Designing Stained Glass Windows
Since you’ve clicked on this page, you’re already fascinated by the beauty of stained glass. Perhaps you’re wondering if your home is ready for a personally-designed window. Other images on this web site display many of my designs. Here I’ll describe what motivates me when I work, and how I plan a new project.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.
The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
—Oscar Wilde, from the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Grey
I encountered this provocative phrase in my teens, and it’s helped my appreciate modern art. Freed by photography from the need for slavish reproduction, modern art can indulge in swirling colors and shapes, subject only to the vision of the artist.
I don’t “create” stained glass — that’s the task of a trained artisan in a stained glass factory. Over time, I’ve acquired thousands of pieces crafted by several different factories (some now out of business). I’ve handled each piece as I placed it in my studio, and I consider each piece to be the “brushwork” of an artist that I in turn can incorporate into a design. I endeavor to “follow the grain” of each glass piece as it relates to the rest of the project.
If you’ve admired the artistry of stained glass in churches, you should know that I do not “paint” on the surface of glass. I don’t attempt to make completely realistic faces or buildings appear in my projects. “Exaggerate the essential, leave the obvious vague.” Vincent van Gogh left us that guideline, and I follow that motto if I’m trying to suggest some physical object in glass.
Lead or Copper Foil?
Traditional stained glass employs strips of lead to hold the glass pieces together. If you look at the lead face on, it resembles the letter “H”, placed on its side. The glass pieces tuck into the middle, and often I hear a little “click” when each piece locks in. There’s an overlap of about 1/8” of lead. When all the glass pieces are in place, the joints are soldered. Then the window is covered with putty and dried — this cements all the pieces together. Most of the putty is then removed, and the project is cleaned.
The lead and soldered joints can appear shiny, so patina is applied that darkens the lead and soldered points. I generally use black patina, so that the lead “fades” into the background and brings the glass forward; some might prefer a copper patina. The window is cleaned again and ready to be hung.
Copper foil can be used for smaller projects. A 3/8” or 1/4” strip of foil (sticky on one side) covers all the edges. All the foiled pieces are butted up against one another. Soldering all the foiled surfaces turns the copper to a silver color. After cleaning, patina is applied. A border (like zinc) is placed around the edges and the corners are soldered.
Occasionally a window design incorporates both lead and copper foil techniques.
Some of the windows on my web site show designs taken from commercially available pattern books. These patterns are black and white — the choice of colors is crucial for a pleasing design. Let me know your preferences — I’ll make suggestions if you wish.
The abstract expressionist Hans Hoffman (who taught at U. C. Berkeley and whose paintings helped jump-start the Berkeley Art Museum) taught a theory of “push-pull” in his work. Smaller areas of intense “hot” colors are placed in tension with larger areas of “cool” colors.
Some clients may have small objects with special meaning that they want incorporated into a window. These can be polished stones, coins, or other fairly flat objects. They are simply wrapped in lead and joined to the other glass pieces. We can try out various patterns and arrangements.
When I design an original window (such as the “eclipse” glass pattern), I retain the copyright. Should someone want to use one of my designs, please contact me for a license agreement.
Window designs taken from commercially available pattern books are not eligible for further copyright.