The Glass Delusion and Silver Stain plus a Rollercoasting Video Trailer

There’s a fascinating article in the History Of Psychiatry (Volume 1, No. 2, 191 – 206, 1990 to be precise) about a type of delusion that was widely reported in the 15th to 17th centuries but rarely occurs in modern times.

Since the writer’s purpose is always to entertain and educate the reader, let me immediately tantalize you with a choice collection of words – they all belong in the story you are about to hear:

  • Glass
  • Buttocks
  • Rene Descartes

Now I am perfectly aware that popular delusions are often related to recent technological developments.

So bear in mind that the first clear glass, Cristallo, was invented only in the 15th century.

And that it was as late as 1675 when George Ravenscroft invented lead crystal glass by adding lead oxide to Venetian glass.

“I’m fine about glass and buttocks but can we please keep Descartes out of it – he’s such a windbag!”

Even so, it is difficult to comprehend the scale of this particular delusion which caused its sufferers – mainly scholars or lovers – to believe that they were made of glass and to fear they would shatter if they suffered from even the lightest knock …

Yes, people really believed they were made of glass …

People really did believe they would shatter if someone knocked them …

A few choice examples, because I am actually rather keen to talk about silver stain today:

1. Yes I know it’s fiction, but Cervantes’ eponymous Glass Graduate, Tomas Rodaja (1613), is accidentally poisoned by an enamoured woman, which leaves him crazy and believing that his body is made from glass.

2. This one isn’t fiction. No less a doctor than Alfonso Ponce de Santa Cruz (c. 1614) reports the incident of a man who believed he was made of glass and therefore languished on a bed of straw to avoid being broken.

3. This one’s true as well. Louise de Casaneuve, physician to the French court, describes the the case of a glass maker from the Parisian suburb of Saint Germain who always applied a small cushion to his buttocks, even when standing, for fear that, being made of glass, they would shatter (1626).

Which brings me 13 years later to Rene Descartes. (And, yes, soon to the topic of silver stain.)

Descartes wanted to doubt everything which could be doubted so as then to be able to build a sound edifice of knowledge only on the securest possible foundations (whence his famous cogito – “I think, therefore I am”).

And if you’re wondering “Why would he want to do that?”, do bear in mind that the Enlightenment hadn’t yet begun, and someone had to get the ball rolling.

But it’s Descartes’ starting point which nowadays catches my eye.

He first remarks how he cannot doubt that “I am in this place, seated by the fire, clothed in a winter dressing gown, that I hold in my hands this piece of paper”.

Yet within moments he is assailed by the terrible uncertainties he wants to banish.

He sadly concludes that people who doubt the physical reality of their own hands and bodies are no more crazy than people who believe their bodies are made from glass (Meditation 1, section 4).

Now whenever you’re feeling a bit low and dispirited with things, cheer yourself up with the thought that the work we all do with our glass lies right at the very heart of the great Enlightenment project to banish superstition and bring certainty to man’s quest for knowledge.

Bring me my sable of truth, and all that.

Yes, it’s all our fault, don’t you know. All that science thing …

But silver stain, yes.

Remember how a few weeks back we talked together about the difference between painting on paper and painting on glass?

Actually this was David’s post, and he got fairly hot under the collar with the popular notion that the stained glass painter is someone who “paints with light”.

Because in fact the stained glass painter uses oxide-based pigments to block the light, not paint with it.

And then I chipped in with a seductive video clip of using oil-based glass paint to touch up Martha’s face.

Both of us were keen to put forward the (we maintain) helpful (if provocative) notion that the glass painter is someone who paints with darkness.

Well, only up to a point.

Because, whereas glass paint blocks light – silver stain allows light to pass through it.

And it’s perfectly possible to learn to paint with stain, and then to prepare your designs with this ability in mind.

Now the primary sense of “delusion” is anything which deceives the mind with a false appearance.

