What is More Dangerous – An Angry Bodyguard or a Flattering Client?

Stained glass design and its greatest risk

Before I tell you about the greatest risk I face today, let me remind you of this obvious truth …

Namely, that stained glass designs – ours and yours – are used by different people in very different ways.

Yes, as I said, it’s obvious when you stop and think about it – yet the excitement and adventure and exhaustion of designing can sometimes make us blind.

The point is, even though the client is paying, you’re still making him/her a “gift”.

And the thing about gift-giving is, it works best when you give someone what they want.

Just so: in last week’s case, the tycoon needed one thing to know we understood his wants.

But we glass painters – we will need something very different to shade and trace his window.

You might prefer new glass but the client wants old glass

You might prefer new glass but the client wants old glass – the front design is for him, the design behind is for the glass painters

And the tycoon’s bodyguard – big brute of a fellow with a badly mended nose and two fingers missing on his left hand (in case you ever see him) – would have thrown us out of the boardroom if we had forgotten to prepare an ancient-looking version of his master’s ferocious lion.

There! I’ve told you.

Most people imagine lead poisoning is the greatest risk I face with Stephen.

It is not.

By far the greatest risk comes from our various clients’ bodyguards and their assorted henchmen if we fail to please their masters …

But let’s now concern ourselves with shared dangers –  dangers we all face, no matter who your clients are.

So now please listen to this useful – painful – tale …

Other dangers we all face

It can’t break your arm. It can’t eject you from a room. But flattery is a terrible danger.

Like when someone says, “Go on, do this for me, I know you’ll do it so well,” and you go and do it, even though it’s not the kind of thing you usually do. So you’re flattered into doing a favour, which, in business as in life, can have very costly consequences.

It’s also possible to be unduly influenced by the prospect of money. Yes, money can certainly meddle with our capacity for hard-nosed and objective thought.

Myself I’ve never ceased to be astonished by how many forms some people are prepared to fill in to qualify for a grant.

They think it’s free money.

Actually it’s expensive time they could otherwise use in better, happier ways.

But they don’t see this. No. They get very skillful at completing forms, and then all Hell breaks loose when grants dry up.

“It’s so unfair,” they say, “Society should support the Arts”. Which is true.

But it’s not the same as saying, “Society should support people who are good at applying for grants”.

Now we are human too, at Williams & Byrne. Oh yes, indeed. Very human. Which means you won’t be surprised to learn how flattery and money have sometimes taken us astray.

But like Stephen said last time, mistakes are important.

In fact they’re so important, we don’t intend to keep them to ourselves.

I’ll start the story now and make my point, then tell you the outcome some other time. Here’s how it began, this tale of the literary agent’s sitting room window …

The publisher's sitting room window - B.W&B ("Before Williams & Byrne")

The literary agent’s sitting room window – B.W&B (“Before Williams & Byrne”)

The literary agent’s sitting rooom window – part 1

It began with flattery.

The literary agent did not wish to flatter us. It was completely our fault.

He didn’t flatter us. We – were flattered …

Not by his list of world-famous authors, many of whom dine regularly at his house. And, boy, wouldn’t we like a commission from some of them!

Nor were we even flattered by the house itself with its beautiful rooms, gorgeous furniture and breath-taking views.

No, we were flattered – by the prospect of adventure.

But in case you imagine this will become a different kind of tale to the one it is, let me quickly remind you that a glass painter’s idea of adventure is not the same as Indiana Jones’ …

It was the innocent words, “Brigitte Bardot” which did it for me and Stephen.

The agent wanted us to paint Brigitte Bardot on glass.

Brigitte Bardot …

On glass …

Now I’ve done more biblical scenes than I care to remember.

So I was like that lost man in a desert to whom you say, “Would you (really?) like a drink of water …?”

All that research we could do, all those films we could watch, the tales we could tell. (Well, as it happens, we have this one!)

Yet both of us should have known better. You see, even though we don’t have a house style – so long as we’re permitted and also paid to do something well, that’s good enough for us – we should have realized this just wasn’t our style, and never could be. It was just too distant from anything we were used to: it was more like illustration, which is fine for other people but not for us.

