From the postbag
Amidst the many questions we got this week – nearly all answered: always sorry if we ever miss one: nothing personal: it’s just there’s a mighty lot to do! – there were two questions about … … what glass to use to paint a stained glass face:
About to take on a new challenge of painting and leading a large stained glass window. If I am painting a face for example, and want a nice flesh tone, what is the best glass to use as a base?
I want to copy a section of a window in a local church. It’s circular, about 24″ across, with a head, shoulders and part of the wings of an angel. Could you suggest what colour glass to use for the face, or should I use clear glass and put some colour into it? (The original is almost orange.)
Lots of points to answer there, starting with – white glass …
I have to say, we’ve never used white so far.
We’ve always used tints of yellow or green, sometimes a light beige even.
(By tint I mean a light or pale version of a colour.)
Of course, if we were doing a literal copy (as in restoration), we’d source the original glass (even orange!), or somehow fake it.
Since people are reading this from all over the world, everyone will be using different makes of glass.
Ours are hand-made English, French (like Saint-Just), German (like Lamberts) or Polish (Tatra).
But my advice is: don’t fixate too much on the glass:
- Do a good design
- Choose a tint
- And concentrate on painting well
I repeat: don’t fixate too much: the glass is just a vehicle.
If your design and glass painting succeed, that’s what people will notice (not the glass).
Frankly, if they comment on the glass, that’s just plain rude!
As for a “nice flesh tone”: it’s not possible to answer this question in the abstract.
It depends on many things, like the level of realism you’re after.
On the one hand there is quasi-photographic – almost print-like – realism.
On the other, medieval saints and virgins.
“Flesh” means different things across this spectrum. Again, your style of painting will affect how people “see” the underlying glass.
And would we “put some colour” into our painted faces?
Probably not: it’s not our style.
Which doesn’t mean it isn’t or shouldn’t be yours.
All I’m saying is we wouldn’t (except for restoration as required).
We tend to work with tracing paints (not enamels). That’s just the way we work.
I myself reckon sometimes people get too caught up in using enamels to make things seem real whereas it’s often better just to focus on light and dark, line and shadow (with the basic colour of the glass giving you a spring-board, so to speak).
Know what I mean here?
And now for a wider consideration of the underlying issues because … you see, the best thing always is, for you to build your own judgment and experience.
Which means we all have to look and think for ourselves.
Look closely from now on
Here’s what I do.
Each time I’m in a building with stained glass windows, I always spend a few moments observing the base colours as closely as possible.
I ignore the paint.
That’s right. Me, a glass painter. I ignore the paint.
Instead I focus my eyes and all my attention on the glass beneath the paint.
It takes an effort of will but it’s worth it.
And from now on, when you’re in a church, spend five minutes really concentrating on the choice of colour.
Stop your eyes darting off all over the place as they try to interpret the traced lines and shadows.
Just look at the glass.
Only the glass.
Are all the greens the same or do they vary? How would you describe the tint of the hands – is it a yellow, a green or a blue? And so on.
Chances are, you’ll pick up on some strange and interesting things.
Like a green face …
Yet when you see it “in the whole”, maybe in full sunlight, your brain doesn’t see it as green at all: everything looks as it should be.
Well, maybe sometimes it doesn’t …
I reckon, in the olden days, sometimes they just had to use what they had to hand.
Ask me nicely and I’ll show you some photos one day! The ecclesiastical setting makes you think, you can’t criticise it … but I’ve seen some shockers, and now maybe so will you!
OK so that’s the long-term advice on how to develop your own judgment here. Lots more to say about this, but that’s enough for now.
Well, almost enough.
This week we’ve been enjoying correspondence with several new readers from New Zealand,
And one of our new friends, Sue Adams, mentioned how loads of the stained glass windows in the New Zealand churches there were actually shipped out to them from England.
Now that’s really interesting.
Because it means the designers and painters had no idea of the quantity and quality of light their work would be subjected to …
Goodness! I wouldn’t like to work like that.
Here’s why …
Point #1 – Where’s it going?
Like we said, the glass is a vehicle for your paint.
So of course you choose whatever colour glass gives you the best start, depending on where your painted glass is going.
Say it’s going in an east window in a Gran Canaria church: well, you’ll need a stronger-coloured glass than if it’s going in the west window of a cloud-covered chapel in Wales.
The reason is, the Gran Canaria sunlight will bleach out more tint than the rain-filled skies of Wales ever will. (Sorry, Welsh people, but it’s true!)
If you’re making an autonomous piece – something which can be hung anywhere and won’t be installed in a particular architectural setting – go for a mid-range tint and consider point #2.
Point #2 – What colours are around it?
You know this already, don’t you? Colours aren’t “out there” as such, just wavelengths of light which your brain interprets.
And it’s very easy for wavelengths to merge and do all kinds of weird things in our brain.
Or they would do if you let them …
Which is exactly why it’s good for the glass itself to be larger than the image you’re painting on it.
See, this isn’t just because some shapes are impossible to cut and lead up.
It’s also to protect the painted image from the effect of the surrounding colours.
Again, when you’re in a church, it’s great practice to start observing this from now on: see how much space is left between the painted image and the lead.
Also see how the space is filled: is it blocked in, is it left blank, or is it decorated in some way?
Point #3 – the paint itself
Maybe you already know how we like to start with an undercoat – a primer, if you will – then copy-trace, strengthen, maybe soften and reinstate, then highlight, and also apply oil (washes, half-tones, lines etc.)
For a detailed step-by-step guide, see here for a tested real-life way of painting a stained glass face.
And you’ll see straightaway the undercoat is so important when it comes to faces.
It’s much like foundation with women’s make-up (I’ve been told).
So when we did St. Martha and St. Francis, we used an undercoat made from Reusche’s umber brown: it worked perfectly for that job – lifted the shadows, did not weigh them down with shades of grey.
Such a large topic …
Yes, such a large topic, the choice of glass. You have to be able to enjoy uncertainty, to live with a lot of questions in your mind: slowly figure out the answer to one of them (e.g. the style of design), then allow that answer to have an effect on other answers.
See what other people do, and make up your own mind what you think of that, and why.
You’ll do well!
All the best,