The Powerful Effect of Designing with Stained Glass Silhouettes

Today you’ll see the power of using stained glass silhouettes in your design.

Yes, this is our glass you’ll see here.

But remember this is not so much about us as about what you can do with a bold and talented design, some very good glass, plus a careful use of silhouettes.

Note: there are a lot of gorgeous photos coming up, so please give this page the time it needs to load.

The story so far

Last week I showed you David’s black-and-white sketch for one of five small picture panels a client asked us to design and make:

Stained glass ravens

Black-and-white sketch for stained glass ravens

Then you also saw the water-coloured version:

Water-colour design for stained glass ravens

Water-colour design for stained glass ravens

The painted glass

Which only leaves David’s finished glass, installed today:

Stained glass ravens

Stained glass ravens – the finished panel

As I said, this is one of five small panels, all to do with local birds.

The other panels

The ravens – one of five. So the other four?

Here’s the panel for our client’s curlews:

Stained glass curlews

Stained glass curlews

And would you like to see the kestrels?

Here you are then:

Stained glass kestrels

Stained glass kestrels

And the swallows?

Stained glass swallows

Stained glass swallows

And last of all the crows:

Stained glass crows

Stained glass crows

I’m misleading you about the relative sizes of these panels.

The swallows are the smallest (bottom-right), the kestrels are the tallest (centre-left):

Stained glass birds

A collection of stained glass birds

So that you understand the context: this is one wall of a study/library. It’s a new building, a short distance from the client’s house. Work is still in progress. Nothing has been decorated yet (hence the bare walls). But the client asked us to install the glass today because it adds to the momentum.

And, yes, the glass looks lovely there. We were glad to see it and sorry to leave it. But we’ll get over it. We always do. So … on to the next project.


Once again, this is not about us. The point is, what can you do with a bold design, some good glass and silhouettes?

The techniques

Good glass, an undercoat, silhouettes and highlights, plus the occasional piece of oil-based silver stain on the back.

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All the best,

Stephen Byrne


20 thoughts on “The Powerful Effect of Designing with Stained Glass Silhouettes

  1. Achingly good. Don’t really know what else to say except I wish I could visit your wonderful, completely unique, windows and see them close up. Brilliant work – thanks so much for showing them to us! Shelagh

    • Yes, I saw these panels of David’s with my own eyes: they work – they really work.

      But … they are do-able: and that’s the point.

      Whatever it is you do, you can do such powerful things with light and dark.

  2. Hello Stephen,

    It’s really nice work. While I was in my course in your studio, I did saw David working with them – but looking at unpainted glass is one thing and looking at the finished job is something else!

    Thanks for all these information-packed posts. They will sure keep us busy learning all these nice artistic techniques (and also keep us coming back for more).

    Regards to everyone,

  3. Stephen,
    Great pieces to stir the interest in us! Your fantastic talents and David’s keep inspiring us to keep on with the art. So many THX!

    • Jack, thanks, and I also think they’re excellent pieces to stir the imagination of our students, because stark black-on-white (so to speak) is within most people’s grasp (whereas images of faces demand a different level of artistic skill).

  4. Lovely birds! The panels have such an illustrative feel. They bring home the fact that the dramatic impact of silhouettes is too often overlooked. As glass painters, we become so enamored of subtle shading, that we tend to forget how dynamic sheer contrast can be.

  5. The paintings are awesome. I’ve no words. I’d try to do some myself. Did you make this Stephen? These pictures are really inspirational. I never imagined how bird paintings could be so thrilling.

    • Hi Pearl – They’re all David’s work, and they are wonderful. With this article, though, our thought is definitely to arouse people’s imagination and excitement about the kind of image they too can make.

  6. Absolutely beautiful! And so different from what you have shared with us so far.

    When I look at new pieces like this I usually try and find the lead lines of the panel to see how you’ve assembled it. For instance, on the curlews panel the area of bright blue glass, I am wondering how you have such a brilliant blue in one area and the stark white in another and yet no lead lines so it has to be one piece of glass! This baffles me!

