Glass Painting and Hot Air

Why you don’t need a hair-dryer

When you watch The Master & the Beast, you’ll see exactly how to do all your glass painting in a single firing, layer upon layer until your piece is finished.

Now one important point about painting layer upon layer is: you wait for the previous layer to dry before you paint on top of it. The reason is, when you paint on wet paint, you risk damaging the layers underneath. That’s why you wait until the paint is dry – because the gum Arabic will set. So a question I’m often asked is, Do I use a hair-dryer?

I’ve more important things to do – and so have you

Stained glass painting - why you don't need a hair-dryer

“I don’t need a hair-dryer, nor do you …”

And the answer is nice and simple, because it’s No, I don’t.

And the reason is, there are always more important things to do than speeding up the drying process with an electrical appliance.

Now remember our studio is in England, which isn’t famous for its warm and sunny climate. So our climate is just about as slow-drying as it gets.

Especially today.

Yet we still prefer to let our paint dry naturally in the air and in its own time.

OK, so say you’re working on several bits of glass at once.

It’s easy to see how you work on one, then put it aside and work on the next one:

By the time you've done the last one, the first one will be dry

By the time you’ve done the last one, the first one will be dry

By the time you’ve done them all, the first one is completely dry, and you can return to it and paint the next layer.

That’s obvious, right?

But my point is, even if you’re working on just one piece at a time, there are still more important things for you to do than blow-dry your piece until it’s dry.

Like what?

OK, so imagine you’ve applied the undercoat, and imagine it’s a wet, damp day, and this undercoat will take several minutes to dry, and you want to get on, because you’ve got a deadline you must meet.

Do you plug in your hair-dryer and zap it?

No – I suggest to you, you don’t.

The really important thing always is …

Rather you spend two minutes tidying your palette, preparing some tracing paint, and testing it for the lines you plan to paint next.

This is a far better way to spend your time.

It’s also quieter and less disruptive of the spirit of the process.

And if you need another reason, consider your health.


Me, I worry less about the lead in glass paint than I do about tiny air-borne particles of dust.

I can see when my clothes and hands are dirty, but I just can’t see a lot of dust, and I know it’s bad for me, so the last thing I want to do anything which agitates it.

Actually, that’s another good reason for painting with a lump – you cause far less dust, because your paint keeps moist or undercover.

And that’s something else you learn to perfection from The Master & the Beast.


David Williams of Williams & Byrne, the glass painters

P.S. One of the many wonderful things about stained glass painting is, you really don’t need many things to do it. And, once you’ve got them, and you take good care of them, then they last for ages. How wonderful and also rare nowadays – you don’t need many ‘accessories’. When you know what you’re doing, you don’t need much: that’s why we filmed this documentary – you see exactly what to do (with the few things you must have).

P.P.S. Wish I had a very large hair-dryer right now because here’s the road which leaves the studio:

Williams & Byrne will rise above the floods at Stanton Lacy

Williams & Byrne will rise above the floods at Stanton Lacy

25 thoughts on “Glass Painting and Hot Air

  1. I have just moved to Texas and we have the opposite problem: it hardly ever rains. Everything dries too fast. It’s hard to keep a lump wet enough to work with: can you send some of your water here?

  2. I do agree with our colleague, July: I don’t live in Texas but at present we have the same problem in Brazil where I am. Much heat … everything dries too fast. It is difficult to paint.

  3. Well, I must admit that I have used a heat gun to speed up the drying time once in a while. I also find that the heat from the light table sometimes will dry them quicker than I expected. But I agree, the noisy electronic sound of a heat gun or hair dryer isn’t zen at all.

    Have you had so much rain you are getting flooded out? It’s the first I’ve heard of this weather for you: hope it dries up soon for you, or you’ll have one huge skating pond should it freeze up!

  4. I have one question about drying time, plus two others I’ve added for good measure.

    I have tried propylene glycol, and it does flow beautifully. But it takes forever to dry. Any ideas? I am getting ready to use it again on a large piece, or perhaps I’ll return to oils again to avoid the drying problems with the glycol.

    I have two questions about the glycol beyond the concerns about slow drying. One is that if I put a layer of oil over it as it goes into the kiln, will the glycol with a layer of tar oil on top be OK when fired or do I have to leave off the final oil “cover” off the areas on the piece with the glycol on-board?

