How To Paint These Stained-Glass Poppies

Method: combine simple techniques to create a powerful effect

This is a detail from one of a north-facing pair of lancets we’ve just completed.

Stained-glass poppies

The theme for these two lancets – “At the going down of the sun …”.

(Opposite them, south-facing, a second pair, whose theme is “… and in the morning || We will remember them”. You can find the full poem here.)

And I want now to take time-out from the work I’m doing on some new designs to talk you through the techniques I used to make the poppies

Maybe then, you too can use these same steps in the work you do. 

Simple steps, rich results

Now, if you’ve been following this blog, everything – individually – will be familiar to you.

What will be different – and here’s the big thing to understand and enjoy in your own work – is how you choose to combine particular techniques to achieve particular and wonderful effects.

Simple steps, rich results.


So this is the approach I chose. Two layers of glass (not one) – that’s important.

Layer #1 is sometimes streaky gold-pink like this:

Streaky gold-pink glass

Streaky gold-pink

Or sometimes I used flashed gold-pink on white. Whichever: this is the outside layer (the weather-side).

Layer #2 is flashed red on white. This is the inside layer.

You cut both bits of glass to size, then sandblast them to modulate the colour, then fire-polish to make then smooth again. Here you see etched gold-pink on white and etched flashed red on white:

Etched flashed gold pink on white and etched flashed red on white

Etched flashed gold-pink on white and etched flashed red on white

Set aside layer #1 for now. Layer #2 you paint like this:

  1. A light undercoat and blend;
  2. Lightly trace the main outline of the poppies;
  3. Wash and soften the trace-lines to turn them into gentle shadows;
  4. Work the highlights;
  5. Now apply a light glycol wash and blend;
  6. Next, glycol half-tones, then blend to soften them;
  7. Finally, some glycol lines, which reinstate the initial trace-lines you made just after the undercoat.

And fire your layer #2 a second time.

Next, very important: seize control of the gold-pink by silver-staining it with oil, then fire it. (Gold-pink is magnificent, but it really does need taming.) Sometimes I also stained the streaky gold-pink (but it was less in need of it).

Last of all, adjust layer #2 by spraying it with rose enamel, then fire it a third time. And that’s it: finished.


Before cementing, be sure to copper-foil both layers together to seal their edges: this stops cement from “mushrooming” between your layers of glass.

Point #1: each step on its own is very simple

Do you see:

Familiar techniques … combined in different ways.
Not doing the same thing every time: that’s crucial. Adjusting your techniques to suit particular themes and architectural settings: vital.

And all along, each step on its own is very simple

Point #2: simple, and often not attractive

I mean those words I’ve typed: at each stage, what I see is often not attractive.

For example, look at that etched and fire-polished glass above: hideous as it is. Garish, crude, vulgar. I could continue …

And that is precisely why – unless they take time to run tests and prepare a prototype which builds their confidence – most people are likely to give up half-way: because, on their light-box, what they see is unappealing, ugly, messy.

Stained-glass tests and prototypes

Nothing lovely here yet: but this is how we prepare and steel our confidence

Of course it’s messy.

It’s a draft, it’s work-in-progress, it’s not yet finished.

There is no axiom of glass painting which states: “To achieve a lovely effect, each stage in the process must itself be lovely …”

To the contrary: very often, along the way, you’ll have nothing but your own conviction to carry you through.

Yes, as we showed showed you here – do you remember the case of the “messy” green skeleton? –  often things look horrible on their way to looking beautiful.

Painted and etched stained-glass on the light-box

Still not much that’s lovely here

And this is where you’ll need your own conviction, your own courage, your own determination.

Most of all, you need your imagination, which you must forever seek to strengthen.

Point #3: this also helps with people

None of us are “finished” – we’re all of us rather like a messy piece of painting on the light-box.

But great teachers – I hope everyone of you has known at least one – have the imagination to see through the untidiness we mindlessly present them with. They are right to do so.

And here’s the thing: the activity of glass painting can strengthen this wonderful ability in you. (I hope this thought will come to you next time you paint on glass.)

Painted and etched stained glass in progress

Work-in-progress on an easel against the daylight: close-up of the north-lancets, side-by-side

You see, it’s not just about mastering the tricky, ever-drying paint, or the fiddly pointed tracing brush.

The bigger picture is … well, that’s for each one of us to say for ourselves.

I just assure you there is a bigger picture here.

And, as often happens, when ugly unfinished bits of painted glass stare up at me from my light-box, I find it helpful to remember this. So maybe it will guide you too.

The sun goes down:

Stained-glass poppies

Imagination: and then we flourish.

And then it rises.

Question for you

Can you see ways in your own work to assemble simple and familiar steps in different ways, making something new and rich?

Any questions about the techniques I used?

All thoughts and contributions welcome: just use the Comment box below.

