Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What Are The Different Types And Qualities Of Stained Glass?

Many times we meet people who are interested in stained glass, but they haven’t learned enough about it to really be able to tell whether a piece of glass is a true work of art or just a good piece. I once overheard a woman gushing over a piece of glass that had been painted with fake glass paints, the kind that craft stores sell. “Oh, Look at that, I love stained glass, that is just exquisite!” Her comments were nice since she had an appreciation for art glass, but they were also ridiculous because painted fake glass just isn’t in the same class as other techniques and certainly should never be described as “exquisite”.

So that incident prompted me to write this brief description of what the different types and qualities of stained glass are. After reading the following paragraphs, you will be more qualified and more able to distinguish between good glass and great glass than the majority of people you meet. You will be well on your way towards becoming a “Stained Glass Expert.”

1. Brass And Glass – made of Brass pre-shaped metal (or brass encased lead), called “came”. The stained glass is encased in the pre-formed metal and the joints where the metal meets are then soldered. After the panel is completed and soldered, the joints are colored with a brass colored paint so that they look brass.

Advantages: Brass windows match the brass plated hardware on many homes. Brass windows are almost always mass produced, so cost is usually lower than other styles of stained glass.

Disadvantages: Brass windows usually don’t get the glass and metal cemented to each other, so they are not as strong and have a tendency to rattle more often than any other stained glass window. If the panel is sandwiched between tempered glass sheets, the lack of strength is not a big deal.

Quality: This is the lowest quality of stained glass available and is usually found in cheap furniture and mass produced door frames. It hasn’t been around for a long time and is often associated with the cheap waterbeds of the 1960’s.

2. Leaded Glass – refers to both beveled glass and colored glass surrounded by pre-shaped lead, called “came”. The stained glass is encased in lead and the joints where the metal meets are then soldered. The solder and the lead look very similar, so no special treatments are needed in the joints as with brass came. After the panel is completed and soldered, the windows are cemented by forcing cement in under the metal and the glass. Then the exposed glass is cleaned thoroughly.
Advantages: Lead construction is the most common type of stained glass to be found. If cemented well the window is fairly strong. The leaded method is fast to construct, so is quite popular in commercial installations.

Disadvantages: If the window isn’t cemented, the lead will easily stretch over time and the glass shapes will deform quite easily. Windows that are placed in insulated units can’t be cemented because the cement reacts with the desiccant in the foam tape used to create insulated units.

Quality: This is the mid-range of stained glass quality. It’s not bad, just not the best. There is pretty good detail available in this type of panel and it is quite good for many styles of glass design. If it wasn’t fairly good it wouldn’t be found in so many highly respected installations.

3. Copper Foiled or “Tiffany Style” Glass – refers to stained glass construction where each piece of glass is individually wrapped in a copper foil tape and the gaps between the glass are soldered with lead and tin based solder, usually 50/50 mix or 60/40 mix. After the panel is completed it is very strong and pretty often water tight. Chemicals are then added to color the lead lines, either copper, bronze or black. The lines can also be left pewter-like gray or they can be polished to bright shiny silver. It’s often called “Tiffany Style” because the studios of Louis Comfort Tiffany are credited with coming up with the method in the late 1800’s.
Advantages: Copper foiled windows are very strong and allow the artist the most detail of any of the construction methods. It also allows for the most ranges of patinas of the methods discussed. The copper foil method allows an artist to follow contours and so lamp shades and other 3d construction is almost always built using this method.

Disadvantages: It takes a lot of work and is more labor intensive to hand solder each and every solder line in a stained glass window, so these panels usually cost more than the leaded type. Also, because the resulting windows are so very strong, they can develop very slight hairline cracks as the glass expands and contracts in the heat of the day and the cool of the night. These cracks usually develop in the first year after a panel is installed and are minor.

Quality: This is the highest quality of stained glass, but there are different ranges of quality in this style. Imports will often have very thin lead lines not as a design element, but as a way to save money on the amount of lead used to construct the panel. The highest quality of copper foil constructed lamps will feature a built up lead line which will often stand up the same height as an extruded lead line. Best quality soldering will feature very consistent lead lines and few if any areas where the lead has shrunk after cooling.

