The Literary Agent’s “Wow!”

Part 2

A practical tale of silver stain

A while ago, I promised you the low-down on the techniques we used to silver stain a fine front door.

The client’s brief was, his window had to have the ‘”Wow!” effect’. And the ‘”Wow!” effect’ was what our client got. If you’re interested in the story of its design, you’ll find Part 1 here – and just be sure to come back afterwards to learn how it was done. 

Here now are the techniques. 

There’s nothing magical. But the effects you can achieve are extraordinary.

The glass

Stained glass rose window - the techniques we used

Stained glass rose window – the techniques we used

Glass is your canvas.

Sometimes it’s coloured, sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes it’s textured, sometimes it isn’t.

But always, the glass must support your work – and the big point is, this is absolutely not a partnership of equals: after all, if someone looks at your painted window and comments on the glass, that’s almost a pity.

So really, you choose the glass which best allows your planned techniques to “sing” as the design requires – because, when your techniques are triumphant in this way, it’s not the glass which people see, but what’s been done with it, which is how you want the tale to end.

This is a tricky balancing act because of course the glass can either be too weak or strong.

If it’s too weak, you end up doing more work than necessary, and it’s very easy to go too far.

If the glass is too strong, then you the glass painter end up fighting it, shouting over it (so to speak) in order to make your own voice heard. So like I say, choosing glass is tricky.

And yes, it’s very easy to be led astray by colour.

Indeed, colour is a bit like the sirens which Odysseus heard: do you remember that story? These sirens were enchantresses. They sat on rocks and sang bewitching melodies. When passing sailors heard the sirens’ song, desire drove them mad – they wrecked their ships upon the rocks, and the sirens dragged them to a watery grave. But wily Odysseus was determined to hear the sirens’ song and live. So he blocked his sailors’ ears with wax and had himself lashed to the mast, to prevent him diving overboard.

Now here’s the point. You, the glass painter, when you choose your glass, are like Odysseus listening to the sirens: you must experience colour’s full seduction, yet you must also control yourself and allow wise judgement to prevail.

Difficult! – But that’s your job.

You just look at the design, consider the techniques you plan to use, then choose the glass accordingly – and very, very carefully.

So you remember the coloured sketch which David made:

Coloured sketch of literary agent's rose window

Coloured sketch of literary agent’s rose window

Here’s the glass we chose for section 2 – it’s hand-made, streaky amber:

Hand-made streaky amber

Hand-made, streaky amber

What we did was cut this glass so the streaks coincided with the areas we planned to shade with silver stain.

That’s how we used the glass to support our work: we made sure that our work appropriately controlled and mastered the underlying colour, and I’ll take you through the steps in just a moment.

For now, and for the record (though I’ll leave their techniques on one side for now), for section 1 we used a darker streaky amber which also contained some gold-pink (so called because the pink colour is literally derived from gold, which means it’s kind of pricey). For section 3 we used a streaky red (and acid-etched, amongst other things).

So here’s the cut glass with nothing done to it yet. That’s why it all looks thin, washed out and insubstantial:

Cut glass with nothing done to it - yet ...

Cut glass with nothing done to it – yet …

But it’s section 2 I want to focus on right now.

And this is what we did.

The technique

First we covered the whole surface of each piece of glass with a light coat of Lavender oil. You just sprinkle it with oil, then use a wide brush to spread it evenly:

First sprinkle the glass with Lavender, then spread the oil evenly across its whole surface

First sprinkle the glass with Lavender, then spread the oil evenly across its whole surface

Sometimes you also need to use a badger and blend it smooth, sometimes you don’t. Only you can be the judge of that by checking there’s just a thin film of oil over the entire surface of the glass.

Next, we used silver stain plus Sandalwood Amyris, thinned with just a little Lavender. And we applied this thickish stain wherever the “golden shadows” were meant to fall:

Next, silver stain thickly applied on top of the Lavender undercoat

Next, silver stain thickly applied on top of the Lavender undercoat

Then it’s just a question of blending stain and undercoat together …

Blend stain and undercoat together

Blend stain and undercoat together

… – until you create the gentle shapes and shadows you want:

Lovely softened and gently shaded silver stain (unfired)

Lovely softened and gently shaded silver stain (unfired)

And yes – it’s the undercoat of neat Lavender oil which allows you to soften and shade your silver stain like this.

Then you fire the glass – and that’s it.

There you have it.

Yes, simple steps – undercoat: stain: blend – but magnificent effects.

Here I’m absolutely not talking about the particular window which we made (although I myself like it very much). I just want you to get the message how you can use these same steps to enrich your very own work:

Simple steps with magnificent effects

Simple steps with magnificent effects

Now it’s your turn.

I hope you adapt these techniques and use them in your own way.

If you need more information about mixing and using silver stain, be sure you get the free newsletter.

Best,

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14 thoughts on “The Literary Agent’s “Wow!”

