Glass Paint: The Challenges And The Joys

An article we wrote

The editor of ‘Artists & Illustrators’ asked us for an article about the challenges and joys of stained glass painting.

Now his readers already use brushes with considerable skill. But, of course, they work on paper or canvas etc. Not glass.

We had just 500 words or so. Here’s the article we wrote for them.

Glass vs. paper: glass paint vs. water-colour and oil

When painting on glass, you apply pigment to a transparent (often coloured, sometimes textured) surface through which light passes to the viewer. And this is different from painting on paper, where you apply pigment to an opaque surface which reflects light back at you.

Now, even if you’re initially inspired to learn this skill by amazing windows in ancient buildings, you’ll soon discover how the activity itself demands your attention in a most absorbing way. For it is one thing to master the brushes; it is quite another to master the paint.

Yes, you pour the powdered pigment from a packet. And yes, you use a palette knife to mix it with some water and gum Arabic.

But there the fun begins: your paint is no sooner perfect for your first few strokes – the right consistency and colour – than it will start drying on your palette. And now you must restore it before you can continue, or else your following strokes will fail.

The secret here is to understand the process and also to enjoy its challenge.

For consider that a painted stained glass window is a mosaic of individual pieces which you work on one-by-one using a light-box or easel: until it is assembled and fitted where it is meant to go, you cannot be certain how the perception of each piece will be affected by the others, nor how strong or weak the light will be, nor how the view outside will influence everything. You can only imagine, guess, infer.

So, all the time you struggle to maintain the consistency of your pigment and the depth of colour, you must also remember how your judgement is conditioned by a speculation: all in all, this is a nice engagement of your hand, brain and heart.

And in eight hundred years, it is just possible someone may see your stained glass window, be enchanted by its beauty, and feel inspired to learn how it was made.

What would you say?

Now I wonder what you’d say to professional oil-painters and water-colourists.

I’m sure you’d want to encourage people.

Yet we can’t be unrealistic here. Maybe you find this too: a huge obstacle with newcomers is, they believe it should be easy, they’re surprised and upset it should actually turn out to be so difficult.

“But like you’re just tracing an image, right? How hard is that? …”

And certainly there’s a fair sense in which tracing should be easy: a sense in which, if it’s hard, you’re doing it wrong.

But it’s only easy when you learn to solve the ‘mysteries’ of the paint and palette.

And that’s why we chose to write about the challenges and joys like this: so that newcomers will get a realistic impression of what they can expect (however talented they are with other media).

All the best,

Stephen Byrne