Joseph, a shoe and 3 seagulls

Glasspainting at last! and really enjoying it.

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I started with the three seagulls and then couldn’t stop! I moved on to Mary’s sandal and the head of Joseph, because they were lying on my lightbox after their trip to Bill the sandblaster & glass sculptor.

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Fire-polishing

In England I used hydrofluoric acid to remove the flash, but here in Vermont I sandblast and fire-polish instead. It’s safer. Fire-polishing is making the glass hot enough to smooth out the rough surface of the sandblasting but not so hot that it melts into a puddle. Hitting the right temperature is pretty crucial!

Here are the sandblasted pieces with all their masks removed (above),in the kiln, and back in their spots on the easel, fire-polished (below). The body of the flash is a furiously bright green that I will tone down with silver nitrate (aka ‘silver stain’ – the only real ‘stain’ used in traditional stained glass).

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Also in the kiln are two heads and the sandal, plus a couple of test pieces that Sam prepared to experiment with herself.

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Sparkle & sandblasting prep

Here’s why I use hand-made (mouth-blown) transparent glass in my windows. It’s beautifully sparkly! (watch 12 seconds of video)  As you may perhaps have guessed, this is my first ever movie. Please excuse the creaky tripod. My dear husband suggests I should stick to making stained glass!

Now, on to the sandblasting…
There are thimbleberries in the foreground of the window cut from flashed ruby glass. Yesterday my assistant Sam began applying masks to these pieces of glass to prepare them for sandblasting. Flashed glass is blown with a thin skin of one colour fused into the surface of another, usually lighter, colour. The rubies I’m using for the thimbleberries are flashed onto green or grey glass. Unmasked areas get sandblasted away to reveal the ‘body’ colour of the glass. Masked areas stay ruby. In this case, it’s the little red berries that remain transparent, sparkly red. I will paint foliage on the gray/green areas.

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Today I went to glass sculptor Bill LeQuier‘s studio to sandblast the thimbleberries, Joseph’s undershirt, Mary’s sandal, and the white hair and beard of the grandfather figure……….

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…………….here’s a photo of Grandad under the sandblasting nozzle. This is the view through into the sandblaster as I work, and the blob on the left is the thumb of my rubber glove. The image appears to be reversed. At this point the darker beige is the flash colour (just about to be removed) and the lighter shade is the mask.

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Removing Grandad’s mask to reveal white areas for his hair and beard. You can also see a little pile of thimbleberries on the tray (red glass still masked), and Mary’s sandal with the foot partly exposed.

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Learn more about flashed glass from the manufacturer, Glasshutte Lamberts.

Mothers Day Family Glasspainting Workshop

Come and paint stained glass portraits with a loved one on Mother’s Day weekend here at my studio. I still have a few spots open for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day weekends.
Here are some photos from last year….

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Those who say they “can’t paint” are especially welcome because the process involves drawing over photographs and exploring patterns and textures. Details of when and where, and how to sign up

Snow in April

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I must be the only person in Vermont who is happy to still have snow in April. It has provided me with the best possible backdrop for selecting coloured glass. The window is almost cut, and the snow, right on cue, has almost disappeared.
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The picture so far – my garden…
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… and the window, taken as it was getting dark.

I will post a better photo in a day or so when it’s totally finished. Then I’ll be moving into the glasspainting stage. But before I do I’d like to recommend a couple of books and sites about colour.

Understanding colour is pretty crucial because a stained glass window is basically a huge collage – a combination of pre-determined individual colours. It’s not like mixing paint from tubes where there are numberless options available. To complicate things, every time you add a new piece of glass it affects all those around it. It’s not practical to keep changing your mind (though I do this far more often than I’d like), but on the other hand, I really do want the window to read as a unified scene.

I know only too well the limitations of the medium. As I’m choosing glass I am constantly imagining how the window will look when it’s painted. I stay mindful of the fact that I can make colours appear darker with paint, but I cannot change the hue (the actual colour), the saturation/intensity (how clean or muted it is), or make the glass look lighter. And then there’s that annoying tendency for adjacent colours tend to interfere with one another, sometimes quite a lot.