4. Epoxy Glued Faceted Glass – refers to a technique where thick slabs of glass are broken in rough pieces and glued together using epoxy glue to form the joint between the various pieces of glass. It’s very uncommon and not available in any but the most unusual commercial construction.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Don't Be Like Milo

Back in 1985, I had an experience which really was a set back for me. It was at a time when a lot of pressure was building. I wasn't sure which direction I wanted my stained glass art to go. We had experienced a house fire and I needed to concentrate on rebuilding. I had sold the video rental part of our business, which was also the part that brought in income on a consistent basis. But I still loved stained glass, it was just that the shine was starting to wear off, it wasn't as fun anymore.

Someone once told me that anything you do to earn your living will eventually become a job. And I guess that was happening to me, my art was becoming my job and I spent more time trying to make money, than trying to make good art.

But it was still fun, there was always a renewal of excitement when we began to teach a new series of classes because the students would bring their enthusiasm with them and Jeanne and I would be reminded all over again about what a great and fantastic art form stained glass construction was.

Then Milo came and took classes. He walked into the studio in his "Missouri Tuxedo." That's a pair of bib overalls. He wore no additional shirt over his quite large frame and he was barefoot. He looked a little like Santa Claus on vacation with his white flowing beard and round tummy. He began to ask us about stained glass and he caught the excitement of the vision of being able to create his own work of art. So we invited him to join with us during our next class and he came. We were happy to have him, but we cautioned that you have to wear shoes in a stained glass shop and that a shirt was also a good idea.

Milo showed up at the appointed hour, full of enthusiasm. He brought his wife along, just to watch. That was a common occurrence in Missouri, a way to get good value from your dollar and give your spouse a chance to get out of the house. Milo chose a very nice round pattern of a scene with ducks in it for his first project. He enjoyed the process of selecting the glass and really understood the concept of cutting out his pattern pieces and tracing them out on glass. Then he began to cut his glass.

Now, we had already taught him how to cut glass before he laid a cutter on glass which he had purchased and he had done okay, but as he began to cut his pieces out, he varied from the instructions we had given him. I told Milo, he should push the cutter away from himself so he could see where the wheel on the cutter was going, but Milo felt is was easier to pull it towards himself. Then, I had taught Milo to tap under the glass to get the score to run so that he could tap directly under the score and get a nice, clean break. Milo figured it was easier to turn the glass upside down and lay it on the table and tap it from that side. Consequently, his tapping was often not directly under the place scored and his glass often broke in the wrong place.

Mistakes happen when learning a new skill, but Milo wouldn't listen. As hard as we tried, Milo was going to do it his own way. I said push, he pulled, I said tap from the bottom, he tapped from the top. When he broke a large piece of glass which would be the sky in the window, I offered to give him a new piece of glass. But of course, Milo refused, instead he just jovially said, "No, that will just be another lead line." And so his project went, one badly broken and shaped piece after another, with "new lead lines" springing up whenever a mistake was made.

Milo was having so much fun, he decided to take his project home and foil and solder it there. At that point, I figured it couldn't hurt, he didn't listen to a word of advice anyone gave in class.

I was wrong.

A day or two passed and Milo returned with his completed project. He had foiled and soldered it at home. Of course, he hadn’t had a stained glass type solder iron, so he soldered his window with a soldering gun. He asked if I could help him with some of his lead lines and I agreed, but when I looked at the panel, I was appalled.

In the course of soldering a stained glass window together, the builder will solder one side completely and then turn the window over and solder the other side. Occasionally, you might miss a place or two, but for the most part, most folks do a pretty good job of covering their window and making it a solid piece.

Not so with Milo's window. There were holes all over it where not only hadn't it been soldered on the front, it hadn't been soldered on the back as well. I was dumbfounded. I really didn't know where to start. Usually when I'm asked to help with a solder job, it's just to help smooth the occasional rough spot and teach the student how to improve their technique. No solder joint on his project was right or good or complete. I had to start on one side and re-solder everything. When I finished, I left the backside for Milo to redo and showed him how the right tool was important for the job. For once, he listened and bought his own iron.

A few days later, Milo drove up and climbed out of his truck. He parked right in front of the store so he could get his finished project from the passenger side and bring it into the store. He had worked on the soldering at home and if anything, it was worse than when he had left days before. I offered to help him with his technique, but he didn’t need help, Milo was happy with his project as it was. In fact, he was there to buy more supplies and another pattern so he could build another window.

