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.


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!


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.

6 thoughts on “Choosing skin tones; Where to start?

  1. That real sky background issue has offered challenges for me as I recall my first trip to Bendheims on Hudson St. circa 1980. The samples were on the 4th floor and the sky was so intensely bright and blue on a balmy June day in the city. The “real” color was confusing.
    I am loving the blog updates to follow the work progression.
    Thank you!

  2. Thank you Debora, a thought… whenever you can … could you mention the stock number of the Lambert’s glass you refer to? This whole process of color interaction is so fascinating. I love your blog… (I check in every morning).

    • Will do Margie, thx for the suggestion.
      I think of you every time I make porridge with fruit and nuts in, which I did this morning whilst listening to the ice storm hammering against the kitchen skylights. It’s cold here today!

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