Bringing together ideas, materials and style: Ohia Lehua panel

I have been lucky to travel to Hawaii a few times in my life, and one of my favorite parts of each trip was discovering the local plant life.  On a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I was especially intrigued by the Ohia Lehua trees, with their feathery red blossoms atop branches of densely overlapping leaves.  I knew I should design a stained glass panel around them.

One of the elements of the tree that really caught my eye was the orderly way the leaves grew along each branch.  I wanted my design to be simple enough to highlight the near-symmetry of the plant, while still having it be recognizable.  Not surprisingly, this design philosophy led me directly to a composition reminiscent of the arts and crafts movement.  I have always appreciated design work that is able to play up a sense of botanical geometry, and I hope I’ve captured a bit of that here.

 

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Ohia Lehua panel in progress on the bench

I thought the flowers would be best rendered as fused glass elements.  I created them using various thicknesses of red stringer (long threads of glass) layered and fused onto a clear background.  In the past, when I have planned to use fused pieces in a leaded window, I’ve found an approach that seems to work well:  My first step is to fully draw the cartoon as usual.  When I begin cutting the glass, I will cut only the fused pieces, making them just slightly larger than the pattern indicates.  After fusing, the edges will have generally rounded, which shrinks the shape slightly.  The volume of glass being fused will also have an effect on the end shape.  When I’m happy with the outcome of the fusing, I’ll place the pieces directly onto the cartoon and make any needed adjustments before proceeding as usual.

For the leaves, I knew the time had come to use a sheet of green ring mottle glass that I had been saving for just the right project.   Nearly every stained glass artist I’ve met has a stash of colors that they purchased on impulse, just for the sheer love of the color. I think I may have bought this piece around the years 1999-2000, and have only nibbled away at the corners so far, so it’s nice for it to have finally found a place.  With the mottled green shades and the spiky effect of the red stringer, a simple background seemed to be the best choice.

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I’m really pleased with the finished piece!  I don’t know when my schedule and my budget might allow for another vacation to the islands, but in the meantime I’ll have a little bright spot of color to keep them in my daydreams.

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Window Makeover: Repair and Redesign

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Missing glass and lead damage to one of the three panels

Recently I took on a set of three windows from a local preparatory school.  When they arrived at my studio, over a dozen pieces of glass were missing, and the surrounding leads had been twisted and crushed.  For this kind of a restoration project, my priority was to retain as much of the original materials as possible, with the least amount of intervention required to make sound repairs.  First and foremost, the panels needed to be made whole again, but the alumni group sponsoring the repair wanted to add something special.  I made a few sketches based on their ideas, and we settled on adding an adaption of the school’s crest, featured prominently in the center panel.

 

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This semicircle drafting template came in very handy during the drawing process.

Because all three panels were identical, I was able to swap some of the original glass pieces from one panel to another in order to replace some of the missing glass. I fully dismantled the center panel, and removed all of the original glass from the areas where the new crest would be placed.  With careful planning, both side panels were able to be restored using 100% original glass and lead.  Although the old lead had been mangled, it was still pliable and sound.  I was able to carefully smooth and straighten the damaged sections, and solder them back into place.  The center panel was rebuilt using new lead, and about 50% original glass, with new glass making up the crest and its surrounding background pieces.

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The finished panel, previewed in my studio before re-installation at the school.

I sandblasted a piece of flash glass to create the white circular details in the crown.  Flash glass is comprised of two layers of color–in this case, blue over clear.  The surface layer can be masked and selectively etched away by sandblasting, acid etching, or with abrasive tools.  It’s an effective way to incorporate two colors of glass in a small, detailed way, without adding distracting, bulky lead lines.  The lettering and other imagery were painted and kiln fired using vitreous paints.

This was certainly an enjoyable project, and I hope that the students and faculty will enjoy it for many years to come!