But we didn’t listen to our “inner glass painter”.

Worse still, as the agent listed more and more images he wanted for his sitting room, we became more and more seduced … seduced now not only by the adventure but also by the challenge:

The literary agent’s (many) demands …

So first he wanted Brigitte Bardot:

Brigitte Bardot

“Brigitte Bardot? Yes, sir!”

Then there was his cat:

"Your cat? Hmmmmmmm ... OK"

“Your cat? Hmmmmmmm … OK”

Would we also include Henry Miller?

"Ah, that's much better! What excellent taste!"

“Ah, that’s much better! What excellent taste!”

And Bill Haley?

"As you wish!"

“As you wish!”

And what about the Yorkshire Rose? (This literary agent is a Yorkshire-man …)

"Well, alright, if that's what you really want"

“Well, alright, if that’s what you really want – here’s a quick sketch”

Now something to remind our agent of his happy days at university – his college coat of arms, that won’t be difficult, will it?

"Yes, we can do that ... but where is all this going?"

“Yes, we can do that … but where is all this going?”

“Room for one more?” the literary agent said. “Good! I’d like my own silhouette as well – me as a young man please!”

"Can't see why not - not now, at any rate!"

“Can’t see why not – not now, at any rate!”

So all this work, all these designs … and we hadn’t even got to the five large panels at the bottom yet …

We tried and we tried and we tried.

But nothing came together. It was – “all over the place”.

"Sorry, Brigitte - you're amazing but you're just not our style!"

“Sorry, Brigitte – you’re amazing but you’re not our style!”

And in my heart I always knew we should have been wise to our instinct, we should have refused the bait, we should have had the confidence of our convictions, we should have said:

“Exciting ideas, wonderful ideas, but it’s just not the kind of work that we do well.”

But we didn’t.

It wasn’t the literary agent’s fault. In no way was he to blame.

It was our error of judgment, our beautifully designed error of judgment. Completely our mistake.

Days – weeks! – of self-congratulatory design work in the studio … They bore no fruit. Except this tale!

Thank goodness now we’re wiser. Lesson learned.

And you know what?

I’ve changed my mind.

Give me psychopathic bodyguards any day.

Better them – than flattery!



David Williams
~ Williams & Byrne ~
“The glass painters who said ‘No’ to Brigitte Bardot”

P.S. Everything worked out fine in the end. We fitted the agent’s windows last week: a completely different theme, thank goodness! Not a Brigitte Bardot in sight … These new windows suit the house. They fit the views. The literary agent loves them. They were the kind of windows that we make well. As I said, lesson learned!

P.P.S. Remember this – the double-DVD is packed with techniques and stunning close-up video of kiln-fired stained glass painting as it’s really done. Plus it comes with a full 60-day risk-free money-back guarantee. 60-days! Get your copy here.

14 thoughts on “What is More Dangerous – An Angry Bodyguard or a Flattering Client?

  1. Oh, such a tease! I was so prepared for some gripping tale of having Ms. Bardot (or an impersonator) posing unabashedly in your studio. But I do understand. We have been “flattered” into doing Elvis and Hank Williams, Jr. before — without live models, I might add. If we all listened to our inner wisdom, we would do without a lot of grief, although we would also miss out on a great deal of challenge as well.

  2. Stephen! How are you?

    I just watched the second DVD (The Heraldic Arms of Hampton Hall) – it is awesome!

    And those designs above are awesome also!

    Now I got a bottle of Lavender oil from Reusche. Should you always use a respirator while painting?

    I want to go through all of W&B’s movies instead of reading this precaution sheet from Reusche … So could you help me stir up some courage once again?


    • John, our greetings to you! We are well, busy and happy, thank you, and I hope your life is also good.

      We don’t wear a respirator (not even when we use the carconogenic oil of Tar, which Reusche also sell). We just throw open all the doors and windows and make sure there’s a very good through-current of air.

      It’s pretty much the same with acid – though I imagine it’s possible for me to get into terrible trouble for writing this here, so let me say: this is only what we do: we don’t set anyone an example! – because we don’t wear gloves. It’s because it keeps us “on our toes” and also because we’d know immediately if something went wrong.

