Tag Archives: teaching

So you’d like to really get in to making stained glass?

There’s no question – stained glass can be beautiful to look at and enjoyable to make.

The popularity of Vitreus Art’s one-day beginners classes tells us that there are plenty of you out there who fancy having a go.
And the fact that our 5-day courses sell out each year suggests that some of you want to develop your skills or work on substantial projects in a learning environment.

So what advice would we give to someone aiming to build on basic skills, and what learning progressions are available to the student?

We know from our own experience, and from observing how some of our own students have progressed, that there are three areas to think about when discussing this sort of learning process.

  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Learn by doing, but with feedback
  • Design your own projects

Let’s look at these in turn, starting with…

 What do you want to achieve?

We often ask our students this – it’s a great way to open any conversation with a student and the range of answers is wide!

For example, some are considering getting in to stained glass as a lifestyle business; I guess they’ve seen our fleet of Lamborghinis outside the gallery and correctly guess stained glass is a path to riches!

Others seek a stimulating artistic hobby, while others yet have a specific project – replace a window in their home is a common project.

The other aspect to this question is – how good do you want to get?
Good enough to make that window, good enough to sell work at galleries or craft shows, good enough even, to make a living?

It’s eminently possible to have fun making stained glass without some higher purpose, and really – you can get as good as you want.
But to get to a standard where you can sell your work – that takes more practice.

It’s also necessary to have an understanding of failure modes so that you don’t sell pieces that will fall apart.
A common issue of this kind is soldering hanging loops to the foil on the edge of a piece; it won’t be long before the foil comes away from the edge of the glass as there’s only the adhesive on the back of the foil to keep it there, and that ain’t that strong!
Better to solder your loops in to a bead (a solder line between two adjoining glass sections).

Or for leaded pieces, a long stretch of U came around the edge of a piece with no joining H cames will also come away from the edge of the glass, no matter how well cemented. Again, don’t solder hanging loops to these cames. Solder them to corners, or to H cames where they meet an edge came.
And we suggest you use silicone glue to secure that long piece of U came to the edge – like on a mirror, for example.

These sorts of tips are often shared in our workshops – we’re always happy to exchange ideas and make suggestions.

If your goal is more lofty than just ‘I want to make glass for fun’ then some business acumen is desirable – and if you’d like to make a living creating glasswork then it’s essential, along with marketing, accounting and selling skills. A realistic perspective on how good your work currently is will help in the long run, even if it seems a bit harsh right now.

Take a look at the work on sale at good craft shows, watch other artists at work if you can (open studios are a good opportunity for this), and ask questions. How does the design, execution, presentation of the pieces you’re looking at compare with yours? Better? In what ways?

Be honest with yourself and don’t be disheartened to discover you’re not there yet – every successful artist and craftsperson had to start as a beginner!
Like all artists, Jenny and I made plenty of pieces while we were novices that wouldn’t pass muster. Even now, sometimes a piece doesn’t work out well enough to sell, but luckily that’s rare or we’d go out of business!

And this follows on to the next element – getting good enough to sell your work if that’s what you want to do, or good enough to make a window that doesn’t let in the rain!

Learn by doing, but with feedback

We’ve been watching the rise of the distance-learning programme for art and craft subjects for some years now.

Indeed, we’ve often thought about setting up our own online course – a structured system with pre-designed projects, each designed to help the student work on a particular aspect of stained glass. Maybe we’ll actually run a course like this one day!

For now, though, there are a few questions we don’t have answers to.

How does the student get real-time feedback on their progress, or on their techniques? I guess the student could send photos of work in progress and finished pieces or share in a closed group, but that just doesn’t seem to provide the degree (and kind) of feedback we like our students to have.

We really enjoy sitting with a student, talking through what they’re doing, showing, demonstrating, observing and providing constructive feedback.
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We also enjoy having our own work on display in our gallery – we can use pieces as examples of design features, setting a standard of execution, and, we hope, inspiring students on their journey.

We find that it’s so much more effective to give feedback and guidance as the student is working – this is giving feedback the student can use right there and then, rather than after a piece is finished and before the next one is started.

We’ve found, for example, that being able to watch a student position their glass cutter as they prepare to make a score allows us to help them adjust the angle, pressure and placement right there. I don’t know how we would work on that vital skill at a distance!

I could give dozens of examples of this kind of ‘up close and personal’ teaching but I’m sure you get the idea.

