Case Study

Stained Glass Designs

How does a stained glass design evolve?

With a precedent, that’s for sure.

All the same, it’s important to know when to stop

Here’s a small step-by-step gallery from the studio case book.

  • Leaf through the images and read the captions.
  • Click a photo to show next.

There’s also a Back button, top-left.

  1. The finished window. Where did we get the composition of the image? And how did the design evolve? Click to continue
  2. Here's our source - there always is one - a detail from "The Virgin and the Child Enthroned" by Cosimo Tura, 1475 - 76, wood
  3. We used Tura's Virgin as a model for our Saint Martha. Click the Back button (top-left) to compare or click the image for next
  4. Here's how we prepared the design. First, it was all worked out in black-and-white
  5. Next we made a tracing of the black-and-white design as you see here
  6. We transferred the main lines to a new sheet, where we now began to add colour, a layer at a time
  7. More colour
  8. Some shadows for depth
  9. More shadows
  10. The lead lines are now blocked in
  11. With the borders, that finishes the water-colour design
  12. Saint Francis had a similar development
  13. We borrowed his composition from "The Virgin and Child enthroned among Angels and Saints" by Benozzo Gozzoli, 1561, wood
  14. Then we prepared a black-and-white design, which, like Saint Martha, we then traced onto a new sheet
  15. And we used the new sheet as the foundation for the final water-coloured design
  16. And to finish this post, here's the celtic cross which sits between Sant Francis (left) and Saint Martha (right)

Knowing when to stop

This post is a partial answer to a series of question from an esteemed colleague in France.

We’ll say more on another occasion.

For now, we’ll conclude with the observation that ladle and keys are attributes of Saint Martha.

So is a broom.

But we know when to stop.

Horse before the Cart

Right now the next bit is really important to your work.

If you’re going to follow Picasso’s advice and steal, it’s essential you do things the right way round.

  • Know what you want.
  • Then go out and find it.

David knew from the dimensions how he had to have a half-kneeling figure.

He also knew there was no way I was going to dress up and model for him on this occasion.

It has been known: my greatest role to date is the Blessed Nicholas Wheeler. (Despite the success of the studio, I am always open to offers.)

So we ransacked our art books until we found a suitable image.

I’m so glad we did.

Otherwise just imagine the initial sketch design – not sure I’m completely happy as St. Martha …

First scale design for stained glass tryptich

“The things I get to do …!”

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22 thoughts on “Case Study

  1. Hi Stephen and David!

    You both amaze me with everything you give to all of us. I will just go with the flow – even if I can never paint.


    • But William,

      “Never paint”? – You’ve just taken delivery of a shipment from Reusche, and I know you’re doing and repeating undercoats “like there’s no tomorrow”!

      That’s the way.


    • Christine,

      That’s a pleasure! Ours is, in so many ways, an age where the mysteries of craft have been forgotten. (We’re all so used to mass-production.) Yet it is also an age where none of us need to “work alone”. And that is something for which we are profoundly grateful.


  2. Stephen,

    I must admit I smiled and bit my tongue upon seeing the “modified” pictorial.

    We work from live models whenever possible, and keep a set of generic robes and tunics in the closet – a “one-size-fits-all” array so that whichever poor soul in the studio fills the bill for the current need, costuming is no problem.

    I daresay a few friends and relatives have been immortalized from time to time in this process, but we always take pains to make a few changes to protect the identities of the “innocent.”

    It has led to some memorable situations, though, all of which shall forever remain secret!


  3. It’s all coming out now. We tell our Other Halves that we’re off to the studio for a hard day’s painting when really what’s going on is that we’re having a wonderful time dressing up.

    David and I have often mused how fortunate we are not to work alone – because e.g. it’s so useful to have the regular “cut and thrust” of another person’s views – but this particular benefit hadn’t really struck me. (Or maybe I was just in denial.)

    Any other studios want to make a confession here? Maybe we could all work together and pioneer a 12-Point Recovery Programme? (- Or would that jeopardize the very future of our craft?)

  4. Stephen and David,

    I echo William’s amazement at your generosity and time given to all who show interest.

    ‘Even if I never paint’ I too am blessed with your knowledge. And not to mention the humor in your everyday posts.

    THX so much for all you do!

    • Jack,

      Our own travels makes us who we are. David’s teacher (Patrick Reyntiens) shared everything with him. My own thought it clever to conceal (and anyway didn’t want to teach). So, for different reasons, both of us therefore enjoy the conversations we have with you and others.