 

 

On the Workbench: Repairing a Stained Glass Lampshade

This week I tackled a lamp repair. There were two major problems that needed to be addressed:  Many pieces of glass were broken and in danger of falling out, and the structural ring at the top had begun to separate from the rest of the lamp. There was evidence–in the form of big solder blobs–that someone had tried to repair the ring in the past, but the attempt did not hold up in the long run.  After reviewing the repairs, I also recommended that the client use cooler, lower-wattage bulbs in the future, as heat buildup can accelerate problems around the lamp cap.

My first step was to lightly clean the glass with a damp rag and a soft toothbrush, just enough to remove any filmy buildup on the glass without taking away any patina color from the solder lines. Cleaning makes the rest of the repair a little easier and more pleasant, and helps with matching replacement glass to the original.  The first few lampshades I ever repaired, years ago, had hung in a bar for decades, collecting cigarette smoke.  They were absolutely coated in nicotine residue, which made all the glass look two shades yellower, and would gum up the soldering iron if it wasn’t cleaned away.  Fortunately, most household lamps I’ve worked on–including the one in this post–have been generally well-kept, and just need a simple surface cleaning before getting started.

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I picked a sheet of glass for the replacement pieces, keeping in mind that it needs to look right in both reflected and transmitted light; that is, it should match whether the lamp is lit or unlit.  The next step was to begin knocking out the broken pieces.  Several of them were splintered into small bits that had already begun to come loose.  These were easily removed by hand, wiggling out piece by piece.  Others, though broken, were held more firmly.  In order to remove them, I added one or two more score lines to the surface, forming an X shape, then tapped from the inside of the shade to loosen the pieces.  When the broken pieces had been removed, I taped a few of them back together to serve as templates, and then cut and foiled the new replacement pieces.

Before I could reinstall the pieces, I needed to clean up the spaces where the old glass had been.  I used my soldering iron and an x-acto knife to lift away the old foil, being careful to leave the foil on the adjoining pieces intact.  Once the old foil was out of the way, I had nice clean openings to work with, and could easily insert the new pieces.  They were soldered into place, and blended in nicely after getting some new patina.

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With the body of the lamp stable, I was able to move on to fixing the ring.  On closer inspection, I discovered that as the ring had pulled away from the glass, it tore away most of the top layer of copper foil in the process.  The previous repair-person had simply tried to use a lot of solder to bridge the gap across the torn areas, and there just wasn’t a strong enough bond to support the lamp’s weight.  In the end, the old repair only served to extend  the tearing further down the sides of the lamp.  It needed some serious intervention.  First, I completely removed the ring by melting away the old solder and inserting my knife blade into the gap little by little to preserve what remained of the original foil edge as I lifted the ring.  About 1/3 of the old foil was still in place and usable.  At this point, a shortcut would have been to run a single strip of foil around  the rest of the circumference, which would have covered the bare edge of glass and provided a soldering surface.  I didn’t do it this way, because I didn’t think it would provide enough strength to hold up in the long term.  A few of the pieces around the top were already loose, so I removed them, along with some others (a total of 11 pieces), refoiled them completely, and then soldered them back into place.   This way, I was able to add much-needed support without having to completely dismantle the top row of pieces or disturb unaffected areas of original solder.

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Next, it was time to reattach the ring, securely soldering it into place on the interior and exterior edges.  Once the ring was back in place, I soldered on a few copper wires as reinforcement, spanning from the ring back down the interior of the lamp, following the solder lines.

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As a final step, I  used the same thin wire to create subtle cover repairs (sometimes referred to as ‘dutchmen’) over a few pieces.  To keep the overall cost down, the client had opted to leave in a few of the more subtle, less precarious broken pieces.  Adding the cover wire on the interior side of the shade helps to stabilize them, and minimize any light leaks, without creating an obvious repair line on the viewing side.

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Now it’s fully re-soldered, patinaed, and ready to go back home and be enjoyed!

New Designs: Current Stained Glass Work in Progress

After a few weeks of repair and restoration work, I was more than ready to switch gears again.  I find it really helpful to have a mix of old and new work in my lineup.  Although it sometimes can feel like a balancing act, I can divide my time between the technical and creative aspects of the work, and find myself less likely to feel like I’ve gotten into a rut.

