I once took a daylong introductory workshop in glassblowing. Aside from the unforgettable intensity of heat hitting my chest as I pulled the glass-dipped pole out of the furnace — WOW! — I was surprised by the physicality of the process. It was hard work! Working in teams, we first practiced a choreographed set of steps that kept a single piece of hot glass in motion. That practice was a necessary part of learning how to avoid getting burned. Talk about needing to stay in the present moment!
Prior to that experience, I took two 8-week courses in designing and making stained glass panels. That photo above shows the first panel I ever made. It was about a dozen years ago, and since then I’ve never looked at stained glass work the same. You really gain a heightened appreciation of what goes into the design and creation of something when you have to do it yourself. The design process involved learning to think about translating from one medium (paper) to another (glass & leading), so that the individual glass segments connect in a way that provides strength and structure.
What I learned from those two stained glass classes is that the work of drawing designs was incredibly interesting to me, but I was less than thrilled about working on my soldering skills. I wasn’t sure why that part was so difficult for me. Other students soldered the leading smoothly, while I struggled to get mine bump-free. That was the first time a bell went off in my head comparing my ability to design with my ability to execute a design. In that particular medium, anyway.
I had visited a glass worker’s shop to look at glass options, deciding on a color palette and a combination of textured and smooth glass squares. That was a blast. I didn’t dislike the cutting, grinding, and copper foiling of the glass pieces, but it was considerably less exciting for me than designing it. And soldering ranked pretty low on my list of desirable activities. After completing the soldering, I cleaned and dried the panel that had been lying down the whole time I worked on it. That’s when I got to hold it up to the light. I was both astounded and thrilled to see my intact design illuminated.
I did make a larger panel after that (below). That too I had much more fun designing than actually making!
In retrospect, I didn’t learn as much in those classes about making stained glass panels as I did about myself. It taught me how engaged I could get in creating designs. Until then, I hadn’t really thought about it. Over time I found that drawing with my Wacom pen, using digital paint, allowed me to both design and execute my art in way that was both fun and gratifying for me. I could create images and work mess-free! When I was introduced to a photographer who could do an superb job of printing my images for me, it all started to come together.
I’ve also been happily drawing pattern designs for use on textiles and home goods for several years now. I can tell you that back in the 80s when I studied production & layout art, I’d never have imagined that this would turn out to be my medium. Nobody even knew what digital paint was then.
I can’t end this without introducing you to the work of a truly excellent architectural and stained glass artist named Stoney Parsons. Stoney is based in England where she designs and builds beautiful glass features for a variety of types of spaces. I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting her last year, first in Boston and again in London. She is a treat to know and a skilled artist!