I remember what an eye opener it was to learn about colour in art school. One memorable exercise from my first year at Edinburgh College of Art was painting a still life (objects on a table) all in the same tone/value. Imagine, the red apple had to be painted pink, and the grapefruit, mustard-coloured. If you screwed up your eyes and looked through your eyelashes your painting was supposed to look coloured but without definition between different objects. It was quite a challenge, but wonderful training.

Music provides a good analogy for colour: some people are tone deaf, a few have perfect pitch, most are somewhere in between. It’s the same with colour. Some can perceive fine and subtle differences between colours, some cannot, and some people are colour blind. In both cases we can learn how to perceive or reproduce notes and colours more accurately through training.

I found this brief, neat explanation of colour theory and descriptions of some of the exercises we learned in the stained glass department at Swansea College of Art, like contrast and dominance, and figure-ground relationships. I read the famous books, “Interaction of Color” by Josef Albers and “Elements of Colour” by Johannes Itten from cover to cover, and remember how exciting it was to perceive coloured after-images for the first time. If you’re not familiar with Itten’s theories you can read more here.

Pure indulgence!

Today I finished cutting glass for the rugosa roses and thimbleberries at the bottom of the window. Some of these tiny pink and green pieces of glass are smaller than my fingernails… and so extravagantly labour-intensive to build into the window.  I have to admit that this is pure indulgence.

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Trinity Episcopal had asked for what seemed like an impossible list of things to be included in one small window -the Holy Family, worshipers, mountains, apple blossom, a river leading to the sea, an anchor (the mariners cross), some seagulls in the dawn light… but not thimbleberries or roses!

Aside from my love of roses and of beautiful colours, I did have artistic/compositional reasons as well. I brought them in to help make sense of the apple boughs which enter the scene from stage left, as if from a tree growing nearby but out of the picture plane. I felt that I needed plants of a similar scale in the foreground to balance the composition and help the viewer ‘read’ the picture better. Since the window is dedicated to Deacon Archie Hanna, who wrote the definitive book on the history of the Thimble Islands, and since the islands are named for the abundant thimbleberries that grow there, they seemed the obvious choice.

I also wanted more pink in the window to balance the sunrise and the apple blossom. Some years ago I made 20 windows for St Mary’s Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. Each one had at least 3 roses in it (symbol for Mary and Portland, the City of Roses) and I found lovely ways to paint them in stained glass. I love the colour and scent of these wild seaside roses, and they seemd so perfect for a church near the seaside in Branford Connecticut.

Here are a couple of photos of glass fixed up on the easel with blobs of Pasticene. Please use your imagination and/or watch this space to see how those red blobs of glass become delicate thimbleberries (they will!) and how the roses turn out. My last post may help a bit.

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Yes, the size of a fingernail!

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Can you spot them?

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Here’s the right lancet, photographed against a shockingly blue sky.

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Figures & Models

Here’s a quick run-through of the process I use for the figures. First, a section of my cartoon for Trinity Episcopal with the little Chinese girl (actually, she’s 1/2 English) followed by a photo of the model and a snapshot of the glass she will be painted on.

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Cartoon

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Chirpy little Constanza, my model

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Bare-naked glass on the easel
(Ignore the fuzzy horizontal band, it’s just the transom on the window behind the easel).

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The separate stages

I do the drawing in 2 stages; a sumi-type calligraphic line drawing in black ink that I photocopy before shading with charcoal or graphite. I keep copies of my line drawings for all the figure, to be used later on for glasspainting, which is also carried out in stages. This slide shows the separate stages: the model, line drawing (we call this the ‘traceline’), cartoon and finished stained glass. Detail of 25ft window for Marble Church in Manhattan, the scene is the Anointing at Bethany.