As students progress, and especially as they get really confident, or practice at home, we still offer a critique of their finished work at any time – and are always available to talk about displaying or mounting or framing their work too.

Both Jenny and I get a buzz from seeing work produced independently by students past and present.
And we take pride in the amazing pieces many of them have created – often using styles and techniques and materials we haven’t tried ourselves!

Design your own projects

Yes – design your own projects. They don’t have to be complex, or massive. They don’t have to follow a style, or an art era’s visual language, they just need to be yours, like this lovely window, made by Sally on a recent course with us in Porthleven.
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There are (literally) millions of projects to find on the internet, many made available free of charge by generous creators. These offer a great opportunity to develop the mechanical skills required for stained glass in your own time but before long you’ll want to make your own designs.

You’ll have to learn about cuts that are impossible or at least very hard to accomplish in glass, you’ll learn about design weaknesses resulting from lead or foil lines that cross the whole piece. You’ll have to learn about balance, colour, manipulating space and creating flow.

This post isn’t the place to teach these skills – they take time, and are often best acquired in the company of skilled tutors,

You could start with a main design element – like a rose or tree, or sun – and build a design around this – one way to design from scratch.
Study existing designs – why do the cut lines go where they do, how are the spaces and shapes balanced, do the proportions please the eye?

Read up on  golden ratios, learn how to draw circles, and find the centres of those circles (use the ‘box’ method – Google is your friend here), and get a book or two on the subject.

Maybe take elements from existing designs and incorporate them in to your own designs and discover how those elements themselves were created

And one further recommendation – learn to make those tricky scores work. Practice cutting deeper and deeper concaves, learn to cut circles accurately; this way your designs won’t have to be limited by your mechanical skills.

We often encounter novices who’ve avoided having to learn these skills by only making pieces with straight lines. Feel the fear and do it anyway!

If you lack confidence at first, use a flexi curve and a French curve, or circle stencils to develop abstract designs to make and thereby hone your skills. Some of the best stained glass we’ve seen was conceived this way. If it looks good and you enjoyed making it, nobody needs to know how you designed it in the first place!

Learning progressions with teachers – where Vitreus Art comes in!

We love what we do, and we want to help others get enjoyment from making stained glass.
This is the ethos behind out programme of classes and courses – take you from beginner to whatever level you aspire to reaching.

You won’t be surprised that  we suggest a beginner’s class to start with. In most counties you’ll find stained glass makers who offer classes – some off classes as an occasional adjunct to their main business while others (like Vitreus Art) run programmes of classes as an integral part of their operation.
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At the risk of appearing to sell you two classes where one might suffice, we usually recommend trying both traditional leading stained glass and then sampling the more modern ‘Tiffany’ or foiling  method. Unless you only intend to make foiled pieces we feel having at least a little competence in both methods hugely broadens the range of projects you can take on, as well as growing your appreciation of the history of stained glass, giving you more confidence in your abilities and aiding your understanding of the design constraints of stained glass.

But then what?

If you already have a project in mind you have two options with us –

If you’re feeling confident in your abilities you can hire a space to work in and the tools you’ll need by the day – as many days as you need to finish your project. These sessions are un-tutored but of course one of us will always be on hand to offer guidance or encouragement. You can buy your own materials or use ours, charged at cost.
Many of our students have made some fantastic work in this way and we like that way our gallery feels when students are working here!

If you’d like to combine working on your own design with a full workshop level of tuition, and with all the glass you’ll need provided, we offer weekend project workshops twice a year (and at other times by arrangement). We set a maximum size for your project in these courses to ensure you can achieve your aims without too much pressure!

We’re flexible about the kind of project you choose to work on  during our weekend workshop but we do ask that you’ll have done at least a beginner’s class in the method you’ll be using for your piece. We’re always happy to talk through your plans before you book to make sure you’re getting the best value from your course place.

And then we have our legendary 5 day courses – held in Porthleven, Cornwall and at our gallery-studio in Northamptonshire, near Milton Keynes.

Open to beginners and those with all levels of experience, these course give you the scope to tackle some really adventurous projects, or make a number of smaller pieces to develop a whole range of skills in one week.

On recent courses students have made projects ranging from highly complex mandala designs, to kaleidoscopes, to prairie-style 4-sided or 6-sided lamps, garden sculptures, windows of many shapes and sizes through to a life-size stained glass sheep to be displayed in the student’s garden!
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As with our weekend project workshops, our 5-day courses are fully tutored – and with a student to tutor ratio of 1:4 at the most there’s the scope for a really intensive learning experience.

