Thursday, June 09, 2005

Stained Glass Art Life Learning Paper

Receives top marks for this one too! The evaluating professor really enjoy it.

Art Appreciation - Stained Glass

I. Concrete Experience

My mother is a very artistic person who made sure her children learned about art and aesthetics. As a child, I was taught painting, drawing, ceramics and various textile arts. My father was more into computers and science, but he, too, had an artistic side which he expressed through the lens of a camera. He also taught us candle-making and leather work. We were encouraged to explore art as well as science and my father liked to show his children how lens and filters affected light and color.

Being a family that appreciated the arts and the sciences, we did make a point of visiting places like the Denver Art Museum and the nearby Natural History Museum, as well as several historical sites when we lived in Aurora, Colorado. My parents usually made sure that one of them was a parent chaperone when our classes went on field trips to a museum. This instilled a respect for art, science and history that exist in my siblings and I even to this day.

Throughout my exposure to art, my greatest fascination has always been glass. In high school, I tried to do a science project on the affects of lead on the properties of glass. Unfortunately at that time, I did not know enough about glass manufacturers to find the samples I needed for my project, so I ended up purifying water instead. When I entered college, I studied chemically engineering because none of the universities within the geographical boundaries my parents had set for me offered ceramic engineering, which would have allowed me to specialize in glass.

It was not until I was married and had taught my exhusband how to do ceramics that I began to actually work in stained glass myself. We taught ourselves with the help of a PBS program and some pointers from a local hobby merchant. We made many projects. The front door of my parents' house in Norman, Oklahoma, has a window I specifically made for my mother. My siblings all have three dimensional works from me, from stained glass bass fiddle statuettes to houses that are light by votive candles. Most of the stained glass technique books and the good equipment we had back then stayed with my exhusband. I do have a few books, mostly on soldering and glass bead making, in storage. It has only been in the last few years that I have been able to purchase the supplies I need to pursue this art form again. Sadly, the limitations of time and space have kept me from actually doing any large pieces, but I have taught my children how to do stained glass and my daughter has a natural skill for it.

II. Observations and Reflections

My first hands on experience with stained glass design would have to be during eighth grade in my English classroom. My English teacher, Ms. Perry taught me one very important thing in her class - it doesn't matter what scores you make on an IQ test, if you don't evaluate your own thoughts and actions, you will make some really stupid decisions. I had already formulated this conclusion when she gave me detention for not getting my homework done on time. The detention wasn't the problem. I had been having problems getting the work done because my mother had been sick and as the oldest child, I was taking care of my siblings. I don't remember if I told her why I wasn't getting my homework done, but I might not have. I was very quiet back then and she was an aggressive person who has already ignored my complaint about being seated at the very back of the class, behind a large guy who I couldn't see around. She insisted on alphabetical order seating and with the surname of “Barncord”, I had to sit behind Alan Armstrong. Luckily, Alan and I worked a system out between us so I could see the chalkboard. Still, I was more than a little disgusted when she kept me after school and then would not let me work on my homework so I wouldn't be late with it too. I sat there for several minutes thinking about everything I had to do when I got home and how I now had even less time to do everything in, when Ms. Perry asked me if I would do an art project for her. She wanted stained glass-like effect covering the florescent light fixtures above her desk and since I had shown so much creativity in my poetry and other writings, she thought I could do that for her. So I took the tissue paper and black construction paper and create an abstract design using what I learned from my parents about color combinations and visual balance. I was so pleased with the results that I was able to swallow my resentment towards Ms. Perry, though I still thought she was too wrapped up in her own vision of the world to actually see what was going on around her. I received detention the next week for the same reason and did another light for her.

