Live from the Studio – Day #5

Tracing – how to hide the evidence …

This morning with our students, it was Gothic Revival / medieval faces.

After lunch – by way of contrast – gargoyles and other monsters.

And with all this detailed line-work, the following conversation was inevitable.

Be sure to read to the climax of this tale, because you’ll find a really useful tip.

Problem #1: “When your glass is on top of your design – as it is with tracing – it’s so difficult to judge the darkness of your lines. – And it’s also really difficult to register them precisely with the lines on the design beneath …”

Answer #1: “Yes, indeed, everything is as you say: when you trace, it’s hard to place the lines exactly, and hard to judge how light or dark they are. And that’s exactly why we often go over our lines a second time (never mind how all the books say you cannot paint over unfired paint: they’re just wrong). It’s by no means mandatory to strengthen a line like this. But it often makes good sense: first, with your glass on top of your design, just make a light copy of the lines beneath. Yes, mark where they are, but don’t go out of your way to shape them yet. Second, put your design on one side and darken and shapen your lines as required. Does that answer your question?”

Problem #2: “Not really. Because ‘strengthening’ is easier said than done. Yes, we’ve solved one problem – OK, two problems – but we’ve created a new problem to replace them. Now the problem is, to match your ‘second layer tracing’ accurately with your first: it’s very easy to wobble, and sometimes my strengthening line will bleed … What am I doing wrong?”

Answer #2: “Let’s start with bleeding. If your line bleeds (or runs), maybe there’s too much water somewhere: you need to find out where. It’s in your brush or in your paint: you decide, and make the necessary changes. Remember it’s a cardinal rule of tracing: if you can’t trace slowly, there’s too much water somewhere. Find out where and get rid of it before you carry on. As for wobbling, take heart! With rehearsal, concentration and good eye-sight (with or without glasses), you will improve:

Nothing can take the place of a master on the one hand and years of practice on the other (C.W. Whall, Stained Glass Work, page 82)

Another thing: maybe you’re wobbling because you’re trying to work from a difficult or impossible angle, so the answer is, see what you can do to make yourself comfortable. And another thing: consider how you plan to finish the piece. For instance, if you’re going to soften these lines and turn them into shadows, then your strengthening lines don’t need to be exact. After all, you’re going to soak and beat the hell out of them in a moment …”

Problem #3: “But what if they do matter! What if I actually manage to put them in the right place? What about those trace lines I put down when ‘I couldn’t see what I was doing’: they’re not where I want them – and I can’t get rid of them!”

Answer #3: “OK, first thing to say is, if your trace lines are light enough, they’ll tend to fire off in the heat of the kiln and no one will see them. But all the same, because you’ve done us the great honour of travelling such an enormous distance to spend this week with us, I will give you a particular tip. Here it is:

Umber brown sepia, from Reusche

“Yes, if you trace with umber brown sepia …

Umber brown sepia from Reusche - great for tracing!

Umber brown sepia from Reusche – great for tracing!

“… then strengthen and shape or flood with a darker paint like tracing black and bistre brown, the only way someone will see your trace lines is if they use a magnifying glass. And if you think about it, this is just what you do when you trace on paper. First you use a pencil: it’s delicate and light. And then, if you’re happy with the results, you ink them in with something darker.

"Especially for faces? You mean, lovely ones like mine?"

“Especially for faces? You mean, lovely ones like mine?”

“Now let’s be clear about this. I’m not recommending tracing with umber brown sepia in order for anyone to get lazy with their line-work. I’m recommending it because it’s a useful, practical tip that really works. We especially use it for faces, where a tiny loss of accuracy can sometimes have a dramatic – and unwanted – effect. That’s why we often “sketch” on glass with umber brown sepia. It’s a lovely paint to work with. Creamy and smooth.”

And that, as I said in the title to this piece, is how we sometimes ‘hide the evidence’.

It’s the kind of tip you’ll only get from a real, working studio. So stick with us, and work hard, and you’ll do well!


Stephen ByrneP.S. Today we told our students this. On the fifth and final day. So only at the end of the week. Our students said, “Why didn’t you tell us at the start?” We said, “Because then you wouldn’t have appreciated the value of the answer”. – Do you?

P.P.S. For glass painting tips and techniques, get the free email newsletter.