Yes, indeed, as I was just saying, we’re often asked how to paint particular things. For example:
- A hand
- A horse
- Waves and clouds
- A dove
But maybe there’s a strange assumption here.
After all, is there just “one correct way” to paint a hand, a horse, a dove, waves or clouds (or whatever)?
One glass painter might use one set of techniques, and another glass painter might use a very different set of techniques. And both their painted objects – using very different styles – might be absolutely lovely.
Now there’s an interesting point which is a little bit hidden here. So let’s dig it out.
If, using different techniques, both their objects can be beautiful, this suggests that it’s the graceful skill of their respective performances which is particularly important here.
Whatever they actually did, they did it skillfully.
(Of course, the objects must also be “recognizable” – and I promise we’ll have a great time discussing “accuracy in stained glass painting” on another occasion.)
There are many ways to acquire skill, careful repetition being perhaps the most important.
Nothing magical in that: just practice, perseverance, attention.
But maybe some people think that their mere possession of the “recipe” (or technique) – especially when it’s been given to them by a master glass painter – should immediately confer the talent.
That’s clearly not the way things are. – Which is so self-evident, that maybe you feel “short-changed” right now …
But wait! That’s not the “helpful idea”!
Imagine, please, a cook who is attempting to make the world’s best quiche lorraine.
The thing is, with an ambition like this, our cook here gets terribly worried and hot and upset and uptight and anxious. (Perfection is such a terrifying thing to aim for.)
This state of agitation means they keep forgetting where they are, what they’ve just done and so forth.
Consequently they don’t remember what ingredients to use, and what order to use them in. And they also forget what temperature they last used to bake the quiche, and for how long.
How can they ever improve?
They can’t – unless they write things down in advance, and then follow the recipe “to the letter”.
Yes, exactly – the cook needs a recipe. And a bad recipe is often better than none at all. At least a bad recipe is a starting point. If it doesn’t work out, it’s always possible to look at the individual instructions, to adjust them, and try again.
And that is the helpful idea. You see, professional glass painters write down the sequence in which they intend to perform a series of techniques.
If the professionals always do it, then maybe that’s something which helps explain their professionalism?
So always have a plan of attack.
I remember once teaching someone how to highlight, and I suggested making some pencil lines first on the design to see what they looked like first.
After all, if you do pencil on paper, you can always rub them out if you don’t like them – a great advantage when considering where to place your highlights!
This person replied, “I can’t possibly do that. It would destroy my sense of exploration”.
What can one say?
If someone wants to “explore” and is prepared to run the risk of ruining their work, that’s their call.
Me, I’d usually prefer to make a plan. And I’d already have done my share of “explorations” on paper first, or even on small sample pieces of glass.
And I don’t reckon that plans destroy the artistic integrity of the process. They just help us to acquire grace and skill more quickly than we otherwise would if we were bumbling around, trying this and that, and then forgetting which brush we’d used, and when, with what medium and paint, and so on.
Here’s a sample plan (of nothing in particular):
- Copy-trace main lines (make a note of what you call the “main” lines)
- Strengthen the main lines
- Paint an overcoat to soften the main lines
- Reinstate and re-shape some of these lines (note down which lines)
- Pick out main highlights (use a pencil and mark these on the design as needed – no explorations right now please!)
- Soften some of the highlights (note down which)
- Mid-tones on reverse (say where)
- Paint an overcoat to soften the mid-tones on the reverse
- First firing at 1250 Fahrenheit / 675 Celsius
- And so forth …
It really doesn’t matter if this plan transpires to be rubbish. The point is, it’s a plan. If something doesn’t have the desired effect, we can make a note of what went “wrong” and change it. Then we can use the revised plan and paint the glass again. And again. And again as needed.
Believe me: the experts all do it. I know they do. So, if you don’t already, we suggest you do.
This has just made me think of 2 related point which we can talk over the next few times, namely:
- A quick way of getting really proficient at a particular series of steps within a given plan
- And, yes, what counts as accuracy and precision in stained glass painting / when to be critical and start again, and when to push on and see what happens at the end …
So next time I’ll tell you another thing the experts always do.
For now, just make the time to write down the sequence of techniques that you plan to use.
Until then and always,
All the best,
P.S. Another really big advantage of writing down a plan is that it gets it out of your head. That way, it’s not muddling and cluttering your thoughts.
That way, you can bring a better quality of attention to your actions. This is turn will improve the rate at which your strokes acquire skill. It is so!
To paint stained glass, everyone really needs a clear and focussed mind. And here, writing down a plan is a simple way of getting closer to that end.
And of course yet another advantage is that, by writing down your strategy, you objectify it; thus you can often improve on it even before you lift your brush – which is much better than realizing half-way that something is impractical!
P.P.S. Here’s a useful post plus a short video where you will see an excellent example of a “plan of attack”. Maybe you haven’t seen it yet? Maybe it’ll make different sense now. Anyway, it’s right here.