    Second, are you coming out with a DVD about using glycol any time soon? 🙂

    • Hello Virginia,

      I can tell you exactly what we do. It’s this: we don’t wait for the glycol to dry. I mean, we don’t wait for it to get ‘bone dry’. Once the piece is finished, we put it in the kiln and fire it, even though it might still be glistening. Certainly we usually use a slow firing: one that starts off slowly and allows the heat to dry the paint and media. So for example we might take an hour to go to 100 c. / 220 f. then soak there for an hour, and then go to top temperature (whatever that is for the kind of paint you’re using).

      I also must be clear for our other readers that the “glistening” shouldn’t be excessive: I mean, it shouldn’t be dripping glycol or anything mad like that. By and large, it should be the case that your water-based glass paint (underneath) absorbs a significant proportion of the glycol you apply. So it’s only a superficial wetness which you dry out slowly in the kiln.

      I myself haven’t tried oil on top of glycol (which itself is on top of water-based paint). For us, glycol is a good substitute for oil. It replaces it.

      So to address your question directly: with oil on top of glycol on top of water, the answer is, I just don’t know. For us, we just use glycol to achieve everything we would otherwise want to achieve with oil.

      We’ll write a post soon about the pros and cons of glycol vs. oil, and that will make things clear.

      All the best,

      P.S. You ask about a DVD. I know you’ve watched the film we made – The Master & the Beast which demonstrates glycol in action (and also oil) – all on top of water-based tracing and shading. I should also tell you about Debora Coombs who lives in Southern Vermont and also works a lot with glycol.

  5. Wow, what a great article: all these days I’ve been using the blow dryer – and my throat hurts, and now I wonder if it’s because I’ve been throwing dust all around. It all makes sense now. You guys are great master teachers. God bless you both. I’m learning so much and I look forward every day to hearing more from!!!

  6. The other thing about using a hair dryer to dry your paint is that in doing so you make the piece of glass hotter and thus reduce the working time on your next layer. Allow the paint to dry naturally.

    That said, if you must use a dryer, hold the piece of glass away from the light table and blow it on the underside of the glass. The heat will speed the evaporation without blowing the dust around (much).

    I have a question – I’ve heard that the longer you allow paint with gum to dry, the more it adheres to the glass, with some recommending overnight being ideal. Do you find this to be the case?

    • Thanks for your helpful points, Jeff. And all along our whole point is always and everywhere: do whatever works for you and/but just be mindful of its consequences.

      And yes, in my experience gum Arabic certainly continues to harden the paint.

      What’s ‘ideal’ always depends on what someone wants to do.

      For the single firing method that we use, we certainly don’t need to allow the water-based trace lines to harden overnight before we soften them (for example): a few minutes is usually enough. If we were in the habit of allowing our water-based painting to dry overnight or longer, maybe we’d end up adding less gum Arabic to our paint …

      That’s one reason why it’s only possible to give rough and ready instructions about how to mix your glass paint. Always and everywhere (again) you must mix it in a way that allows you to get the results you want. So quantities and ratios are just guidelines, nothing more. Because they work for us, they make a good starting point for other glass painters; they just may not be the final destination.

      So to sum up, your water-based paint will continue to harden; everyone must judge the pay-off for himself between how much gum (on the one hand) and how long it takes reach whatever hardness is required (on the other).

  7. David,

    I did enjoy your post. As with July in Texas, it is sunny and dry most of the days here in Kuwait. In winter cold months, like this time of the year, the heat of the light box will do the job. But yes I do think there are so many other good things you can do instead of holding a hair dryer to fast dry what you have been painting. I think it’s like using a pressure cooker to make a stew.

    Thanks for this nice post.

    Regards to every one.

  8. David,

    I must confess that at times when the weather is somewhat cooler, I have used a hairdryer on the underside of the glass. Not to necessarily speed up the drying process from impatience or lack of time but to prevent the formation of watermarks in the drying paint. I sometimes find that if the surface of the glass is slightly uneven, the paint doesn’t dry evenly but the ‘deeper’ sections take slightly longer and this sometimes leads to marks similar in appearance to gradient lines that one would find on a map. Have you encountered this?


    • Steve,

      Like I said: everyone must do whatever works for them – and also keep an eye out for those unintended consequences which must arise from doing otherwise than has been done for the best part of 800 years. It’s just that I myself have never been in a studio-based situation which called for a blow-dryer. Maybe some types of glass in fact demand it: it’s outside of my experience, and (I agree) it’s part of yours (I haven’t had the paint the glass which you describe: I can imagine that applying an undercoat to the bubbly side of English Muffle would not be a smooth ride at all).