Over the next few weeks, Milo built four or five stained glass panels. They were certainly originals, but try as I might, I couldn't get him to vary his techniques. He was fine with his poor construction. What really go to me was that Milo carried his windows in his pickup wherever he went, not caring that they got cracked sitting there on the seat as they bounced up and down over rural back roads. He happily went from town to town, proudly showing everyone who would listen that he had built these "stain glasses" himself and that that David Gomm over in Pierce City was his teacher. My reputation suffered and I was mortified, as Milo went about enjoying his love for glass crafting, my love for it dwindled and soon was gone.

Milo had done me in. My love for the art was at an ebb anyhow, but to have this big lug go about telling everyone that I was his teacher was just more than I could bear. I just snapped and gave lamp bases away to students. I took all my glass and supplies home to a small workspace, gave away extra grinders and tools. I didn't want to look at another piece of glass!

And I didn't for about a year. Then slowly, my interest began to return. It started as Jeanne taught a local youth group about stained glass. Then we got a commission for the city park and as we began to build and design, life became good again and my love for stained glass returned.

But nowadays, when I have a student who won't follow directions, I tell them the story of Milo. Their eyes grow wide with disbelief that there could be someone who wouldn't listen at all to instruction. And they try to at least give it a chance when I ask them to push not pull and tap from the bottom, not the top.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

You’re Never Supposed To Let Them See You Sweat

In business, it's a common saying to "Never Let Them See You Sweat." But sometimes it's just plain hard to keep unemotional as you do business with someone. When you close a big deal, get permission to build a fantastic piece of art and get paid an unreal amount of money for the project, it's pretty hard to maintain professional composure. You want to jump up and down, hug the client and turn cartwheels. But we must maintain our dignity.

Can you imagine the reaction you'd get from the client? They might be horrified. They'd be thinking, "these people are just too excited, this must be the first big job they've ever sold, what have I done, how can I get out of this?"

So we pretend that this is commonplace, that it happens all the time, maybe missing a chance to really experience child-like joy. Then we get home and we can't really talk to friends and neighbors about the joy. We have to keep it safely bottled up, because if we let it out, they'll think we're bragging or gloating or showing off. Besides, they didn't know that we'd been up all night for months, sick with worry, wondering how we were going to make ends meet.

I remember the first time we sold a job and were paid a princely sum. It was a rare occurrence. We usually scratch from one job to the next and here we were facing a client who not only wanted what we could do, they weren't trying to cut our throats in the process. We're usually so used to "starving artists syndrome" that we immediately go into cut our price mode when the subject of cost is raised.

The client handed me a check for 50% of the job as if it were nothing, and maybe to him it was little or nothing. But to me, this was enough operating capital to keep our studio going for the 3 months it would take to build his windows, but it would also allow us to go on another three months. I walked away, electric pulses running through my body, maintaining my composure. But through my head, I kept thinking, "this is enough to buy a car, I could go out and pay cash for a car. He just gave me enough money to run my business and to buy a car!" (Okay, a cheap, used car, but still..)

I didn't do anything so foolish. There were materials to purchase for the job, inventory to replace, and tooling to maintain. As we got used to the funds, and they began to be used up, my excitement began to cool to a level where it was easy to maintain my composure. But, every now and then, I yearn for the freedom to really enjoy good things, good moments, to laugh and dance and express the pure joy of the moment of success.

One thing we have been able to do is thank God for the blessings. We often don't know what we did to gain a particular success. I like to say, "If I knew what I did, I could do it again." But we decieded a few years back, that the Lord was doing a lot in our behalf and we really ought to thank him. So we did, and found that the more we thanked him, the more we saw his hand in our lives.

One day, a client came in while I was teaching a class and we made a deal right then and he paid me and the deal was closed in such a short time during a busy moment that I didn't have time to get excited and be really grateful to the Lord. I figured I could thank him when the day was over and there were fewer people around. But when that time came, I found that the moment had passed. I hadn't taken the time to celebrate, so I missed out on that moment. Maybe that was good, because it taught Jeanne and I that even though we can't always let the world see our excitement, we can sure let God see it, but we can't be bashful about it. Either praise him or don't, but don't figure you can at a later time.