Our course in Porthleven can be equally thought of as a artistic retreat, a creative holiday and a stained glass course!
We love teaching this course as the range of challenges our students bring to us broadens our own experience, and the environment of our studio right by the sea in a delightful Cornish fishing harbour inspires us as well as our students…

And back at our studio, our October 5-day course gives us the scope to host smaller class sizes for even more personal attention, usually for the most sophisticated projects. As with our other courses, we’ll work with you on your design in advance – to make sure it’s achievable and will withstand transport, hanging or mounting.

The final option for budding stained glass artists is to work with us to develop a programme of learning focused on achieving exactly what you want to achieve – which may involve exercises to develop skills, joint projects where we work with you on your project (like the 4 door windows below) or a weekly or monthly series of projects to test particular aspects of the art (and craft) or stained glass.
Dscf0733So there we have it – if you want to get in to stained glass – for a hobby, to make a project with sentimental significance, for your home, or even to sell, get in touch and we’ll help you get started on your journey!

Mike

 

 

 

 

Designing it and making it – commission a piece of stained glass and do all the hard work too!

Deb and Mick with the completed windows, installed by Mick

Deb and Mick with the completed windows, installed by Mick

What could be better than commissioning a piece of stained glass?
Designing it and making it – of course!

Have you noticed that the ‘don’t buy it, make it’ movement is really gathering momentum?
This is something Jenny and I (Vitreus Art) are being asked for more often than ever.

Although it’s a little counter-intuitive to be agreeing to help potential customers make their own commissions, we reason that the pleasure of owning art is enhanced by having had some involvement is creating it.

We always go to considerable lengths when discussing commissions with clients to uncover their tastes, incorporate their ideas, and to give them the opportunity and means to decide on colours and textures.
Agreeing to teach the client and help them make their own piece is taking this to a logical further step – if they want.

Of course we still welcome commissions in the conventional sense, but just as we’ve seen our teaching practice expand along with the growing interest in craft courses and artisan-made work, so has interest in designing one’s own stained glass.

A few weekends ago we began teaching Deb and Mick to make stained glass in the traditional leading method – as part of their project to make 4 stained glass panels for a new door and surround they’d had made.
The project began some months before, however – when the couple visited us at an Open Studios event at our Adstock studio.

Deb says: “We knew we needed a front door and thought it might be nice to have some stained glass in it but we wanted to have a hand in the design rather than have something traditional. 

After research on the internet we found Vitreus Art and met Mike and Jenny. Before long we had agreed that with their support we would not only design the glass but also make it ourselves and this ambitious project got underway.”

The couple designed their own suite of 4 inter-connected windows, having discussed their design ideas with us at the ‘pencil and paper’ stage.
We shared the basic design rules and offered feedback. Later on, when the door woodwork was ready, Jenny and I visited to help refine the design and agree a final colour selection.

Mick takes up the story: “Jenny and Mike helped us to understand what was possible in terms of the design but have always taken the trouble to listen to our ideas and understand what we liked and wanted to achieve so that the finished work really does reflect our vision.
They took the time to visit us in our home so that they could see the design in context and help us select the colours that would look best.”

Mick, Deb and Jenny - what is it about Deb and a hammer that's making them laugh?

Mick, Deb and Jenny – what is it about Deb and a hammer that’s making them laugh?

We set aside a weekend and sourced the glass and  lead cames needed – allowing for some wastage and ‘accidents’.
Sally Eaton of Rowans Gallery kindly allowed us to use her workshop, affording us more space than our own studios provide so that we could work in pairs on two windows at a time.

Deb comments: “When we met to make the panels they proved to be skilled teachers, helping us to quickly acquire the techniques we needed to start work.
Although we were novices and needed their help with the more challenging parts of the complex design, they never took over – we always felt that it was our work. We are also grateful for their flexibility when the project took longer than expected.”

Some further time was required to finish the fourth, largest panel – proving that projects always take longer than one’s best estimates and highlighting that a bit of leeway to spend some extra time is advisable if planning a project of your own.

Mick then began the work of installing the windows – not a task to be trivialised! The door and adjoining windows dimensions were sized to allow for a current-regs compliant sealed unit with the stained glass panels behind, all held in with a combination of mastic and matching wood beading for finish off.

The result looks very similar to a traditional stained glass installation, with the benefit of additional security, thermal and noise proofing thanks to the sealed units.

