Art vs. Craft – also known as Lunacy vs. Common Sense

Plus a helpful video about how to shade with oil

It is 3:12 in the morning. I am wide awake as I often, listening to those radio podcasts which I can’t hear during the day because I prefer silence when I paint glass (or J.S. Bach).

Suddenly, in the middle of the night, I am attacked by a sudden fit of breathless spluttering, a violent seizure.

Did I really hear what I thought I heard? I hit the Replay button on my iPhone and find my worst fears confirmed.

The new Head of Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art (no less) is being interviewed on the radio show called “Start the Week”.

A modest little radio show is “Start the Week”. It describes itself as “setting the cultural agenda for the week ahead”.

And in case you’re wondering, “Visual Communication” (or ‘VC’ for short) is the new name for graphic design.

Now if your heart is weak, be sure to have a defibrillator on hand, or maybe call the Emergency Services in advance.

Also calm yourself with the thought there’s a thrilling video demonstration coming up for you.

The Royal College of Art – what is it?

Now, you might think you understand the phrase, “Royal College of Art”.

Turns out, you’d be wrong.

Says Neville Brody, the new Head of VC:

The Royal College of Art is a multiple skill-set space – it’s a partnership going forwards”.

“Multiple skill-set space” – yes, I think he means art involves many different techniques.

But “partnership going forwards?”

What does that mean?

And here’s where I almost have a seizure:

[In our College], the old idea of teacher and pupil dissolves, and it is much more a question of collaborative research rather than anything else“.

Now it’s 3:15 … my pulse is racing, and things just keep on getting worse:

We’re calling [the Royal College of Art] an ‘unfinishing’ school. People may come with highly formed skills and ideas, and we’re trying to break down the ideas and then understand which are the more appropriate skills to apply to that”.

Don’t you worry: it doesn’t make sense.

A betrayal of the young

The little that is clear is grotesque and irresponsible, maybe a betrayal even – a betrayal of the pupil who has come to learn and study and, yes, to be taughtthe rest is gibberish.

“Art” already has a bad name, and all this trendy nonsense doesn’t help one bit.

We are different here

Believe me: any of you who asks us a question, we will do our utmost to help you find the answer and improve your skills. Any of you who spends time with us in the studio, we will do our best to teach you excellent, repeatable techniques. Just practical, repeatable techniques, with clear standards of accuracy.

How you use them in your work is up to you.

Yet be sure of this: whether you use them accuratelythat is not a matter of personal whim. We’ll work with you to get it right!

Just be thankful its stained glass – a dull craft (not an Art like Visual Communication) – which bit you like a bug.

Oh dear, it’s 3:20 a.m. already. I’m still wide awake. Maybe you’d like to watch a short video with me.

I bet you’ve not had many offers like that before.

That’s what you get from the “multiple skill-set space” that is Williams & Byrne. (No smiling.)

Watch video of shading with oil on water

Oh, the gorgeous joys of oil on top of unfired water-based paint.

And remember as you watch that our job is to make the glass look ancient.

Also that what you see above is just the start of all the wrecking we shall do.

Now, when you want to learn more about about using oil on glass, see the full instruction manual here.

Best,Stephen Byrne

29 thoughts on “Art vs. Craft – also known as Lunacy vs. Common Sense

  1. Merci pour toutes vos explications concernant la peinture avec l’huile. Grâce aux vidéos, je progresse bien. Je ne trouve pas tous les produits en France: pouvez-vous me donner un site internet pour les acheter. Merci d’avance. Je vous souhaite un bon weekend.


      • Merci pour votre réponse.

        Effectivement, je cherche les huiles et aussi de bonnes peintures.

        Pouvez-vous me conseiller ?

        Pouvez-vous me dire si je dois utiliser l’essence de térebentine (turpentine) pour diluer la peinture à l’huile ?

        Je me permets de vous dire que vous êtes une personne très généreuse dans toutes vos explications et que l’on a envie de vous connaître. Merci!

        • Hello Martine,

          Concerning oils: in this video we use Oil of Tar. The one big difficulty is that it’s potentially harmful to one’s health. The fumes are bad and it’s carcinogenic. So care is needed. Oil of Tar is the oil the great Victorian stained glass studios used. It’s amazing but dangerous. Maybe you can find it in France. We got ours directly from Reusche in the US.

          That said, we regularly use Oil of Lavender to mix with glass paint for tracing and shading. Most people find the smell pleasant. But I understand it shouldn’t be used by pregnant women. You can get small quantities of Oil of Lavender from many different kinds of shop / suppliers e.g. a chemist’s or a health food shop. And the good thing is, small quantities go a long, long way.

          I am sure there are very many other oils which can be used. You just need to be sure how to handle them (from the point of view of health) and also how to fire them …

          As for paints – for tracing and shading we always use glass paints made by Reusche e.g. tracing black (DE401) and umber brown (DE402). PELI Glass Products (based in the Netherlands) have an excellent pack and can send you whatever you want. See here and scroll down to “PELI / Williams & Byrne Classic Glass Paints”. This pack contains a lot of excellent paint.

