Work in progress
Right now, David is adding colour to his initial sketches for a west-facing flank of four windows, each set composed of three lancets:
Also this month, we’re starting work on actual windows. Here are their scale designs …
And windows in progress
These are the scale designs for the north and east sides of a castle tower – these are the windows we’re working on right now.
The cut-lines are finished. (Aside from widths and heights, the ‘heads’ of each cut-line must be true to the actual sizes of the stone-work.)
In February we’ll start etching and staining the full-sized prototypes.
There’s a lot for us to do.
So David gets to the studio by 8, whereas I get in at 9 (I see my daughter off to school first).
Now it’s not a competition but I certainly wake up before David does: I get out of bed at 5, shower, make a flask of coffee, then listen to music for an hour, by candlelight.
No need to ask – I’ll tell you: music puts my head straight, because I don’t get on with words. So far this year I’ve enjoyed all the symphonies of Mahler, Nielsen, Elgar and Sibelius.
How composers learn their craft, which is also relevant to you the glass painter
Now these composers got me thinking:
- Mahler was a formidable conductor;
- Nielsen played second violin in the Royal Danish Orchestra for 16 years;
- Elgar was a violinist, pianist and organist. He also played the bassoon;
- Sibelius also played the violin. In fact he so loved performing, he was distraught when, around 28, he realised he couldn’t become what he wanted to be – a concert violinist.
My point is, composers first learn their craft by playing other people’s works.
‘Playing’, reproducing, copying, forging – whatever you call it, it’s so important.
The benefits of stained-glass restoration
After his apprenticeship, David spent 15 years’ overseeing not just the making of new windows, but also restoring old ones.
I myself did five years’ restoration.
And here’s a path which a lot of you can also follow:
- You can search for and collect fragments from old painted stained-glass windows.
- And examine them.
- Then work out how the painter made them: the sequence of techniques, the media, the firing.
- And try your hand at copying them.
It’s funny how forgery has such a bad name in painting. The emphasis in painting is so much on “saying what only you can say”.
Contrast this with music: no one thinks the less of a pianist who spends their whole life playing other people’s compositions – whereas a painter would be considered inferior if they only ever copied other painters’ paintings.
But would it perhaps be better if painters were more like musicians than they usually are these days?
Musicians rehearse, musicians practise, musicians repeat and repeat and repeat. A lot of the time, musicians play other people’s music, not their own.
And there is no shame in this. Far from it. Rehearsal, practise and repetition of other people’s music: this is the royal path to technical accomplishment and glory.
I don’t think David would be the designer he is if he hadn’t spent 15 years learning other styles, and, through copying them, worked through how other people had answered their particular architectural and aesthetic problems.
Indeed, one of the big problems with this “Romantic” approach to painting (“I must paint what only I can see”) is this: if someone only ever solves the problems of their own choosing, maybe they risk limiting their horizon.
Whereas if, like musicians always do, you first play a wide variety of other people’s music, then your skills are lifted upwards to the heavens.
We’ll develop this thought for a review we’re writing of Ken Leap’s wonderful manual, Silver Stain: An Artists’s Guide. And I’d love what you think. How much copying do you do? Do you think that rehearsing and copying another person’s stained-glass painting is less important than answering your own questions? Or does it come down to what you can sell and how you can make a living?