Tag Archives: open studios

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






Showing, versus telling – the art of demonstrations

I was thinking about my earlier post on the subject of ‘What are you selling?’, and chatting with other artists during this year’s Herts Open Studios.
I’ve concluded that a significant part of the job of selling your ‘brand’ as an artist rather than just selling your time and materials can be achieved by showing people what you do – rather than just telling them.

Jenny and I have always sought out opportunities to demonstrate our stained glass processes as a way to draw prospective purchasers in (and a nice way to ensure time spent at craft fairs or exhibitions is more productive).
The number of conversations while working on a piece that have started ‘I used to do a bit of glass work…’ or ‘So tell me – how do you cut curves in glass?’ that result in a class booking for our beginner’s class or a sale then or later tells me the power of demonstration is not to be underestimated.

Does a demonstration have to be structured to be worth doing?
I’m not certain it does. It’s well worth having pieces of art in different stages of completion, if you can – this allows you to explain what you’re doing at the moment in relation to the finished piece.

We usually have some offcuts of glass we can use to show how a modern oil-filled glass cutter works, and even let someone have a go if they like.
Now this is a real ‘closer’!
Many people will be interested in what you do, and may want to try it but are wary of signing up for a class or buying a set of materials until they know they stand a chance of success!

Even if hands-on sessions aren’t practical, being able to talk with people about the techniques, or maybe the evolution of your work with examples of incomplete work to hand gets your conversation with the potential customer on to a much deeper level very quickly.

We also find that a hook to get that conversation started is invaluable.
At our recent Open Studios exhibition we were making stained glass Christmas decorations; we were able to say to people wandering around that we were getting a head-start on orders from the galleries we work with.

This got an initial response in most cases – isn’t a bit early, isn’t it a bit repetitive making the same thing many times, and so on. A bit of banter and a a bit of ‘these are the ones I’ve finished today’ and we’ve got a conversation started.

We also make sure we have all our tools handy, and we find we can get chatting by referring to tools that are the modern equivalent of ones they may have seen on TV or in their Dad’s workshop.  From that point it’s easy to develop that thread and find out if they’ve seen something in the exhibition they like.

If we’re not formally preparing to demonstrate, we’ll ensure instead that we have work on the go at different stages so we can point to the tools and techniques used at each stage.

To come back to the concept of selling your brand, I remember working at a large craft fair one August Bank Holiday, with a chap watching me cut glass for about half-an-hour. He just stood there and watched as I cut up all the pieces for a new design I had drawn out.

After 30 minutes, he said ‘I’ve never seen anyone cut so precisely as that, especially with people watching.’
I replied ‘That’s because you’re watching – I was being extra careful!’.
We exchanged greetings, he took a brochure and wandered off.
At the end of the day he returned and bought one of Jenny’s pieces (made at a craft fair the previous month!), telling his wife: ‘Now that I’ve seen it done I want to be able to tell people I know a bit about it.’

That’s the power of the demonstration – it moves you away from being the person selling the work, to being the person creating it using skills acquired and refined over many years.
Just make sure you get their email address so you can add them to your mailing list. And email them a photo of the finished piece you were making when they stopped and chatted!