Wobbly Lines? Here Are 9 Tips for a Steady Tracing Hand

Many people ask how to keep a steady hand when tracing. They say their hands sometimes wobble and shake. Well, there are various things to remember here. I’ll tell you about the most important ones.

All 9 of them.

Oh – plus two extras.

1. Have a plan – a complete plan

When you paint a test piece, it’s fine to leave it to chance, to explore and see what happens. Absolutely fine. But when it comes to do the piece for real, you must know your plan inside-out and keep to it. This will help your concentration. And your concentration will help keep your hands steady.

2. Well-mixed paint

If your paint is well-mixed, it will do what you want it do, not what it wants to. (Big difference.) When you trace, you probably spend about 20% of your time looking after your paint and palette. This surprises many people, because they’re so used to everything being “ready-made” for them, but … glass paint just isn’t like that. Glass paint needs your constant attention. Then and only then will it do what you want.

Stained glass tracing brush

Well-mixed paint

3. Don’t overload the brush

Too much paint and even the smallest shake of your hand will make paint flow where you don’t want it to, which means your line will wobble. So, when you load your brush, it’s usually just the tip which makes contact with the pool of glass paint. That way, the hairs absorb and suck up only as much paint as they can (they don’t get over-loaded).

4. Keep your brush as dry as possible

Each time I wash my brush (and I wash it every 5 minutes or so), I flick it to the floor two or three times and shake out every last drop of water. You see, the last thing you want is water in your brush. Why? – Because it secretly flows down and interferes with the paint you’ve just taken so much trouble to mix and load your brush with. Then when something then goes wrong, of course your confidence is shaken, and of course your hand gets wobbly and uncertain. Disaster.

5. Don’t push too hard with the brush

Most of the time, it’s just the tip which does the work (you choose the correct size brush for the typical width of line you want to make, so even with a big brush it’s still mostly just the tip). If the paint is right (see point 2), it will flow evenly and smoothly from the tip. Your job is (mostly) just to maintain the same amount of pressure, not to change it (because that will change the rate at which the paint flows).

6. Keep your bridge clean

If your bridge is dirty, your hand will stick and slide. Same goes for your hands: keep them clean. Then you can move smoothly up and down the bridge. No wobble.

7. Be decisive

For each stroke – and I mean each and every stroke – decide where you will start it and decide where you will stop it. It’s like walking a tightrope: don’t look down, look straight ahead and just … go … for … it.

8. Be reasonable

David can trace or paint for maybe eight hours a day with a rest every hour or so. I can trace for maybe half that time. He knows his limits, I know mine, you must know yours. Take heart here. Each time you do things right, your limits will expand. So even if it’s “just” for 15 minutes, tell yourself it’s just for 15 minutes, have a reasonable expectation about what you can do in 15 minutes, and you’ll be amazed. Problems happen when someone decides they’ll paint all day, and their concentration isn’t that far advanced; or when they say they’ll trace a whole face in 20 minutes when really they need two hours. These mistakes make the hands wobble!

9. Not too much coffee and wine

Lastly, not too much coffee. Also no point in painting if any one’s drunk too much wine the night before – really, it’s better to sweat it off and do other things.

Fire less, paint better

Right now David and I are busy preparing for the seminar we’ll give on Saturday when we fly to the Netherlands and spend a whole day with 10 fellow glass painters who want to see our techniques in action.

We’ll focus on one particular piece of painted glass.

By the end of the day, everyone will understand how, when they fire less, they also paint better.


10. Know when you’re brush can’t handle it …

Did you know this?

Tracing brushes go through three stages:

  1. When you first get them, they’re stiff – you need to work them in, because they won’t do what you ask them to.
  2. Next – if you care for them – they have a good, long time when they are responsive and full of spring. They are a joy to paint with.
  3. But the day comes, when they cannot lift their head.

Even a pro will have problems with a brush that’s begging for retirement …

When your brush is past its prime, it's time to say "Goodbye" no matter how much you love it

When your brush is past its best, it’s time to say “Goodbye” no matter how much you love it

11. Your painting bridge / arm-rest

If your painting arm isn’t properly supported, your tracing hand will wobble. You therefore need to rest your hand and arm appropriately. You also need the right size bridge with sufficient strength to take the weight you place on it. For more information about the painting bridge, see here.

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