Stained Glass Case Study: The Literary Agent’s “Wow!” (Part 1)

A case study about stained glass design

Just in from a loyal newsletter follower, Dorothy Collard, who writes:

There’s so much I want to ask you, but I’ll start with the Literary Agent’s front door. – Just how did you do it?

How? There are several answers here. And one answer – as some of you will remember – is that I got stubborn and refused to put up with bad smells in the studio.

Bad smells?


And if you missed it, here’s how my precious nose – a veritable engine of progress, no less – gave birth to the Literary Agent’s stained glass rose window.

Yet there are at least two other kinds of answer you must also know:

  1. The raw techniques, and
  2. The evolution of the design itself

See, technical knowledge has no purpose on its own.

Nor is there any point if someone simply copies what we do – that kills the craft and does no good for anyone’s real worth.

The whole point about having conversations like the one we’re having right now is that as many of you as possible will master the raw techniques, then take them forward in your own way by enlisting them in the service of your own designs.

At that point, the techniques come alive.

Just as they did for us with this window. Because of course our design only evolved from visits and discussions.

And once it existed, it became necessary for us to decide how to make it in glass.

So today we’ll start with the design – with the question, so to speak. And next time, we’ll all get to grips with the raw techniques (the answer).

And here, for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, is the door itself.

First by night, looking in:

The Literary Agent asked for “Wow!”

Second by day, looking out:

A fine sight when the Literary Agent descends the stairs each morning

Already a major point here: when and from where is the window mainly to be seen?

When you design for glass, you must settle these questions with your client.

If you don’t, their expectations may be disappointed.

If you settle these questions early on, the client will understand that, although there is a difference between the design (on paper) and the actual window (on glass), you have understood their concerns and wishes for the impression the window makes on those who see it.

See, the design on paper can never ever convey the experience of the glass. So the client also need other ways of knowing we understand what they want.

And in this case, the Literary Agent, when pressed, said:

“When my authors’ cars pull up the drive in the evening, I want them to be dazzled and welcomed by the sight which meets their eyes.

And if they happen to stay up late discussing their latest novel with me, then I want them to be dazzled and welcomed when, the next day, they come down the stairs to breakfast in my morning room.

And when I say “pressed”, it’s “pressed” I mean – it was some time after our first visit that the conversation flowed easily enough for such stipulations to emerge.

We were fortunate in that our Literary Agent was predisposed to giving important matters the time they deserve.

After all, our Literary Agent knows to trust his novelists when they appear bright-eyed and raving with a few scrawled paragraphs, claiming these will one day be on the Sunday Times and New Your Times Best Seller Lists …

It’s sometimes in every one’s interest to wait, to give time for the best ideas to emerge.

I wonder what you think about that?

How it began

We were invited to meet the Literary Agent because a fantastically talented interior architect (who knew of our work) was in the middle of designing him a new front door.

Here’s the view of the house as it was when we first arrived:

Before the “Wow!”

The proposal was to remove the existing door and reclaim space inside by installing a new arched door in front.

And here, right on cue, is the full-sized template which the interior architect proposed:

Full-sized template laid out on our studio floor

Well, anyone can see this new door just cries out for stained glass, doesn’t it?

So that’s how we became involved: through an interior architect who trusted us to design and make glass that would do justice to the proposed new door.

Why you must sometimes be willing to make a mistake

And, to get the ball moving, we quickly prepared three simple sketches – just to hear the Literary Agent’s reaction:

Three quick sketches to get the conversation going

So, while time is important, it is also important to take risks and test people’s responses. Stained glass designs, just like the Literary Agent’s novels, only emerge through a series of more or less confident drafts.

It’s the only way to keep things moving.

One can’t wait, idle, for the perfect design to emerge.

Again, I wonder what you think of that? Do you take calculated risks? Praise and rejection each pose their own set of problems here. Right now it’s only paper, after all – easily misunderstood.

But if one never says anything for fear of misunderstanding, then … nothing happens.

The Literary Agent’s choice

So we leapt in, while the initial surge of enthusiasm was still strong, and presented the Literary Agent with three designs:

“Which one do you like?” we asked.

“None of them really,” he said, “although I do like what you’re suggesting for the middle of the second one.”


“Because I like the idea of having something as majestic as the passing of Summer into Autumn – the sort of spirit you sometimes catch in one of Turner’s paintings. Something that makes you say ‘Wow!’ because it’s both completely wonderful and also a little saddening …”

“Understood,” we said, and returned to Stanton Lacy.

Why you must be clear who a particular design is for

This is really important so pay close attention here.

It is possible that what you, the glass painter, require from a design is incompatible with the design the client needs.

You need instructions.

The client needs confidence.

And it doesn’t follow he’ll get confidence from seeing your own instructions. Yes, we all love our own designs – they mean so much to us .. and that’s just what I mean!

Here’s a case in point …

We truly understood the impression the Literary Agent was after. We would have bet our lives on it. We’d talked enough with him, and seen his country house in various seasons and also at different times of the day.

So the first step was for us to articulate our understanding to ourselves.

You have to get it out of your head in order to be sure you’ve got it right. Again, you can’t be frightened of making a mistake. There’s no point. You’re going to make a mistake. That’s the whole purpose of doing a draft.

Now we knew for sure we wouldn’t use glass paint – it would do all the wrong things with the light.

It was going to be silver stain. And the question was, How was it going to be stain?

To work this out, we practiced our ideas using only light and dark – that is, with graphite (dark) on paper (light). Thus graphite = our proposed shading with silver stain, light = bare glass.

The Literary Agent had talked about the passing of the seasons and also mentioned Turner. So, especially given the architectural opening, it was natural to imagine something suggestive of the fiery late afternoon sun. Here:

This stained glass design is fine for us (but not really for the client)

Of course it’s not prudent to assume that black and white will get the right message to the client.

So, having worked things out for ourself, it was a quick task to add a touch of colour to the client’s version:

The client’s second sketch

Along with this sketch, we also took along some samples of glass to which we’d applied stain in the proposed manner.

This did the trick.

And so we were ready to choose the glass, then cut and stain it.

The Literary Agent’s “Wow!” – to be continued …


Stephen ByrneP.S. For Part 2 – the techniques we used – see here: it’s all about silver staining with oil.

8 thoughts on “Stained Glass Case Study: The Literary Agent’s “Wow!” (Part 1)

  1. Jolly good – and I also hope people will enjoy Part 1 (above) for its own sake. It’s always the design which carries the main burden. The actual making of the image just comes down to attention and practice.

    All the best,

  2. Amazement and accolade can come from admiration of expertise and craft. “Wow” is a tone from within. It is a reconnection with a treasure held deeply.

    That is the skill of a master vs an artisan.

    Fine work!

  3. Oh! you two never cease to amaze me, your paint strokes are beautiful verses and your final pieces a joyful and constant perception of the simultaneous multifariousness of all things. Bravo!

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