Words

This site is dedicated to you and your adventures with the techniques of kiln-fired stained glass painting.

This page will help you find what you’re looking for – from ‘Tracing’ (scroll down to §3) to ‘Silver Stain’ (see §9) and ‘Firing’ (§10).

Just click a link and start exploring.

Before anything else, be sure to download this helpful e-book . It’s all about the 6 essential tools and how you hold them so they work wonders for you. You can get your copy here.

Click here to get your own copy

Watch

Here’s an hour’s painting squeezed down to just 3 minutes. This video shows you how much time the glass painter spends ‘working the palette’. Beginners always get this wrong. Even professionals will sometimes regret they didn’t pay more attention to the paintWatch it here.

Train

Here’s where you’ll find a dedicated training site – The Glass Painter’s Method. There’s a wonderful short course on how to mix a perfect lump of glass paint. A useful step-by-step follow-along project. And 3 times a year, we run an 8-week foundation course, Illuminate!

§1. Paints, Tools and Brushes

See here for a checklist of the paints, tools and brushes you need for kiln-fired stained glass painting. Lead-free glass paint: see here. And this is the right and wrong way to leave your paint and palette when you’ve finish working.

Here’s a 15-minute video where you see exactly what to do to restore your paint and also work up your brushes so they’re perfect for a morning’s work: watch it here.

§2. The undercoat

Professional glass painters rarely trace and shade directly onto glass. Instead they prime their glass before they start: they paint an ‘undercoat’. This is a layer of paint which they apply all over.

If you’re wondering why they do this, there are several reasons.

One fundamental reason is it’s hard to trace and shade on glass: bare glass. That’s why they paint an undercoat. Once dry, the undercoat is a lovely – slightly rough – surface on which you work: it grips your brush, which gives you more control.

See here for five ways the undercoat will help you paint stained glass.

If you like to watch and see it done, click here for a 4-minute demonstration.

When you want to know more about the right way to hold a badger blender, you’ll find this very useful.

And this tells you how to clean your blender.

Please note:
all the key techniques – undercoat, tracing, flooding and highlighting – are fully taught inside the foundation course,
Illuminate!

§3. Tracing

Some people like to shop; they think their tracing would be perfect if they only found the ‘perfect’ tracing brush.

I confess I used to think like this. Yes, I did.

But see how few brushes I use these days – just one or two: read my full confession here.

Preparation

Time to get the paint right

Time to get the paint right

I learned the hard way because I had to make a living. So like I say these days I mostly trace with just one or two good brushes. And what I always do is take whatever time I need before I start to get my paint just right.

These days it doesn’t upset my calm if my paint needs 10 minutes to get it right.

What are 10 minutes?

10 minutes are nothing, and mostly it’s less time than that. Here’s what happened one day so you can see me get my paint just right before I start to trace.

Another big thing I know is to study the design before I start. I always have a plan:

  1. I’ll start here
  2. Then I’ll move round to here
  3. Then this
  4. And this, then …

If you’re interested, here are two designs plus a break-down of the sequence in which I chose to trace the lines. Maybe you’d do things differently. Who knows? Myself, I reckon what matters most is you have a definite sense of purpose.

Yes, you need a plan because a plan will keep you calm and focussed on your tracing.

Pace

What’s the rush when you trace? Why the hurry to get it done? Some people bring this from the other work they do: ‘busy, busy, busy’.

Well, I am busy too.

I always have a ton of work to do, a hundred conflicts to resolve: that’s life.

Exactly: so I work fast. But I never lose my sense of what’s important here. And if you’ll forgive me for stating the obvious, a stained glass window can easily last 500 years or more.

Which makes me think how I had better always work the very best I can.

Therefore, I work fast, but I never rush. Here’s a good 5-minute video where you’ll see the kind of calm you need to trace stained glass.

And – when you’ve time … – here’s a long article I wrote about not rushing. It’s called ‘Rushing and not Enjoying vs. Treasuring the Journey’. Read it here.

Another thing: always, in between the strokes you paint, you must look after your palette and its paint, as you’ll see here in this 6-minute glass painting video.

A steady hand

That’s important, certainly: a steady hand. Here are 9 useful tips which make a difference.

Lastly, you must know how to load and shape a tracing brush with paint – a light touch is what you absolutely need – and also how to hold it when you paint stained glass.

How to use the painting bridge

The bridge feels awkward to begin with, but you’ll soon get used to it.

It’s best to hold it when you’re tracing, whereas later on, when you’re doing highlights, it’s best you hold the glass: see here.

There’s also a 12-minute tracing and highlighting video here which makes the difference clear.

How to arrange your palette

You’ll trace far better when your palette is properly arranged as you see here.

§4. Shadows

Some shadows we make by ‘softening’ trace-lines or mid-tones.

