Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Stained Glass Panels, Part 1

This is part 1 of a series about my designs for stained glass window panels.

Part 1: The eclipse panel (this post)

Part 2: The book data panel

Part 3: The hummingbird feathers panel

Part 4: The dichro panel

Near the end of 2017, I decided I wanted to have stained glass panels made for transom windows over doors in our house. By "panel," I mean a stained glass insert to be pushed up against the inside of an existing window. The effect is that of a stained glass window, but the panel isn't exposed to the elements. I looked online for designs I liked, but nothing grabbed me. I tried to find someone to design panels for me, but that didn't pan out. So I decided to take a stab at designing the first panel myself.

This was a laughable decision. It combined artistic design, an area where I have neither talent nor experience, with stained glass, a medium about which I knew nothing. It was nevertheless a way forward, so I set out down that path. I took the total eclipse that had taken place a few months earlier as my design motif. The area of totality had been not far from my home, and the experience of seeing it was still fresh in my mind. 

For a skilled stained glass artist such as Susan Humphrey of Rockcrest Glass Studio, the eclipse led to wonderful works of art such as this:

Solar Eclipse from Rockcrest Glass Studio

I'm no Susan Humphrey. As an example of the artistic league I'm in, here's the "eclipse cake" I prepared for the event. It's not stained glass, but I think the sophistication of the work speaks for itself: 

Among the many artistic skills I lack is the ability to envision something that doesn't exist. I needed a way to mock up stained glass panel designs so that I could look at them. In a move that will not surprise you if you've read about how I designed custom dinnerware, I turned to PowerPoint. Its support for visual design work is limited, but nowhere near as limited as my imagination. 

I initially wanted a lot of light to come through the panel, so I chose phases of the eclipse against a clear waterglass background:

I then mocked up a design that more accurately reflected the eclipse I had seen. That involved adjusting the phases of the eclipse to progress in a more diagonal direction than purely left to right. It also entailed making the sky blue. This was the result:
The blue background seemed kind of flat, so I shot for more visual interest by using a wispy blue-purple background instead:

I learned that the white ring surrounding the black circle in the center of the panel would stymie most makers, because they typically lack the ability to cut a ring of glass. (Cutting circles is easy, but cutting rings is apparently hard.) I revised the design to eliminate the ring. I also went back to the horizontal evolution of eclipse phases, because people found the diagonal placement off-putting. My final design looked like this:

The image looks deceptively like a photograph, but it's nothing more than a few PowerPoint shapes with online images of glass samples as fill patterns. 

Each piece of glass in the design is a wispy mixture of two colors (e.g., blue and purple, yellow and white, etc.), and in the real world, each piece of such glass is unique. A mockup can never do more than approximate what a panel would look like. What it actually looks like is determined by the artist choosing, cutting, and placing the glass pieces and then soldering them together. For this panel, that artist was Margo Crane. Her Etsy shop for stained glass work is here. Here's the panel she delivered:

I'm quite happy with it. It's visible from my bed, so it's one of the first things I see every morning. It's a nice way to start the day.

The design remains childishly simple, but working on this panel taught me a lot about the kinds of glass that are available and about how to use PowerPoint as a mockup tool. It also introduced me to a number of stained glass artists and their studios, both local and remote. It put me in a position to hit the ground running with the design for my next panel.

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