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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Stained Glass

Humming Bird, Laurie Beeman
It's not too unusual for a painter to tire of painting. I guess to some extent, that's why I'm here pecking away an a computer keyboard. When that happens, the artist, rather than sitting aside his or her creative urges, simply finds for them a new media outlet. Perhaps its a minor jog from paint to colored pencils. Or it could mean switching from two dimensions to three. A few years ago I took up video productions, mostly travel videos of places we've been to. They're now available on YouTube. I even went so far as to convert some of these items to video productions. In college I studied such diverse media as etching, relief printing, weaving, and ceramics, none of which I would even consider reverting to now. One other skill I gained (sort of) was working in stained glass. For the painter especially, this art form makes an excellent secondary pursuit when you tire of the smell of turpentine.
Grinding can also be done by hand if
you don't want to go this far.
Switching art media is not a decision to be made lightly. Inevitably it involves the pur-chase of new tools, new supplies, instructional material, classes, perhaps even a totally different workspace. I wouldn't take up carving marble in most home painting studios. Painters tend to be designers, and the first step in stained glass is designing a full-size pattern on paper. Of course, knowing some-thing about the difficulties and peculiar limit-ations of the medium helps in this step, so really the first step, is to find and study a good "how-to" book on the subjects. (That might also be the only step.) As for a work area, a painting studio would do fine provided there is room for the accouterments of more than one media and the whole environment is some-what "workshoppy." Mostly you'll need storage space for the glass (vertical), a desk-height work table with a heat-resistant top, and some kind of grinding booth such as the jerry-rigged item pictured at right for grinding off sharp edges.
These are the major necessities. A rough guestimate as to costs can be found below.
If you think painting tools and supplies are expensive, let me be clear from the beginning, working is stained glass is at least as costly and probably more so as you become more prolific and prodigious.
Here's some idea as to the basic costs (prices are approximations):
Fletcher-Terry Glass cutter (below): Retail price: $6.
Inland pistol grip glass cutter (below): Retail price: $16.
Breaker/Grozer Pliers: Retail price: $9.
These breaker/grozers are dual purpose pliers used for breaking out scores and grozing flares from the edges of glass. They have one curved jaw and one flat jaw, both with finely serrated edges.
Dura-Ink #15 Felt Tipped Glass Marker: Retail price: $2.50
Flux: Retail price: $18.
Flux Brush: Retail price: $0.35 
A stiff bristled brush for applying the oleic acid or paste flux to the solder joint prior to soldering. Tubular metal construction, 6 inches long, 3/8 inch wide bristles.
Running Pliers:  Retail price: $11.
A glass cutting necessity. This tool applies pressure to your glass score to help break your glass with ease. Most have a convenient centering mark for perfect breaks.
EDCO 1.0 mil Copper Foil: 7/32 in x 36 yds. x .001: Retail price: $10.
Soldering iron with holder: Retail Price: $70.

Prices are typical, not actual. The slots in the Fletcher-Terry cutter head are for
breaking off tiny shards after the main separation (they don't work very well).
Often a painful pursuit.
Probably the most critical tool needed by the stained glass artist is the electric soldering iron, and they don't come cheap. Here the old adage, "You get what you pay for," holds rigidly true. That is, don't buy the cheapest. Look for some-thing about halfway up the price scale or above. The one at the right appealed to me except for the fact that the grip is so far up from the tip. The closer the grip is to the tip, the more control you have over the tool. I once burned my index and middle finger tips rather severely by giving into to the urge to "choke down" on the pencil-like tool. Don't do that.
Stained glass is usually sold by the pound, except in assorted sets (prices are approximate).
That only leaves the glass. There are dozens of different types, each with its own radiant beauty. Let me warn you, some types of glass are harder to cut than others (mirrors for instance). Likewise special cutting tools are need for making circles or arcs. Basically three kinds of glass work best for beginners--Seville, Cathedral, and Opal (or opalescent) as well as clear glass.
Cathedral glass is transparent single color sheet glass, with smooth or textured surfaces. Cathedral is one of the types of glass that beginners find easy to cut.
Opalescent glass comes in one solid color or multi-colored with a two, three, and four color mixes. If it is multi colored, no two pieces of glass will ever look exactly alike due to the way the colors are mixed after they come out of the furnace. Opalescent glass can be used any way you can imagine. It's extremely versatile...trees, flowers, leaves, grass, sky, borders, lampshades, boxes, you name it.
Iridescent glass is a surface treatment in which a layer of metallic oxide is bonded to the hot glass surface just after sheet-forming, resulting in a colorful, shimmering effect. Many different glasses are available with an iridescent surface.
Seville glass is opaque depending upon the intensity of its color. There are degrees of opacity, with some types of glass being a mix of cathedral and opaque, making it semi-opaque. For instance, you could have an opaque white and a cathedral blue swirled together giving you a semi-opaque streaky glass.
A simple, yet gorgeous piece ideal for a beginner. The painters sense of color
and design would play a major part in the success of such a work.
A simple starting design.
For the beginning stained glass artist, not surprisingly, the old KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) holds true. The design at left would be ideal for a beginner--only three basic shapes to cut none with obtuse angles. Obtuse angles (more than 180 degrees) seldom break well. Speaking of breaking, you will ruin some glass in the beginning. For me, the art of cutting glass (which is really nothing more than controlled breakage) was the most difficult part. Keep your first few pieces relatively small and stick to abstract designs at first. Another thing to keep in mind is that small pieces sell well, while large ones mostly serve to invite commissions. One of the most interesting domestic items of stained glass I found in the partition between the living room and the music room at Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis (below). Once you get good at it, stained glass can be utilized in front doors (bottom). Virtually any window where seeing out is not important is a good candidate for stained glass. Usually such work is sandwiched between two sheets of ordinary glass to make it less prone to damage. So good luck, have fun, and don't cut yourself (too bad).
Copyright, Jim Lane
Elvis' stained glass peacocks are a frequent design icon for the old South.
The birch tree motif may suggest a more northerly venue.


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