Deb and Mick sum up their experiences: “There is great pleasure in either designing or making but to do both is truly satisfying and with the help of this great team is not as daunting as you might think.

We would like to thank Mike and Jenny for helping us achieve our vision.
The door is stunning and will give pleasure for years to come – not just to us but to all who pass by!”

Well Deb and Mick – we really enjoyed working with you – you were great students and the results are a credit to both of you!

Mick soldering panel number 2

Mick soldering panel number 2

We’ve estimated that the cost to the clients is probably similar to what it would have been if we’d made the panels ourselves. Even stevens – and two lovely people have had the pleasure of making something really significant for their home – and have an interesting story to tell their visitors!

Having completed several of these projects now, and with a fair weight of experience accumulated along the way, we’re going to be offering this kind of ‘self-made commission’ project as one of our services.

If you’ve made something in stained glass you’re proud of, head over to our Facebook page and post a photo or two – share what you’ve done!
If you’d like to see some of the photos we took while working with Deb and Mick, you can see them here.
Or if you’d like to commission a piece of stained glass and would like to be involved in making it, get in touch!

Happy holidays and here’s to a creative 2013!
Mike & Jenny

 

 

 

 

 

What does it cost to get set up in stained glass?

Using the circle cutter for stained glass

Using the circle cutter for stained glass

We get this question often – at craft fairs, exhibitions and gallery demo days: I fancy having a go – what will it cost me?

The flippant answer is – your soul! It’s an engrossing hobby, can become an all-consuming lifestyle, and some even do it for a living!

But sliding back into reality for a moment, it’s not cheap to get started, which is why a day’s course or spending time with an established glass artist is a good idea: it’s not like buying a pad and some paints!

So, come on Mike, what’s involved?

Well – the fundamental tools you will need for copper-foil (Tiffany method) stained glass are:

A glass cutter – not the £3 job you can buy from a DIY store, a proper oil-filled tungsten-wheeled one. Our preference – Toyo Supercutter, costs about £25.

A good pair of grozing pliers, for nibbling, and a pair of cut runners, or glass snappers. Together these are about £15. We use Glastar snappers.

Next, you’ll need a grinder. We have several Glastar grinders, large and small, for teaching, and the lowest-priced one we’ve found that lasts is the Superstar, at £150 now that VAT has gone up.

You’ll also need  decent soldering iron. There seem to be two that are worth considering, both by Weller, the giant of soldering technology! The 80W ‘starter’ iron is ok for occasional use and costs about £50 with a stand to keep it safe when working. The 100W ‘pro’ tool is about £90.

So those are the main tools you’ll need.

But you’ll also need a work surface, a straight edge, layout strips and pins to hold your design together when soldering, and pens, paper, something to keep your glass in, and a good working light. All this lot could cost you £50 if bought in one go.

Oh, and let’s not forget – the consumables!
Foil is now about £10 a roll, and you’ll need at least a couple of rolls to begin with, and solder is now about £10 for half-a-kilo, which is enough to get started with. And flux and grinding lubricant for your grinder, and cutting oil (or white spirit) will add about £10 on top.

And now – glass!
This is a tricky one. We start our students off on clear ‘horticultural’ glass initially while they learn to score and break glass consistently.

This is cheap, but once you’re confident enough to make something with ‘proper’ coloured glass, you’ll find that sheets about 12″ by 12″ cost from £5 up. The fancier glass costs more, but we always recommend newcomers start with Spectrum glass as it’s affordable and easy to cut. And looks great!

For any sort of interesting design, you’ll need several different sheets, and the off-cuts may not be very usable shapes or sizes.

As a guide, we reckon on about £30 for glass and consumables each for our students on our Vitreus Art one-day class.

If you’re looking at leading, a collection of tools to add to the basics above can be bought for about £25, plus the lead itself.

Check back next time for info on some other tools that are fun to use, like the circle cutter in the picture above.
In the meantime, do leave a comment and let me know which tools you’d recommend to a novice, or which you found hardest to use!

Happy glass making,
Mike

P.S. If you’d like to know more about our one-day beginner’s classes, go to:
www.vitreus-art.co.uk/classes

Or email me via this blog.

Why do we teach stained glass when we already have enough competition?!

Vitreus Art beginners stained glass Workshop

Vitreus Art beginners stained glass workshop

By now you know we teach stained glass, right? I go on about it often enough!

Well, one of the reasons we teach (aside from wanting to share the craft we’ve become passionate about!) is that we often hear from would-be stained glass artists who’ve gone out and bought tools and glass and materials and then found they just couldn’t make it work.

