Why teach stained glass design?

September Stained Glass Design workshop: Step-by-step from idea to finished window

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Do you know how to accurately measure a window opening; take templates; make full-size shop drawings? What if your window needs support bars or has curved perimeters? Are you consistent in coding perimeter lines to prevent installation errors? Is it easy to decide where to position bars and leadlines?

If you’re dedicated to making good stained glass but have answered ‘no’ to most of these questions, please note: I am offering a specialized drawing workshop that shows how to design and build stained glass windows according to a logical, repeatable, step-by-step process.

So how do you birth an idea? Well, drawing is fundamental.

Aside from imagery and subject matter, there are four key visual components to stained glass: colour, line, value and transparency. Exploring options in all these areas is an important part of the creative process, and it’s difficult to do this when ideas are still floating around inside your head. This is where design drawing comes in; making sketches, working to scale, drawing a cutline, and, in the case of painted stained glass, making a full-sized black and white drawing.

And how do you build a window that fits properly; is structurally sound; and works successfully within it’s architectural setting? Again, drawing is the key. It’s much easier to progress smoothly through the manufacturing process (saving time, materials and costly errors) when technical information is clearly set out on paper beforehand. These are called shop drawings.

Even if you use a computer to do artwork, learning the traditional design procedure, and understanding the purpose of various drawings, may be helpful. Teaching will be via Powerpoint presentation, hands-on drawing exercises and group discussion.

September 26-30th 2016 (5-day workshop) General info about workshops here.

Stained Glass Tiling: the process

Williams College student Elizabeth Jacobsen describes the process of designing and building a stained glass window from a mosaic of transparent colored glass tiles, each handpainted and kiln fired to create a unique work of art.

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2016 workshops

workshop(front)This year, I am offering week-long design and glasspainting workshops in June; 3-hour Saturday Afternoon Intensives; and a 10 week series of evening classes beginning March 10th. All at my studio in Vermont. Here’s the schedule. Application deadlines for American Glass Guild and Stained Glass Associate of America scholarships are Feb 28th and April 13th respectively.

 

Hoaf kilns, tracing brushes and puttying

IMG_1592A couple of interesting Hoaf kiln questions came into my Inbox recently (thank you Jeffery), plus a request for help sourcing tracing brushes – something I get asked pretty frequently.

Hi Debora, I am a glass painter and I have a Hoaf kiln. Why do you have the extra fiber material with holes for the vents on the inside?
What you describe as ‘extra fiber’ is the original insulation in my Hoaf “Speedburn II Fuse” kiln, purchased directly from the manufacturer and imported from Holland in 1999. I bought a similar kiln in 1983 which I left in England when we emigrated. I haven’t added any insulation to my kilns, and do not recommend this because it may interfere with the finely calibrated ignition mechanism. I had my kiln serviced a while ago because it was not re-lighting properly at firing temps (when the burners to click on and off to maintain soak temps). The engineer explained to me that the volume of air inside the kiln affects ignition.

Long skinny pieces of glass tend to bow. Is there a work around?
This is because fibreboard kiln shelves wear out in the middle from years of vacuuming. My original shelf did this, and had to be replaced. During January when I was firing a lot of student work I was using the shelf like a tea tray to ferry unfired glass from college back to studio, and it finally broke.

Also I noticed you only putty the back side of your window. Do you always do that with your painted pieces?
I always putty both sides, very thoroughly. My video must be confusing. Puttying, or ‘cementing’ is structurally important, not just an aesthetic consideration.

Last question – Do you know a source for good tracing brushes. I am having a hard time replacing mine.
My old quill brushes are very precious and irreplaceable (as far as I know… please share if you know where to buy them). I also use Mack or Xcaliber sword stripers. Great for tracing with my propylene glycol mixture, they have long, soft, beautifully matched hairs. I do recommend these, and they’re easy to find online and at art stores.