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Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Client From Hell - Learn To Walk Away

Early in 2003 I ran into some folks who wanted some stained glass in their home. A friend had been discussing another project with them and mentioned that he had an associate who did custom stained glass. They mentioned that they would like to meet with the artist and my friend called me and gave me all the information. He was excited because these folks seemed to want a lot of stained glass and he wanted to help me to succeed. He did warn me that they had a hard time visualizing jobs, so I was going to need to provide drawings every step of the way.

So I gathered a few materials and went to see these potential clients. We met at their home, which was under construction and had been for about two years. I went in to meet them, the husband was there talking with a contractor and I had to wait for about twenty minutes to get my turn to talk with him, kind of par for the course. But when it was my turn, it turned out that he wanted me to wait for his wife, who wasn't there yet. He called her on a cell phone and about a half hour later we all got to talk about the project.

They took me through their home and pointed out places that they wanted stained glass. Three arches in a down stairs kitchen, some panels in the kitchen cabinets, an opening in the wall near the home theater room, a dome in the dining room, a transom over the bedroom, an alcove outside the front entrance and a huge window over the spa in the master bedroom. My head was spinning. This was the big time! I had done many commercial and residential jobs in the past, but never so many great panels and never so much art potential!

I dove into the design process, driving to their site several times, taking pictures and measurements. I began to draw up designs for the windows. After I had three different designs for the kitchen arches and the cabinets, the pass through in the theater wall, and the dining room dome, we set up a meeting time. They wanted me to have designs for the alcove and the spa as well, so I burned the midnight oil and really knocked out some great designs.

When we got together and I laid out the concept drawings, I got the first inkling that I wasn't working with easy clients. As they looked at the designs, there wasn't the normal "Wow, I like this," reaction, there was a lot of "Well, I kind of like that, what do you think?" reaction going on. It felt like the husband had definite opinions but he was waiting for his wife to figure out what she liked. So they were very hesitant. She seemed to be afraid to make a decision or she wasn’t sure what she wanted and she seemed unable to commit. By the time the meeting was over, I was less enthusiastic about the whole project, but felt certain they would soon be ready to move ahead.

We met three times over the next two weeks with me designing many different styles of glass designs. I was doing all I could to get this job, it was going to be a good addition to our portfolio and would be very profitable. The design process was really agonizing, but they finally decided on all the pieces they wanted for the downstairs kitchen, the pass through, the dining room dome and the alcove.

Great! As a salesman/artist/businessman, I now needed to get a commitment and some cash so I could move forward on the project. At the same time, I was busy building panels for other clients and working out details on their jobs, which were moving along smoothly. We scheduled a fifth appointment so I could show them glass colors. I picked out the ones I felt were just right and took a whole sample set with me to their site. They were late again, as they had been every time we met. I was starting to get frustrated with the whole decision process, but the lure of great work in such volume was still very appealing. And the cash from the work would really help with the business.

So, they finally showed up. I showed them the 6 color samples I had for the kitchen panels and they went into their routine.
“Well, that’s niiice…..”
“What do you think?”
Hesitant nervous look, “I guess they’re okay….”
“Well, maybe we better look at some more colors.”
They took every single sample out of the box, one by one and discussed it. They put them in windows and against walls to see what they would look like in different light. This was all okay, with other clients it’s par for the course. I’ve had many customers spend in excess of two hours picking their colors. That’s okay, they have to live with the color choices for a long time, but without exception, they all get closer and closer to a decision. These two were going in circles and they weren’t having any more fun than I was. After the two hours we spent there, they decided on the colors that I had originally recommended.

I wondered later if their decision was just another stalling technique. That maybe they just gave up, tired of the process. I think the husband liked the colors, but the wife just wasn’t going anywhere in her decision process, she just couldn’t say or decide what she wanted.

Since they had made their color choices for the kitchen panels, I collected $3380 from them. A 50% deposit on 6 windows. It was such a relief to walk out with the check, it was a commitment to the whole job. They had agreed to have me start on the mold I was going to cast in the dome in the dining room so I could begin work on that project.

So, I placed a glass order and spent a weekend filling the dome on the ceiling with plastic and spray foam to make a mold. When the glass came I got to work on the arches. I had two built and the pieces cut out for the third one when I went to meet the clients to pick out the color for the glass in the dome. I took Jeanne along, thinking that she could lend support to this lady and help her along the path to picking her favorite color in a way that I couldn’t.

