Bit o’ Honey ~ the little things that please

The little things that please . . .

Posts Tagged ‘creative process

Fun with Lines

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“The hand is the window on to the mind.” Immanuel Kant, from Richard Sennet’s book, “The Craftsman”.

“Play is the beginning of knowledge.”  George Dorsey



Wanting to step back from glass after finishing my last project and needing to bring a fresh approach to the medium, I decided to dabble with the left over watercolors I used to create the many mock-ups for my Tree of Life images.  

Save for childhood forays in tempera, I’ve never been a painter.  Painting always seemed so unbound to me, so wild.  The stuff seemed to have an oozing, dripping life of its own.  Frankly, I found it intimidating.  There were too many choices with painting, too much white paper to contend with, too many ways to apply the paint, too many chances for things to turn to an ugly mess.  Not to mention the plethora of brushes.  While stained glass can be a frustrating in its rigidity and inability to blend, I’ve learned to appreciate the restrictions it imposes and the ever-present black lines that serve to join each piece of glass.  But painting?

Fortunately, the watercolors I made for my last project introduced me to the idea that I might use painting to explore design ideas for glass.  So on a rainy Sunday afternoon, unable to face the mess still waiting to be expunged from my studio, I took out the paints and commenced to play.

I began with the simplest of lines using two different brush widths, the only two I had, just to get a feel for things.


I never grow tired of green.


I found the activity to be surprisingly meditative and intimate, much like writing a letter.




I quickly slipped into my modus operandi and began simplifying the lines even further.





And further still . . .




Until I was left with a single line.



I found the mood of this line appealing.  It struck me as somewhat calligraphic.  



I was then reminded of the gorgeous nameplate on a Tiffany window from 1887 that I recently helped restore.  Here’s a close-up photo of the nameplate in reflected light:


The leadwork is mindboggling.  To accommodate the letters, the craftsman cut the glass in the most challenging of ways, in some cases working with pea-sized glass.  Note the little scroll details in the curves of the 6’s.  Astounding.  This image is not far that from its actual size.  Truly the work of a master.  Set against natural light this delicious lavender glass becomes a phenomenal, firey wonder:


R and I have not stopped going ga-ga over this window.  


It would be easy for me to go on and on about the glass, but Iet me return to the lines in this nameplate.  Most interesting are how the black lines serve as an integral part of the design itself and not merely a structural element to the window.  Though more compact and blockier than my watercolor lines, they too look calligraphic, not so unlike the work below:


See what I mean?


While I experiment with color and shape using paints, I’m also trying to find a way of giving the black lines more significance in my designs.  I’m not sure where this exploration is going, but I plan to continue this watercolor play in hopes of bringing a new dimension into my work.  

At the very least I’m producing my own line of original greeting cards . . .





Written by Janie

September 18, 2008 at 8:09 am

Tree of Life ~ Pt. 7

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You may want to sit down for this news . . . 


The design has been approved!  

It only took six weeks and four revisions.  


More leaves!  More green!


I cranked out this watercolor in record time to make a last-minute meeting this morning.  Not the quiet, subdued image I’d originally envisioned for the space, but it is a fair translation of the requests to make the design more vibrant and hopeful.  At this point I’m tired of looking at the darn thing. 

I still have to revise the final sketch to fit the new opening, but within a week I hope to begin cutting glass!


Written by Janie

July 31, 2008 at 9:20 am

Tree of Life ~ pt. 5

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With the composition set down in my previous sketch I felt free to loosen up the lines as I went along with this draft.  I left visible pencil marks to encourage this play when I begin my glass work.  I’ll be using a copper foil technique, which works well with organic shapes.  The less rigid I am following lines while cutting glass, the more interesting the end result.  After so many challenges sort forth by the committee, I’m pleased with how I’ve implement their ideas .


I hope this will be the last sketch . . .


And the last watercolor!


The next big challenge will be my choice and use of glass.  The fun has just begun!

I meet once more with the committee after the July 4 holiday.   Stay tuned.


Now, to clean my studio . . .



