Silver Stain – Memories and Confessions

When anyone’s always been told to do something in a particular way, and then suddenly they think:

“But wait a moment, this doesn’t make sense!”

And they head off in a new direction and things work out for them there – well, the story’s interesting.

It’s interesting because it shows how all of us can think for ourselves, and also work together with like-minded souls, to do the kinds of things we’re meant to do …

So here’s our latest guide, “Silver Stain, How to Trace, Blend, Shade and Flood from a Reliable Batch that Lasts for Months“.

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

How did it all happen?

Let me remember now …

Memories and confessions …

Here’s how it happened …

And now I (Stephen) — not we (Stephen and David, who together wrote the other parts of this guide) —  am going to write to you personally right now.

If I could write this individually by hand, in my own expansive and curly script, I would. But I can’t. So I will just type and write as I remember things …

See, 11 years ago, all I wanted was to escape from the City — which is how we refer to the “square mile” of London, its financial centre — and that was all I cared about.

No family then, so I had true freedom of manoeuvre, for which I thank my lucky stars, and on account of which I am today so determined to teach.

It’s not that I know more than you in any important sense. In fact I know I have everything to learn from you. Yet, being a practical kind of guy, it’s just that I like to pass on practical things.

Things which work. And also how I discovered them. Because when you see that, you’ll also see how to do this for yourself.

Here’s how it happened eight years back when I was doing my apprenticeship …

One bright morning 8 years ago …

Normally in this studio, and perhaps in many others, the “paint shop” doors were shut.



Sacred ground.

A phrase I’ve used before: the holy of holies.

One day, a sun-lit day, for some chance reason these doors were open, and, strange to relate, the master painter was also in expansive mood.

As a mere apprentice, it was incautious of me to venture in, but I reckon an open door that’s usually shut always holds a special attraction.

Fumbling over my words, I muttered something about the magnificent shading and matting to be seen in many Victorian windows.

For once not silent, the master painter reminisced about his own apprenticeship, some 35 years earlier.

“The whole building was filled with the strangest smell,” he mused. “And it all came from here in this room. Like road-building it was. Creosote … Tar, even. It was foul. But the painting was magnificent.”

You see how, even in his day, even he wasn’t told everything?

And all of us just tend to follow the examples we are set.

But at least he shared the memory now. Which set me thinking.

And you must remember the internet was new back then.

“‘Google’? What’s that?” (This is 2002, remember.)

So I telephoned Reusche – and such was the meanness of the studio, I even paid for the transatlantic call out of my own salary – and asked them about this long-remembered smell.

Immediately they said oil of Tar.

Which I don’t recommend for you, because it’s carcinogenic.

I got some all the same. (Again from my own salary, and the master painter asked me for some, so I gave him some of mine, by way of saying thank you for his unprecedented openness.)

Yet I was so overworked there at this studio where I did my apprenticeship, often getting in at 8 in the morning and not leaving until 11 in the evening, I never tried it …

In a dark cellar, 3 years later …

Three years later, I had decided to set up with David in a part of the world we both loved: the magnificent county of Shropshire.

And we were working together on a church window, working from the cellar of the 17th century house I was living in back then. (The studio at Stanton Lacy was still being renovated.)

It’s easier when you’re your own master, so I said:

Come on, David, let’s take a break, let’s try something different. (— Because there’s no point in always doing what you’ve always done.) Let’s crack open this flask of Oil of Tar, I said, and see what we can do.

Which we did. And that first piece we still have in the studio, because we couldn’t believe our eyes.

See, it was so easy to use this oil to shade on top of unfired water-based glass paint, we couldn’t believe how simple it was way back in Victorian times … a “piece of cake” it was to go from light to dark and back again.

We felt ourselves alive as never before, because quick-drying water has a deadening effect on every glass painter’s sensibility — and this majestic oil released us.

Yes, we jumped free “with one bound” as the comic books say.

And it is true.

But the most important part is yet to come …

Star with royal beauty bright

The very next Christmas, because I am not one to send cards, I was painting mine on glass. And I was minded to stain them also. And I wanted to shade the stain.

So I thought:

Surely this magnificent oil of Tar is worth a try? Even though it’s foul dark colour is so unprepossessing – what can I lose by a quick experiment? I know everyone says it’s only water or vinegar with stain, but … let’s try it all the same.

So that Saturday morning I did just that.

And the results were — awful.

But David sensed I had a point.

He tried it also.

And the results were — magnificent.

By observation and testing, we soon figured out what I’d done wrong, and, with two bounds, we were away.

Beautifully stained stained glass.

And a truly foul-smelling studio.

Not to mention the serious risks to our health.

Summoned to tea to discuss a front door with “Wow!”

The next thing to happen was a summons to the Literary Agent — he who always wished to write like Dostoevsky but chose instead to help other writers to realize their own potential.

He wanted a front door. Not just any front door, mind. It had to have the Wow! factor, he insisted.

And he also included that phrase in the contract with us, which must have brought his lawyers to despair.

Thus it was that David and I were challenged by a design brief where it would have been all to easy to carry on as before and use stain and Tar to give the Literary Agent every Wow! he could have ever wished for.

And yet …

I couldn’t face the smell.

I thought, what smell would I enjoy?

Seeing Lavender on a shelf, I sprinkled it across a piece of glass, and badgered it thoroughly, then came down hard with heavy tones of oil of Tar based silver stain.

And the results were — acceptable but nothing special.

Yet David sensed I had a point.

And he was indeed no happier than I was with the foul smell of Tar throughout the studio.

Not to mention its carcinogenic properties.

(You have now been warned off oil of Tar a second time.)

We tried Patchouli — again this was in the studio, because we had one of those aromatherapy stones which you plug in and heat up and cover with nice oils to cover up foul smells (in our case, oil of Tar).

And we sedulously worked our way through mandarin, bergamot, hyacinth, rose geranium and ylang ylang. All of whose perfumes pleased our senses though they failed to meet the aesthetic and legal demands imposed on us by the Literary Agent …

The literary agent’s “Wow!”

Finally we observed what our eyes had been telling us all along, that a thicker starting paste was needed (Lavender evaporates too promptly, and therefore is unsuitable for the heights we sought to reach. A reliable and long-lasting batch was what we wanted.)

So it was we fell gratefully upon Sandalwood.

It worked well and smelled delightful.

And the literary agent got the Wow! he wanted.

Dear nose!

Nietzsche correctly remarks about “this nose of ours, of which no philosopher has yet spoken with proper reverence and gratitude …”

In the 110 years since his death, philosophers have not corrected this omission.

So at least, today, we glass painters can.

Thank you, dear nose, for making us unwilling to continue staining with the foul-smelling Tar!Stephen Byrne

Silver Stain – How to Trace, Blend, Shade and Flood from a Reliable Batch that Lasts for Months

Watch and learn from 75 minutes of online video demonstrations and also hold in your own hands these 18 detailed pages of recipes, techniques, strategies and close-up colour photos.

Plus ask questions.


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