Making an illustrated stained glass panel
The ready coloured glass that I use to make a panel has already been created by another group of skilled craftsmen before I even begin my work. For further description of the production of this mouth blown sheet glass see The Glass page.
Once I have got my prized glass back to the studio I design with it in different ways. Sometimes I am so inspired by the glass itself and what it suggests to me that I begin the process this way. On other occasions I already have the ideas in my head and look for the glass and colours that fit the design. Either way I draw out the outline for the shape of the piece or pieces of glass on paper with a thick pen. This is known as the cartoon. The thickness of the pen allows for the leads to fit between the glass later on.
I then cut the glass to shape using a diamond glass cutter and special pliers.
Once all the pieces have been cut to shape I then clean the surface and matt it over completely with a special glass paint. Although this trace paint does come in different shades I tend to use black as it is rich and dense and totally opaque. When the paint is dry I then scrape back into it using a variety of simple tools. I am using the paint like a scraper board (a much maligned medium) which is working in the negative to achieve an effect rather like a woodcut. This is the really exciting bit and I can get quite carried away in my own little world!
When the painting is complete and stray paint dust removed with cotton buds the work goes into the kiln and is fired to about 660°C. The paint contains powdered glass which fuses onto the surface of the glass during the firing process.
When all the glass for a particular project is ready the leading up process begins. I buy the long lead cames from suppliers in Bristol or Liverpool. These leads are H or U sectioned in profile and the glass slots into the grooves and is held in position by them.
Before fitting the glass into the leads they are thoroughly cleaned with wire wool and then opened out to allow the glass to slot in easily. When the leads are ready they are measured and cut.
Once the leads have been cut to the correct length the glass is fitted in and then other pieces of glass and leads are added and combined to create the final panel.
The points where the leads meet other leads have to be soldered together. These joints are rubbed with tallow which acts as a flux and then soldered.
Then comes the really messy bit!! Cement needs to be pushed under the leads to close up the gap between the glass and the lead to create a secure and watertight piece of work. Once the leads have been filled with cement the whole surface is covered with whiting to speed up the drying process. The leads are then ‘closed down’ by pressing their edge down. This helps keep the cement in and is neater in appearance than leaving them open. The whole surface of the glass is then scrubbed clean, the whiting helps clean off the excess cement on the glass. This process is repeated on the other side of the glass before leaving the whole piece to dry off and set.
Once the cement has set the leads are cleaned again with wire wool and any hooks that are needed are soldered on. The final process is the polishing. Black grate polish cleans the glass beautifully and shines up the leads.
It is a long process but now I always work on several pieces at a time which cuts down on some of the change over between processes. There are obviously some processes I enjoy more than others but a change is as good as a rest and even the painting which I love can become a bit intense if I do too much without a break.