          All the best,

          P.S. You also ask about turpentine. I am sure it’s possible to use it as a “thinner” (pour diluer la penture à l’huile) but this will depend on the oil and also on the kind of turpentine. I remember that Albinus Elskus writes about turps in his book.

  2. Hi Stephen,

    I guess I’ll be up until 3 a.m. to see if the Dragon returns. I read your e-mail with the anticipation of another wonderfully instructive video with soothing musical accompaniment, but it was for naught – there was no link to the video. Alas, the Dragon had flown. Please, let me know if you spot him – and if you could send him back this way, because I’d appreciate the opportunity to watch him!

    Best wishes,

    • Hi Chuck,

      I’m so sorry there’s no sign of the video on your screen. It’s definitely here – in between where it says “No giggling now” and “O the gorgeous joys of oil …”. Can you try a different browser?

      And if anyone else has this problem or can suggest a solution, please say. Thanks!


      • OK – I’ve added an extra link: maybe that will work for those of you who can’t see the video on this page.

        And please always say when anyone finds anything that isn’t working – we really appreciate it.


  3. Stephen!

    Thank you for the amazing video: a work of true art … unlike the visual corporate communications from the ‘art school’!

    All the best,

  4. I too have a blank space and no video! Also as a new student of glass painting, I have a couple of questions that I hope do not sound stupid but I guess there are no stupid questions because I don’t have the answer!

    All I know about kiln fired glass is “co-efficient of expansion” (coe) 90 and 96. Can any stained glass be used or do I have to choose from the coe’s?

    I believe you mentioned you use specially hand-made glass. What type is available to me here in the States and how do I know if it can be successfully fired in a kiln?

    My experience with kiln-fired glass is that there is a bit of distortion unless it’s fired low … but still the edges round off.

    Now I hope not too many of your fans out there are rolling their eyes and wonder why someone like myself want to paint, yet not know the proper “canvas”. (But a “warning”: there will probably be more of these type of questions!!!)


    • Hi Cherie,

      Unless you’re fusing, you don’t need to be much concerned with the co-efficient of expansion. It’s useful here to remember that people have been firing painted stained glass for the best part of 10 centuries – and what they couldn’t have know about then isn’t something which it’s necessary to know about now.

      True, when glass cools down from the top temperature, it needs to anneal to allow stress to even out, and the coe is relevant here. But you work around this by descending slowly through a good-sized temperature range – say 40 degrees F an hour between 1040 F and 990 F (or 5 degrees celsius an hour between 560 c and 530 c). But maybe this is “too much information” for you right now: there’s a free guide to firing on the Guides page. And you can always ask for more information as and when questions arise in your mind.

      You ask what glass to use. Well, most people have had some experience of glass changing colour in the heat of the kiln – but it’s rare (e.g. opalescent glass or some reds). So most “stained glass” glass is fine. Many types of float glass are also fine. You’ll just need to run some tests (just as we all do) when it comes to using silver stain.

      I hope this helps. Basically, just go ahead and get some coloured glass (e.g. Bullseye) or float glass and start painting!

      All the best,

  5. Aboout other oils for painting – I don’t like the smell of lavender oil. I know it’s anathema, but I don’t. But I LOVE the smell of clove oil! Clove oil is a little thicker than lavender oil, but can be thinned with lavender oil without the smell intruding on the delicious smell of cloves.


    • Good point: thanks for mentioning that!


      P.S. I too am a great believer in following my nose. Some years back when we had a large window to silver stain, I didn’t fancy using Oil of Tar for all that time, so David and I ran some tests with different oils, which is how we came up with a base paste made of Sandalwood, diluted to a usable consistency with Lavender. It’s a great idea never to put up with being uncomfortable!

  6. Hi Stephen,

    I had trouble with the video running smoothly but I stuck with it and am glad I saw it.

    I have some questions about oil also. I do not like the smell of turpentine so I have been using Reusche 1903 oil painting medium thinned with lavender oil to a usable consistency. Is this ok? I have trouble getting a good strength of color with my shadows. It looks great wet but after it is fired it looses its punch.

    Also, when you use oil of tar is it ready to use or do you thin it with something.

    Any ideas?
    Kelley Mooers

    • Hi Kelley,

      Thanks for your message. You ask about Reusche 1903 oil painting medium thinned with Lavender. If it safely does what someone wants, that’s fine in my books. But you say it loses its punch … which clearly isn’t what you want. With oil of Tar – and remember: it’s carcinogenic amongst other things – we never feel it loses its punch, and the shadows are as dark and lustrous as we could wish. (A thinner isn’t necessary – just take care!)

      Yet to return to oil painting medium and Lavender: I believe what you say but I will surprised if there isn’t an answer here. See, the whole point about oil is that it should hold the paint down so it doesn’t “fire off” in the kiln, and also that there should be a nice gloss to the whole surface after firing. So my gut instinct is to say: persevere … change one factor at a time and run through the permutations … even the temperature might be affecting the result.