      So that’s us. Acid: no gloves. Lavender oil: no mask. Clearly, though, some people will find the smell of Lavender unpleasant or even nauseous and they must take whatever evasive measures they choose.

      That said, I do understand that pregnant women must avoid contact with Lavender oil. Some health and safety considerations are important …

      You ask about stirring up your courage: gladly! Tell me how we can help, and we’ll oblige!


      P.S. This will help: scroll up check out the middle column: I’ve now separated video demonstrations from “ordinary” articles. That way it’s always easy for people to find things to watch and copy. And as you say, the DVDs are awesome because the resolution is crystal-clear and so high: you see exactly what to do, and can watch them again and again until you’re ready to do it yourself.

      • Stephen!

        Thanks so much. I’m sorry for ocding all over the place with those damn safety data sheets – they’re full of terrible things happening to people in California … That’s probably from the nature of being a Californian and not a glass painter. Thank you: I’ve got my courage back. I’m going to do a Brigitte Bardot window in your honor.


  3. Thank you, this is what I need. But my English is bad. I need a book with good explanations about painting on glass. Then I can translate it slowly.

    Can you write a book about painting on glass?

    Darko Vilupek

    • Hello Darko,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes I understand. The good news is, we are already writing a book. It will do what you want. It will contain all the techniques and recipes you need.


  4. Will we see a picture of what the literary agent finally had in his window?

    The story is great but – please – let’s have the final chapter.


  5. Hi guys, hope you are both keeping well.

    It’s been ages since I took your glass painting course which I throughly enjoyed! Did you ever look into doing a more advanced course? I’d love to come back and learn some more!

    Looking forward to seeing the literary agent’s glass!

    Take care,

    • Hello Mandy,

      Yes, indeed, we’ve changed the format so that one, two or three people now come and learn. They get whatever training or demonstrations and guidance they need from either Stephen or myself … while the other one (myself or Stephen) still continues with normal studio work.

      This way people also get to see what happens every day, the kind of things which go right, and also how we get round the kind of things which go wrong.

      It’s a very flexible approach, yet also as structured as it needs to be.

      Cost depends on how many people, how much direct teaching is needed, and also on content. But it’s all in line with how much the “course” used to cost.

      I hope this helps. Please always say when we can help with anything. And of course we’d love to see you again!

  6. I can relate. I had a client that “LOVED” our work. BUT, she wanted to be the “artist”. The studio was slower so now was the opportune time to take advantage of this training that I would receive on how to address future clients that wanted me to be their “paintbrush for hire”. She wanted to come to the studio with her drawings and her vision, pick the colors, and have me place them in exactly the spots she chose. I explained that she was hiring an artist because she liked my work and my ability to transform her ideas into what she would really want. She’d have none of it. I obliged and made “her” art (it was for a light sconce). Also, since things were slow, I made one that I felt would suit her, her likes, and her house. I brought the one she wanted to her house, installed it, and saw the grimace on her face. In a nice way I reminded her that it was exactly what she wanted as her being the artist. Her husband said they should have trusted me and let me design it. I told her that I had another piece (that happened to be in the car) for a different type of client. I would install it and allow her to see it. She LOVED it and said that was what she really wanted (by the way, the colors and design were completely different than she had designed but had the look and feel she described). She didn’t want to part with it. I told her I could let her have this one as I had time to make another.

    I have used that story on at least 3 other occasions in explaining to clients why they want to have their input but not decide specifically what the design would have in detail.

  7. Hello Stephen and David,

    I really enjoyed your the Heraldic Arms DVD. Your production values are advancing rapidly, and the voice over was a welcomed addition. I so enjoy watching your brush strokes up close, rather than critiquing my own!

    While I can only speak for myself, I believe flattery leads us to do what we would not often consider under more rational circumstances. I confess to willingly being lead down that path on too many occasions, and the results were always frustrating and artistically unsatisfying.

    Keep up the good work. I like your traditional style and vision.

    All the best,

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