Mom got better and I didn't serve any further detentions for Ms. Perry. So I had the time to join an after school art club, but nothing to do with stained glass or similar art. It is strange that for the life of me, I cannot remember the names of any of my art teachers. I can remember their faces and many of the things I learned in their classes, but I can't remember their names. I do remember one high school world history teacher when I was living in Texas, Sylvia Butler, who used the development of art to show us how the events of history shaped the way people made things and expressed themselves. She had travelled the world and taken the most wonderful photographs of art, which she would show slides of in class. It was in her class I was first exposed to some of the basics of glass working and stained glass. I wonder if my art teachers had done something more stained glass-like, if perhaps I would have stronger memories of them. Physical science, chemistry and physics classes enticed me further into the world of glass and light. I do remember the names of all my science teachers who taught about light, crystals and glass, but none of my life science teachers' names. I never realized I had such a focused interest in light until now. I suppose it should come as no surprise that my childhood hero was Thomas Alva Edison.

I tried to have my own collection of glass art, but between younger siblings and my own lack of coordination as a teen, most of it ended up broken. But that didn't deter me, even if Mom thought it should. I wanted to work with glass. I decided I wanted to be a ceramic engineer, because not only would I be working with glass, I would actually be able to make my own glass. However, due to my braces, my parents restricted the range of colleges I could attend and none of those offered ceramic engineering. So I went to Texas Tech University and studied chemical engineering.

Because of finances, I quit college and got a job as a flexible packaging quality assurance lab technician with Frito-Lay's National Quality Lab. Polymers are not exactly glass, but I did enjoy working with the materials and because of my art knowledge, I was put in charge of a color correlation project, which allowed me to learn more about the science of color. I learned how light affected colors and the perception of them. My main task was to compare to different types of color spectrometers and see which was more accurate and easier to use. The Hunter Laboratory unit won out because it was designed to test printed materials, while the Pacific Scientific unit was designed to test automobile paint. Because the Pacific Scientific machine used fiber optics instead of a direct light source to illuminate the product, the ultraviolet end of the spectrum was missing, which lead to some inaccurate readings since there are several fluorescing inks used in the packaging industry. Due of the differing light sources, we had a metamerization effect, a difference in color due to illumination, where there shouldn't have been one.

Somewhere along the way, I decided that color science and flexible packaging were the closest I was going to get to my dream of working with glass. I dealt with color, light and varying degrees of opacity, translucence and transparency. And I didn't have to worry about breaking anything. It wasn't quite as exciting or inspiring as working with actual glass, but we can't have everything, right? I decided to be content and focus on more pressing needs and concerns. When the urge to work with glass raised its head, I sedated it by making some jewelry with fancy beads I bought from a nearby jewelry wholesaler. A pair of earrings, a few necklaces and I could go on with life. Even sold some of my creations to my fellow lab technicians.

The approach served me well for several years. I got married, had a child and became a stay at home mom. My exhusband and I started to take ceramic classes together. We even went as far as getting our own kiln and pouring our own greenware by the time we had our second child. Our family and friends loved our creations. My sister Geneva, who is always very picky about what she displays in her house, still has some of my pieces in her living room. One day, my exhusband and I were watching our regular PBS shows, when a show on stained glass came on. I sighed and said I had always wanted to work with stained glass. He said that he didn't see any reason why we couldn't do it. We had just starting slumping glass in our kiln. Why not expand to doing stained glass?

We did some searching in the phone book and found a hobby shop that specialized in coin collections and stained glass. Strange combination, but the owner was a wealth of information. Not only did we find out that Hobby Lobby had glass and some of the basic tools, but we also found out about a professional glass shop just outside of the town we were living in, which also carried stained glass supplies. This shop was wonderful. They not only carried the brass accessory kits and beveled accents, but they also had a large selection of stained glass, including some very fancy glass, to choose from. They also had available a free monthly stained glass newsletter from another company that was full of ideas and tips.

We made several stained glass pieces for gifts for our large extended family over the years. Though we both tried our hands at several projects, my exhusband preferred doing windows and suncatchers, while I enjoyed doing three dimensional houses and sculptures. We did get some lead came, but I never made pieces large enough to make using came practical. I stuck with copper foil. Working with stained glass was more than a dream come true. It was and still is a spiritual experience. I cannot think of many things that can compare to the sight of light interacting with one of my projects. Especially when the unexpected happens.