      I hope this helps.

      All the best,

      P.S. Now I don’t mean this defensively because I am mighty sorry if anyone has problems with playing the online videos. I just need help shape people’s expectations here. See, the video server we use is top of the range. So what’s more likely to cause people problems is the cable speed and the traffic between the server and their computer – and that is something over which we have no control. This is one good reason amongst many why we’re moving many things to DVD.

    • Thanks, Stephen, I will skip the “kerosene float” technique and paint oil directly in the areas of need of shadow. I tried it and it seemed to work great – seeing the dragon video was a big help: thank you!

      Kelley Mooers

      • Hello Kelley,

        It’s always a question of whatever technique best achieves your purpose. So I am sure the “kerosene float” technique has many uses indeed. And what is marvellous is that you now have a larger repertoire than before to call upon to solve whatever “puzzle” confronts you.

        All the best,

  7. I don’t know if this is the reason why some of you couldn’t see the video, but in my case on the second try I noticed an adobe update kept appearing to download an add on and when I clicked on it and it updated it immediately let the video appear. Perhaps just coincidence? Cherie

    • Hi Cherie,

      Thank you for your help! It’s not a coincidence at all. I never thought I’d write this on a site that’s dedicated to kiln-fired stained glass painting but … what people need is indeed the current version of Adobe Flash.

      Thanks again!
      All the best,

    • John!

      Very well thanks – refreshed from the beautiful and massive opera I saw on friday night. I hope all goes well for you.

      You ask whether we add gum Arabic to oil-based glass paint. The answer is, no, we don’t: it’s straight oil and tracing paint, mashed to a thick paste, then diluted a little at a time as needed. Oil-based glass paint therefore doesn’t dry in the sense that water-based paint and gum will dry. Which means you must handle it carefully until it’s fired; and you must fire it face-up in the kiln.

      I hope this helps.


      • David and Stephen!

        Thanks for all the great tips. I used a clove and lavender oil mix for the first time.

        The translucence of the painting looked great but the surface of the glass in reflected light was dull. Any suggestions?

        Many thanks,

        • Hi John,

          We’ll gladly help as best we can but first a few questions. Can you tell me the paint you’re using e.g. its manufacturer and also its name? Next, please will you describe the complete technique you’re using e.g. are you first doing water-based painting (undercoating, copy-tracing, reinforcing, softening, reinstating – which is one possible sequence) and then using oil (overcoating, shadows, blending – all per the above video) … or are you using a different sequence of techniqus?

          I myself haven’t tried to paint with a brush and also use a mix of clove and lavender; I have tried brush-based oil painting with lavender on its own. But in the abstract, I can’t see why clove on its own is likely to be a factor.

          Now since our glass does not look dull, be of good cheer, because there must be a solution here. We just need to be methodical.

          Looking forward to hearing the detail from you.


  8. Dear Stephen,

    I was using reushe tracing black #DE458 with a mix of 4 parts lavender to 1 part clove for the shadows over a water matt then blended. Maybe I didn’t let it dry long enough or didn’t fire high it enough?


    • Hi John,

      Thanks for the extra information. I’d try a different approach to start with. To work with oil on top of water-based paint, it’s easier if there’s a surface of water-based paint across nearly all the glass: so I’d definitely do a style of painting which required a water-based undercoat and maybe also some “softened lines” (where you apply a water-based overcoat across traced lines and, by blending turn them into shadows). Then highlights as needed. OK – that’s the first stage. (And I gather this is pretty much what you too have done – I am just adding detail for other people.)

      Then I’d apply a very light coat of oil and paint over the entire surface of the glass. And here I would suggest just paint and Lavender on its own. No clove. (And my reason for saying this is, this is what I‘ve done myself, so I am talking from experience.) Then dab off excess oil as needed and blend lightly.

      Now it’s time for oil shadows. Again, I’d stick with paint and Lavender: a much darker mixture this time, certainly – but I myself wouldn’t introduce Clove. Then the usual blending and highlighting.

      We haven’t found a particular need for drying time, though we might do a soak on the way up for 15 minutes at 100 C. / 210 F. Then straight to 675 C. / 1250 F. and maybe a 5-minute soak. Then down through an annealing schedule as needed. This gives us a very polished-looking surface.

      I hope this helps. Please say more and/or ask again if you’re still not getting the results you want.

      All the best,

      P.S. The main time we‘d use Lavender with Clove is when we’re working with a pen. This is not to say: don’t use Clove (and Lavender) with a brush. But if you begin by doing what works for us, then we have some common ground and it’s easier to solve problems.

  9. Great video, Stephen. Quick question – what do you use to do your oil highlights? Is it a brush, or might it be an earbud?
    Many thanks

    • Hi Louise,

      Good question, thanks!

      Earbuds / Q-tips do the job really well. It’s sometimes also possible to use a “screw” of kitchen roll.

      All the best,

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