They cut themselves to shreds, their pieces didn’t fit together, they wasted loads of expensive glass, their soldering was lumpy and ugly, or their fledgling abilities just didn’t develop.

Net result – most of them gave up.

We had the benefit of a day’s class when we were starting. We had no idea what was required, where to begin, what tools were needed – we just knew we wanted to find out if we liked it, and if we might show any early promise!

It could have been so different – Lord knows it’s sometimes a frustrating craft!
However, decent tuition,  access to the right tools,  and the desire to learn from someone clearly very skilled set us off in the right direction.

Starting teaching

Fast-forward 5 years and we’re making commissions,  selling through galleries and teaching. Why?

Coming from marketing and PR backgrounds, we both felt that we were good communicators, and we’d been on a very steep learning curve.  So as we began to field questions from people who wanted to try, or who’d tried and given up, we set up our first class.

Crikey – that was hard work! And the investment – we decided that 6 was a good number of students so we needed 6 sets of tools. And you may already know, a complete set of  tools costs about £150 per person, not including a grinder. And don’t forget the glass – we get through a lot!

We hooked up with a local gallery with spare workshop space (thanks Sally!) and set some dates. Luckily we found enough students (that always seems like the wrong word!) and set off on our journey.

We did a lot of planning, a lot of cost analysis to be sure we knew how long and how many classes it would take to repay the investment in tools and glass. And we sweated over the lesson plan and rehearsed, and tested.

The comments we had back after our early sessions encouraged us to carry on. We now run 13 or more sessions a year, some at an intermediate level now that we have students who are keen to progress to making bolder and more ambitious pieces.

As an example of the type of comment that led us to develop our programme, here’s one from an early student:

2009 hasn’t been the best of years for me but I can truly say that this one day was my real highlight. Your passion for the subject really shone through and your professionalism in guiding us in all the task was amazing. I am delighted with the pieces I made.  I suspect my husband actually thought I’d bought them!

And now that our classes are getting fully booked months in advance, we’ve taken the plunge and set up a 5-day workshop in Cornwall too! We must be mad!

So the message here is – if you’ve struggled to make the glass work for you, if you’ve become frustrated at lack of progress, or you want to find out what stained glass is all about before you jump in, get some tuition – for two reasons:

one – you might save a lot of money on tools if you don’t enjoy it!

two (much more likely!) – starting off with someone to show you the basics and to offer constructive feedback might get you totally hooked, like it did for us!

three – knowing someone in the trade, and being able to ask them how they got started, and what they found hardest at the beginning is great background info and reassurance

I’d love to find out how you got started, or even what made you give up.
We might be able to offer some advice!

I’m considering running a tips and tricks column on our stained glass website, or in our monthly newsletters, or on this blog.
I’d like to know if this would be useful to you – leave a comment and let me know.

Happy creating!
Mike

What got you started in art?

When we’re out and about, teaching, demonstrating, doing Open Studios or selling at craft markets, we’re often asked – what got you started in stained glass?

Well, for Jenny, my partner in crime over at Vitreus Art, she found an artistic interest while watching her Grandfather painting with oils and making detailed models from scratch.

She subsequently attended St Albans art college; becoming a mum sadly put such frivolities on hold for some years.

Although Jenny sketched from time to time, being a busy mum and PR professional didn’t afford time to find a real niche and pursue it.

Then, while on holiday in Porthleven in Cornwall we happened across the work of a stained glass artist who sadly has moved from the area. But we both loved the colours, the simple sea themes and the light effects the pieces created in the gallery.

Returning home, we booked ourselves on to a one-day stained glass workshop to find out how hard it would be to create our own pieces.

In the meantime, I discovered the work of John Piper, the artist who created

Baptistry Window, Coventry Cathedral, by John Piper

the beautiful abstract glass for the lantern at the  Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral and the 76ft-high Baptistry Window at Coventry Cathedral.

You can see examples of the glass at both of these fabulous 20th century architectural marvels at John Piper’s website.

I worked in theatre lighting on leaving college, and I’ve always been fascinated with creating coloured and textured light effects. As a comparative youngster, I never got the chance to really test out my imagination, but the passion persisted!

6 years later, we’re now teaching, helping prospective glass artists get started, and we’ve just finalised the plans for our own 5-day workshop in Porthleven, where our passion started!

Do leave a comment and tell us how you got started in art, or what inspires you – share the passion!

Season’s greetings,
Mike