Obsessive About Glass Painting

And that means other things must suffer

Yes, when you do a lot of one thing, other things must suffer

Unless …

Because we paint stained glass, what always happens is: designing and painting are the things we do a lot of, whereas a far smaller part of our time is involved with (a) cutting glass, or (b) assembling it in lead, soldering, cementing etc.

So let’s say we’ve got a three-month project whose design is finished: everything’s ready for us to start.

  • First up, we’ll cut glass for maybe two weeks.
  • Then, at the end, we’ll lead-up, cement and polish for maybe two weeks or three.

In between, it’s painting, painting, painting. Two months’ worth of painting (along with chasing new projects and preparing initial designs for later work).

Now painting’s great. Painting’s absolutely wonderful. But doing so much of it could easily make big problems for us elsewhere. The problems could be, our cutting and leading might suffer. Actually, this could easily happen.

And that’s why …

That’s why we take steps to ensure other skills don’t suffer

Here’s one important thing we do.  What we do is, we use exactly the same method we use for painting. The same approach.

Namely, we prepare, we rehearse, we test and analyse.

We probe for problems, then solve them – ruthlessly.

Then, when we start cutting (or leading), we’re up to speed. We’ve restored our confidence. We can despatch our work efficiently and sometimes – sometimes – with a fair quantity of pleasure.

All because we hit many problems before they hit us.

So now take cutting

We’ve a project coming up which involves a lot of circles. (I’ve mentioned it before: do you see how our preparations start really early?)

You might imagine circles are what I want to talk with you about. Maybe some day I will – but not today.

Today it’s what goes in between the circles. Here’s a small section from the cut-line:

Stained glass cut-line

Note the shape between the circles

A blunt 4-pointed star. That’s the shape whose cutting I want to talk about today.

There are easily 200 of them to cut.

Perhaps I’ll cut them, maybe David, or maybe someone else. We definitely need a plan because it’s not just wasted glass which worries me. It’s also wasted time.

Yes, wasted time if the shapes aren’t accurate when we come to leading up. (I say “we” but again it might be someone else whom we bring in.) If the shapes aren’t accurate, it’ll take an age to lead them, and maybe some of them will break, which means back to painting and – delays.

So this is now a true-life example, and it shows you how we work, how we test and analyse in order to make sure we’re up to speed with cutting which, compared with painting, takes up just a small proportion of our time.

And maybe you’ll think how weird and creepy and obsessive-compulsive we are.

And yes I think you’re right.

All I’ll say is, it’s our clients we’re always thinking off.

And if we achieve their happiness by controlling more things than ideally we’d like to (because actually we prefer to play and have fun), that’s just the way things are.

In other words, we won’t leave 200 four-pointed stars to chance.

So what we do early is …

We chose the glass.

And then we make a provisional plan about how to cut the shape.

The provisional plan usually goes wrong.

But, after 10 or so mistakes, we finally hit on this approach which now works every time for the particular glass we’ve chosen.

Eventually …

Here’s the best sequence we’ve found so far:

Cutting and breaking sequence (but NOT a cutline for the glass itself - excuse the rough drawing!)

Cutting and breaking sequence (but NOT a cutline for the glass itself – excuse the rough drawing!)

Maybe that’s obvious to you, that we must break off the corners (step 3) before we break out the curves (step 4). But not to me: because I don’t cut as much as I paint. And if it is obvious to you, I’m still glad to admit my weakness, because the key point here as everywhere with everything we do is: method.

What I believe

What I believe is: so much is anyway left to chance – that’s how life just is – I don’t want to contribute more through carelessness.


See, we won’t be cutting till the back-end of February, easily 4 weeks away or maybe more.

And we won’t be leading till May and June – easily 4 months away or more.

But in between we have a lot of painting to get done.

And, this way, we can do a better job:

  • When we start painting, we won’t be late and rushed and anxious because the cutting held us back.
  • And then, when we come to leading, we know everything will fit together – even though we don’t get much time to practise leading.

This way, the long hard months of painting will be not just effective but also sometimes – sometimes – fun.


For sure.

Obsessive about obsession in fact. And gladly so. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

(Next time I’ll maybe even show you a plan we’ve already prepared for leading up the circles … )


What do you do enough of that it doesn’t need much practise? (This isn’t boasting: it’s knowing your strengths.)

What do you do less often that it would benefit from the methodical approach which we ourselves must use for cutting and leading?

14 thoughts on “Obsessive About Glass Painting

  1. Happy 2015 from New England where it’s reading -5 below zero on our thermometer!

    Thank you for reminding me of these important obsessions, as they are indeed crucial to so many positive outcomes.

    My practice needs to occur with cutting large circles with a compass cutter. It’s a very costly mistake when one goes awry and I find different colored glasses cut differently. You hit home with your studio practices and it is a good reminder for me to pay attention to the process.

    So, thank you again for your insightful bits of wisdom!

    I wish you both a happy,healthy, creative and prosperous New Year!


    • Oh my goodness, that’s a vital distinction you introduce: on the one hand, those tasks which you can break them down and so practise their constituent smaller parts – and those tasks on the other hand where you wonder, .”What the Devil are the small constituent tasks which I can rehearse in isolation?”

      I’ve only cut a few large circles in my time and all I can say is: not much did the many small circles I’d cut prepare me for cutting a large one.

      For sure though, confidence continues to play an important role – just like a horse can sense people who fear horses, so glass reacts badly when it’s treated anxiously.