When we got to the appointment, there was another a woman there, the new designer. One in a long number who had come and gone on the project. But she wasn’t a decorator/designer, she was a furniture consultant, really just a glorified furniture salesman with an inflated ego and a mouth that wouldn’t stop. Our clients were just steam rolled by this chick, who didn’t like the window panel we had built for the arch and started shot gunning new ideas for the kitchen.

She then showed me a color swatch, a piece of fabric which was the color they wanted the glass in the ceiling light to match. It was a tan/beige color. But, she specified that it couldn’t have any amber in it. I left the meeting dumbfounded. The way you get beige and tan glass is to take amber and mix in other colors. This woman didn’t know what she was talking about. But she had put the entire glass project on hold.

We never did figure out a color for the dining room glass, eventually the clients got tired of being pushed around by the furniture salesman and cut her lose, and went on to someone else. They didn’t take delivery on the glass arches. They canceled the rest of the order. I ended up putting the cut glass for the third arch in the scrap bin and the two finished arches got hung in storage. The clients eventually ended up putting wrought iron in the arches, it looked nice, but not as fantastic as what our design could have been. They ended up yanking the special wiring they had done in the dining room dome out and putting it back as it had been to start with. That was too bad because the design we had come up with would have really been great and would have given that room a very distinctive look.

Several months later, I learned that a friend in the stained glass business was building a spa window for those folks. I rushed over to his studio to see what they had finally decided on. I had really come up with some beautiful designs for them and I wanted to see how close the final design had come to them.

What I saw was the proof to the old saying that “no matter how much money you have, you still can’t buy taste.” The window was a blocky funky pattern that looked more like a bad tile job than a stained glass window. They chose the most opaque glass available which let as little light through as possible. It really was sad, a waste of money.

My friend told me that those people had not just had 7 different decorators on the job, but they had installed marble floors and then changed their minds and had them ripped out and reinstalled with a completely different design and color scheme. They had cabinets installed and then changed out. They had come to him early on in their construction and had him design work in all the places where they had discussed glass with me. This was a complete surprise, because I had been walking through their home discussing glass ideas when we first went through and each suggestion was met with a feeling of complete discovery. They acted as though they had never had the idea in this or that place, that it was all new.

I didn’t offer a refund to the clients, I had gotten a 50% draw on the work in the kitchen and finished 50% of it. They hadn’t paid for the mold work I did in the dining room, but I chalked it up to experience. The client once asked if he was due any refund or credit towards something else, and I explained my thoughts on the matter which he took in stride. I mean, if you could rip out a marble floor, what’s a little stained glass job?

They say that you need to learn to walk away from deals that aren’t in your best interest. And that’s good advice. A bad deal can cost money and hurt your reputation. So how do you know when you’re getting into a bad deal?

1. I find that it’s really important to listen to the client and hear what they are saying. Don’t let artistic desires or financial rewards cloud your judgment. These clients were an extreme example. I should have realized early on that all the changes in personnel and tradesmen on the job indicated that they were going to be tough to work for.

2. Then you need to ask them what their expectations are. If they are too high or unreasonable, flags ought to go up all over. You need to realize that you might not be in a position to make them happy.

3. If you still feel that you want to go ahead, you need to tell them exactly what to expect. Tell them what you can do and what you can’t. Let them know that you’ll be building the glass but that someone else is going to have to install it (if that’s the case). Try to be accurate, promise them what’s realistic and normal, then try to exceed those promises.

4. Finally, put it all in writing. Before working with this client, I just gave prospective clients a bid document to be able to collect a draw. Now, my bid document spells out that if a draw is given, they are agreeing to the whole project and the full balance agreed upon will be due upon completion of my part of the work.

While going through these steps, listen. If you start to get that creepy feeling that things might not go well, or that you’re in over your head or that these might not be the right clients or especially if they are beating you up over price too much, have the guts to say no. Give them the name of your competition and let them deal with the headaches. Let them get beat up and lose money on the deal.

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Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Nov-Building a Globe

Building a Globe .. We've been working the whole year on planning for the candy windows that the Provo Arts Council sponsors each year at Christmas time. I was in charge of getting a globe for the moon in our display. I thought that would be easy enough, but it wasn't. I finally resorted to building two half round lamp shades and putting them together.

Read the whole article with pictures by clicking the title above.