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New stuff on the wall over my drawing table!

When I’ve been away from designing for a bit, it’s good to use drawing as a warim-up exercise.  I’ve kept sketchbooks since I was a teenager, but they are mostly used for jotting down quick ideas, and keeping notes.  The idea that I had been toying with in my mind was for a few production designs.  I have an open studio event coming up, and I wanted to be able to make some simpler, smaller pieces to round out my display.  I took a  great webinar in late February on silkscreening on glass (taught by Tony Glander and offered by GlassArt magazine), and I’ve been eager to start trying it on my own.   I browsed through dozens of images of rose windows in gothic churches, and used them to come up with my own designs.

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Gothic rose window drawings, made the old-fashioned way with a pencil, some basic drafting tools, and tracing paper.

I produced my first screen, and started printing, but the results were less than stellar.  Right now I’m going back over my notes from the webinar, and adjusting my technique, and as I improve the process (hopefully!) I’ll write a blog post about it.  In the meantime, here is a paper stencil overlaid on a piece of patterned glass–the look I’m hoping to achieve with glass paint!

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Here’s a hand-cut paper stencil overlaid on patterned glass. I’m working on getting my silkscreen ones to look this crisp.

A really great, unexpected thing happened as I was drawing the rose windows.  I really love a good math-y drawing session, and I was having fun using my compass and protractor, so I kept going.  And the shapes of the tracery started to become repeating floral patterns.  And then I drew patterns for three stained glass panels.    (Actually, maybe it wasn’t so unexpected. After all, I was working outside on a beautiful sunny weekend, surrounded by newly-bloomed tulips and hyacinths.)  The next thing I know, I’ve got a small series in progress, along with the silkscreen project.  I’ve already cut patterns and begun cutting glass for the first of them.  Updates to come soon–I’m very motivated to see them finished!

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Pattern pieces, cut and pinned in place for a new painted stained glass panel. I use the different pin colors to help me more quickly identify pieces that will be cut from the same sheet of glass.

Stained Glass Puttying: It’s a Dirty Job, but Someone’s Got to do It

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I’m fresh from a day of puttying windows, and after being at it for hours, I’ve started to feel a bit philosophical about the whole ordeal. Before I had my own studio, I used to naively think, “Someday, when I make my own work schedule, I’ll always putty each panel as I build it, so I never have to get stuck with a full day of doing something I hate.”  Ha ha. It’s very easy to put off the messy work when no one is making you do it, and I certainly did that this time.  Almost all of the stained glass folks I’ve ever met have confessed their dislike for this crucial part of the glazing process.  The task is tedious, dirty, and more physically demanding than any of the other steps, but a leaded window simply isn’t complete until it has been puttied (or cemented, encapsulated, or mudded, depending on your preferred terminology).  Here is why:

1. Waterproofing.    Putty is pushed under the flanges of the lead came on the interior and exterior sides of the window, effectively sealing out any moisture that could seep through.  This prevents damage to the inside of the building, and also protects the interior surface of the window.  You can sometimes see telltale evidence of leaks on an old painted window, where the paint has deteriorated and scaly buildup has formed only in certain areas around the edges of the lead.

2. Structure.    Cured putty adds a much needed rigidity to a window.  The combination of putty and lead provides strength and flexibilty, similar to the concept of reinforced concrete:  a flexible metal combined with a brittle medium offers the best of both, and provides superior support. The finished panel will be stiffened, but retain a certain amount of give to allow for expansion and contraction. (As an important side note, portland cement should not be used in a stained glass putty; it is far too inflexible.)

3. Looks.    A proper putty job seals off any light that might catch in the wrong places, such as the refraction from a cut edge just under the lead flange.  Burnishing the panel at the end provides a lovely dark-polished finish to the lead lines, and gives a clean, shiny surface to the glass.

