Stained Glass Silhouettes

When paint blisters in the kiln ...

Cindy Whitehead from Cleburne, Texas wrote to say her first silhouettes had blistered in the kiln when they were fired.

What went wrong?

Sad as this is, blistering often happens when most people do their very first stained glass silhouettes. The thing is, silhouettes are almost effortless to paint, and it is precisely the lack of effort that often perplexes people when they paint their first silhouettes.

The effortlessness takes time to get used to.

People often try too hard.

The Millpond Test

Here’s a way of seeing whether you’ve used as little effort as possible.

It’s the “Millpond Test” – a millpond is (amongst other things) a flat, still expanse of water.

And that’s the point.

Examine your painted silhouette before you fire it. Observe how smooth it is.


Now there will always be some marks and seams.


How on earth do you achieve the desired smoothness?

The answer is, by doing as little “painting” as possible, and by being very clear that, when you paint silhouettes, you must use you brush in a very different way compared with tracing.

Suppose the paint has only just left your brush. Then, yes, you can encourage it and nudge it and push it a little.

But there are two things to avoid.

  • In a very short time, the paint will begin to dry (even though it still appears perfectly wet): it is important to leave it alone from this moment. Otherwise, you risk creating an imbalance within the paint, and this is one of the main causes of blistering.
  • It is important that you do not use your tracing brush “as if” you were tracing. When you trace, your brush makes contact with the glass. When you flood, the brush mainly makes contact with the pool of paint. So you use your brush to push along the top of the flooded paint that has just left your brush. This is just to say that, when you paint silhouettes with this technique, you must really have it in your mind that you are using your brush in a very different way.

“Why paint stained glass silhouettes at all?”

Perhaps you’re wondering, Why paint silhouettes at all?

First up, this technique – we call it “flooding” – is always useful when you paint stained glass. Blocking off around an image is how you force light to squeeze itself through the unpainted areas. This intensifies the effect on our eyes. Just see the stained glass pike at the head of this post. Imagine how less dramatic he’d look if we hadn’t flooded around his outline …

Secondly, silhouettes are the best way we know of learning how to paint stained glass. In painting silhouettes, you’re introduced to a wide range of essential techniques: undercoating, copy-tracing, reinforcing and flooding. So, to anyone who feels their tracing is wobbly or below par, we’d always say: “Just spend time painting stained glass silhouettes, and you’ll soon see a distinct improvement”. That’s why, in our e-book, we take a lot of time to show you exactly how they’re done.