Carroll College: Go Saints!

Stained glass for Carroll College, Helena, Montana

Go Saints!


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..


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.


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.


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.

Selecting colour/glass the English way, and why.

Q What sort of glass am I working with?

I use mostly Lamberts mouth-blown glass, hand-made in Germany. There is only one US distributor, S.A.Bendheim and two warehouses, one in California and the other, fortunately for me, in New Jersey. It’s a marvel to watch these glassblowers make huge cylinders of glass and maneuver them around so skillfully. Watch a video. I also use various other types of glass whenever necessary to achieve precisely the colours I am after. I’m not a purist.

Q How do I fix the pieces of coloured glass to the easel plates and why?

I use a type of modeling clay called Plasticene to fix up the pieces of glass. This is the way I learned as a young person whilst working for Goddard & Gibbs, the UK’s biggest stained glass studio. Plasticene (or Plastilene in the USA) is applied like thumb wax. It’s a bit greasy but great because I can remove pieces if I need to make changes. It may take several attempts to get precisely the correct colour and value/tone, especially in a pictorial window like this one. Here’s how the easel looks in reflected light, with all the blobs of Plasticene and some strips of clear packing tape over the top panels for good measure.


Every piece of glass affects and is affected by it’s neighbors, so the overall composition evolves as you add new colours. Stained glass is basically collage (i.e., you cannot mix the colours) but there are subtle ways of managing how colours appear by choosing neighboring pieces to shift a colour’s temperature, intensity, or to make it appear lighter or darker than it really is.

Look at the outstretched hand of the woman below. It is cut from precisely the same glass as her face but it looks too dark because it’s surrounded by so much pale blue. I’ll have to change it.


By the way, the woman’s shawl is all cut from the same sheet of glass too (though not the same sheet as her face). It’s one of my favourites (Lamberts 20-1067) that transitions from pink to peach to orange across a single sheet. I love using different areas of the same sheet in close proximity because the colours harmonize so beautifully.

I’ve been choosing subtly cooler colours for the far right of this window (bluer greens, silvery grey in the river, etc) and staying warmer to the left, hence the warm glow on her headdress. Here’s a video about my work for St Henry Church in Nashville that describes my glass colour selection process in more detail.

Q Why do I choose my glass in this laborious fashion?

I realise that many people select their glass on the light table but I find this pretty challenging. Colours do not appear accurately. The lightbox is uneven, so it’s hard to read tone/value. I cannot read the texture of the glass accurately because it appears flat and opaque, whereas at the easel it sparkles or ripples with light. Although I paint and fire pretty much every piece of glass in a window, I’ve developed methods that maintain pure transparency almost all areas, so the liveliness of the glass is not lost. Manipulating transparency is one of the true delights in making stained glass.

Colour/glass selection is a key part of my process. These slides show how the cartoon, cutlines and glass selection all come together in the end.

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They show work-in-progress on a 25ft window I designed, cartooned, cut and painted for Marble Collegiate Church on 5th Ave in Manhattan. Rambusch Decorating Co did the fabrication and installation in 2002. Thankyou Martin Rambusch for giving me such a great opportunity.

My new blog! selecting glass & cartooning for Trinity Episcopal

I’ve started this blog to answer questions about my work; to allow clients to watch the creation of their windows (welcome Trinity Episcopal); and to let everyone know that this beautiful medieval art form is still alive and kicking! Since I find it easier to respond than to write afresh, please ask away and we’ll see how it goes. It’s a blog experiment!

Today I have been selecting and cutting coloured glass for a figurative window for Trinity Episcopal Church in Branford, Connecticut. I choose the glass one piece at a time up against natural light, comparing it with all the others as I go. My easeling window faces north with trees and mountains beyond. I’m always grateful to complete the glasscutting stage during the winter against snow and bare trees, where the only colour distortions are from blue skies. Watch a slideshow of the glass selection for Trinity Episcopal in progress.


Some weeks back I presented the cartoon to the Church for Approval. The ink & charcoal cartoon is a full-scale black and white working drawing that provides me with all the information I need to make a window. Watch a slideshow of the cartooning for Trinity Episcopal in progress, including photos of models and some of the revisions.


If you’re wondering how visual information from the cartoon is prepared for glasscutting you can watch a slideshow of the cutlining for Trinity Episcopal, and my assistant, Sam Myers, inking in cutlines and marking up easel plates.

Here’s the design, presented to the Church last August.

Design copyright Debora Coombs 2013