When I chose the glass for my first stained glass house, I reasoned that using translucent and very dark transparent glass would give me the best results from a lighted candle inside. Excited with the finished piece, I put a lit votive candle inside and turned off the lights. All you could see was the candle, a vague hint of color and the solder/foil skeleton of the house. Surprisingly, my sister Geneva has this piece on display in her kitchen. Having a “ghost house” amuses her, though she rarely lights a candle inside it. I still feel a little sheepish about the experience, because had I thought about it, I would have realized that Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright probably used a predominance opaque glass in their lampshades for a very good reason. To date, I personally have only come across one glass sample that was so opaque that no light would shine through it.

When it comes to the interaction of light and glass, probably one of my most interesting piece of stained glass is the window I created for my parents' house in Norman, Oklahoma. Because of my mother's love of irises, I designed a piece with three irises in arranged in the Japanese “Earth-Man-Heaven” motif and made each iris out of glass with differing transparencies. Depending on the time of day and the direction of the light, one of the irises will seem to disappear into the background. Front lit directly, the dark transparent purple iris becomes difficult to see. Back lit directly, the pink opaque iris becomes so dark that it is out shown by the other two. But at dawn and twilight, when there is soft light coming from both directions, it's the semi-transparent iris that takes a back seat. At first, my mother told me I had made a mistake with my glass choices, but now she loves the fact its appearance changes throughout day.

When my exhusband and I divorced, he kept all the good equipment and a lot of the nice glass. I was annoyed, but it wasn't worth fighting over. I finally bought my own set of good tools a couple of years back and last year I taught my teenage children how to do stained glass too. I do miss working with it, but I just can't dedicate the time to it right now.

III. Abstract Concepts and Generalizations

When deciding on stained glass for a project, one should keep in mind how light is going to enter the piece. What type of light will be illuminating it? Where is the light source? How far will it be from the glass? In most cases, the answers to these questions are very easy to determine. If the piece is dependent on outside natural light, like a suncatcher or a window, then transparent and translucent glass pieces are the best to use, since opaque glass won't show its color as readily. If the piece is going to be lit by an internal light source, like a lamp shade or stained glass house, then opaque and slightly translucent glass pieces work much better, as they will show color without showing the light source itself. However, one can use more transparent or even clear glass as accents, such as windows in a house, where seeing the light source actually gives more depth to the piece. It is always a good idea when choosing glass to hold it up towards a light source to get some idea of its actual light transmitting properties. In pieces that will only be front illuminated, like statuettes, opaque glass and streaked glass are good choices.

For most designs to be effective on a visible level, there should be some contrast for the eye. This can be achieved in several ways in stained glass pieces. The easiest way is by choosing colors that vary in lightness and darkness. A clear glass background in windows and suncatchers allows most designs to be recognizable. Another way is using textured or iridescent glass and there is always using glass of different transparencies. No matter the way contrast is achieved, it is important to have some balance in the piece - places that interest the eye and other places that allows the eye to rest.

A good way to transfer a pattern to the glass is to make several paper copies of the pattern. Cut the pieces out of one copy and use a glue stick to fix to the glass. Special scissors can be used to cut enough off the pattern parts to compensate for the foil or came joints, unless it is a professional pattern which has already been altered. The other copies are used to during the assembling of the pieces later. Paint pens can also be used, but the paint may come off during the grinding process and this technique can be hard to do with some opaque glass. It is essential to keep track of which pieces are which to ensure proper assembly.

