… I don’t draw.
Well, I can’t draw well.
I just copy.
And if anyone reckons I’m supposed to be ashamed of that, well, no one comes down hard on a violinist who plays Bach beautifully but who can’t compose …
So don’t anyone pick on me here! ( – As if any of you would.)
Of course it’d be completely different if the violinist tried to pretend Bach’s music were his own.
But I don’t do that either. (OK that means it never was a “secret” as such – I just wanted to lure you here under false pretences. I’m like that.)
All I do is copy the designs which David prepares.
Well, I copy some of them.
The fine details of human faces still elude me.
(But I’ll not give up trying!)
So maybe it’s actually not too much of a risk to spend some time talking with you about stained glass design.
And the reason is, there is a useful moral at the heart of this newsletter – so it applies to people whether or not they draw.
Which means it applies to me, and maybe to you too.
Here’s the story …
The tycoon and his challenge
Well you maybe remember how we were summoned to London’s notorious Soho district to see this tycoon who’s rebuilding a mansion on top of the best hill in London?
Millions of pounds he’s spending. Tens of millions.
I mean just on the decoration.
And it’ll show.
Oh yes it’ll show. But not just any old how: it’ll show in a particular way to those who know.
See – the tycoon’s determined that nothing should look new. Everything must look original, as if it’s been in the mansion for hundreds of years.
Now maybe you also remember how, to get this commission, he challenged us to get back to him in a week with two pieces of forged and ancient-looking glass.
That was the thing: it might have been done just yesterday (which in fact it had been) but it had to look old.
Weary, even – like me when I look in the mirror at 5 a.m. before I’ve had my first cup of tea. You know what we English are like … (Extraordinarily beautiful once we’ve had that cup of tea.)
And we did exactly as we’d been told.
We’d already seen how all the other craftsmen were trying to please the tycoon by sending him their best samples …
And he just threw up his arms in tycoonesque rage because all their best samples looked new!
If you’re ever in a situation like this, I reckon it’s best never to try and please – just strive to understand and show it.
Which we did. First we painted two samples then roughed them up so they looked old.
Then we silver-stained the two samples and also roughed that up.
And sent them off.
And got the job.
A 25% commencement payment arrived the very next day.
In the beginning … were the designs
Having delighted our bank manager, naturally our next task was to please the client and prepare the designs.
Well, to be accurate, this was David’s task. (Yes, because I can’t draw. It’s not a secret. Whoever said it was?)
And as a measure of how well David accomplished this task, consider this point.
The tycoon and his wife are at blows with one another over 99% of the other craftsmen’s work … but they are in complete agreement over David’s designs.
They love them.
I don’t mean this boastfully because here’s the important point …
Those designs which the tycoon and his wife have fallen in love with – they’re exactly what they want.
BUT – BUT – BUT – wait for it – those designs are completely useless for us.
And I mean completely useless.
It would be a disaster if we tried to trace and shade from them.
A complete disaster.
See we as glass painters – and that includes me even though I “just” copy – can’t get the right instructions from them.
The designs work perfectly as paper-based designs in their own right – as if the images were designed only for paper – but they would fail as instructions to anyone who tried to interpret them on glass.
Now let’s take this apart …
What we’re charged to do is to design and make 16 panels in all.
Each panel is about a square yard in area / just under a square metre.
And they’re skylights – 16 stained glass skylights for the tycoon’s dining room.
So let me give you a rough idea of one scale design that David prepared:
Consider the fine beast in the centre.
Up above, you can see the design the tycoon saw.
It’s not much like the clean and fresh design we’ll use:
So here’s my point. You’re reading this because you’re interested in glass painting. And even with a vast resource of skill (such as David definitely possesses), it’s essential to understand how some images just can’t be rendered onto glass.
I’ll say that again.
Some images just can’t be rendered onto glass.
They need to be re-drawn and re-interpreted before the glass painter can figure out what it is he/she must do.
And the point is, if you’re having problems with a design, yes, maybe it’s you (to put it bluntly) or maybe it’s the design.
See I’ve had so many e-mails from people sending photos of their cat or brother, or wife, or child – asking advice on how to paint these images onto glass.
And do you know what I say?
I say: “Re-draw the image first“, that’s what I say. Always.
And it was just the same when we painted St. Francis and St. Martha at the start of this year.
We had a fresh, bright water-colour paintings which the clients loved. A lot of work went into them. (There’s a tour right here.)
And then we also had a simple pencil sketch to guide us when we traced.
And so too with designs for a large house called Hampton Hall (a topic for one of our three films): the client saw and approved one version David made for them, and we used another version as the basis for our painting:
Some images, as they are, just cannot work on glass.
And if, like me, you cannot draw, then someone else must do the drawing or we must pick a different image to paint on glass, one that lends itself to glass …
Heaven knows, there are surely enough of those in the world for all of us.
So always think: “Can this image really be painted on glass?”
And if you don’t see how, yes, maybe it’s you (so please do ask us) or maybe it’s the image.
P.S. This all goes back to an e-mail discussion with a new and wonderful friend – Jack – who found this site in May and who wasn’t phazed at all when I said, “I’m not an artist, I’m just a technician/copyist” (or what-have-you).
The thing is, who says someone has to be able to paint faces (for example) in order for them to be considered a “really good” glass painter.
It’s often more than enough to find the kind of thing each of us does really well. I’ll settle for that.
P.P.S. I don’t take it lightly that I can’t draw. (Sometimes I despair.) All the same, I respect and celebrate David’s vast talents. Which he’s given his life to acquire. Maybe it’s my tribute not to pretend I can do the same.