“Softening?”

That is to say:

  1. You apply the undercoat
  2. You trace the lines / mid-tones
  3. Now you turn them into shadows by covering them with a wash of paint, then blending them with the badger until they’re nice and gentle

Then you add more lines etc. to restore the precision and detail you sacrificed in step 3 above.

OK, so it’s hard to explain and easy to demonstrate.

Watch this video here.

(Other shadows: see ‘oil’ and ‘propylene glycol‘ below.)

§5. Flooding

‘Flooding’ is the name we give to the very thick paint you use for stained glass lettering or to block in around a face or hand. (Another phrase is “blocking in”.) It’s important to research the subject thoroughly because thick flooded paint can sometimes blister in the kiln, which you definitely don’t want. Here are some tips and guidelines.

And here’s a video demonstration – a stylish one: click here and you’ll see what I mean.

§6. Highlights

You’ll find a lovely demonstration here.

This step-by-step slideshow walks you through the process of using sticks and scrubs etc. to cut back through unfired paint to the bare glass which lies beneath.

When you want to watch a 9-minute film, click here.

§7. What do you mix your paint with?

Your glass paint: what do you mix it with?

Everyone uses water.

We’re no exception. So all the main lines and shadows are done in glass paint mixed with water and gum Arabic.

For a wonderful, short video course on how to mix a perfect lump of glass paint,
see here.

After then we carry on.

Sometimes we then use glass paint mixed with oil, other times it’s glass paint mixed with propylene glycol.

Why? Why do we continue painting? Why don’t we stop and fire our glass?

The reason is there’s so much gain and so little risk.

Watch the video demonstrations and you’ll see the kind of stunning effect which oil or glycol let you achieve.

Oil

This is a two-minute quick video so you see how oil makes shading easy.

This step-by-step summary will help you see how oil fits in with the more traditional painting which you do with water. It’s the story of a challenge we once had: the Tycoon’s Casket.

And here’s where you’ll find a good discussion of oil-based stained glass painting: how you can use it on top of (water-based) trace-lines and shadows which you haven’t fired yet. Plus there’s a 10-minute video of a stained glass dragon being done in oil.

When you want to see how far you can take oil, here’s a 13-minute video where you see how to paint a stained glass face.

Interested in working with a pen or nib instead of always using a brush? See here.

Note: for oil and brush, we mainly use Oil of Tar or Spike Lavender. For oil with pen and nib, we use Clove Oil thinned with Spike Lavender.

Glycol

Instead of oil, you can use propylene glycol to continue tracing and shading before you fire your glass.

See here.

Here’s a long article plus 8 videos showing you how you can use glycol (instead of oil). But do be warned – I don’t want to overload you with too much information – you’ll learn more if you can take your time when you click here. (There is an awful lot to learn. Which is wonderful. It’s also slightly terrifying.)

Oil vs. Glycol

If you’re wondering about how oil compares with glycol, here’s a checklist which will clear things up for you e.g. oils mostly smell, glycol doesn’t.

And here are 4 different ways of using glycol.

Vinegar

You can also trace with vinegar (and then paint shadows over it). Find more on vinegar tracing here.

§8. Mistakes

Doing so much painting in just one firing, you might naturally wonder what happens if you make a mistake: is all your work ruined?

So isn’t that a good reason to trace and fire (and fix your tracing permanently) before adding another layer (which you fire separately)?

That’s a good question.

Yes. Some mistakes are serious.

Other mistakes are just variations which occur naturally whenever you do things by hand. Read more about this topic here.

§9. Silver stain

When you use silver stain, it is very important to test everything: here’s why.

Lastly, here’s a video demonstration of stain and oil in action: watch it here.

If you’re wondering about the oils we use, I’ll gladly tell you. First of all, sandalwood amyris to make the basic mixture. Then spike lavender to dilute it to whatever consistency you need, e.g. depending on whether you want to trace, shade or flood.

§10. Firing

Firing can’t save anyone from the consequences of poor technique. It is dispassionate. It is impartial. Mostly, it just fixes what you’ve done. Here’s our ‘common sense’ firing schedule. But you should be advised that every kiln is different, so you must test things in your own kiln. You should also adjust your schedule slightly to make due allowance for whichever techniques you’ve used.

Here are 12 points you must bear in mind when deciding how slow / fast to fire your glass.

And here’s an article about fire-polishing, which is useful after sand-blasting.

§11. Overviews of complete projects

Here’s David talking about a heraldic window he was commissioned to make in honour of the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s coronation: lots of useful tips and insights – see here.

And here’s a detailed case study which shows you the techniques we used to silver stain a magnificent front door.

Questions

You can write to us here. Technique-based questions only please –  we don’t sell paints or brushes: if you’re looking for paints or brushes, contact PELI Glass Products.