Cutting glass is a misleading term. What actually is being done is a controlled breaking of the glass. First, the glass is scored with with a glass cutter. A pistol grip glass cutter is the easiest type to use. Not only does it have a reservoir for mineral oil to lubricate the scoring part, but its design allows a steadier and more even scoring of the glass. When using a simple glass cutter, the craftsperson has to keep the scoring wheel coated with mineral oil and be more careful of how they hold the cutter. Even with good scoring of the glass, there is a limit to how much of a curve that can be cut at one scoring. Arcs over ninety degrees are just asking for trouble. Internal curves are especially difficult. It is a good idea to design the pieces to have shallow curves. If a inside curve must be done, then chipping away the glass with grozier pliers or using a diamond dust embedded grinder or band saw must be used. Corners are done by more than one cut. When glass is cut, the break must continue to the edge. This fact must be considered when laying out pattern pieces.

Even pressure must be applied when scoring the glass. Slow, smooth and steady are the keys to good scoring. This is achieved best by scoring while standing at a table and holding the glass cutter firmer. One can either score away from one's self (pushing) or towards one's self (pulling). While sometimes the scoring line is nearly invisible, often the break line becomes very easy to see. A visible line is a good sign of a clean scoring. Chipping the glass while scoring is not good, because the internal stress line of the glass may no longer be following the score line. Glass is actually a super-cooled liquid and as such, behaves differently than most materials. When cutting from the edge of the glass sheet, it might be necessary to rescore at the very edge. Once the scoring has been been done, then the glass is snapped using either running pliers or a broad fulcrum.

Speciality glasses should usually be scored on the smoothest or untreated side. It is a good idea to do a few practice pieces to find out how the glass will react. Some speciality glass is prone to flaking and other annoying tendencies while cutting. While is it always a good idea to buy more glass than might be needed, it is doubly so for specialty glass, even if they cost a great deal more. Better to plan ahead for mishaps, than to lose an investment in fine glass. Not all speciality glass is more expensive, however. Clear glue-chip glass is usually cheaper than even most plain stained glass. Leftover glass pieces can be used in other pieces or to make cement stepping stones using molds found several hobby stores. In fact, some hobby stores with sell packages of glass broken in the store at a greatly reduced price to customers.

Once the glass has been cut, it should be ground to remove any rough spots and give a slightly textured surface on the edges. Though there are stones one can use for hand-grinding the edges, a motorized grinder is the best tool for the job. The actual grinding is done by diamond dust embedded cylinders. The surface of the grinder is a plastic grid in a shallow tray of water. A sponge behind the grinding cylinder keeps water supplied to the grinding surfaces, making things run smoother. Because of the rough edges on the glass, care should be take not to cut the fingers. Rubber thumbs and finger tips from any office supply store will not only protect, but also give much greater control and are much easier to use than the plastic guards often sold for the purpose. Unless one is trying to create an inside curve, the glass should never stay in one place against the cylinder while grinding. Grinding should be done in a steady back and forth, horizontal motion. The pressure against the cylinder should be firm, but not too hard. A light touch is better than a hard one, though it may require more time to remove the necessary glass. It is still possible to chip and crack the glass at this stage. While a good idea during glass cutting too, eye protection is especially important during grinding, as glass dust is sprayed everywhere. After use, the grinder should be cleaned of glass dust build up and dried off.

Another consideration during constructing a work of stained glass is the size of the total piece. Lead or non-lead cames, channeled metal used for joining glass sections, are for large pieces that need more strength and stability within the piece. In very large pieces, it may be necessary to add wire or rods going through the height of the piece to give it structural integrity. Small pieces are better done with the copper foil method, because came can be hard to fit around tiny sections of glass. It some cases, the came will obscure a tiny piece completely. Some stained glass artists will used both methods in the same piece of work. When using the copper foil method, it is important to make sure the edges of the pieces have been ground down evenly and washed clean of dust or the adhesive on the foil will not stick well. The adhesive is not what holds the piece together in the end, but it makes the fitting and smoothing down of the copper using the fid, a plastic tool used for smoothing foil and clearing out came channels, much easier to do. If done right, the wrinkles in the copper foil will be worked into the metal and appear to be fused onto the glass. Then liquid flux is applied to the foil and the pieces are soldered together. When putting together copper foiled pieces, it is recommended that the pieces be pinned into place on cork board, using small horse nails to hold them into place while soldering. Three dimensional pieces can be held in place with metal or wooden blocks. For pieces like Tiffany lamp recreations, there are special forms that can be bought and used to help solder the pieces into place.