My workshops generally end with a handout of notes gathered during class, which help to keep the ball rolling. I just incorporated some notes from last September’s  glasspainting class (brushes, carving and printing rubber stamps) onto my Resources page. My June 2015 Oregon students have continued networking since their workshop last summer, sharing technical advice, design ideas, and more and I get a great buzz out of this. Thanks to everyone who has contributed questions and shared their own sources and ideas over the years.

Photo is of last month’s Williams College student work, on trays waiting to be fired.

In Praise of Morton

Impeccably cut glass tiles. All precisely the same size. Clean, perpendicular edges. No shelling, flares or ragged grozing. Much is handmade antique glass, including Lamberts, Blenko and some ancient English Hartley Wood streakies. Some is almost 1/4″ thick, yet the craftsmanship is exemplary and, believe it or not, cut by complete beginners – mostly without using a grinder. All thanks to the wonderful Morton glass cutting system.

I have been teaching Stained Glass Tiling at Williams College in Massachusetts every day  throughout January. Here’s the glasscutting in progress, plus some of the geometric constructions done during the first week of the course.

Students had to use a straight-edge and compass only (no rulers, protractors or computer printouts) to draw precise, accurate polygons that would nest together to form a tiling without gaps. Along the way, they figured out how to set stops and cutting bars on their Morton surface and cut multiple identical copies of the same shape.

Today, students finished copperfoiling and soldering, and started to frame their panels. Every tiles was painted and fired. More  pictures soon!

Even better, if you’re nearby, do come and see their work for real, on display in the science building at Williams College. We will be holding a reception from 1pm – 2.30pm this coming Thursday, Jan 28th, on the third floor corridor between the Physics building and the Chemistry building, above the Eco Cafe. Enter through the cafe from the Science Quad and look for signs.

 

More craftsmanship…

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At this time three years ago I’d just finished cutting 200 mirrored glass stars for table decorations at MASS MoCA‘s annual NY City gala. A few months earlier I’d cut 230 much, much bigger ones -some as big as 4ft across- in 1/4″ thick mirror for Sanford Biggers exhibit “The Cartographer’s Conundrum“. I cut glass by hand. No waterjet, no bandsaw, just a glass cutter, a sturdy pair of running pliers, and my hands.

It was a happy week of pure craftsmanship. I needed to work carefully and sensitively with the glass, paying careful attention to the way it wanted to break. I was observing how it responded to my pressure (1/4″ plate glass is very different to 1/8″, and different yet again to hand-made coloured glasses), and how the precise position of my pliers would result in a successful break (or not!).

The 1/4″ mirror arrived in 5ft x 10ft sheets and I had to cut it right there on the A-frame before lifting sections with suction cups onto my work table. I had the help of a young intern to help lift the mirror, and later take back the sharp edges with a carborundum stone. Mostly, he watched, fascinated.

I was using all my old, familar, glasscutting methods, my knowledge of the material and how it behaves, and pushing the craft of glasscutting to it’s outer boundaries. It was a real delight for a very small person like me to carve into this strong, dense, yet delicate material, and create pile after pile of five-pointed stars.

Hundreds of 5-pointed mirroed glass stars hand cut by Debora Coombs stained glass artist  Hundreds of 5-pointed mirroed glass stars hand cut by Debora Coombs stained glass artist

Hundreds of 5-pointed mirroed glass stars hand cut by Debora Coombs stained glass artist Hundreds of 5-pointed mirroed glass stars hand cut by Debora Coombs stained glass artist Hundreds of 5-pointed mirroed glass stars hand cut by Debora Coombs stained glass artist

Here’s a final photo, of the Cartographer’s Conundrum. Note that the colored light you see in the gallery is not stained glass. They are colourful plaxi-glass pews made by Richard Criddle and his crew, the fabulous art installation and fabrication team at MASS MoCA (in 2 mins).