      And we are all learning. All the time. Thank goodness.


  5. Ouch! Perhaps I should mention my Other Half is also the Other Half of the Business — or would that only make it worse? Oh well. Regardless, I’m not sure that a Recovery Program(me) would succeed with anyone deeply engrossed in the glass arts. Once addicted, I fear there is neither cure nor alleviation of symptoms; however, it’s a wonderful affliction.

  6. I agree it’s a wonderful affliction. In fact, That Wonderful Affliction will make an intriguing title for a glass painter’s memoirs …

    As for dressing up and Other Halves – my own is a medieval instrumentalist, and, for her gigs, must always wear the appropriate attire. This makes her very understanding. Hence I too have some license.

  7. Hi Stephen and David,

    Your article really made my day and I found it difficult not to laugh at your modified picture!

    Perhaps you two can pose on the Brighton pier for me the next time I need a model!

    I can’t really imagine my other half dressing up for me to practice for my painting but I do get inspiration from many sources, not least going into churches and art fairs and borrowing books from the library.

    As always, thanks for all your inspiration and enthusiasm to keep us going and work on our painting techniques.

  8. Hi Stephen and David,

    This is really wonderful! – I have just started glass painting and am really interested in this ‘shadow technique for giving depth’ portion. I am going to incorporate this in my next painting.

    Thanks a ton for sharing this.

  9. It’s always a pleasure, Eileen and Pallavi!

    But, between ourselves, I’ve had the dickens of a time today keeping Stephen away from the studio wardrobe.

    It must be Spring. (I hope.)


    P.S. I’ve just seen the note in the far-right column about getting this information “On the Go”. Note to myself: must ask Stephen what a “touch phone” is in the morning.

  10. Stephen & David,

    Thank you so much for sharing your design process with us.

    I sometimes get so impatient that I want to cut glass and paint without properly thinking the design through.

    Right now I am working on a design depicting a glass blower, and I think it is a bit busy so I might have to evaluate what is good and what is overkill.

    Take care,

    • Hi Kelley,

      I completely understand the impatience. Yet as you say, it’s so important to resist it.

      I know how the finished painted glass is where we want to get to. Yet with all craft it’s our patient, careful way of arriving which really counts.

      And this starts with the design itself. If the design is poor (and I don’t mean your design), how can the painted glass be what it should be?

      Indeed it can almost seem like a waste of time and effort to bring a poor design into existence.

      Seen from the perspective of the joy of beholding a well-painted piece of glass – and also seen from the perspective of how long painted glass can last – then, as you see so clearly, it makes much better sense to “sleep on things” as well as work on them until the right design emerges.

      Well done for seeing that.

      All the best,

  11. Stephen and David,

    I always steal different parts of images from magazines, books and media to use as reference for my designs. I mix this all around and
    make my own interpretation of these. I don’t know where I’m going with this, but could could the mighty arm of the law spoil my fun?

    Thanks again for great gift of information you so generously share.

    John ‘Robin Hood’ Kilpatrick

    • Hi Robin John,

      You make a good point. It’s like, “Dig for water before you get thirsty” if you see what I mean. All the time, one has got to be looking around for ideas, collecting them. “Bad artists copy, great artists steal” – and the law be damned!

      All the best,

  12. Dear Both
    Many thanks for the wonderful updates on all your projects – very useful and entertaining for all of us out here. One thing I’d really like to know is: how and where do you decide to put in your leads – obviously one doesn’t go through a face – but how does one know if it should be this side of a tree or river – or whatever – or that side.? Does one cram as much as possible into each glass piece or not be afraid to divide something? What size should the lead be and does it look odd if one uses different siz leads within the same panel? Thanks. Annie

    • Hello Annie,

      In the abstract, it is hard – maybe not possible at all – to formulate helpful rules.

      But that’s already a clue.

      We all need to do this by means of concrete examples. (OK, glass ones.)

      Someone who is interested in writing for example will read a lot and underline whole passages which strike them as (un)successful.

      And in just the same way we who enjoy stained glass must feast our eyes on as many real (not photographed) examples as we can – and decide what we like / don’t like.

      Then copy and adapt (just as David did in the above example).

      Aside from saying that, no, certainly you must not “cram” in details, and that, yes, it is often fine to use large leads and small ones within a single panel: I don’t know what else to say apart from “copy and adapt whatever works”.


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