The Beastly Lion of Wolsey Towers

Episode #1

OK, something new. A mini-series. Starts today. 12 episodes. Each video will reveal a glass painting technique-in-use. And step-by-step you’ll see the methods we used to paint and stain “The Beastly Lion of Wolsey Towers”.

Watch episode #1. It’s here.

The design

Questions and problems follow from the design, which follows from the brief the client gives you. This time, a round skylight, measuring 1230 mm across:

The Beastly Lion of Wolsey Towers

The Beastly Lion of Wolsey Towers

The beastly lion himself is in the centre, measuring 430 mm across.

So it’s a fair-sized piece of glass.

Another fact you must know is the client insisted the window must look ancient.

In fact, as wrecked as possible.

I’ll remind you of this when (in episode 7) you see us attacking the half-fired paint to damage it …

For now, here’s a close-up of the ancient-looking design the client authorised us to paint for him:

Stained glass design: lion

The Beastly Lion Close-Up and Ancient

Now, once the glass is cut and clean, what would you do?

I wonder …

Would you trace the outline?

Or would you paint an undercoat?

OK, ourselves, we chose to paint an undercoat, because this will help with the tracing.

It will also give us a surface to scratch and abuse, so helping to fake the panel’s considerable age.

The undercoat

But wait a moment …

As I said, this is a fair-sized piece of glass.

Have you ever applied an undercoat to a piece this size?

What do you suppose the difficulties are? What might go wrong? What can one do to avoid the difficulties you foresee …

Think about these questions for a moment.

Then when you’re ready, click Play.

Episode #1

(Video not showing? First hit Refresh/Reload. See other answers here. Or watch it here)

You got questions?

Great. Then use the comment box below.


Stephen Byrne

P.S. The first 3 episodes are for everyone. From episode #4, you’ll need to join our newsletter to get the password. Scroll up and see the sign-in form top-right.

46 thoughts on “The Beastly Lion of Wolsey Towers

  1. I do enjoy your clips and your brand of humour.

    Thanks, Stephen.

    P.S. The education is great – always masterfully carried out.

  2. The demo is good, but why aren’t you explaining a bit about brushes etc instead of the music

    • Hi Arlene,

      There’s lots about the brush elsewhere, and also about undercoating in general.

      The point here is to show how it’s possible to to tackle a big piece of glass.


  3. Wow! It is majorly (I don’t think that’s a real word) helpful to see you in action. I practice and practice and still can’t seem to get the smooth even flow you have. So I will keep practicing.

    • Hi Erin,

      I do want to say this (because I know it’s hard for us to convey and for you and others to understand the standards which are acceptable – or not): seen close-up, (even) our undercoat is far from perfectly smooth. But it doesn’t matter. For sure, it is (more than) smooth enough; but perfectly smooth it definitely is not.

      It all depends on where you’re going with a piece.

      We ourselves often soften our highlights, which means (see episode #6), we use our hand to bruise them. So the undercoat will anyway get “bashed about”.

      Also, this piece is meant to look ancient and weather-worn, so too much perfection would be out of order.

      So, in your unceasing quest for mastery, you must certainly be critical; but you must not be critical beyond a practical and reasonable limit.


  4. Thanks for the refresher. I generally trace first, fire then put on the undercoat. Next time I will try your way.

  5. Stephen,

    To start with, it’s a great work both of you are doing here. For myself I have just learned a new way to paint my undercoat over the round glass.

    But the question is; did David used a wider brushes or just the regular ones?

    All the best, and thanks for both of you for all what you are doing.

    • Hi Hassan,

      Well observed. This is indeed a slightly larger hake than the one we usually use. And it’s used just once or twice a year. (Which shows you how versatile the usual one is, the one that’s 1.75 inches across.) This one’s the size up: 2.25 inches across. It gives that little bit of extra surface coverage.


  6. Thanks for the great video and the inspiration. I would like to start painting after nearly 16yrs of not doing, so … I am wondering if you choose a “correct” side of the glass to paint on? – i.e. not the tinned side as with float glass? And what is your paint constitution made of to make it flow so beautifully (and not dry out quickly on your light box between applications)? Also, do you use oil or glycerine in undercoating?

    I’ll endeavour to do some research on your site.

    Fabulous glass work! Thanks again.