    Also the stained glass crows. I’m guessing you used silver stain on the back to get the different shades of blue/green, but again, where are the lead lines. Do the birds wings overlap them? I think not. To me it looks like one piece of glass but how did you get the white (or should I say) clear areas?

    Would you care to share your sketches with us?

    Thank you again for sharing!

    • Hi Marian,

      It’s streaky mouth-blown glass in places like the curlews – hence the natural gradation from white to blue. So there’s already a lot of “substance” and energy in the glass itself: this absolutely helps!

      And, yes, stain on the back of some glass in the crows (and also elsewhere).

      As for the lead-lines, I’ll post a photo next week, then you can see the evolution from black-and-white sketch without lead lines through to colour sketch still without lead lines (in this case – not always) through to the cut line design itself.

      All the best,

  7. I love these designs … very inspiring: thank you for sharing them with us all.

    Bright blessings!
    Linda W.

  8. Regarding design:
    When people ask how I go about designing, I tell them it’s easy.
    You just stare at the paper until drops of blood start dripping from your brow!

  9. Such beautiful work. Thank you again for sharing these with us. Truly awe inspiring. What a very dramatic effect they have on the observer. All I could say was “Wow” when I saw them.

  10. Stephen,

    About 25 years ago, some of my work was entered into a juried exhibit sponsored by the Texas Visual Arts Association. The juror was a water colorist with significant credentials to her credit. In her critique of my work, she condescendingly described the work a “just a craft.”

    “Yes”, I replied, “there is craftsmanship just as in your work. But it is the raising of the craft to a higher level with nuances and technique applied to the content of the work that raise it beyond just craft.”

    See Ben Shahn’s “The Shape of Content”

    No good work of art is without good craftsmanship. There are many fine concepts that fail to rise to the level of “art” because of poor craftsmanship.

    On the other hand, there are occasionally poor concepts that begin to attain the status of art because of the quality of the craftsmanship that underlies it. Maybe it doesn’t get there, but with continued attention to quality craftsmanship, the “artist” may himself arise to that level in his work. Further, I would assert that there is no good art without good craftsmanship.

    Professor Paul Dufour who is now retired from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La. had studied under Joseph Albers and Wilhem DeKooning at Yale University right after WWII. He once commented to a group of us who were taking a design seminar with him that we “… should not call ourselves artists. If we are, others will do do, and that is sufficient.”

    I bill myself as an architectural glass artist. I was, with great, but humble pride, recently described by the Dallas Morning News as “probably the premier stained glass artist in Dallas.” Now, that comment in and of itself along with several dollars (pounds, perhaps) might get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks. (I know there are other glass artist here in Dallas who would argue the point. ) One must keep these kinds of things in perspective. The point is that stained glass is an art form with a 1200 or so years association with architecture. It is the level of craftsmanship applied to the imagery that makes it “art.”

    Whether it is simply leaded art glass or painted and fired imagery, it is the level of craftsmanship that determines whether a work can be described as art. In my humble opinion, you and David are artists at several levels. First as painters and stainers of glass, but, I think, more importantly, in the way you all have become inspirers, examples to others, and teachers of a craft that can and often does rise to the level of art. Your teaching is your highest and most noble art. Thank you ever so much.

    Carl Trimble
    [email protected]

    • Carl,

      I love – and I will always treasure – Professor Dufour’s comment.

      Your other points are also fascinating.

      And, writing to you as someone who has hugely enjoyed looking at images of your work – maybe one day I’ll see some in real life – I am very, very glad of the attention and recognition you’ve been given.

      All the best,

  11. Lovely work. So bold and exciting. Congratulations!

    I always love looking at your interesting and varied work, but these pieces in particular are so bold and modern in concept.

    Like Marian I am intrigued by the lack of lead lines. Could you also send me a photo similar to the one you are sending Marian please?

    I have a small (for you, not me) piece of work to do – to complete some broken panels in an Edwardian house. I cannot match the existing ones and you have given me the inspiration to try another approach. Many thanks!


  12. I really love your post David and am so please to be able to reviste them when every I want these just inspire me to do more painting .

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