Tree of Life ~ pt. 4

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The sun is alive.  It shimmers and burns and imparts a firey magic into glass.  Ideally, a stained glass window should be viewed in natural light, against a sky animated by clouds.  Artificial light can mimic the sun, but face it, even the best Elvis impersonator just isn’t Elvis.  I knew from the start that the window would have a translucent pane of glass behind it to hide the bulbs of a light box.  It wasn’t until I reached this stage of planning, however, that I began to take into consideration the impact on the window.  The translucent pane would flatten the colors and virtually erase the texture of the glass.  But there’s rarely an ideal situation for a stained glass window, so I have to do my best to make it work.   All week I’ve lain awake in bed trying to come up with a way to counter the diminishing effects of the light box.  I realize now I have to completely rethink my glass choice.  And – I hear my father’s voice as I write this – I have to rethink my attitude.  A light box will allow the window to glow even at night, so visitors can find comfort in the meditation room at any hour.  That’s a fine thing.   So even under these circumstances I can still make the best window for the environment. I’d planned to use a solid colored transparent glass called “cathedral”.  Here, you can see the intricate diamond-shaped patterns, the marks of blown glass.  I love the clarity and brilliant color of cathedrals.

Nice facets!

Seen against my light table, which is also transluscent, the glass lost its brilliance.   One obvious solution would be to use an opalescent, but I don’t want to.  Opalescents are saturated with white.  They work well in reflected light and are good for privacy, but it’s a dense, heavy-looking glass that makes the the window feel dated.   


I’ve decided to include a selection of transparent streakies.  This should help make up for the loss of movement and texture.  Mouthblown streakies are some of the most expensive glass made, for a reason. Their swirls of color are seductive: 

 Streakies show the appearance of glass in its molten form.


The bold movement can be overwhelming, so I’ll have to use this glass thoughtfully.   I’ll intersperse these pieces with solid cathedrals to help mellow out the activity.  

When I last met the committee at the hospital with my revised sketch, they liked the progress but there were still concerns.   The project manager thought the stream looked too much like a waterfall and needed to be smoothed out.  Also, the art director pointed out the way the tree roots butt up against the stream.   I was unhappy with myself for not rethinking this before I offered the sketch.  She suggested I taper them off somehow.  It does look pretty bad.


Ouch!  She’s right too!


So much of the creative process is about problem-solving.  Working with a committee means others take a stab at solving those problems.  I don’t always think my ideas are the best, but I want the satisfaction of finding solutions on my own.  This may not happen when you work with a committe.   My parents called me stubborn when I was younger, and I was.  I was driven to make my own mistakes, even if it meant living for a time in the ruins of the outcome.  Mistakes, problems, detours, they all fuel creativity.  And creativity is, in part, a practice of faith.  I love being in the thick of it, working my way through, with no one showing me how, and emerging days or weeks later having birthed a thing of beauty.  While the oversight in my design wasn’t a big problem, it humbled me to the collaborative process where rough ideas are exposed to such scrutiny by others.  



Written by Janie

July 1, 2008 at 1:25 pm

Tree of Life ~ pt. 3

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I admit, my head was swimming when the art committee left.  My first design was raw, I knew, but given the chance to develop it and with the addition of glass I was certain it could stand on its own.  None of that mattered, however.  The chaplain wanted water, less yellow and no chalice; the project manager wanted sun through the leaves and a palpable sense of hope; both thought the symbolism needed to be strengthened. The art consultant, hired as a mediator between the hospital and the artists, only asked that I keep the process going, balancing my style with the others’ requests.

The biggest challenge for me as an artist working in stained glass is that of over-design, of the piece feeling contrived, or worse, kitchy.  Too often I encounter stained glass windows that have the subtlety of a brick to the head.   If my design lacked symbolic impact, it meant the viewer would be given the opportunity to fill in the blanks with color, line, and best, with imagination.  But to satisfy the committee, I had to give up at least a little of that.  The design couldn’t just suggest a botanical form; it had to represent a tree in all its glorious symbolism.  And more than that, the design had to accommodate the addition of water.  I had no choice but to take this as a new challenge: to blend my aesthetic with a more direct representation.  I tried not to fret over it.  I know how my state of mind can seep into the finished product.  While I may not always feel relaxed and balanced when I work, at the very least I want the work to reflect my desired state of mind.  