      What I can certainly say is, I have often changed how I applied an undercoat in order to compensate for unevenness in the glass. So, for instance, I’ve applied my undercoat as dryly as possible – so dry in fact it was only possible to blend it once: it dried almost as soon as it coated the surface of the glass. That’s how I’ve dealt the uneven glass which I’ve encountered (and when I meet yours, maybe I’ll ask to borrow your dryer).


  9. So much information!

    But I have a tip. If the paint dries too quickly, I add glycerine. With pure glycerine, the paint never dries. By adding more water, I can make a mixture that takes longer to dry and I can work longer in the layer (for shading).

    Second tip: don’t put your (wet) painted glass on the radiator, because sometimes you see the lines of the metal in your paint – it dries more quickly there.

    Monique, Antwerp

    • Hello Monique,

      Yes, that’s right, you can indeed add glycerine to your glass paint. The point about the approach that we suggest is that you don’t need all different kinds of tracing paint or shading paint mixed with water / water and glycerine / water and gum Arabic and glycerine. You just need a simple lump of tracing paint mixed with water and gum Arabic, and you learn how to dilute this to whatever consistency you want, and also how to trace light or dark lines with it, and also how to shade on top of lines etc. etc. All with the same lump of glass paint. It keeps things much simpler in the studio. But as we always say, everyone must choose for themselves which techniques to use and which recipes to follow. No recipe or technique is absolutely and uniquely right: it all depends on the effect you succeed in achieving.

      Best wishes,

  10. I am a brand new “stained glass painter” and I am so exited to have found your helpful website. I am in Idaho, way up close to Canada and in the winter it is very wet….snow..rain….etc. I had never heard of putting my pieces in a “kiln”….I am very, very interested in finding out the result of this process. I have a lot of drawing experience and find painting on glass is the medium for me. I have not gotten bored like I usually do with most of the other projects I have practiced. Thanks so much for doing what you do and I am so, so excited to learn new things!!! Thanks so much!


    • Hello Tammy,

      Thanks for writing, and I’m very glad to meet you. As you can see, lots of useful information here. New articles twice a month or so. Lots to engage you and take you forward however your interest takes you. Keep in touch.


  11. Greetings, Gentlemen!

    I’m having problems softening the trace lines per “The Master and The Beast” for shading. When I put the new coat of paint on with the hake brush everything goes well but when I use the blender the trace lines smear badly. Could it be not enough gum in the trace paint?

    Always in your debt.


    • Hello John,

      It could certainly be you need a bit more gum Arabic in your paint.

      It could also be other things as well. For instance, it could be that the copy-trace line and the strengthened line together are still not strong enough.

      Or it could be your blending is too vigorous.

      And please also consider this. It could also be you are judging the effect too soon.

      For sure, if your traced lines are obliterated, something has gone wrong.

      But here’s an important consideration about this technique: it may well look a mess when you first soften the lines, but unless you gain the experience of reinstating the trace lines (and flooding and highlighting) – unless you gain the experience of pushing on with (what may well look like) a messy piece, you will not learn what’s acceptable and what is not.

      So my advice to you here is not to change anything just yet but rather prepare yourself to push on with a piece right to the end.

      Maybe you will need to do this “trek” several times, and then compare all the results.

      I’ll say this again: with this technique, you need the experience of completing the journey several times before you take more serious interventions like adjusting your gum Arabic or changing the strengths of your pre-softened lines.

      All the best,

      • Stephen,

        Thanks for your great advice. I’m geting better results. I was blending a little too long. Still a few Jackson Pollock moments
        and I hate that. Thanks to you, I won’t go to the whisky.

        This really is an exciting journey.

        • “It is not so much our friends’ help that helps us as the confident knowledge that they will help us” (Epicurus). And therefore I am glad you found the answer, John: that’s wonderful.


  12. Question:

    I see that you say to always let air dry, but I want to paint my bathroom mirror which cannot be taken off the wall and I can’t trust my kids to not touch it for the 3 weeks it will take to dry (not to mention that it can get humid in there after showering). Is there a way to expedite drying time?

    Thanks, Wendy

    • Sorry: this is all for kiln-fired glass, and I do believe what you’re asking about is non-firing glass paints … about which we know nothing. If you check the manufacturer’s website, I’m sure you’ll find good information there.

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