Something We’ve Talked about Before – It’s So Useful

But others say it’s “Best Avoided” – you decide

And I’ll keep you guessing for a moment longer because otherwise it’ll spoil the fun …

The other day I took young Nell, my 6-year old, to Hereford Cathedral. True to form she was down the spooky crypt in an instant, “looking for bones”. Knowing it was a dead-end (so to speak), I allowed myself two minutes in a chapel and saw this, a stained glass window with amazing detail:

From a chapel in Hereford Cathedral

From a chapel in Hereford Cathedral

Now take a good look at the red and blue tunics on the two heralds. I know the photo’s not so good but don’t worry, this isn’t a test – just spend a few minutes pondering how they were done.

Yes, from the photo I know how it could be enamels but in fact it’s plating: acid-etched flashed red-on-white on the inside face nearest you, then acid-etched flashed blue-on-white behind.

See this photo which I took from an angle – you can see white glass right next to the blue: this is a second piece of glass, behind the first (the red and white one).

Etched red-on-white glass, plated against etched blue-on-white

Etched red-on-white glass, plated against etched blue-on-white

It’s humbling and inspiring to see such craftsmanship. Yet I also mention it because of a famous opinion we’ve talked about before. Here are the words of E. Liddall Armitage (a designer and glass painter of prodigious talent):

Some artists resort to plating and even tend to boast about it, but it is best avoided (Stained Glass, Leonard Hill Books Limited, London, 1960, p. 130).

Best avoided?

Surely the point is, to use a technique not just skilfully but also in the right place.

Now I’m off to London to see the opera tonight (Friday) and spend a day in the Victoria & Albert Museum tomorrow (Saturday). I’m slightly dazed at the prospect.

All the same, please leave a comment and we’ll both join in again once studio life returns to normal on Monday.

Best,Stephen ByrneP.S. In case you missed it before, here’s a link to when we last talked about stained glass plating.

Like this article?

Get our blog newsletter and we’ll email you each time a new article comes out.

We’ll also send you the other email tips and free videos we publish here.

The newsletter comes out once a week: really useful tips, techniques and demonstrations for all glass painters who use a kiln to fire their work. Get it here.

17 thoughts on “Something We’ve Talked about Before – It’s So Useful

  1. I agree. In trying to find out how to paint on glass there seems to be a lot of should and shouldn’t. Why not try and find out? If it works – use it. Your e-book has helped me tremendously (and I’m still slowly working through it due to my other commissions).

    Thanks again!

    • I agree with you! – But I’d just say, why not ask around and try and find out? And that is a big part of the problem – when people keep things to themselves. for our part, we talk to you about what works for us, and why and how it does this. It’s then up to you to use it or not, or adapt it or not.

      All the best,

  2. Oooooh! You lucky bugger! I would give both the left and the right one to be where you are tonight and where you’re going to be tomorrow! I hope you have a thoroughly marvellous time! Thanks for sharing the photographs with the rest of us who don’t have the privilege of being able to see these beauties up-close and personal.


  3. I keep wondering if they’re saying it’s “best avoided” because when it goes bad all manner of gunk gets caught in the plating. Perhaps they say to avoid it to knock out certain long term problems. Does that book offer up any alternatives or reasons as to why they say to avoid it?

    • No he doesn’t: it’s presented as a point of principle, as if plating is distasteful, common even … To be fair, at the time of writing, hand-made glass was far more widely available than nowadays, so it is conceivable that a wider range and depth of colour was obtainable without plating (unlike nowadays). But you’re absolutely right to point out the problems which can be caused by cement or unsupported weight. But all techniques (not just plating) require care and knowledge of course.

  4. After reading all your plating articles, and the accompanying posts, I must agree that plating is a time-honored practice. It’s simply that a lot of people do not practice it properly or well. When done with great forethought and skill, it is a marvelous tool. There are actually two main issues to be mindful of: 1) complete sealing of assiduously cleaned pieces, and 2) provision for the additional weight that multiple plating layers add to the window. We have run across old windows with as many as five layers, which is a great deal of weight, and thus stress, in a small area. Without custom reinforcement, that weight can create longterm problems.