4. Protection.  The thin layer of oil imparted by the putty acts as a sealant to the lead surface, slowing down the oxidation process.  Just as wood furniture benefits from an oil treatment, so can lead.  I have seen older windows where temporary repairs have been made by adding cover leads (‘dutchman’ repairs) over breaks.  Although the repairs were much newer than the original window, they had oxidized and crumbled more than the old lead, likely in part to the repair leads never being puttied.

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Here is a panel that has been sandblasted, creating a surface with a slight tooth that is likely to pick up dirt and oil during the putty process. To protect the sandblasted areas, I’ve covered them with blue painters’ tape and trimmed it away from the lead edges.

I realize now that I was spoiled for many years by getting to work in a studio where there was a definite hierarchy to task assignments.  Once I had paid my own dues as an apprentice, and moved up the ranks a bit, I was able to concentrate mostly on building windows, and leave all of the puttying to the new recruits.  Now that I’m working solo, I don’t have that option! Instead of “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer,” you could call me “Principal Designer and Window Puttier.”  As much as I would love to have an assistant to take over the unpleasant stuff, I still try to appreciate each task for what it’s worth.  So that means I’m back to the putty bench, and all of its trappings: dirty apron and caked-up gloves, respirator elastic getting tangled in my hair, and the inevitable itch on the end of my nose that only seems to happen when I’m in full safety gear with my hands covered in goop.  Perhaps one day I’ll be so successful that I won’t even need to make my own work anymore; I can scribble something on a piece of paper and my staff will produce a finished piece for me to sign. (I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but I do have a lot of opinions about the balance of work between designer and assistant.  Maybe a topic for a future blog post?)  In the meantime, I’m just trying to stay humble, and keep practicing and honing my craft.

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The Evolution of a work in progress, Part 4: Finished!

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Katharine Hodgkins Irises, photographed on March 21

After a winter of work, I’ve finally wrapped up the miniature iris project! Just as the final steps were coming together, the actual bulbs were beginning to poke up through the snow.  It was pretty disheartening to get 5 inches of snow on the first day of spring, but these little shoots (and the beginning of the thaw the next day) helped to boost my mood a bit! The flower petals had been finished, but I still had some things to resolve with the background pieces.  Specifically, I wanted them to be much darker.  I had originally intended to paint them with a matte of Reusche yellow-brown paint, but the yellow-brown color was brighter than I liked in reflected light.  It competed too much with the flowers, and I didn’t want to change the surface so drastically.  The transmitted color was nice, though, and added a little more warmth to the gray glass, so I matted the back side of the pieces instead of the front.  As a bonus, the front-and-back paint layers added more depth.

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Gray glass with yellow-brown matting on the back side

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With the final pieces fired, it was time to start building. I used a combination of lead sizes to accentuate the clustered, overlapping effect of the flowers.  When I had soldered the first side, I put it up for viewing.  Even at this late stage, and after countless views on the lightbox to check the colors, I still wanted to make changes.

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Beginning to assemble the stained glass panel with lead cames (channels)

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The background was still lighter and grayer than I wanted it to be.

To create more contrast, I cut plates of sienna brown glass to go behind each of the background pieces, and then set about applying them one by one.  It was a very labor intensive step, especially coming at the end of a project that I just wanted to finish!

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But the plating gave me exactly what I was hoping for–a richer, darker background that contrasted nicely with the flowers.

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In a few weeks, I’ll be shipping this panel off to Washington DC, where it will be in an exhibit entitled “American Glass Now: 2015” showing at the National Cathedral from May 1-July 31, 2015.  I’m very excited to be included in this show, and I can’t wait to see some amazing work from the other artists who were selected!

On a final note, I had a joyful moment last night when I returned home from the studio to find this little beauty, the first one to bloom:

FullSizeRender(4)Nature may have given me a slight reprieve (everything is blooming later than usual this year), but I still was able to finish my miniature iris stained glass panel in time for the real ones to appear!

Rebuilding a Deteriorated Stained Glass Panel

IMG_0585This week I’ve had a repair project that was in very dire need of work.