There are several types of copper foil, in differing widths. While the width of the copper foil often depends on the width of the glass being used, sometimes it is advisable to use a thinner width for tiny pieces to give them more exposed area. In general, though, there should be about an eighth inch overlap on the front and back of the glass piece or larger ones will fall out of the finished work. Normal copper foil is adequate for most projects, but when using transparent and clear glass, one should think ahead and consider the color of the solder in the final piece. If it is not going to be stained with a copper patina, then a silver-backed or black-backed copper foil should be used to keep the copper color along the inside edges of the glass from spoiling the finished piece.

Came construction is a bit different. First, lead came must be stretched before it is used. It isn't necessary to have the edges completely smoothed, but it is still a good idea from a safety standpoint. With came, one must notch and work the metal around one piece of glass and then the adjoining pieces are set in the channel and encircled with more came. Only the joints of the came need to be fluxed and soldered. After the soldering is done, the piece is usually cemented and waterproofed.

In both methods, one can treat the piece with a patina to stain the metal through an oxidation reaction. Black is a common patina, though copper, brass and green patinas are also available. Some liquid dish detergent may be needed to remove any excess flux on the glass and metal before applying the patina with a clean flux brush. Because of its toxicity, patinas should be handled with care and the finished work should be washed thoroughly. It is possible to add some interest by applying patina to only parts of the metal joints. In any case, it should be remembered that the lead and solder will oxidizing on their own as time goes by, even if a patina is not applied.

When soldering glass pieces together, it takes a soldering iron that generates more heat and is sturdier than the irons used for electronics. Most people use a rheostat with their soldering irons to control the temperature. However, it is possible to control the iron temperature with a wet sponge and a light touch, but it takes practice to master this technique. Far easier to use the iron with a rheostat, which also allows one to create special designs with the solder, like beads and stippling.

Beveled pieces, glass stones and brass adornments can add a great deal to a piece. Beveled glass can be used in came pieces, but stones and brass are usually used in copper foil pieces. In the foiling method, beveled glass and glass stones are treated like normal glass pieces. Brass ornaments are soldered on top of the foiled pieces. One can make their own brass accents using filigrees or cutting from a sheet of brass or copper. Care must be taken to avoid being burned during the soldering process. Very interesting three dimensional flowers can be created by heating already cut pieces in a kiln to slump them before assembling them on top of brass rods. Non-lead solders and cames are available for those who wish to avoid lead or are making a piece that will be touched by human or animal on a regular basis. Many stained glass birdhouse designs specify using non-lead solder and aluminum came for their construction for the health of the birds that may use them.

While this paper presents several tips for improving the final result, it is important to remember that stained glass as a medium is delight to view even with a few flaws. The average hobbyist can find a great deal of satisfaction even without being careful about the design. There are few things as awe-inspiring as showing a piece of stained glass made by one's own hands.

IV. Applications to New Situations

I have every intention of getting back into creating stained glass arts as soon as my resources allow it. I wish to create pieces that bring a spark of awe and joy to the soul and display them in my home and future office when I become and art therapist. I also want to finish that stained glass village my sister Serena wants, as well as continue to create unusual pieces for my sister Geneva. I might even build that stained glass model train module I envisioned once many years ago. I hope to continue to teach my children the art of stained glass. Someday, I may expand into making my own glass beads and other forms of glass art. I will probably never learn to blow glass and create art like Dale Chihuly, but I plan to someday live in Wimberley, Texas, near the Wimberley Glassworks, where I can still enjoy the beauty of blown glass whenever I desire.

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