  1. Stephen,
    My heart is with you!

    THX so much for the post and tips. As always you and David are just the greatest! Love your work and especially that you include and share the wealth of info from your experience.
    All the best!
    Jack

  2. Stephen:
    Such a striking piece. Thank you for sharing the details of it. This is a good reminder that “less is more” for some settings. Sometimes glass needs to stand alone (more or less), rather than be an anonymous canvas for tracing and shading. I like this piece a great deal. It has internal radiance.

  3. So far, I have only used water/gum Arabic as a medium for glass paint. I’m guessing that the lavender oil is still wet when you blend in the stain mixture? And is lavender oil a drying oil, similar to linseed?

    • Stephen,

      Yes, the Lavender undercoat is still wet when you blend in the stain mixture: that is its whole purpose, to provide a slippery surface on which to blend stain smoothly, and push it where you want.

      And indeed, after a while it dries, or more correctly – it evaporates. Which means by then you must finish whatever blending you wish to do.

      Best,
      Stephen

  4. Dear Stephen,

    If one understands the soul of light and also is capable of controlling, using and manipulating this great medium then one is the ultimate glasspainter.
    What you showed us time after time indicates that you and david surely belong to this select group of real glasspainters.
    Keep on going the good work!

    Best regards,
    Louis

  5. Dear Stephen,

    Great to hear from you again. Hope you had a wonderful vacation.

    I have just had some fantastic results using just lavender oil and silver stain. And I wonder, do you guys use a tin scope to tell which side of the glass to use?

    Thanks for all the priceless information.
    John

    • Hello John,

      First up, we don’t have a tin scope, but the reason is we nearly always use mouth-blown glass e.g. not float glass which has a tin side.

      So thanks for mentioning that point.

      Second, I’m thrilled to hear you had good results with Lavender on its own. And yes, I can imagine there are many situations where Lavender on its own works very well.

      In the above project, when we did tests, we found that Lavender on its own was too runny for the kind of shading we wanted to do. It didn’t leave smooth edges. This is probably because Lavender evaporates quickly – and the speed with which it does this disturbs the surface tension of the stain itself.

      But always and forwever: whatever works for you.

      Best,
      Stephen

      P.S. Another point about Sandalwood Amyris is that it only evaporates very, very, very slowly. Which means it is perfect for making a long-lasting batch of silver stain … if you want or need to do this. (A batch made with Lavender will evaporate, and change its consistency, too quickly for it to be reliable for our purposes.)

  6. Hi!

    I am not sure how busy you have been newsletters this summer, but I haven’t receive any for a while. I am just sending this, just in case you lost my address. Your work is absolutely inspiring and motivational – and I want to may sure that can learn as much as possible!

    I have one question. I made up some sample pieces using Spectrum Glass wth Silver Stain (#3). With the Red piece S151, it turned completely opaque black? What would cause this?

    Thanks again,
    Leon

    • Hi Leon,

      Thanks for your meessage: I’m glad you want to hear from us. When so many newsletters are full of self-promoting rubbish, it is comforting to know that you like ours.

      And yes, sorry for the silence, but very busy here, and sometimes it is difficult to swap mindsets from using a tracing brush to tapping on a keyboard.

      I’ll write soon. Lots of good and useful things coming up for you.

      Now you ask about the result you got when some red glass of yours turned black when you fired it with silver stain.

      Here’s what I think: I reckon it’s something in whatever’s used to turn the glass red. My reason is, this has also happened to me, though with hand-made glass, and, until you mentioned it, I’d always surmised it was down to something exclusively in the red, hand-made glass we used. Well, excuse me, used to use: I know avoid that type of glass like the plague, because it’s no use to me if I can’t paint or stain it.

      So that’s what I reckon. Now you can test this by firing an unpainted / unstained piece and seeing for yourself if it is just the mere heat itself which causes this transformation.

      Will you let me/others know? Thank you! And all the best,
      Stephen

  7. Hi Stephen,
    Walking through your garden of posts is an absolute delight and I’m learning so much! I’m gradually assembling kit and paint as the budget allows, and your posts make me ever-more eager to begin this wonderful art form.

    I probably have a million questions, but will restrain myself!

    Just one from the Literary Agents’ door please and it’s not about the techniques used, but probably a stupid question about the apparently temporary fixings you’ve used to assemble the pieces to view and paint before firing and soldering.

    I can see them in the pictures but can’t quite work out what they are – I thought at first just blobs of solder, but surely they would be awkward to dismantle for firing and would they have the strength to do the job anyway? If clips or whatever, are they some ingenious development of your own or commercially available? Certainly very useful indeed and should be invented immediately if they don’t exist already !!

    Many thanks and kind regards,
    Ann

    • Hi Ann,

      It’s children’s modelling clay: a kind which doesn’t dry out. Here in the UK it’s called “plasticine”. It comes in all colours; we use the black stuff.

      Best,
      Stephen

      P.S. I’m glad you found us: we appreciate your comments and questions.

      • Crikey! I would never have thought of that. I’m amazed plasticine is strong enough to take the strain of holding a lot of large pieces. Great idea though. Many thanks for yet another tip!