    • Hi Jet,

      Whether there is a “correct” side for undercoating/tracing etc. will depend on everything else you / we plan to do. In this case, later on (much later on), the lion will be stained. Therefore there might well be a correct side for staining, meaning that the undercoating/tracing would have to go on the other side. As it happens, we know this kind of glass we’re using here, and both sides stain beautifully.

      About the paint itself: the ingredients are gum Arabic, water and glass paint. (There’s no need for glycerine; and oil would not mix well.) Nothing special about the paint we use for undercoating. Good grinding and mixing gets it to flow well – as you’ll see in episode #3 when the time comes to trace the outline.

      As for the undercoat not drying out: of course it will … eventually. First thing is, the light box surface was as cool as it could be (we kept it switched off until just before). Also, the light itself is low-heat, which helps. Third, the glass was kept on another table until just before, so it was nice and cool. Fourth, as you see, there is a sequence, which allows you to re-activate paint you applied earlier that’s already started to dry a little.

      So the main point is, you do everything you can to keep your glass as cool as possible for as long as possible. And then you also use your brush to re-awaken paint that’s already dried a little.


  7. Great video, But! The music in the video doesn’t explain what you are doing. Like in a cop movie, what, where, when, who and how?
    What paint? color? water or vinegar? how thick? how long to dry? are you going to fire it, and at what temperature, and how long? Music doesn’t explain anything!

    • Good questions. Fine to ask. What matters now is it’s glass paint, gum Arabic and water – our usual mix, to make a good-sized lump that serves for undercoating and also tracing. It’ll be fired much much later on – after tracing, flooding, highlighting etc. (About episode #6 if I remember right.)

  8. Thanks Stephen,

    Does it matter what shade of undercoating I would use? Can it ever be too light, or too dark? Is the primary purpose of an undercoat to create a better paint distribution, a base for easier, better tracing? Does the undercoating need to be relatively hard for piling subsequent lines on top of it?

    Just wondering …


    • Hi Rolf,

      Good question about the shade / too light / too dark. The undercoat is optional and serves various ends, one of which is to give you a slightly rough surface on which to trace, another of which is to give those lines you trace some extra weight by virtue of the fact they have an undercoat beneath them.

      Now can it be too light? Definitely it can. If it’s too light, your tracing brush will just remove it as you trace. Also, when you come to highlight later on (another benefit of working with an undercoat), you won’t have much contrast between the undercoat itself and the bare (high-lit) glass.

      Can it be too dark? For sure. From a practical point of view, when you’re tracing, you usually want to be able to see the design. beneath. As your undercoat gets darker, this becomes more difficult. And of course it is anyway made more difficult as the glass itself becomes darker. For the Beastly Lion, we’re using light green glass. If we were using dark blue, you can readily see how that would complicate things … (although of course there are many ways around any problem, once it’s well-defined).

      You also ask if the undercoat needs to be “relatively hard”. The answer I’d give is, it’s usually just the same paint you use for tracing. So, in that sense of “hard” (meaning: more gum Arabic), then the answer is “No, not hard at all”. You just need to handle it carefully, because of course it will bruise if you bang your hand against it.

      But this brings us naturally to the approach you would adopt in the situation where the undercoat had to be very, very light. In normal circumstances, with the same paint you use for tracing, then, as I say, it would contain so little gum Arabic that your tracing brush would remove it as you worked. So, the work-around is, when you need a very light undercoat, you must just add a bit more gum to it, because then you will have the adhesion you require.

      All the best,

  9. Another great little video. For me personally, I have found that painting using a lump of paint (3pt Tracing Black, 1pt Bistre Brown) has been the most helpful technique I have taken away from your videos: I use a 16″ square x 1/4′ thick (400mm x 6mm) piece of plate glass as a palette with a good size lump at the top which gives me plenty of room to mix the paint to the required consistency and to work it with whatever brushes as needed.

    At the end of the session, use of the palette knife to scrape it all back towards the lump leaves everything nice & tidy. And then: water clean up!

    What a difference …

    I first stated out learning to mix my paints with oil mediums years ago. I use it far less often now, however it is necessary to use at times, but clean up is a drag.

    • Yes, indeed, as you say: a well-mixed lump of glass paint and a good-sized palette.

      When you get the basics right, the fine details (like tracing) are much easier.

