Your Design – What Must It Show?

OK, your stained glass design – what must it show?

Which is not the best question … –

Rather, who is the design for?

Who must the design instruct, guide or persuade?

A committee? A patron? A priest? A businesswoman or man? Their secretary? A journalist maybe? Or is it “just” for you, the glass painter?

Yes, the design must be “fit for purpose”, we can all agree on that. But this means you must first decide which purpose – or purposes – it must be fit for. So, if you have several important purposes which can’t all be met by one version of the design, then you maybe will need several different versions of the design.

Don’t get upset at this – don’t “shoot the messenger” …

I’m just telling you how things are.

Anyway, here’s what we often do. And even if you decide to do things differently yourself, I’ve got a really useful tip for you – just read through to the end. And enjoy the pictures along the way!

This works for us

Now here at Williams & Byrne, we often prepare three or four versions which are each “finished” in their own particular way.

Design #1

One design which convinces the client yet doesn’t mislead them.

This is usually a scale design like this one here, with some important details left out; and I’ll say a lot more about this another time.

Often we’ll also put this sketch in context. For example, here’s an outside photo of the church – you see the kind of ancient place it is.

So … here’s our sketch-in-context.

Design #2

Often we also do a black-and-white version which is only for us – the glass painters. This shows us the main lines and shadows like this design here.

Design #3

Then one in colour, often full-sized like this one here.

Maybe we’ll show this to the client before we start … or maybe we won’t.

It depends. You see, it’s important not to mislead the client, and full-sized colour designs can often confuse the untrained eye e.g. because non-glass painters find it hard to judge colour as we can (it’s our job, after all).

But, even if we don’t show it to the commissioning client, this version of the design will anyway be useful for journalists.

It’s also very useful for other clients, especially when they’re deciding whether it’s us they want to commission.

They see it. They agree it’s beautifully done. And this assures them we’re good at what we do. (And if they seem worried about the amount of preparation we intend to do, that’s very useful for us to see.)

Not forgetting design #4

And then there is also the cut-line … That’s just as much a “design” as all the others.

And the rule is …

So how many versions do you need?

There’s no fixed rule. You must decide what works best for you.

Then just do it.

If there is a rule, it’s this – never avoid work on the design … never do anything less what you must in order to do the best work you can.

OK, OK – I know time is money. Believe me, I know how time is money.

But let me tell you something else.

Time is also … time.

Your painted glass might last 100 years or more – so what’s the mad rush to start painting?

Make the design your own – even if (especially if) it’s someone else’s

Even if you don’t do designs like ours, here’s an important quick tip …

When I’m using another person’s design, I nearly always begin by using tracing paper to make my own copy of its lines. Maybe I’ll even do this two or three times … – this is my way of making the image mine, of preparing myself to paint it. (It’s a bit like an actor rehearsing their words.)

And here’s the reason …

If I make a complete mess of the image just copying it on tracing paper – with a pencil, which is really easy – what chance do I stand of doing it well with brush on glass with paint (which is trickier by far)?

So that’s what I suggest you also do … like if you use any of our designs – first make your own copy with pencil and paper. It’s time well spent.

The point is, keep at the paper version until you really get to know the image. Just keep on making traced copies on paper until you have one you really like … – Then it’s yours to paint on glass.

You’ll see the difference.

Preparation is everything. So rehearse the lines and shapes before you paint them onto glass “for real”. Like I said, you’ll see the difference.

Now one last point.

I know many of you also teach others about stained glass painting. Well, my point is, get your students to make their own hand-drawn copy of the lines you want them to paint on glass. Don’t just let them use a photocopy or computer print-out. It doesn’t matter if their hand-drawn copy differs slightly from the original, because their confidence will grow.

A calm glass painter always paints better than an anxious one.


Stephen ByrneP.S. In my next post, I’ll tell you something about suppliers. You know, the people you pay to send you the materials you need to do your work. You’ll enjoy this story! Yes, on the one hand, there are good suppliers like PELI Glass and Reusche. On the other hand … well, you’ll see there’s one supplier we use as rarely as possible. And I’m going to tell you why. Yes, you’ll enjoy this story. And the supplier is … – ?

P.P.S. I also want to tell you what’s important about Damian Hirst’s skull. It’s another very important point about how to value and price the work you do. But that’s all coming up after I explain why we rarely use this particular supplier …

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