12 thoughts on “How To Paint These Stained-Glass Poppies

  1. Superb design, so worthy of the men (on all Fronts, Germans too) who were slaughtered. To think of the artisans, the craftsmen who were lost or so injured: they were never to return to their benches and studios.

    So interesting how you designed and created the Flanders Poppies- ‘gold pink’? Never would have guessed that you took the exuberance of that colour, and calmed it, tamed it, and made it yield to a thrumming scarlet.

    How many would have just tried to use red glass?

    Inspiring! – Would love to see the panels in situ.

    • Yes, gold-pink!

      And just this morning – a wonderful stroke of good fortune – I was leafing through our ancient copy of Stained Glass Work by Christopher Whall, when I came across this passage where he talks about purple:

      “… almost the only way to get a satisfactory one, except by a happy accident now and then, is to double gold-pink with blue; this is the only way to get a purple that will vibrate, palpitating against the eye like the petal of a pansy in the sun”. (Chapter XVI, “Of Colour”)

      Oftentimes a single colour on its own is just not good enough: we really should combine them.

      • Ah yes, the Wonderful Whall … My teacher suggested to me: “Buy the Whall book. .. it is expensive, but you will love it.”

        It was being sold by a local bookseller, £65.

        As I cycled to his home, expecting a large format book filled with rich illustrations, I was surprised and a bit disappointed to be handed a “small novel”-type hardback, awarded to a student in 1912.

        But, trusting the tutor, I bought it.

        What a wonderful book.

        Whall speaks so honestly, with humility and humour.

        He admonishes waste, and is so practical.

        I opened it up that first time at the page where he advises one how to correctly dry a large Badger Brush, “to avoid a pretty eight shilling frizzle'”, and was at once drawn in.

        His descriptions and graceful analogies are such that one doesn’t need glossy illustration – his line drawings are quite sufficient.

        It is like having a friend, that small book. The helpful suggestions, you realise on reading that Whall has made mistakes himself, and learned from them.

        For those who don’t have a copy, it is online as a PDF format.

        So far, I haven’t tried plating together two peices of glass – but can see the logic of it, for getting new shades that would be impossible by mixing molten glass. Plus your essential tip of copper foiling the edges to prevent migration of cement between the pieces.

        I’ve learned the hard way re. the large bubbles one gets in Sunderland/EAG glass – that a bubble (if cut through) can draw linseed oil from the cement into it. So I try hard now never to cut through a bubble-edge. But if it happens, I tape it.

  2. Such a beautiful way to bring this sad poem to life! I love the way you transformed the already stunning glass into a richer and deeper expression of itself. Thanks for the clear instructions. I would love to try doing it myself.

  3. I love the process of putting it all together, and your artistic endeavour, magical, thanks for sharing it all. I am 80 now, and started making glass items, vases and bowls in Febrary after losing my eldest son…. a form of therapy I guess. I am fusing glass, rather than cutting glass, still scared to do this, but I love painting on glass before firing two pieces together in a full fuse then perhaps through a drop mould to make a vase, this alters the painting and makes it quite interesting. I have a question, I painted on porcelain for years, and the images were strong, what paints can I use to fire with and maintain a strong image, I am using 90 coe Bullseye. Thanks VR.

    • You ask about maintaining a strong image: we use glass paints by Reusche e.g. tracing black (DE 401). If I don’t blend and soften my tracing lines, they will maintain their strength. So what paints do you use right now?

      Best wishes,

      P.S. I hugely like the idea of painting and then fusing. I will try this for myself: thank you for mentioning it.

  4. Lovely blossoms. The combinations of glasses and techniques does indeed yield a lush coloration and depth. Bravo.

  5. Seeing the streaky gold pink and flashed red reminded me of my days in the mid 70’s when I lived in England for the first time and bought my glass at Hetley’s in London. Are they still there? I hope so, I have some of the most beautiful gold pinks and reds from those days that are just to beautiful to use!

    • Hetley’s: ah, I’m sorry to tell you that fine era is now over. So I’m thrilled to know you still have some gold-pinks and reds to remind you of that whole experience many of us had there. I too have coloured fragments of glass I am unlikely ever to part with.

  6. The poppies are lovely & I found your blog both informative and inspiring. I think that I have been working on the misconception that every stage must look lovely in order to result in a lovely outcome – and have been firmly reminded that this is not the case.

    • It’s such an important idea to understand (I’m thrilled for you): it means we don’t just judge by appearances but use our imagination to separate good from bad.

  7. You are always so inspiring! Not only great designs, but I also love to read about your perseverance to get the precise depth in colour you aim for. All the work you put in before even starting to paint the poppies, I never stop learning from you, thank you so much for sharing. I never thought about the possibility to put two pieces of glass together that way, so I have a lot more exploring to do 🙂

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