Painting Techniques in a Historical Context
Detail of Peckitt's Alma Mater window depicting King George III at
the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge
Stained glass painting techniques have not changed dramatically since the
earliest known examples of the craft back in 9th century Germany. Today,
as then, the first stage is the production of a full size working drawing.
Using this drawing as a template, the glass is selected and cut, and each
piece of glass is individually painted using glass paint. The paint is then
fired into the surface by heating the glass to approximately 650° centigrade
in a furnace. When all of the glass has been painted it is assembled into
panels by bending 'H' section strips of lead around the pieces of glass
and soldering the strips together where they meet.
Broadly speaking this has been the process over the past ten centuries.
There have however, been several innovations, particularly in techniques
of glass painting, which have both enriched and added to the variety of
stained glass that can be appreciated today.
Some of the techniques available in the medieval period were recorded by
Theophilus, a 12th century German monk who was also a glass painter. He
talked of the various metal oxides used in the production of different coloured
glasses. He also detailed the production of 'flash' glass, a thin layer
of coloured glass on top of a clear glass substrate, and described the process
of removing areas of the thin coloured 'flash' using an abrasive wheel,
which has the effect of achieving both a colour and white on a single piece
of glass. These basic methods of production are still used today, although
the flash is seldom abraded in the same way: modern techniques include etching
with hydrofluoric acid and sand blasting. With parchment then a rare and
valuable commodity, Theophilus and his contemporaries drew up their designs
on whitewashed tables. As paper and parchment became more accessible this
procedure was abandoned.
A glass painter tracing on a light table
In medieval stained
glass manufacture, the design was painted directly onto the coloured glass
panes, adding monochrome detail to a coloured base. The colour of the paint
itself was dependent on the amount and type of oxide used in its production,
but was usually black or brown. Until the 14th century the paintwork seen
on glass was predominantly applied by brush, with some further working with
sticks, quills and stiff coarse brushes once the paint had dried. This is
sometimes referred to as the smear technique, and it produced quite coarse
A 14th century development in glass painting technique was the use of the
badger hair brush. This is a broad brush (some modern badger hair brushes
are 5'' wide) which is used as a dry brush on wet paint to soften the paint
effect and remove application brush marks. Frequently the badger brush was
also used to achieve a 'stippled' paint effect by pouncing the wet paint.
This allowed the painter to achieve a more refined appearance. Another addition
to the glass painter's repertoire was 'silver stain'. In the early 14th
century it was discovered that applying a compound of silver onto the glass
and then firing it would stain the glass anything from a pale lemon colour
to a deep orange colour. This discovery revolutionised stained glass. Suddenly
there were lots of new possibilities: for the first time colour could be
applied to the glass and controlled depending on the firing temperature
and thickness of the application. While the paintwork was confined to the
side of the glass that faced inwards, the silver stain was applied to the
outside face of the glass.
Detail of some Kempe paintwork from one of the North aisle windows at
All Saints Church, Leighton Buzzard
By the 16th century, enamels - coloured paints made from coloured metal
oxides, ground glass and a flux (usually lead oxide or borax), mixed with
water and gum arabic or lavender oil, and fired onto the surface of the
glass - were available to the glass painter. With such a large number of
colours now possible on a single piece of glass, a trend developed to produce
large windows using rectangular pieces of glass that had been painted, stained
and enamelled (see main illustration at top of page). No longer was the designer bound by the strict constraints
of leading off each and every piece of glass of a different colour. This
trend endured until the early 19th century. Two artists who grew to prominence
in this period were the van Linge brothers, Abraham and Bernard. Abraham
tended to work the paint quite vigorously for dramatic effect, whereas Bernard
had a slightly softer approach to glass painting.
As the 19th century progressed there was a revival of interest in the gothic
arts and the majority of designers reverted to the medieval techniques of
producing mosaic stained glass, leading off separate colours. Different
paint techniques and effects were employed within these various design styles,
and were generally reliant on the media with which the paint was mixed.