And silver stain is the main tool at our disposal to conceal the artfulness of what we do, because it is a kind of “paint” which, once fired, no longer sits on the surface of the glass, but which becomes part of the glass, and changes its ionic structure.

Yes, the silver stainer as painter of heavenly delusions

Now after all this hard work, you’ve earned a moment’s relaxation.

So sit back, turn on your speakers – because the music’s great – and watch this short video.

It’s meant to be fun, but I know we English have a strange sense of humour.

I mean, have you ever seen a stained glass video trailer before?

Proven techniques – interested?

Keep your wits about you or the glass Green Man will come and get you!

Put an end to your disappointment with silver stain – find out how it’s really done …

Click here for how to trace, blend, shade and flood with silver stain.

15 thoughts on “The Glass Delusion and Silver Stain plus a Rollercoasting Video Trailer

  1. Oh, yes! You’ve got me interested alright! – Can’t WAIT for the next exciting episode!

  2. Oh! Gentlemen! Such a tease! And just when I needed this very information! Please do “bring it on”. I await with baited breath.

  3. It is Sunday morning. Cloudy. Dull light shining through bare windows. I have removed all the stained glass for protection – we are renewing the ceiling and floor. My mood is as dull as the light falling upon the two chairs and small table left in the empty living-room …

    Your article brings back the colour to the room (or is it just my imagination?)

    The trailer creates a promise of perhaps also a sequel on silver stain?

    I can’t wait for part 1!


  4. My constant battle with silver stain leaves me dumbfounded … I will apply and fire each piece together in the kiln and – blow me down – every one will be different! Some light, some dark, and some just murky – I surrender!

    • Don’t give up! One thing I am sure of with stain, is to find a catalogue of glass that fires well in your own kiln.

      Not all glass fires stain well. Or at all.

      This is not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. But it’s important to take on board that with some glass there’s nothing anyone can do.

      Also, everyone’s kiln has different hot spots. So this may account for some of your disappointing results. You can find out if this is causing you problems by staining a number of test pieces of the same kind of glass and firing them in your kiln, all at the same time. If you apply the stain evenly to start with, then, if they emerge from the kiln different from one another, the darker ones are likely to be in your kiln’s hot spot(s).

      We can’t solve everything but I hope we can help a great deal. For example, you will see how to prepare a batch of silver stain – that’s enormously useful, because it’s reliable and ready-to-go when you are. It also lasts for months and is far more exconomical than mixing it afresh each time.

  5. I’m looking forward to ‘silver stain – the main feature’. This is just the information I could use, as a packet of unopened silver stain powder – my first – waits for me in the basement work area. The only other things I’ll need are a badger brush and enough spare time to do some experimenting…

    • Yes, you will need a small round-headed badger to shade and blend the stain.

      But I am pleased to say that, as you’ll see it done with us, staining is a swift and enjoyable process, so maybe time won’t be a problem here.

      And you’ll also be able to use these techniques to develop other pieces you’ve already painted and fired in the traditional way.

  6. Hi Guys, what a teaser! You build us up,. and then we have to wait (bit like the English football team??)
    Loved the story on the people who thought they WERE glass! Mind you, my workbench looks like it’s turned into glass, with a huge art nouveau window almost complete. And two lions I have been working on now needing silver staining to finish them off and bring them to life, so I am holding fire until the next episode …. Thanks for keeping us entertained and brightening up my Monday morning blues with some great entertainment and creative spirit!

  7. Oh, you guys are truly my inspiration, have been from the start and always will be. Thank you for your reply, Stephen, like the long list of other people, I wish to see how you get it right! One piece I fired with silver stain has left a kind of residue that is visible on the back. I can’t to seem to get this off. – It looks like it should come off, but not even acetone budges it. (I’m just adding to your video content here!)

    Could you also recommend types of glass for silver stain? I’ve just been using ordinary window glass – this is Africa after all!

    Talking of Africa, could you be so kind as to recommend from whom I may purchase a badger brush off the Net?