So, pencil in hand, I approached the blank paper for round two with a sense of curiosity and play. 

I’m most pleased with the canopy.  No chalice here! 

To create a sense of “verdant abundance” the builder spoke of, rather than complicate things by adding more leaves, I made them full and voluptuous, almost like fruit or buds.  I also varied their sizes, which I think inspires the eye to roam the flow of lines.  It’s that roaming along shapes and color I hope will serve as meditation, even more than the symbolism.

In most images depicting the Tree of Life the roots are a vital part of the overall design.  Not true in this draft.  With a more detailed root system the drawing became too busy.  After rubbing my eraser to a nub, I finally left three visible roots.  I’m not real happy about how it looks.  This area still needs some thought — or needs to be redrawn quickly, without too much thought.  I’ll experiment when I begin to cut the glass.  That should help determine what kind of shapes I want to use here.

I’m quite satisfied with how the bend in the stream works off the trunk’s curve to make a figure 8, the symbol of infinity.  I didn’t plan this, it just came about as I drew it.  Once I realized it, I worked the lines to enhance it.  The trunk could be bulked up.  You can just see a pencil line where I tried to do this. I’m a little concerned about the stream.  I think it looks too darn cliche.   But face it, it’s a tree by a stream in stained glass!  Cliches abound!  I remind myself that I’m helping create an important refuge in the hospital — no one will be as critical of the end results as I will.  I’m also working under some very specific parameters, including the unfortunate display in a light box.   But more on that later.  


Tree of Life ~ pt. 2

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“It looks like a chalice,” the chaplain said. 

Tree?  Chalice?

We studied the drawing tacked to the wall.  A chalice?  It hadn’t occurred to me.  “Not surprising you would find that,” I said, “considering your profession.”

“Everyone on the committee thought so,” he added.  

The chaplain and I were in my studio waiting for the other committee members to arrive.  I was thrilled at the news that my proposal had been chosen, but the real work was just beginning.  This would be my first public art piece, my first experience working with a committee, each member with their own ideas and interpretations of my design.  Like the chalice.  I would’ve never seen it had the chaplain not brought it up.  

“We can’t have a symbol so religious.  This design has to be as inclusive as possible.”

The project manager and art consultant arrived and together we discussed the chaplain’s concern.  I didn’t think the reference to a chalice was a bad thing, but I told them it could be easily fixed.   “I could add a few extra lines in the canopy or change the shape of the trunk.”

“In the watercolor there was yellow in the background,” the chaplain continued.  “A lot of yellow. And nothing else.”

Ouch!  He was right!

“I hadn’t really had a chance to consider how I might develop the background, and I want to do that.”

“There’s a stained glass window in the hospital chapel, you should see it.   It has a circle representing the moon and sun together.  A very powerful, ancient symbol.  There’s a bridge over a stream.  A rainbow too, something that speaks to many viewers as symbols of hope.”

Rainbows?  I thought.  Please, no rainbows!

“The chaplain has a point,” the project manager said.  “We really need to have the sense of hope.  I think of the sun pouring through the leaves.  It doesn’t have to be a literal sun, but a feeling.”

I led them to my light table where I’d lined glass samples in the palette I’d hoped to use.   The way glass comes alive in light is a marvel.  Colored glass, particularly mouthblown glass, has a purity and brilliance of color unmatched by paint or photography.  Its impact goes beyond any literal context or symbolism.  I’d kept my lines simple precisely because I wanted to draw attention to glass through my design, and not the opposite.  It was hard to express that at the time.  I’d hoped the glass would be allowed to do its magic on the psyche without the need for so many literal references.  They agreed the colors would work but that the design needed more symbolic relevance.  This seemed especially vital to the chaplain, which was understandable.  Of all those committee members present, he would be most involved with those who used the room where the window would be displayed.  