      And for ourselves, we still use oil (or glycol). But always on top of the (unfired) water-based painting. (Oil is certainly a mess to tidy up; glycol less so, being water-soluble.)

  10. Hi Stephen and David,

    Nice video and music!

    Could I say that the finished undercoat appearance (while wet) must be similar to (what we call here) vegetable paper? (It is a type of paper which engineers used with Indian ink.)

    Or that depends…

    Thanks again. Great glass work!

    • Hi Fábio,

      Thanks for your comment. It’s interesting what you say about “vegetable paper”. This comparison you make (plus some other questions we’ve had) suggest to us it’ll be useful if we film the texture close-up so it’s clear what we’re aiming for (and what is good enough for our plans). I hope all’s well for you.


  11. Hi stephen,

    Looks a very exciting project. I’ve a small problem though. Am in Sri Lanka at the moment and am trying to get it on the Samsung tablet. Everything comes up except the play button. If this is not fixable I can wait till I get back to Australia.

    Looking forward to doing a smaller version of it myself!


  12. Hi, Stephen,

    Thanks for fixing my computer as well!

    Looks like a very interesting project.

    Looking forward to it!

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  14. As mentioned in my last note, I try to trace over the unfired matted glass. Although the technique is easy and certainly a time saver, I found it difficult to see through darker glass to the cartoon using Bister Brown Mat, thus making it hard to see the trace lines. I am using a very bright light table.


    • Hello Sam,

      The undercoat is not mandatory. It’s just a means to an end. Either an undercoat assists you in your objectives (in which case you use it), or it doesn’t (and you don’t).

      One thing the undercoat can assist with is your tracing. This is because the undercoat provides a nicer surface on which to trace than does bare glass.

      But there’s generally no point if you can’t see what to trace.

      So the thing is here, you don’t usually need an undercoat that dark. In most situations, your undercoat must be light enough to see through so you can trace the design which lies beneath your glass.

      That’s why I suggest you ‘pull back’ on your undercoat and make it several shades lighter. Of course this will probably throw up a new set of questions and problems, but that’s life. I promise you: the undercoat is worth it.


    • The lump of paint? Yes? Three tablespoons of tracing black, one tablespoonful of bistre brown (for example), some water – not too much: just enough to absorb most of the dust and bind the dry ingredients. Then use the palette knife to grind and crush for several minutes. Now maybe under half-a-teaspoonful of gum Arabic (liquid form). Grind and crush some more. Adjust with more water as needed. And now test. If possible, leave overnight before using in earnest. It’s all covered in Part 1 of Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets from an English Stained Glass Studio – chapter 1 deals with how to mix stained glass paint.

  15. Thanks for the instructions for making the lump of paint – it is just what I needed. Many of the books I have only say add a small amount of gum Arabic which is’t very helpful. Someone told me to use vinegar rather than water. Is this a good idea or not?

    • Concerning gum Arabic: the first thing is, it isn’t mandatory, so if someone’s style doesn’t require it, that’s absolutely fine. The second thing is, whilst it’s fine to add none (if that’s what works for you and achieves the effects you want to achieve), it’s definitely not OK to add too much: in other words, there is an upper limit, and, if you go there, it’s almost certain your paint will blister in the kiln.

      Concerning vinegar: (like gum Arabic) in the abstract it’s neither a good nor bad idea. It all depends on what you want to achieve and what works for you. There is a technique which involves tracing using glass paint mixed with vinegar, then shading using glass paint mixed with water, then firing. Whatever works for you. For ourselves, we prefer to trace and shade using glass paint mixed with water (and gum Arabic). Just one lump. That works for us and the kind of effects we want to make.

      But with everything, if you get the effects you want, and you do it well so that it’s as long-lasting as kiln-fired stained glass is meant to be, then you must do whatever it takes, whatever the dogmatists say. Some folks use own their ear-wax. Others, their own urine. Whatever.

  16. Just joined you. I enjoyed the first video very much.

    I learned to mix only water with my paint so I was very interested in the undercoating and using gum Arabic.

    Looking forward to the next video.

    • Glad to meet you, Sara. And that’s right: gum Arabic isn’t mandatory: it all depends on the techniques you want to use. And we find gum is extraordinarily helpful for the kind of work we do here at Williams & Byrne.


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