    Thank you so much!

    • Hello Peta,

      It’s David “on duty” right now.

      The forthcoming videos and handout will contain a lot of important information. And as always people will be able to ask questions and we’ll answer them in a public space so everyone benefits.

      Regarding glass in Africa, now that is tricky. I’d be interested to know the kind of glass you can get, then maybe we can get some too, and run our own tests, and take things from there.

      As for blenders – I’ve looked around and I think the best value may well be the English supplier we ourselves use. I know they’re more than happy to ship anywhere in the world. One problem – their website is absolutely awful. And the online ordering system doesn’t work. Honestly! So it maybe a good idea to get in e-mail contact with them. Either that, or telephone them. I know that’s an expense but the brushes themselves are exceptionally good value.

      Here are their details. The firm’s name is A.S. Handover. Their website is here but be prepared. (Anyone would think that Dickens was still alive and using one of their quills to write those interminable paragraphs of his …) You can find their e-mail address and telephone number there.

      Now for the blenders themselves. You need a 3-inch blender for softening and blending of water-based glass paint; and, while you’re at it, why not get a small round-headed blender for blending oil-based glass paint, and a second one for blending silver stain? (If your budget stretches, get several. That’s your call.)

      A good 3-inch badger blender: Series 610, badger softener professional, 3-inch: £21.89 + sales tax + shipping.

      A good round-headed badger blender: round badger hair brush size 2 (£1.87 + sales tax + shipping), size 4 (£3.07 plus …), size 6 (£4.05 plus …). As a minimum, I’d suggest two size 2s.

      If you’re also after excellent tracing brushes, look no further than the Series 99: sizes 0, 1 and 2 for careful tracing, shading and flooding.

      I hope this helps.

      All the best,

      P.S. Stain puzzles everyone sometimes. Even us. The thing is, though, we’ll always tell you what we know so that you have the knowledge and skills to take the correct decisions for yourself. That’s always the best way.

      P.P.S. More information about forthcoming videos and handout right here now.

  8. Will you be providing a cartoon or maybe the Pathe news between the features? … The former on glass of course!

    Best wishes

  9. Hi Stephen and David!

    Just recently I decided to create my first panel involving silver stain and duly invested in my first batch.

    A little surprised at it turning up as a red powder, I carried out some tests … only to be further surprised and perplexed by the unpredicted results.

    So straight on to the W&B website and there I was so relieved, encouraged and thankful to see the other postings and responses and so I see that I am not alone in experiencing what a tricky medium it is.

    Today I logged on to glean any more information before making my next attempt and, being in a bit of a serious mood, I came across your trailer … hilarious! I feel so much better.

    All the best,

  10. Hi David,

    Thank you so much for your time and invaluable advice, as always.

    I will certainly try A.S. Handover. Previously I have been hesitant to buy off the net, as there seem to be many ‘fake’ badgers out there.

    I laughed at your comment re. Dickens, I don’t know how you manage to juggle everything and retain a sense of humour! Please keep it up – you actually inspire me to paint (and hosts of others, no doubt). One newsletter from you and I’m raring to go!!

    Best wishes to you both,

  11. Peta – “you actually inspire me to paint” – well, I know (because we’ve exchanged a series of e-mails) how seriously you’ve taken a recent restoration project, and it gives us comfort that you undertake work with that spirit, with such determination to get it right.

    Sara – yes, stain is tricky: but you already know how method dispels the madness here. And as you imply, it is important to keep a sense of proportion here. Let’s all lighten up about stain – and, mundanly, this is far easier when you use oil than when you use water, that’s for sure.

    And Martin – Dr. Parsons – an eminent historian perusing our remarks on history. Oh dear (for us). ‘Glass painting and technique – alpha plus. Historical detail – omega triple minus.’ All I can say in our defence is we try to entertain and enlighten. (Just like you. But then you are a rare breed amongst historians.)

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