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Woman at the Well, pondering

This pair of images shows just how much the glass is transformed by the glasspainting. On the left, the bare-naked glass was photographed on the light table, hence the flat no-textured rather boring look, but it’s easy to read the tone/value. On the right, the painted glass is waxed up against daylight for the last time before leading-up (assembling into lead cames/strips) so you can see white lines of daylight where the lead will go. The colours are much more accurate in this picture. Notice how the subtle shading in the glass contributes to the overall coherence of the painted picture, even without any lead and all those (Note for Margie -it’s my favourite Lamberts 1067 peach flashed glass.) Notice how the hand and face are all one piece of glass -if I’d added a lead between them I would have lost that pondering look

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3 men in a boat

And just one more sequence (yet another slide from a teaching Powerpoint), again from a window for Marble Church. This shows a section of the cartoon, the just-selected bare-naked glass on the easel with blobs of Plasticene, and the completed stained glass.

Open Studio, May 25th & 26th

A wonderfully busy studio!

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Please come and visit me on May 25th & 26th as part of Vermont Crafts Council’s statewide Spring Open Studios event. I’ve almost finished the colour selection and glasscutting for Trinity Episcopal and will be painting glass by the end of May.

The hours are 10am – 5pm both days. Address: 359 Rue Madeline, Readsboro VT 05350. Download a map of our area. Visit other studios too, including Readsboro Glassworks for some spectacular glass sculpture by Bill LeQuier, and Mary Angus’ perfume bottles and more.

A stained glass satellite dish

I couldn’t resist posting something entirely different….
… a series of images showing how I painted a stained glass satellite dish for NY artist Michael Oatman in a window for a 1970’s spaceship made from an Airstream trailer. It’s all part of his brilliant art installation All Utopias Fell at MASS MoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) which re-opens to the public on May 25th.

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Scroll through a folder of photos of the space ship and it’s stained glass window. Read Art New England interview with artist Michael Oatman about this project.

Here’s the entire (only 2ft x 3ft) window. View details.
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Clothed in the dawn

OK so here’s a bit I’m really excited about, perhaps because I have worked so hard to resolve it. The pink/orange clothing of the standing woman is working beautifully at last! Once I’d settled on the ambitious idea of changing the color cast across a single figure I’d created quite a challenge for myself – matching the woman’s dress to the pink/orange shawl I had chosen for her pretty early on (and fallen in love with).

As I mentioned before, I cut this shawl very carefully from a single sheet of glass (Lamberts 1067) that changed colour across it’s width. It provides a lovely link to the sunrise, drawing those warm and nourishing colours across and down into the bottom of the composition. But I wanted the dress to subtly shift in hue as well, like the shawl does, and finding the right glass was a challenge. I’d tried several options that I wasn’t happy with, so decided to move on to other parts of the window and wait for inspiration. Today it arrived!

Here she is finally, clothed in the dawn, followed by a work-in-progress pic of how she had been stuck for several days. Quite a difference..

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pink dress (before)

Cutting Joseph’s robe provided the turning point for resolving the woman’s dress. It is a warm, bold chestnut brown, almost ruby in places, and commands a real presence. The colour is so strong that it overwhelmed the dark muted pinks I had been experimenting with for the woman. I realized straight away that her clothing had to connect to his colour-wise.

It was ruby flashed glass that provided the solution. Rubies are made with a thin skin (the ‘flash’) of red glass fused onto a ‘body’ glass of a different colour. It can provide much more colour variation than standard glass which is the same colour all the way through. In regular glass the tone/value change corresponds to how thick or thin that particular piece of the sheet is (hence the lack of tonal variation in most machine –made glasses –they’re too even and perfect). Flashed glasses can vary enormously across a single sheet because the colour layer itself is very thin and can disappear to almost nothing to expose the underlayer.

The right hand edge of Joseph’s robe is cut in ruby on green, the right side of the woman’s dress is a very rare ruby on pink (no longer available). I cut one small piece of Joseph’s robe in ruby-on-yellow and used paler parts of the same sheet for the left side of the woman’s dress. Here’s the lovely connection between them and across the window. Incidentally, I also placed a small piece of Joseph’s robe colour in the lower rh corner of the window behind the lamb.