“Water is an important symbol,” he said.  “I’d like to see water.”

Water? I thought.  That means blue.  

The art consultant scribbled notes.  “I’ll need to document this.”

True collaboration means it’s no longer my single vision, it’s our vision.  They wanted water, and I would have to find a way to include it so that it fit with the rest of my design.   I rifled through old photographs of earlier windows I’d done depicting water.

“This looks more like the ocean,” the project manager said, sorting through the photographs.  “If I’m a parent whose child is in the neo-natal care unit, it might make me feel like I’m drowning.  It should be calmer.  ‘He leadeth me beside still waters.’  That’s what I think of.”

 “The twenty-third psalm,” the chaplain nodded.  “A cleansing water.”   

“Right,” I said, wondering how I might render cleansing lines.

“And leaves,” the project manager said, “I like the use of green.  Bright green, like this,” he said, pointing to a citron piece of glass used in a piece that hung in my studio window.  “This color gives the feeling of a verdant abundance.   Of growth and renewal.”  

Sexy lines. . .

“These lines,” he said, “I could look at them all day.  They feel meditative.  That’s why we chose you.  We just want you to put that same treatment into more symbols.” 

“Right.  I can do that.”  I tried to sound confident.  Actually, I wondered how I might do that without the result looking about as original as a paint-by-numbers landscape.  But this was a good reference.  My Tree of Life didn’t have the same flow of lines.  In this windows, the full leaves and movement added to the verdant quality.  That seemed a significant detail.  I would need to remember it for my second draft.   

We ended the meeting with pleasantries.  I reassured them of my willingness incorporate the ideas we discussed into the design.  We shook hands and they filed out.  The art consultant lingered a moment at the door.  “It’s a lot of information, but we like your aesthetic.  Just stay with that.”

“Thanks.  I’m sure I can come up with something that everyone will approve of.”  I wasn’t lying exactly, just wishfully thinking out loud.

Written by Janie

June 20, 2008 at 9:11 pm

Tree of Life ~ pt. 1

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The creative process is about as easy to navigate as love.  It’s messy and unpredictable.  Often it touches on the metaphysical, other times it curses you with empty promises.  Always in motion, no matter how you try to direct it, it takes the lead, carrying you to a place largely unexpected.  The creative process is deeply personal and at the same it demands you leave your ego behind.  This is especially true when working collaboratively, which is where I find myself now, sharing the creative process with four other people: an architect, a project manager, an art consultant, and a chaplain.  

The call for stained glass artists came last month. A 4’X3′ glass panel was to be created for the new wing of a local hospital.   There were several important stipulations.  The design should not represent any particular religion but speak to a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious population.  Also, the design should reference Nature.  I would need to include an application, biography and statement, as well as a visual representation of my design.  I had one week to complete it.

I knew what design I would use.  The Tree of Life.  Deeply symbolic without being overtly religious, it stood as an axis mundi, connecting earth and sky and depicting the continuous cycle of life.  I didn’t bother considering other ideas, it seemed right in every way.  I went to work immediately.

Every night for the next week I worked on my hands and knees over a swath of white paper, making various interpretations of the Tree of Life.  With designs this size I prefer to draw on the floor using my whole body so that I not only see the lines clearly, I feel them.  Unfortunately, with so little time I was forced to offer an unrefined design.  This disgruntled me, but no matter how rough the idea I knew a few things for certain. First of all, I would not use blue.  Blue is a fine color, but grossly overused in stained glass.  And blue was the obvious choice used to evoke comfort.  I wanted to step away from the obvious.  In addition, I knew the design had to be kept simple.  No high concept, no pretense, and visually undemanding.  In a hospital, where matters of life and death abound, I wanted an image that could offer a place of rest, a quiet play of color and line to soothe the heart.

That was the goal, anyway.

I finished the preliminary watercolor at 10 o’clock at night.  Deadline for submission was the next morning. 

And so begins the creative process . . .


Written by Janie

June 17, 2008 at 10:15 pm