    • Thanks, Terry: these are really useful points for us and many others. Reinforcement is an important point to understand. The thing is, the stress and pressure must be channelled somewhere, and if someone just channels it to another part of the window, they’re asking for trouble. As you well know, you have to channel the stress into something far stronger than the supporting lead, so either into a surrounding metal frame, or into the building itself. (Just no one bring the building down, please!)

  5. I was lucky enough to occasionally work with Peter Skerton here in Cornwall in the 1990’s. Peter was such a nice chap, sadly no longer with us, but had a wealth of experience. I remember him telling me about being an apprentice at Whitefriars studio in the late 30’s, where apparently they would sometimes plate thick english glass, combined with wide heart lead – and the panel would be so thick you could stand it up on its edge!

    • I’ve seen work like that, Roy – also triple-plating: again I’d say, whatever gets the effect (so long as the overall stability and durability of the piece remain as they should).

  6. And maybe it was simply that the august E. Liddall Armitage was just “crap” at plating and therefore chose to try and rubbish the technique.

    You would be AMAZED at how often that sort of thing happens!

    • I agree: it happens a lot.

      What’s bizarre to me is how some people, by their very natures, are disposed to elevate practical tips and methods into “theological” / dogmatic points of faith. This will show in many different areas of their life and how they live. You’ll see here how Kelley talks about a “kerosene float” technique – and the point is: whatever works best.


  7. Another silly question from the new girl! Plating is quite beautiful (and I did check out the pictures on flickr) but my question is, Which way do you install the glass? From what I see, at least up close, the plating side is not the most attractive … so where is the glass viewed from? Is the smooth side facing outside or inside? I can’t seem to wrap my mind around this since to me, at least, the plated side is a bit bulky and not too attractive. All windows are viewed from the outside as well as from the inside.

    • Hi Cherie,

      Good point: it’s always important when designing and “making” a stained glass window to appreciate the balance between inside viewing and outside viewing, and the exact circumstances under which this happens.

      I’d just say: it’s not clear cut. There isn’t a rule of thumb here. It depends on the function of the building, where the window is and so forth. Yes, nearly all windows may bew “viewed” from outside andinside, but sometimes it happens that 99% of people are “just passing” on one side and “really looking” on the other side.

      One thing to consider is, which side do you cement first – because that side will have the greatest visible depth to the lead: the cement will be thickest on the side where you start. And, following on from my point above, this too depends on very local considerations: there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer here.

      Now you ask about the “smooth” side – can you say more, because I don’t follow you here. Thanks!


      P.S. “Silly” questions are ones which are answered by the text or by a moment’s thought. You’re not at all in that category.

  8. Very beautiful faces on the people in this stained glass – it is with awesome wonder we stand before those works of art in glass.

    Plating … ummmm … I often play with two layers (not etched – that was in my days at St.Martin’s!) but enamelled or painted coloured glasses.

    I agree with Terry (above) that the weight is something that has to be considered.

    An interesting image making stained glass more 3-D, if you like?

    Best wishes,

    P.S. The Victoria & Albert Museum was one of my old haunts. Is the Rodin sculpture still in the hallway downstairs? I used to enjoy looking round the William Morris section. Medieval glass too (not much), and the hundreds of beautiful threads of patterns in the materials section. I had so much inspiration from looking at patterns in materials. Ahhh … thanks for the blast from the past!

  9. You asked what I mean about the “smooth side” I guess I visualize plating as being constructed from the “back” side where all the layers are. Do you add glass in a 3-D if you will where the layers are on both sides? My only information on this subject is from a pattern I bought but not yet tried from Robert Oddy and most of the added glass is on the back side with just parts of the flower or leaf slightly raised on the front. Does that make sense? I am fascinated and would like to know more! Thanks

Comments are closed.