Historically the liquids that hold the glass paint in suspension cannot
always be accurately determined, but from the styles of painting some educated
guesses can be made about the carrying liquids used.
Detail of some Clayton & Bell paintwork
from the Chapel Studio
Traditionally, the first
stage in the painting process is to paint on the line work. This is done
using a thick paint mixture. The painter will lay the glass over the working
drawing and trace the line work onto the glass. Very often the traced paintwork
will be left to dry thoroughly for a day or so and then other layers of
paint will be laid over this line work and so the painting is built up.
In this procedure, it is necessary to add a fixative to the paint to prevent
it from lifting or smudging when the successive layers of paint are applied.
Common additions for this purpose are gum arabic, vinegar and sugar. Vinegar
is particularly effective and holds the trace line very well and it also
aids the flow of paint from the brush to the glass, allowing for some delicate
tracing. If the glass painter was reluctant to risk the trace line being
adversely affected by paint laid on top of it, he could kiln fire the trace
line before any further painting.
Detail of Christopher Whall's paintwork from the tower window, Church
of the Holy Cross, Sarrat
The successive layers
of paint (known as matting paint) are usually mixed in a water and gum arabic
medium. Varying the amount of gum allows differing effects to be achieved.
Kempe, for example, would apply quite a dense layer of matting paint over
all of the glass, then use the badger brush to give the paint a heavy stipple.
This would then be worked using hog's hair brushes and needles to remove
paint from the highlighted areas. Frequently the needles would not only
remove the matting paint but also scratch into the trace paint, giving a
lot of contrast to the artwork and producing a crisp effect. In contrast,
John Hall & Sons would use a slightly tighter stipple and their glass
painters employed minimal use of hog's hair brushes when painting heads,
hands and feet. Instead they would predominantly use needles to laboriously
remove the paint where it wasn't wanted. This gave very precise effects
on the flesh tones. When they came to paint the drapery, however, they would
almost exclusively use the hog's hair brushes.
In several of the Victorian
studios, glass painters used their hands to rub the stippled paint after
it had dried so that the paint began to loosen and pores opened up on the
paint surface. This loosened paint was then worked with hog's hair brushes.
Varying the weight of paint, the gum content and the coarseness of the stipple
would all have varying effects on the size of the pores that developed under
the pressure of the hand rub.
|Carl Parsons' cartoon
from the Chapel Studio collection
Many Clayton & Bell windows were characterised
by a delicate, controlled opening up of the paint under hand pressure, an
effect achieved by using a wet loose stipple, medium weight of paint and
medium/heavy gum composition. To increase and deepen the soft dappled effect
the same matting process was done on the back of the glass. In contrast,
many painters of the Arts and Crafts movement such as Christopher Whall
Parsons would use a denser
matting paint with a heavier gum content. This was then rubbed vigorously
to create pronounced textures in the paint, which were then further worked
using hog's hair brushes, quills and needles. This paint style, combined
with the rich antique glasses used in the Arts and Crafts period, resulted
in some very free, expressive and at times dramatic stained glass. To convey
the desired effect to the glass painter these designers tended to draw up
their full sized cartoons (working drawings) on textured cartridge paper
using charcoal which gave some similar effects to the paint style.
Many of the Victorian
studios would not restrict themselves to just one trace paint and one
layer of matting paint. Sometimes they used a vinegar trace overlaid with
two water and gum arabic matts (the second matt just starting to lift
and blend with the first matt) and then a lavender oil matt laid over
the top of the two water matts. Few glass painters employ such a bold
and confident attitude to glass painting these days, and with modern kiln
technology and relatively rapid firing times consider it safer and more
expedient to fire the glass at the various in-between stages.
This article is reproduced fromHistoric Churches, 2000
ANDERSON is a glass painter at Chapel Studio and may be contacted
on 01923 266386.
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