Stained Glass Painting with A Pen

And oil

In Part 2 of Glass Painting Techniques & Secrets from an English Stained Glass Studio, you discover an amazing technique for painting with oil-based stained glass paint on top of unfired – note this: unfired – water-based paint.

This is the exact technique we use each day to achieve a particular sense of depth and contrast in our work.

That’s the point about the information you get from us: it’s all tried and tested to the limit.

Sure, there’s always more to learn.

But what you learn with us is excellent and true.

Now this particular technique involves oil and brush.

Stained glass fighting bird in oil with nib by Williams & Byrne, designers, painters and restorers of stained glass

Stained glass fighting bird in oil with nib

But have a look at this sample piece of painted stained glass.

This is the very piece which caught Penny’s eye when she took time off from the front-line of our National Health Service – leaving the nation at the mercy of Swine Flu – while she spent a weekend with us at Stanton Lacy.

And what a stained glass painting course that was.

A time when people meet each other and immediately know that they will meet again.

Penny wanted to know how the piece was made, so here’s precisely what you all need to know.

It’s not done with oil and brush, but with oil and nib.

Here’s how we painted it.

Tools & materials

You will need: light-box, painting palette, palette knife, painting bridge, a roll of absorbent kitchen paper, a tiny amount of Reusche tracing black glass paint, essential oil of clove and essential oil of lavender, small pot for storage, and a dib pen nib holder with a suitable nib like this:

Pen and nib for oil-based stained glass painting

Pen and nib for oil-based stained glass painting

You’ll get this kind of holder and nib from any shop or website that sells calligraphy supplies.

It’s a good idea to try several shapes of nib to find out what works best for you.

Note: Brian Donahue (Sierra Vista, Arizona) wrote to say that massage oil was also an excellent medium, and much cheaper than oil of lavender.


How to prepare stained glass tracing paint for use with nib and oil

You only need a small amount of stained glass tracing paint

  1. Prepare the oil-based glass paint. Measure a bit less than half a level teaspoonful of Reusche tracing black onto your painting palette. Add approximately 10 drops of clove oil and 4 drops of lavender oil. Mix with your palette knife until smooth. Test with pen and nib. If the mixture is too runny, add more glass paint and mix it in. If it’s too thick, add a few more drops of lavender oil and mix them in.

    Oil-based stained glass paint for use with nib

    Oil-based tracing paint, ready for use with a nib

  2. Clean your glass with a few drops of washing up liquid and tap-water. Wipe dry with kitchen paper.
  3. Practice on glass and get to understand the capabilities of your nib and the characteristics of the oil-based glass paint. Just doodle and make marks to your heart’s content.

    Doodle until you're happy with the glass paint

    Doodle until you’re happy with the glass paint

  4. When you’re ready, clean and dry the glass again, and place it on top of design.
  5. Copy the design. This takes quite a while, but there’s none of the time-pressure that you’ll meet with water-based stained glass painting.
  6. Fire the glass. We use the same schedule as water-based glass paint. (But, if there were considerable amounts of oil, we’d also soak and dry at 100 centigrade / 210 Fahrenheit for 15 minutes before rising to top temperature.)
  7. Use your palette knife to scrape any remaining oil-based glass paint into a small sealable storage jar. It will keep like this for ages.
  8. Clean your palette with soapy water and kitchen paper.

Points of special interest

  • You load the nib by turning it upside down and scooping upa small quantity of oil-based glass paint.Be careful not to load too much.

    How to load your nib with oil-based stained glass tracing paint

    How to load your nib with oil-based stained glass tracing paint

  • Test each load before you bring your nib anywhere near the glass.
  • Oil-based paint will become more fluid as the temperature rises. So be aware of the fact that the temperature of your light-box will affect the rate of flow. In other words, your mixture may become more fluid in the course of your painting session.
  • There’s no gum Arabic in this mixtue. Therefore take care not to damage any of the painted lines.
  • Whether or not you can correct a stroke depends on the steadiness of your hand and its proximity to other strokes. To correct a stroke, use a twist of kitchen paper, or a cotton bud. This is harder to do than with water-based paint mixed with gum Arabic. There’s also risk of smearing.
  • Unlike water-based paint, you can easily paint half-a-stroke, then load your nib again to complete it.
  • It’s also easy to enlarge the width of a stroke.
  • It’s economical to use.

To finish our particular piece, we fired the glass two further times.

For the first firing, we added and blended a light wash of oil-based paint – exactly as you learn in right here.

For the second firing, we applied silver-stain to the back of the glass.

Would you like the design? If so, it’s here: free stained glass design for fighting bird in oil and nib.

Pros & cons of stained glass painting with nib and oil

As always, if you’re restoring a piece of broken stained glass, the only question is: how was it originally painted?

If nib and oil were used, then that’s what you should use to make the restoration as unnoticeable as possible.

It’s a different question when painting new work.

Many people enjoy nib and oil because it feels more familiar than working with a brush. After all, we’re all accustomed to using pen, and many people still use pens with nibs.

Also, the oil-based medium appears more forgiving than water-based glass paint. (But you’ll be wise to remember that, since it dries incredibly slowly, unfired oil-based paint is far easier to damage than unfired water-based paint with gum Arabic.)