As part of his aesthetic and artistic message, Sanford Biggers smashed around 60% of the stars with a huge iron pole. In the light of the pride I’d taken in my craftsmanship, and the sense of achievement I’d gained from cutting the stars whole, it was a curious thing to witness.

Sanford Biggers at MASS MoCA. Handcut mirrored glass stars by Debora Coombs

self-leveling floor compound

Why teach craftsmanship?

Because some things just can’t be learned from YouTube.

Richard and I were reminded of this last week as we wrestled with self-leveling cement for a bathroom floor. We have 15 years of art school education between us, and a broad range of practical skills. Richard has been MASS MoCA‘s Director of Fabrication and Art Installation since the museum opened in 1999, and responsible for building hundreds of extraordinary works of art in a wide variety of materials. But this tiny, 5ft x 8ft bathroom floor was threatening to get the better of us.

self-leveling floor compound second attempt

We’d watched the videos, pored over instructions, and measured everything precisely, but this darn cement turned out to have a mind of it’s own. Plus, a fierce surface tension that made it cure into pahoehoe-like slabs with lightning speed. Self-clumping would be a better description, like kitty litter. Figuring out how to level this lava-like eruption forced me to become more intimate than usual with the subtle topography of our bathroom floor. Eventually, we sort-of won, and the floor was sort-of leveled.

Battle-weary, as we cleaned our tools and tidied my studio for a week of glasspainting, it hit me: I teach in order to save others from this same experience: the demoralizing frustration that results from such a huge gap between what you want or expect, and what the mixture or material appears able to do.

Just a few days earlier, Annie O’Brien had come from Cornwall in England for private tuition. She had heard about my methods, downloaded my Notes for Students and painted glass with my mixture, but had yet to achieve the results she saw in my videos. Annie teaches stained glass at Penzance School of Art and, besides developing her own work, wanted to help her students paint glass more fluently.

Reviewing Annie’s workshop in the light of my floor-leveling struggles prompted me to recall comments such as “Oh, I read about that in so-and-so’s book but it didn’t/I couldn’t/it wasn’t clear…”. Then, as I took Annie through my basic procedures, I began to hear “Oh, this is so different than I’ve been getting… “. Or, as she learned to recognize the correct consistency and viscosity “This is way easier, and so much more fun.”

And this is my point: all the YouTube videos out there cannot substitute for a few hours of hands-on time with the right person.

And so, last week, four more artists drove across the country to take a 5-day workshop, Glasspainting For Artists, in my studio. Marianne Parr from Athens, Georgia, was working on developing a free and more personal style of glass painting and figuring out where she wants to go as an artist. Daniel White of Cain White Art Glass, Virginia came to learn how to create more expressive tracing and textural effects for commissioned work. Carol Slovikosky, who has taken several design and painting workshops with me, was expanding her figurative work to include canine portraits, and Brenda Benson came to the workshop to learn how to add pattern to her sculptural pieces.

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I always aim to teach the individual, and this is easier with small groups. As I figure out each artist’s needs and goals I can be flexible with the curriculum, address specific requests, and encourage exploration. Last week I gave slide presentations that included aspects of stained glass design, including the positioning of support bars, which spurred a spontaneous session I dubbed “Sacred Geometry 101”. Then, since both Brenda and Daniel wanted to use my mixture for figurative work, they chose to paint faces during the workshop. Brenda, whose tuition fees were covered largely by the SGAA’s MalDeb Fund, went on to figure out the precise viscosity of paint needed to print hand-carved linoleum.

My next student, LeaAnn Cogswell, is an accomplished sculptor and painter who has yet to figure out how to use glasspaint as beautifully as she does clay. She has remarkable drawing skills, masses of experience and solid art training. The Stained Glass Association of America awarded LeaAnn a Dorothy L. Maddy Scholarship to come and study with me. With a few days of one-to-one, hands-on instruction, I’m confident that LeaAnn will swiftly become an excellent glass painter.

stained glass painting workshop with Debora Coombsphoto 3