      So I imagine (which I must remember) it’s essential you approach the glass not just with a plan for which cuts and breaks to make first / second etc., but also with a firm resolve: interesting!

      All the best to you this coming year!

      • Confidence is the key. Technique can be taught but as you say confidence has to be developed. A great deal of my circles work has been copper foiled with no lead to hide even the smallest error.

        • My goodness, that’s precise. It’s fascinating how particular levels of precision become (through hard work) natural to different people. I notice this in our own approach to painting, where, because we paint to be seen from a distance, we assess success criteria in a very different way from people who customarily paint to be seen from close-up.

  2. Hello Stephen,

    I do not think this attitude may be considered weird and creepy and obsessive-compulsive.

    I think this is common in people who want to see the work develop satisfactorily. Or in other words, Planning. This makes all the difference. And more! Without losing fun.

    Returning to your subject, cutting glass. I imagine the roundel diameter, nay, the glass circle (I know that both of you have chosen not to use roundels in this project. It was a privilege to see this project, It was a great day) will determine the internal curvature of the four-pointed stars. Well, it seems to me that the diameter of glass circle produces four-pointed stars with “soft” internal curvature. So I think that your cutting method is accurate and well done.

    Time for fun: Schedule: You see, you won’t cutting till the back-end of February, easily 4 weeks away or maybe more. And you won’t leading till May and June – easily 4 months away or more. So, perhaps, You will need some help. So, I can cut the stars for you. What do you think?

    It was a good joke, isn’t? But believe me, the intention is true.

    Leaving aside the joke, congratulations on the project. It will be a great work in stained glass!

  3. Are you planning to lead each circle, then overlap the flanges as you insert the diamonds? What dimension of lead? Pretty soft flat H I’d guess. Since I pretty much learned all this by myself, I’m always curious. We do probably 80% copper foil to 20% lead, but I love doing historical work. After 40 years, I still frequently learn something new. Thanks, Geoff C. (I always enjoy your posts.) Oh, good source statewide for Propylene Glycol?

    • Hello Geoff, We’ll post more details as work progresses, and – yes – the flanges indeed will overlap, so as to preserve the true appearance of circularity. As for propylene glycol, I Googled “propylene glycol US supplier” and found a company called Dynalene, for example. I’m sure there are many others. Best – Stephen

  4. I thought you could start with recommending a well-oiled glass-cutter … that is where most students of mine get into trouble: get your tools right, just like with the painting!

    • Yes I agree. I myself always use a cutter you must dab with oil “by hand” – i.e. it doesn’t have a reservoir. So, after all these years, I have an ingrained habit to oil my cutter regularly. One thing I’ve noticed with beginners whose cutters have a reservoir: they don’t know to “check their oil” – and of course why should they? It’s just something one must learn to do.

  5. This is a very topical subject for me right now as I have not long ago returned to making stained glass after a break of 3 years – I can’t express what a joy it is to be back in a proper workshop!

    I’ve taken up a project I started years ago – one that I’d cut all the pieces for but hadn’t leaded up. It gave me the chance to look back on where my abilities lay then and where they are now.

    And the strange thing I realised that, although I’ve been out of the studio, my eye has become more critical, and I could now see mistakes that I had made. My cutting has become more accurate too; and while I’ve been leading up I’ve cut some pieces again because I didn’t consider the originals to be good enough.

    So although I’ve been out of practice for some time, in other ways the break seems to have done me some good, or somehow my observational and critical abilities have continued to grow even though I haven’t been able to apply them to a practical use.

    So the important thing for me now is to get obsessive too – obsessive about applying that improvement to practice, practice, practice, which I’m really looking forward to!

    • Deadlines are important. Commitment is essential. All the same, it easily happens that the impulse to finish and “be done with it” will compromise the performance. With writing, I’m frequently impulsive: reason is, I like to pour out the first / second drafts etc., knowing full well I can correct things later. But with painting, I’m completely different: if I need to stop for 30 minutes in order to have the focus I need to paint the next layer, that’s what I’ll do, I’ll stop – because with painting (unlike writing), it’s hard to put things right. Cutting likewise – and I wonder if some people don’t come to rely too much on the fact they have a grinder. (Recollection: in the studio where I trained, there existed the unkind yet at least understandable ritual of emitting a loud dramatic groan each time someone used the grinder. The point was that the click of the switch and the drone of the motor might well announce the leader’s determination to make the pieces fit. But they also announced the cutter’s failure: hence the groan. So it’s great when any of us, just like you have, return to a piece of work and see with our own eyes how we can actually do it better now. I like the progress which such realisations bring home to us.)

  6. Dear both,

    Thank you for your demo about prepping to cut the blunt star. I’m probably being dim, but weren’t you prepping to cut circles? If you cut in the sequence shown you would be snapping your circles into pieces. It would be useful to have a demo about cutting all those circles. I usually go for squares or hexagons around the circle and then groze and nibble away the the edges. I’ve tried the compass cutter (not sure of proper name), but this is a do or die method and if you get it wrong you can waste a lot of glass.

    More power to you elbows. I love your posts!


    • Hi Claire! There was indeed an earlier post which (before moving to its main topic, how – thank goodness – we’d insisted on the need to make and test a prototype in situ) discussed cutting circles. But as you say this post just above us is about the space between them.

      Like you, we use an ordinary cutter, not a compass cutter: I’m sure they’re good but it’s just that we haven’t mastered them. Again like you – squares!


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