Many pieces of glass were completely missing, along with a good portion of the perimeter lead that would hold everything together.  There were broken pieces among the existing glass,

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a lot of crusty build-up along the edges (likely caused by moisture and dirt seeping through over the years),

IMG_0580and fragile lead that had begun to crack apart, not just at the solder joints, but in the middle of straight runs too.  In fact, the whole thing was so deteriorated that it couldn’t be held upright without falling apart.

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I began by making a rubbing of the panel with a crayon on kraft paper.  Even though there had been some distortion as the leads broke and separated, this step still provided me with a starting point for rebuilding, and was useful for keeping track of all the pieces as the window was dismantled.  I also had access to the original wood frame, so I could make an accurate template for the shape.  Between the template and the rubbing, it’s not too hard to get a window exactly the size it needs to be.

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The old lead was so weakened that I didn’t even need tools to separate it from the pieces of glass; it literally snapped apart wherever I pulled on it.  The next step was to clean the glass in water with a tiny bit of mild liquid soap (Ivory liquid works well).  While I was at it, I also cleaned the pile of scrap glass provided by the client to be used for repairs.

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Here are some of the scraps.  The glass comes from an older building that is being rehabbed on a tight budget.  I am trying to be mindful of both the needs of the project, and the ethics of my own work.  This is obviously not getting the same treatment as a museum-level restoration, but I still want to maintain a high level of craftsmanship.  When historical repairs, restoration, or conservation work is taken on, there should be some sense of a Hippocratic Oath for glass ( ‘do no harm’ comes to mind right away).

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Here is the window being rebuilt, with all new lead.  The missing sections were filled in using the salvaged glass that came from the original building.  Sometimes when there has been extensive damage across a series of windows, it makes sense to sacrifice one (or more) of the worst to use for parts.  Depending on the needs of the project, the eliminated old windows might be replaced with new stained glass to mimic the look of the old, or simply replaced with new clear glass window units.    IMG_0618

Here is the releaded panel, shown just before soldering.  To keep within the budget, I made a few concessions that would not generally be done on a more involved restoration project.  First of all, although all the replacement glass comes from the original building, it was not available in the full range of colors that were needed.  That is the reason for the paler amber piece in the center.  Secondly, I used lead from my existing stock, rather than ordering a special profile that would have perfectly matched the original.  The width of the lead face is the same as the old, but it is a round profile where the original was flat.  This may not seem like a huge difference, but in the past I’ve worked on restoration projects with such strict specs that a new lead that was two hundredths of an inch (that’s 0.02″!)  wider than the original was unacceptable.  When the money–and the desire–exists, custom dies can be produced to match the original in every measurement and shape.  In many everyday situations, though, that simply isn’t a viable option.  Thirdly, I used through leads to manage the broken pieces.  This is also a sensible choice, considering both budget and restoration standards.  If a new lead can be added where there is a break, without removing extra glass, it’s the fastest, easiest way to make the window whole and sound, without taking away any of the original glass.  The only downside is the relatively noticeable addition of an extra line, but when it is used in a narrow border as in this window, it can still look fairly subtle. Other repair options would include copper foiling the broken sections together, or using a conservation-grade epoxy.  Both methods are more time consuming than using a through lead, and in this case would not have provided a huge advantage visually.  What is also important about all of these repair methods is that they can be reversed, if better repair techniques are available in the future.

IMG_0622Just out of curiosity, I pulled some color samples (front row, with labels) out of one of my glass sample sets, to see how closely I might be able to match the range of olive greens.  I’d say that’s not too shabby!  The only problem is that this particular type of glass is so expensive that a sheet of it costs about the same as this entire project, start to finish.  <sigh>  I’ll keep an eye out for more inexpensive glass in these same colors, but it simply may not exist.  In the end, though this project had certain limitations, I was still able to produce a sound, sturdy panel, sized perfectly for its opening, and ready to take on many decades of new life.

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The rebuilt panel, back in its frame.