How do you cut the glass? How do you put it together? Do you make your designs? Better than telling you, I thought I ‘d show you. As I was creating a new custom designed candle lantern, I grabbed my camera and took some video so I could share the story along the way.
It’s not a long story and steps are straightforward. The process of creating a new glass design usually looks something like this:
- Draw some sketches
- Complete a pattern on the computer
- Pick out the glass
- Cut the pieces
- Cut the lead and assemble
- Add the finish touches, including Patina
Only six steps. Easy. Not always. Let me walk you through the details of each step of the journey.
The Old Sketch Pad
The first step in creating any new piece is to figure out what I’m going to make. I usually turn to books or pictures to draw inspiration. For this lantern, I grabbed a copy of one of Dennis J. Casey’s books on prairie style glass and thumbed through it looking for patterns or design elements that caught my eye. I found one particular pattern that was based on one of Wright’s plant motifs that I liked. I had an idea to make a table centerpiece for the Christmas season with reds and greens, and that is where the idea started.
With a few concepts in mind, I grabbed a pad of paper and drew out some rough sketches. While I’m not a great artist with a pencil, I like the physical process of committing ideas to paper. I like to draw a page or two of different concepts or ideas until I land on a general theme or idea that seems to be in the direction I want to go.
Glass Design in the Digital World
After I had a concept that I was happy with I turned to Glass Eye 200o to create a pattern. Glass Eye 2000 lets me create a quick layout, usually in just a few minutes. I use my time in front of the computer working on the design to also check for potential problem areas that might come up while I’m making the piece.
Finally, I like to use Glass Eye to test out a few color palette options. I try to visualize how I’ll piece together the final work. When I’ve got something I’m finally happy with, I print a pattern and head to the workshop.
Selecting Glass Colors
Next up I chose my glass colors. I’ll usually go into the design process with some sort of idea of what I want the final piece to look like. Even so, I don’t settle on the glass until I’m in the workshop.
More than once I’ve picked a color I think I like and I’ll cut a piece and put it in place, and it just doesn’t look right. So much of the process is about holding your art glass up the light, next to the other colors you want to use in your design and picking what looks right.
The most time-consuming element of any piece is cutting the glass. Cutting squares and rectangles is quick and easy. It’s similar to cutting a pizza. You’ve got what looks like a small pizza cutter, you score the glass, and then crack it off.
All it takes is a few measurements from the pattern, and in no time I can line up my cutting guides and have pieces cut out and ready to go.
When you get into irregular shapes or more complex angles, then the cutting starts to slow down. Paper patterns become a necessity. Tracing or pasting patterns to glass and then cutting a final shape takes time and effort. In most cases, the scores and breaks done with a glass cutter and running pliers isn’t the end of it. I’ll often turn to the glass grinder to finish an edge or get a more exact line for a final piece.
As each piece is cut and sized, I lay it out on the paper pattern, and the design is visible for the first time. While I’d love to assume I’ll have every piece cut perfectly, I know I’ll be back to the grinder for final adjustments when I am assembling the glass panel.
With most panels and ornaments I cut lead piece-by-piece. I take measurements from the pattern and use a set of lead nippers to cut the lead came to length. Leading up glass is part art and part science. Measurements rule, but the reality of glass gets in the way. Sometimes things don’t fit just as you had hoped and you might have to go back to the grinder to make a minor adjustment to a piece of glass.
If things don’t fit perfectly, that’s okay too. Soldering allows a little leeway to cover up mistakes as long as you’re careful. Soldering is the last step in the process before I’ll have a fully assembled piece to hold up to the light.
Applying a Patina
The untreated lead came, and solder has a shiny new look to it. Most glass artists tend to apply a chemical based patina that will introduce an aged look to the lead came. If you’ve seen dull, dark, almost black lead came, it was likely treated.
Applying a patina takes just a few minutes. A quick swipe of the lead came with a Q-tip and a patina mixture, and you’ve got an aged look. Then the art glass piece will make a final trip to the sink where I’ll clean it up and get it ready for display.
And there you have it. All the steps needed to make a piece of art. If you’d like to see more of my creations check out my gallery page.