Glass Painters – Would You Like to Dance?

In the studio this week, we’re painting column after column for the tycoon’s stained glass skylights.

Our sequence is:

  1. Undercoat
  2. Trace
  3. Strengthen
  4. Flood
  5. Highlight
  6. Etc. etc.

In other words, the lines are put down in two layers – steps 2 and 3 – not in one go.

A column from the tycoon's skylights - undercoat and (copy-)traced only

A column from the tycoon’s skylights – undercoat and (copy-)traced only (strengthening comes next)

Now it isn’t mandatory to do this. It’s certainly possible to do the lines just in one go. Sometimes that’s what you must do.

And right now I just want to have a brief discussion with you about how to think about this question: whether to trace (with the glass on top of the design) and then strengthen (with the design on one side), or whether to trace and strengthen in one go

Here the only rule is: know what effect you want to achieve, then figure out what it takes for you to get there. So you have to be flexible. You have to be master of various approaches.

It’s no good just knowing rock ‘n’ roll, to to speak.

You must also know how about salsa, tango, hip-hop, ballet and ballroom dancing.

That’s one reason why we focus on techniques with you. It’s because we want you to feel confident about whatever it is you’re painting.

Yet techniques don’t give you everything. You also need an open, flexible mind so you don’t become enslaved to just one style. (As Stephen said last week, it’s great to use techniques like walking sticks; awful to depend on them like crutches )

So please think about it for a moment: what do you do? When and how do you decide to trace then strengthen, as opposed to doing it in one go?

If you’re uncertain, read on and think things over. If you always take one approach (and never the other), maybe consider when to do things differently.

Example #1

The Diamond Lights of Hampton Hall

The Diamond Lights of Hampton Hall – traced and strengthened in one go

The Diamond Lights of Hampton Hall: no strengthening at all, the line went down with the right shape and the right darkness, all in one go.


One consideration is, these are domestic windows. (Yes “domestic” is the word to use here even when we’re talking about a palatial residence like Hampton Hall.) They’re also at eye-level (not way up high where you need scaffolding to see them closely).

Plus there’s no blocking in or flooding, so the line must really count.

Plus a repeating sequence where it doesn’t matter that one bird differs slightly from another one: in fact, it all adds to the charm that each bird has slightly different eyes, for example.

One of these points on its own probably wouldn’t settle things either way. But now you can see how all of them together tend to settle the matter in favour of a one-step “briskly does it” approach.

Example #2

The Heraldic Arms of Hampton Hall

The Heraldic Arms of Hampton Hall – traced, then strengthened and shaped

The Heraldic Arms of Hampton Hall: tracing then strengthening and shaping, a two-step process. Yet this is also a “domestic” piece of glass …

Ah, but here, another force is at play: here, the glass must match the design as closely as possible.

The design is the standard.

And this creates a strong argument in favour of the two-step approach because then (after the painstaking tracing) you can place the design on one side and your glass on the other, and make whatever adjustments you need.

Similarly when geometry or proportion are involved.

Geometry is clear, yes? But proportion? What does that mean? Well, consider an eye, a particular eye with a particular expression (we read eyes). You definitely want the pupil and the iris to occupy a particular space, and the design says it all already. (And if it didn’t, we’d always perfect the design before embarking on the glass.)

So again we’d usually trace, then reinforce and shape or model with the design on one side where we can inspect how well glass and design compare.

Come on, let’s dance

Ultimately, you choose whatever method lets you get the best results. It’s important to be flexible and open-minded so you find the right answer. That’s why it’s best to know 20 techniques rather than just two.

In all of this, forgive our nagging – it’s all because we have just one modest aim for you …

We want to make you the salsa-tango-hiphop-ballroom-ballet champion of the glass painting world!



2 thoughts on “Glass Painters – Would You Like to Dance?

  1. David and Stephen,

    As always, you guys are a hoot! But full of invaluable info! THX for sharing so much with us. I always get inspired when your email arrives!

    THX again!

    • It’s our pleasure, Jack.

      And our congratulations to you for your citation in the Lake Michigan Shore magazine: it’s so cheering to know when hard-working people like you succeed.

      All the best,

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