The Painting Bridge / Arm-Rest

My favourite:

I have one bridge which I nearly always use because it fits across most glass I paint, then several other bridges – longer or wider ones – which help me if ever I must straddle several pieces (not just one) or whenever I have an unusual piece of glass like a big one.

The painting bridge

A long bridge is useful for big bits of glass

Your ‘wrong’ hand

It’s your non-dominant (‘wrong’) hand which holds the bridge.

I am right-handed, and the bridge must feel comfortable and secure when I grip and wield it with my left (which is my ‘wrong’ hand).

You can be sure that ‘wield’ is the correct verb. It isn’t easy to use your ‘wrong’ hand skilfully and with grace. Therefore, the weight and dimensions of your bridge must help you here:

Too heavy: your hand will tire.

Too long: your bridge will fall off the far end of the light-box.

Too short or too low: you’ll scrape your painted, unfired glass.

Yes, your bridge must feel right for long use in whichever hand you don’t paint with. I

Both hands

The bridge is often on the move: you, the glass painter, are always moving it, seeking out the best angle and position from which to lean down on it and do your work. In this important sense, glass painting is something you do with both hands.

Grip when painting

When using it for painting, you often hold it firmly – not just to move it at a moment’s notice, but also to keep it stable while you lean across or along it with the hand which holds the tracing brush. Your ‘wrong’ hand holds it at its nearest end, thumb on top, fingers curled around beneath the leg. Held securely like this, your dominant hand can paint and have no fear of falling:

The painting bridge

Often you hold the bridge

Sometimes, though, it’s quite enough to lightly stabilise the bridge, so that your painting hand can be confident the bridge won’t wobble:

The painting bridge

Using the ‘wrong’ hand to keep the bridge steady while the ‘right’ hand paints

Highlights

When highlighting, your ‘wrong’ hand usually holds the glass to stop it moving (such is the different downward pressure between working with a soft-tipped brush and working with a hard-nosed stick or scrub):

The painting bridge

When you highlight, you usually hold the glass (not the bridge)

This brings a risk that too much sideways pressure can topple your now-unsupported bridge. I have seen several novices ruin their work like this, but it is not a mistake which many people make twice.

Bone, flesh and comfort

You should give careful thought to how your dominant hand makes contact with the bridge. Speaking for myself, it is occasionally the underside of my wrist: not often though, because this is uncomfortable.

Sometimes it is the side of my palm. When anyone has painted for a day, they readily appreciate the protection which the extra flesh affords them.

The painting bridge

The side of your palm

But not for nothing is it also called:

The arm-rest

But what I do most often is rest the side of my palm right up almost till my elbow.

The painting bridge

Resting on the arm-rest

There are two big advantages to this ‘flat-out’ position.

One, your arm is absolutely stable.

Two, by retracting and extending the fingers which grip your brush, it is easier to make lines which are more painterly.

When you try this, you will see that one consequence is, you will need to place your glass further away. You may also find your bridge hand has more weight to bear (since more of you is leaning down on it), and the leg can make your fingers sore.

Therefore you must learn just to rest your arm. (Resting is not the same as expecting your bridge to carry it.)

Construction

I have first talked about your use and grip because this gives you the knowledge to judge if a particular bridge is good for you and the task you have in hand.

Now I shall give you the proportions of the bridge I mostly use: my favourite bridge.

You can start with these sizes, but you must be ready to adjust them to your own case.

The standard bridge I use is made from ramin and consists in one bridge-piece and two legs, attached by glue. (Ramin is a wood; many other woods will do; or even plastic. Just be sure your material is smooth, so it doesn’t scratch or irritate you. Also that it can take whatever weight you personally intend to place on it.)

The bridge-piece is 20 inches long, 1 3/8 inches across, and 5/8 inches high (500 mm by 35 mm by 15 mm)

Each leg is 1 1/4 inches long, 1 1/4 inches across, and 5/8 inches high (35 mm by 35 mm by 15 mm)

It would probably be a waste of time for anyone to copy these precise dimensions unless they happen to be what is available in your hardware store: close enough will do to get things going.

You also must consider your own dimensions. Your bridge must be more than long enough for you to rest from just beneath your elbow right along to just beneath your little finger. So measure this distance on yourself, then add a further third to calculate a length which will work well for you.

Make your first bridge, use it for a while, watch the videos (e.g. here and here) and modify your technique accordingly.

Then, if you need to, you can make a second bridge, suitably adjusted for yourself and your own specific needs. For instance, given the material you choose (wood or plastic), it is important it doesn’t sag when you lean down on it; and this will also influence your choice of height.

Maintenance

But wood or plastic, long or short, everyone will need to clean their bridge from time to time. This is especially for painting, where you will often need to glide your hand along the bridge e.g. to paint long lines; but sometimes for highlighting as well. (I lightly rub mine down with fine-grain wire wool, which removes all dirt and grease.)

Whatever works

Frankly, though, everyone is free to use their bridge in whatever way works best for them. There is no iron law which says that one hand always grips the bridge while painting, nor that ‘wrong’ and dominant hand will cross diagonally. Everything is vindicated by the results you get: if you can stand on your head and paint a masterpiece, I will be pleased for you and thrilled for our craft. Until then, please hold and use your bridge as I suggest.

Warning

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