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The woman’s tummy area (adjacent the man’s face) is a little bright but will be in shadow, so receive a fair amount of paint. The underside of the sleeve is perhaps a little pale but also will be shaded, so it’ll all work out perfectly in the end. These are examples of the numerous tiny adjustments to tone/value that are made whilst glasspainting. It’s possible to tone down colour intensity some as well.

Whilst I’m on the subject of tone/value (the lightness or darkness of a piece of glass) if you squint at the woman’s dress you can see that, overall, it is darker than the shawl. I’m imagining that it’s made from a darker fabric (in artspeak, that it’s ‘local colour’ is darker). So now, even though the colours are different left and right, the value/tone (lightness or darkness) of the dress in relationship to the shawl is consistent.

One of my cardinal rules for colour/glass selection is this: if the bare-naked glass works well the window will be successful. If the coloured glass alone looks good, without any glass painting, if it conveys the spirit of the subject, and if the composition reads successfully… then all is well. Whew!

Notice that I’m still avoiding the issue of the woman’s too-dark hand, for now at least, because there are so many demands from that one piece of glass. It must match her face; be light enough to brighten the upraised palm; be of a different tone/value than the sleeve (this may be the one that has to go); and look like it belongs to her. I’ve even thought about getting her to wear gloves!

Choosing skin tones; Where to start?

Where to start?

People often ask me where I start selecting glass. Is it the bottom left-hand corner? Or do I dot around all over the place and choose all the greens first?

Generally, I either start with an area where I am absolutely sure of my choices, or an area where I’m not sure but the colour plays a crucial part in the composition.

Here, it was the sea and the sunrise that were key. I have never made a landscape like this before, and I really wanted to create a sense of distance and the effect of light on the horizon. I rarely use streaky glasses where the colour is irregular (As Patrick Reyntiens once said to me, the striations “.. tend to quarrel with your glasspainting.”) but I really wanted pink skies, and softer pink reflections in the river too. So I broke my own rules and bought a sheet of streaky pink/amber/clear glass for the skies, and a smoky blue for the sea that faded lighter towards the center.

Once I had chosen these the rest of the landscape followed along behind – softer colours in the distance, brighter towards the foreground. The sky/sea colours provided me with a starting point for the colour intensities (bright or muted) for the window.

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Note that the blue colour on the top right in this photo (behind the seagull) is the real sky outside my studio, there’s no coloured glass there yet. This is one of the delights and challenges of stained glass; working with a medium that keeps changing on you. It’s like painting with shifting sands. Here’s another photo taken a few days later with bare trees behind -it looks completely different!

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Selecting skin tones

Selecting skin tones in a pictorial window is also pretty crucial, and I tend to use the same method. In this case, there was only one glass I could use for the kneeling man on the right. The Committee had asked me to make him bareheaded with a not-too-modern haircut, and elderly. I decided, for the first time, to use flashed glass to give him really white hair. Flashed glass has two layers of colour, one of which may be removed by acid etching or sandblasting. In this case, I bought a sheet of Lamberts 1032 that has a thin skin of beige (the flesh colour) that will be removed to reveal the clear underlayer for the hair and beard.

I suppose I should point out that, in my medieval-style stained glass, the paint is black. All the colour you see is in the glass itself. If this seems a little confusing you can watch the entire process condensed down into two lovely short videos, Menfolk Part 1 (6 mins) and Part 2 (7mins).

Any way… once the skin tone (and ethnicity) for the old man was settled it provided a fixed point for choosing the others. The most challenging was probably the little Chinese girl’s. I didn’t want her to look jaundiced, so gave her a turquoise dress and chose a deep greenish grey for the boy’s robes behind (and right next to her skin) so as to pump a little more warmth into her complexion.

The amber colour behind her is perhaps the least helpful contrast, but the little girl’s hair will be painted black, so the colours won’t seem so close. If you’re lost here too, check out this site to learn about the effect of adjacent colours on each other.

It’s a curious thing, selecting glass, and all the while imagining how the window will look when painted and assembled. Eventually, the glasspainting will bring all these different colours together into one seamless picture. It’s quite a magical process really.