Are You Making It Too Much Like Hard Work?

Here’s an important tip for when you paint an undercoat or “wash” or “matt” (or however you call it) …

Undercoats – an important tip

OK – so take a few moments to check this photo just below:

Stained glass painting - the undercoat

The undercoat

See anything special?

What do you reckon?

Actually, there’s nothing special: that’s the point. I’ll explain why in just a moment.

For now, let’s list the four top reasons why you should always consider painting an undercoat before you trace:

  1. It’s a lovely surface to trace on – far nicer than bare glass
  2. You know all of the glass is free from grease (proof: it’s covered with an undercoat)
  3. The undercoat reminds you to keep your fingers to the edges and away from the surface where you want to paint – so your glass stays clean, even over several days
  4. When you’ve finished your tracing, you can cut through the undercoat with sticks, scrubs and fingers, and so make highlights in a single firing … gorgeous, and economical as well

There you have it: four excellent reasons why you should always consider painting an undercoat before you trace. It isn’t always right. But you must always consciously decide to (or not).

Now, what was peculiar about the photo? Like I said, nothing in particular. And that’s the point.

Like, when you trace, you don’t usually hold your glass (usually, you hold your bridge). See here:

When you trace, you don't usually hold your glass ...

When you trace, you don’t usually hold your glass …

When you flood and block in, you don’t usually hold your glass (once again, you mostly hold your bridge):

When you trace, you don't usually hold your glass ...

When you trace, you don’t usually hold your glass …

Even when you silver stain … yes, you got it! You don’t usually hold your glass:

Even when you stain, you don't usually hold your glass ...

Even when you stain, you don’t usually hold your glass …

And it’s no different when you come to undercoating – that’s the point:

Just so when you paint an undercoat - you don't usually hold your glass ...

Just so when you paint an undercoat – you don’t usually hold your glass …

Now this is important because when most people undercoat, I don’t know what happens: maybe they imagine their glass will wriggle away unless they grasp it and pin it down.

But that means they’re being too heavy-handed with their brush.

When the brush is well loaded and well shaped, then you only need the slightest bit of pressure against the glass for the paint to flow.

Undercoating – it’s virtually hands-free

And that is why, even when you undercoat, you scarcely need to touch your glass. This is actually the proof you need that your paint is well mixed and your brush is well loaded and correctly shaped:

When your paint is the right consistency and your brush is well shaped, you don't need to hold your glass ...

When your paint is the right consistency and your brush is well shaped, you don’t need to hold your glass …

Your hand’s just there to steady the glass in case it wobbles. But it probably won’t.

Really, mix the paint well, then load and shape your brush – and I reckon you can do it with your hand behind your back.

Give it a try, and let me know!

Stephen Byrne


10 thoughts on “Undercoating

  1. Ever since I learned about undercoating I have enjoyed my work so much more. I think it is because I know that my glass is clean. I didn’t realize how many times I wondered about it though out the entire process until I didn’t have to be concerned about it anymore. It also helped me visualize the lighting illusion I would end up creating. Before I would “go back to create” the overall lighting and highlights. Now I am conscious from the beginning of the process using the undercoating to start the drama. Thank you for sharing all of your wonderful knowledge with a once self taught painter, who always gives you credit now.

    • Hello Joan,

      Thanks for your comment. You make a very good additional point (which I neglected) when you say it helped you “visualize the lighting illusion [you] would end up creating”: without an undercoat, your trace lines will all too easily be bleached out by the transmitted light, which can mean one would otherwise have to overstate them (relatively speaking).

      Also, I am glad to think of you using technique, yes, to get more pleasure from your work. That’s exactly it. Technique isn’t cold, arid or sterile. It’s a living habit, improved with each practice, that allows us to make better objects. (In our case this is painted stained glass.)

      All the best,

  2. Hello Stephen and David,

    This what I call the true after-service sale :-). Frankly, I’ve never found a website or newsletter so in touch with its list or teachers so in touch with their students like you are

    Now back to this post. I would like to say that, since I learned this skill from David and Stephen in my intensive course with them last June, I’ve never stopped using it in all my glass painting. It allows me to put more touches to my glass, it gives me more space and working area in which I can add shadows, highlights and so. I think it allows me the glass painter to add whatever I can think of.

    But no matter what I or other people say, it’s almost useless, because words alone cannot explain or convey the real benefit here. So here’s what I say to anyone who hasn’t tried this method yet: you won’t lose anything by giving it a try – in fact I think you’ll gain a lot, and unless you try things you won’t know what you might be missing.

    All the best,

    • Hi Hassan,

      Yes, indeed: as you say, this technique is absolutely worth trying. But not “just” trying – someone’s got to keep at it (like you have) until they’ve mastered it. Sometimes the path is difficult. Always it’s worthwhile.


  3. Hi, Stephen,

    Beautiful pix tell the tale! I do sometimes have to brace really tiny pieces of glass against a bigger piece of scrap so that they dosn’t go awanderin’. But, as you say, most just stay in place!


    • Hi July,

      Fair point: tiny pieces are indeed the exception to the rule – no way will the brush not shift them unless you hold them firm or brace them like you say. Thanks!

      All the best,

  4. Dear Stephen,

    Thank you for sending information and for sharing. Please excuse our lack of responding. Our knowledge of computers is basic. But we feel grateful for receiving the information from you.

    Thank you!

    • Hello Carlos! That’s our pleasure. Even 10 years ago, we glass painters would not have had the opportunity to work together like this.

      All the best,

      P.S. Computers – yes; I too prefer brushes and understand them better.

  5. Hello Stephen, David and every one 🙂

    I hope all is doing well, moreover I am writing this comments here regarding a discussion I had with a glass painter named Muna, in which we exchange emails about a particular glass painting method.

    Muna said: “It is a method (used up until about the 14th century) where a light even wash of paint was applied where shading was required using a mop brush, then the trace lines applied”.

    Now my question is, can we consider this technique similar to the undercoat method we laerned from you and David; or it’s something different?

    If you can clarify this issue I’d be very grateful 🙂

    All the best,

    • Hi Hassan,

      Yes, it sounds similar, doesn’t it? Definitely. I’d be interested to know more about the reasons for qualifying the date like that … and in which country?

      Thanks very much for introducing this thought, Hassan.

      All the best,

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