Another advantage is that you can adjust lines, making them longer or wider, without any pressure of time.

So perhaps the main disadvantage is aesthetic and subjective.

  • The nib-drawn lines are the same darkness for their whole length, whereas brush-based lines often vary from one moment to the next.
  • This quality of the brush may be considered an imperfection. But we think it’s an imperfection with the potential to create interest and variety in the work that we design and make.

What do you think of “brush vs. nib” with regard to your own work?

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16 thoughts on “Stained Glass Painting with A Pen

  1. I have used a brush and a nib with a clove oil mixture and like both ways. I have decided that with me it depends on the effect that I’m going for. I also mix up larger amounts of the tracing black and clove oil and store it in a small glass container with a metal lid, so that I always have some on hand.

    I have also done this with bistre brown and that works well to if you don’t want such a dark line as black.

    I myself enjoy using the oil more than water because it feels more natural to me (being from a Fine Art background) and you can blend and shade with a brush or even with a Q-tip.

    • Hello Angela!

      I like your point that it depends on the effect that you are going for.

      And we too, at the studio, are hugely enjoying the glass painting that we do with bistre brown: there’s something more earthy and sensitive and responsive about it – whereas black is so unambiguous and final.

      Thanks also for mentioning “Q-tips” (these are what we here in the UK call “cotton buds”) and that it’s also possible to shade with them – to pull and draw the oil-based paint: wonderful technique!

      All the best,

  2. I also use pine oil which is sometimes called squeegie oil. It will create a thicker heavier line. It works with nib as well as with a brush. The oil badgers well… it creates a smoothe even layer of paint. It works well when using enamels.

    I love your sites. You do not find information like this anywhere else. Most artists will not share their ‘secrets’. I have sent some of my fellow painters to this site. Thanks!

    Laura Goff Parham

  3. Thank you for the very informative details. All I want now is a small kiln & I can get started! Can’t wait! Fiona

    • Hi Fiona,

      How exciting!
      Please always write and say when we can help with anything.

      All the best,

      P.S. If someone has a make of small kiln that they are particularly fond of, can they please write and tell us about it, since I am sure this will be useful to a lot of people.

      • Kilncare Hobby Kiln….absolutely fantastic!
        Don’t be taken in by the name!
        Several preprogrammed schedules (which I’ve never used) and space to programme your own, economical to fire etc etc etc….I can’t say enough good about it….!!
        Eileen Barratt

  4. I don’t BUHLEEEVE it! You guys must be psychic! Only a couple of days ago I was discussing painting with my husband and getting very excited about my clock on which I am painting a logo (and the dots for indicators of the time) I am making for a friend. I brought up the subject of painting in oil (which, I might add, I would NEVER have tried without your help – I’m a total newbie to glass painting anyway) using a nib! We threw ideas around for a bit but not having any information or experience, we sort of let the idea slide.

    Then LO AND BEHOLD! Here’s the article!

    What a win! Thanks so much for your help, tips, advice, guidance and lessons. I can’t thank you enough – and I’m sure I speak for everyone who has wanted to try painting on glass (properly!) but been too scared to try!

    You guys rock – big time!

    Pat Kenderdine

  5. Gracias por permitirme leer vuestros comentarios estoy haciendo mis primeras experiencias con grisalla y no tengo academia, pero si me permiten consultar de seguro debo aprender .les saludo atte

  6. Stephen,

    I have a small kiln (Jenn-Ken) with about a 8″ shelf. What I like about it is that I can do many small test pieces in a relatively short amount of time.

    I, too, have used your painted lettering techniques. I use an italic nib for different letter widths. Its works like a charm!

    Happy Lettering!

  7. We have wonderful windows in our church (done in Italy in the 1800’s) which are fired stained glass on the perimeters of each window with the figure and background to the figure painted and not fired. These painted, not fired figures and backgrounds have sustained damage by overzealous window cleaners. Can I restore with transparent oil without firing, as the original windows clearly were done.

  8. Thank you so much for such useful information and as others have said it is rare to find artists willing to share their ‘secretes’. I want to do some calligraphy on glass and I’m not brilliant using a brush, can you please tell me if I want to write some text say 10 mm wide what the best method would be. I thought about tracing the outline with a nib then filling this in with a brush but I’m not sure that this will produce an even/flat surface. When I have tried this (brush only) with glass paint and gum Arabic it has come out lumpy and thin in places. Any advice would be really appreciated?

    • So one question is to identify techniques which achieve the effect you want; another question is to master them.

      One answer to both is to make a lot of prototypes. As many as it takes. This could be 3. It could be 23.

      A common sequence of techniques is: undercoat, copy-trace, flood, highlight – and maybe shadows with glycol or oil.

      You mention you met difficulties. Yes, it takes practise.

      Right now we’re running a superb online course. The first episode appeared on October 11th. It’s here. If you want to improve, this is an excellent way. (Enrolment closes on October 31st.)

  9. This is really interesting – that it’s possible to use the paint in a nib. Thank you! Am only just getting into glass painting, and working through Illuminate! very slowly. Love your blog!

    • Nib and oil most definitely have their uses. Nib and Propylene Glycol likewise. All the same I hope you’ll always continue with brush and water/gum Arabic: the techniques we teach inside Illuminate! can express so much.

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