The first step in making one of my stained glass panels is a free-hand sketch. I then do a full sized drawing on velum, starting with the dimension of my exterior lead lines, then the interior lead lines and then all the designs that I will be sandblasting into and painting onto the glass. Using colored pencils I start identifying what glasses I’ll use.
Using carbon paper, I trace over the lead lines and transfer them onto heavy drawing paper. When I cut the drawing paper apart I have a pattern for each piece of glass I’ll need to cut.
I use a hand-blown glass called flashed glass. It is glass that is made with a veneer of color on top of clear or another color. This technique in glass making was initially used to save money on expensive pigments, but what I can do is sandblast part of the top layer of glass off.
Using a light box I trace the designs that I’ve drawn on the full sized drawing or ‘layout’ onto contact paper. I adhere each piece of contact paper to the corresponding piece of glass that I’ve cut, and then using a blade I cut into the contact paper and remove parts of it. The parts of the glass that are unprotected by the contact paper will be sand blasted off. After the initial sandblasting I remove more contact paper and do a second and sometimes a third sandblasting to get lighter tones.
Sandblasting leaves a very matte finish, kind of like a piece of sea glass. This kind of finish is impossible to keep clean, so after sandblasting I fire polish all of the pieces in a ceramics kiln. After fire polishing I paint the glass using glass paints and high fire enamels. I use my drawings as a guide, but there is usually a lot of freehand involved in this step. The glass paints are made with silica so the pieces go into the kiln again and the colors get fired into the surface of the glass and are permanent. If I use more than one color of paint, the piece of glass will get fired each time.
Some of the panels I make are two layers of glass thick. These panels have two pieces of glass cut for each pattern piece and they will both have different patterns sandblasted into them. They will also sometimes both be painted. Once I have all my pieces cut, sandblasted and fired there are a few more steps that the double layer panels require. First I have to make sure that the two pieces of glass that will be stacked fit together very well. Then I take each pair and wrap the edges with an adhesive copper foil. This keeps the two pieces perfectly aligned and prevents dirt and glazing compound from leaking between them.
Once all of my pieces of glass are ready, hopefully nothing broke in the kiln and I’m happy with the way they look, its time to glaze the panel together. I use lead came, a centuries old method of construction. The lead comes in many different sizes and looks like a tiny I beam, with a channel on each side that the glass sits in. Using my layout I piece the panel together like a puzzle, starting from the center using horse-shoeing nails to tack it as I go. Once it’s together and the outside leads are on I solder all the joints.
I use a glazing compound mixed with a black pigment to waterproof my panels. The waterproofing gets shoved under each lead to fill up the space between the glass and the lead. This helps to strengthen the panel and make it rigid and also helps to darken the leads giving them a slightly oxidized looking petina.
The final step is mounting each panel into a frame.