If you’ve read Sherlock Holmes, you’ll know how Dr. Watson is forever saying he can’t reveal the protagonist’s true identity because (for example) the peace of nations lies finely balanced and would be placed at risk.
So it is here.
And you’ll see how I am putting down this tale in a hidden area of our website, far away from prying eyes and gossiping lips.
Therefore read it carefully, because I have taken great technical care to hide its existence.
Because the truth is, I can only tell you the bare outlines of this incident.
It would not do if it fell into the wrong hands.
A ‘diplomatic incident’ would ensue.
Because I’m not joking here.
Now a moment ago we were discussing how to shade a piece of glass so it was light green at one end and dark at the other.
I mentioned three ways and said there was another.
And so there is.
Here’s the story and you’ll understand.
Colour: a true story
Sometime in our career at Williams & Byrne (forgive me: I must be vague about when this happened) a client (who must be nameless) asked us to reproduce a very complicated image (which I cannot describe) in stained glass.
The image was a modern one.
The client had specifically commissioned the artist – and I do mean ‘artist’: not just someone who calls himself an artist and hopes the quality of their work will thereby magically increase and be remembered down the centuries – to paint this modern image for him with the express intention he (the client) would then ask us (Williams & Byrne) to render this image in stained glass.
(We get all kinds of enquiries, and so long as people pay a fair rate for top-quality work, we don’t care about much else.)
We discussed terms, struck an agreement, accepted payment and set to work.
First, David worked on the artist’s original scale design so it was (a) full size, and (b) something we could use to paint from.
Yes, those of you who don’t draw, this is an important point because you must be aware that to make a painted stained glass image work, you need a design that informs you how to paint it.
And an image made by someone who’s ignorant of stained glass painting is no good, no good at all.
That’s why David re-drew the original image. Not just to make it larger. But also to guarantee it worked on glass.
The glass – such lovely glass …
Then we cut the glass.
Oh this was a wonderful job. It was a very detailed image: full of tiny pieces.
And luckily for us we rarely throw away our off-cuts. So around the edges of our studio we have boxes and boxes of beautiful but tiny bits of hand-made glass with such intensity and variety of colour as you will only find in hand-made glass: and we could use them here.
A wonderful job indeed.
Our finest glass.
We’d been waiting for a job like this to use our finest remnants.
But … the client didn’t like the colour.
You see, having cut the glass, we sent him samples (he lived elsewhere) and he examined them with – how shall I say – an untrained eye.
And why indeed should it be otherwise?
He is the client; we are the professionals.
If my push-bike isn’t working, I take it to the mechanic who knows far more than I do. I don’t understand the things he tells me, and why indeed should it be otherwise?
Ah, but I let my mechanic do his job.
It would be madness to do otherwise and interfere.
But the client didn’t like the colour.
And we’d cut all the glass – our finest glass: the prize of our collection: bits of glass we’d collected over 10s of years: lovely colour, and also sentimental value.
We’d stuck it on an easel.
It looked magnificent.
But the client didn’t like his sample.
Bare glass vs. painted glass
Important point: right now it wasn’t painted.
So the client was comparing raw, unpainted glass with the expensive image which his artist had made for him on paper.
And of course we were expecting questions at this stage. We know what we’re doing but it takes a huge leap of the imagination to think ahead and understand the difference your paint will make. (That exactly is our skill. And also yours.)
So we explained how it would all be very different when it was painted.
“Trust us,” we said. “We know what we’re doing: after all it’s why you chose us, not just any studio in the telephone book..”
And he did.
He did trust us, I mean.
And we said we’d send him a painted sample.
Which we did.
1st painted sample
Yes, we painted and fired the glass.
We also painted and fired and assembled a small sample showing a young boy, wearing trousers, sitting with his legs crossed.
Very small, very intricate, very colourful.
We sent it off.
And again the client did not like the colour.
“The trousers are too pink,” he wrote.
Back at the studio, looking at his email, we scratched our heads.
We’re very good at understanding people but this one had us puzzled.
For a second or two …
You see, the client was comparing the painted glass sample in his hand with the artist’s original on paper.
We on the other hand were looking at the whole window, all the tiny pieces individually attached with children’s modelling clay to a large glass easel.
We asked him to visit but he was too busy for a month so the quickest thing to settle his anxiety was to make a second sample whose trousers were less pink.
And here we used enamel.
2nd painted sample
Comparing the second sample with the photograph of the artist’s original, the match was perfect. The glass trousers looked exactly like the paper ones.
We sent the client his second sample and he was thrilled.
By now a month had past and he had time to visit.
By now we’d also leaded up and brought his window to completion.
The client came. The client was thrilled. The trousers were perfect. Everything was perfect. The finished stained glass looked like a perfect copy of the artist’s original commission (except it was made from glass and paint and lead): it absolutely worked.
Yes, the client was thrilled.
And he wasn’t to know (nor are you to tell him, thank you) we hadn’t changed a thing.
Yes, his second sample was different from the first.
But our original had remained the same.
So, in the finished window, it was the original we’d used: the original sample – which the client (not realising he’d once rejected it) loved.
The trousers (in particular) were just right. The original trousers. The ones which were “too pink”.
Just think if we had changed them. Just think if we had panicked and changed the glass or colour throughout the window (not just in the trousers) …
Imagine we had used enamel everywhere …
Now maybe you know this already but I hope this story makes you smile:
Colour depends on context.
Which is a very big topic.
And that is why, when Michael wrote and asked me how to shade a piece of glass so it was light green at one end and dark green at another, I couldn’t answer quickly.
All the best,
A quick P.S. because this is important and I don’t want you to miss out.