Yes, indeed, wind in my sales and fire in my belly.
It’s all because David and I get so annoyed when people compromise their true standards. (You should see us when we really get going! It’s quite a sight – brushes flying everywhere.)
Here then are those 5 true stories …
1. Apprenticeship at Hardman’s
I was doing my apprenticeship at Hardman’s in the early part of the 21st century.
At the tender age of 40, I’d been employed to do anything that anyone else was too busy or too important to do.
Now, in traditional studios, there’s a hierarchy.
The master painter paints the faces and hands.
Beneath him – yes, it’s usually a “him” who presides at the top like this – there’s the painter who does the feet and maybe (just maybe) also some drapery.
And so it continues right down to the person at the bottom … who paints the borders.
And then, outside the paint room, you find the people who cut the glass for the painters, the people who put the windows together and solder them, and (right at the bottom) the people who cement and polish them.
Thus the traditional studio, where the people who actually ensure the window is water-proof and fit for purpose are regarded as the lowest of the low …
(What a great way of motivating your staff!)
Well, even at the start, I wasn’t full-time in the cement room. Oh no, me, I was also cutting glass and leading up.
And we had a huge job on, with a ridiculous time-frame.
It was something stupid like having a month to make perfect copies of a set of 19th century Hardman’s windows, all 40 square yards of them, for export to a wedding chapel in Japan, whose owner was probably a terrifying gangster and prominent politician.
And two of the painters were away on holiday, while another one was ill.
So me and a fellow apprentice, name of Diego (great talent), were “seconded” as trainee glass painters.
We weren’t allowed in the paint room, of course. That was the “holy of holies” – not for the likes of us. But we were grudgingly told that we could “try to make ourselves useful” by copying the yards of borders that needed doing: towers and foliage and so forth. (Even to this day, I can do towers and foliage with my eyes shut.)
- Problem number 1: no brushes, since we’d been hired for other, more menial, tasks.
- Problem number 2: a severely cash-distressed studio owner.
What to do?
“Damn it,” I said. (I really did.)
“I don’t care how cash-distressed the owner is.
We’re not just getting the brushes that we need.
We’re getting brushes for all the painters.
And on top of that, make sure it’s the very best brushes that we get. Yes, the very best brushes for all the painters.”
(Such was the state of apathy and demoralization in the studio, that even the master glass painter himself had been hobbling along for months with brushes which had long since lost their spring. But that would be another story.)
And that’s how the cash-distressed owner was obliged to spend £200 on the very best brushes for everyone involved in painting this project.
A small sum in return for what the owner got. The work was finished on time. And it looked excellent. And yet it took a voice-raising show-down to force the owner to open his wallet. What can one say?
2. The BBC
Some of you in the UK may have seen a recent programme on BBC television about making and painting stained glass windows. It was part of a series devoted to crafts in the 21st century.
Well, the token glass painter didn’t do terribly well. This was a shame, but not completely unexpected.
Let’s step back 6 months …
There was a “knock-knock” in our e-mail post box, and here was this message to us (word for word):
Call me back, thanks, and I hope you can. I am working with the BBC on a stained glass project, and I require reference books on this subject, moving through all the stages, i.e. how to start mixing paint, what you require, tools etc.! And matting, badgering, highlights, traced lines – everything. The budget is low, so I’d like to be advised to buy the right books. Please advise – thanks.”
I duly rang the person back. Let’s not go into too much detail here. But suffice it to say they didn’t have the budget to buy the e-book. And they definitely weren’t going to spend any money of their own. All they wanted was free information. So they took the free downloads (right-hand column, a little way up) and off they went.
6 months later – embarrassment on national TV. A wasted opportunity for the glass painter in question. What can one say?
Postscript: David and I don’t have a problem with “free”. We are perfectly willing to give our time for free. We write to you. We answer your questions. We’re interested in the work you do.
If anyone writes to us with very particular circumstances, we will always do what we can for them.
But we can’t and won’t waste our own time – and yours! – helping people who won’t invest in themselves.
Do you see the theme which is emerging here?
You remember that ghastly advertisement from L’Oreal: “Because I’m worth it!” Well, I saw a recent Facebook thread which said that this slogan summed up the very worst of modern values.
Yes, I agree, but that’s because it’s all to do with cosmetics, which are rarely even skin-deep.
By contrast, when it comes down to your timeless and focused devotion to the craft of stained glass painting, you are worth it.
L’Oreal has just done its best to contaminate a wholly noble sentiment.
And we don’t have to let them get away with it. That’s the point. The point is, you are worth it.
Here are a few more cracking good tales for you to enjoy. I wonder if you’ve had similar experiences?
3. The Architect’s Off-Cuts
Another true story. A round, red-faced man called at the studio and made a lot of swagger about how he was a prominent architect and was just refurbishing his Georgian townhouse with the very best of everything and could we please make him a “jewel of a window” using some off-cuts so as to keep the cost down?
“Off-cuts” are those bits of glass left-over from earlier projects.
Now, fair enough: people never want to pay more than they have to. That’s perfectly understandable.
But we are certainly better than his suggestion implied. It wasn’t a question of the money here. We never got that far.
It was the mere idea that, appropriate or not, we should use off-cuts for his “jewel of a window”.
We’ve actually no problem with using off-cuts. No doubt, if the project had gone ahead, we would indeed have used some off-cuts. But only if they’d been absolutely right.
This is all the same point: we designers / makers / painters / artists (or whatever we are) mustn’t ever allow anyone to corner us into a place where we will end up making something that isn’t worthy of us or the client or the building in question.
Yes, people have so many needs that it’s sometimes difficult not to get tangled up in them. But we’re not doing them any favours by making them something that is less than our best. And it’s not good for our reputation either.
Someone making leaded lights about 200 miles away from us decided that we were too far to come for an intensive glass painting course at our studio.
If only you were closer. But it would take me a day to get to you. And then I would need to stay in a hotel or something. I reckon I’ll just find someone closer”.
That’s your decision. All the same, people travel to us from Peru, from New Zealand, from New Jersey, from Japan, from Canada, from Denmark, and even from Russia”.
But what can one really say? I mean, if they don’t believe in themselves enough to travel 200 hundred miles for a course that’s backed by hundreds of testimonials, that’s their business (no “sour grapes” on my part here since our courses are always fully booked many months in advance). It’s actually very sad – they are worth it, if only they could see it.
Maybe they were waiting for me to offer them a discount.
But that just proves the point.
5. A final tale of brushes – Oh, and paint
We’ve known people who will rather spend £3 pounds every month on a new brush which only lasts a few weeks than spend £10 on a really good brush that will last them a year or more and do the most fabulous strokes.
And people who’ll waste money buying an ounce of glass paint at a time when 4 ounces would actually last them 12 times as long.
Just always get the best you can afford.
Don’t “make do and mend” when it comes to your work. Yes, re-cycle and work frugally, by all means. But believe in yourself and invest in yourself. Invest in the whole centuries-long craft and tradition of making stained glass properly and respectfully.
All the same, because the world’s economy is in such a mess, there’ll inevitably be forces at work which will conspire to move each one of us away from where we should be and remain. Our advice is: don’t go there.
If you’ve got any tales of resistance, compromise or even cosmetics that you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear from you, so please just post them right below.
All the best,