Sunday, April 30, 2006

May-Re Applying Patina To A Stained Glass Panel

Here is a panel that is in need of brightening. The blackness of the patina is dull and you can see that there is a buildup of pale corrosion around the edges of the lead lines.

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Competition Is Only An Illusion

It's important that we as stained glass artists realize that we are not in competition with each other. There is a tendency to see someone else’s success and feel jealous. “I should have gotten that commission, I could have done better.” We see artists in all mediums belittling their colleagues work. What’s wrong with us? Are we working from an attitude of scarcity or abundance? Those who have a view of life that there exists abundance become much more open and able to feel joy for the success of others. They are able to be inspired by the work of others instead of feeling jealous.

When I started in stained glass in 1983, I wasn't making enough to support us by only doing glass. Somehow, I stumbled onto video rentals and soon I had three video rental stores in three different towns. What's interesting is that in one town, another person opened a video rental store right behind ours on the same block. We thought we were really going to be in fierce competition.

The other store lasted a year and then the owner relocated to another town. During that year, the store located in the town with the “competitor” did about $1200 in rentals each week, so did the store in a nearby town that had no competition. After the other store closed down, our revenues went up for a week or so, but leveled back to about $1200 a week. If that other guy was so much competition, shouldn’t the stores’ revenues have doubled when he closed? Hmmm.

Later, three other video stores opened in the town where there was no competition. Guess what? There was very little change in that stores receipts. There was a slight dip in the stores revenues, but not anywhere near enough to hurt us. Huh, that just didn’t seem right.

A couple of years ago, a major stained glass studio in Salt Lake City, Utah closed their doors. We sell stained glass in Salt Lake through a couple of decorators and are located about 50 miles south of there. If it were true that we were in competition with each other, my business would have gone up. But it didn’t, what another store does has very little effect on us. Except that if someone starts a heavy advertising campaign, interest in stained glass goes up and it’s almost as if their campaign was one of our own. So having people around in the same business only SEEMS like you’re in competition. Their marketing efforts help me!

Recently, our studio worked with two other “competitors” on a project. We were contacted to build some large windows to go in doors in an office building. They would have to be insulated between tempered glass and rather than use the local big glass guys who routinely make mistakes and even damage windows, we approached our nearest competitors, a stained glass shop who have been in business for many years. They turned out to be very friendly and helpful and even though the price for their work was 50% higher than that other glass shop, the value was there because they treated our work as if it was their own.

When I asked if they could install the glass, they were too busy, but they recommended another glass company who specializes in installations. The install went so well, that we’ve asked for other help from that third company.

So instead of being “competitors”, by using each others talents and strengths, it’s almost like we’re partners. The glass shop that did the insulated units doesn’t teach classes, so they give out our business cards to people who ask about classes and they send folks to us when they don’t have a specific piece of glass in stock.

Your natural instinct may be that if my students go buy tools from a different glass studio, I’m losing money, but don’t forget that the folks at the other studio are coming to you and making purchases. It’s a win-win situation. You and your neighbor studio sell more to each others students because they visit and everything in your studio looks new, because they haven’t been there before. The students win, because they get to see the same things in a different setting and it breathes new life into their hobby.

What if they start building windows for their friends and become competitors? Then treat them like partners, like long lost friends. Their circle of influence is completely different than yours and so it doesn’t matter if they are selling to others, they were never going to be your customers anyhow. And besides that, the more people who learn about stained glass in your area, the more popular it will become. And the more educated the community is about glass, the more valued it will become.

Have you ever wondered why all the car lots seem to cluster together? They all seen to locate on a single road, rows of them. Because they know that there is power in numbers. That they aren’t really in competition with one another. By locating closely to each other, they create a synergy where the two separate lots might have sold a number of cars by themselves, but by being near each other, they’ll each sell more than they would have.

Get over the jealousy and you can really enjoy your business. The other store owners will become your best friends instead of your enemies. Sounds good? Try it.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Dragging Myself Out Of Depression

I have been cursed with depression most of my adult life. I especially remember that my bouts of depression would center around the delivery cycle of The Mother Earth News magazine. It came every two months and I would read it from cover to cover and then, usually fall into a blue period which would sometimes turn into depression. I figured that it was because the magazine caused me to dream of freedom and a different lifestyle which was very different from the one I was living. I didn’t feel there was a way to live the life I longed for, that I was stuck, so I became depressed.

As time went on, I noticed that when I was under a lot of stress, my depression cycle deepened. When I sold books door to door, the job was very stressful and I would be able to work at selling for two weeks and then each third week, I would be unable to face the world and stayed in bed for a week. Then I would feel ready to face things again, sell for another two weeks and retreat to sleep for another week. This was not a healthy cycle, it really put a strain on relationships with others. I was lucky that Jeanne was able to cope with my ups and downs.

When I faced a crisis of sorts about the age of 28 and irrationally moved to Missouri without any job or prospects (following the Mother Earth News lifestyle) I found that depression left me for a long period of time. My stress levels were lower, and I was living a life that was closer to the one I desired. My cycle was still there, I still had a tendency to get a little down, but it was dip in my mood, rather than a full depression. So I had a few pretty good years. I started a stained glass business and rented videos from the three stores I started, things were pretty good.

Then I made some “responsible” choices, going to college and joining the regular workforce and slowly my depression cycle returned. I think the cycle is a naturally occurring ebb and flow that we all have and that the deep depression was my subconscious minds’ way of trying to deal with life choices it didn’t agree with. As I struggled with employment issues and dealing with teenaged children my depression really became a monster that sometimes completely stopped me in my tracks. I would find myself unable to do the simplest tasks. I began visiting a depression treatment center, encouraged by a councilor to figure out what was wrong so that I could be over this once and for all. That was one of the worst times of my life, because I had no way to get out of the cycle of depression. I wasn’t working, so didn’t get that positive lift to my ego. The medications seemed to do little to help. And the kids weren’t making life any easier.

Eventually, I just went back to work and forgot all the depression center nonsense and my mood immediately rose. They say men derive self esteem from work and women derive self esteem from their relationships. That may be true because I certainly began to feel better being back at work. Still the cycle continued, at least I found that anytime I got a cold, I stayed sick longer than normal. A cold that would cause a normal person to miss a day of work would knock me out for a week. This effects your reputation at work and has a negative impact on your career. I began to suspect that I might have allergies that were causing me to be physically overwhelmed and thereby affecting my mental state.

Good theory, but when I finally learned that I had type 2 diabetes (in 2003) I finally understood why I had these lingering illnesses. Diabetics typically have symptoms three times longer than others. Their systems abilities to fight off colds and flu are less, so they need to be careful to avoid sickness. And being sick opens the door to depression, mental states are lower and your ability to cope goes down when you feel helpless.

My depression cycle still continued, but since I knew why I was unable to give good consistent work to an employer, I determined to go back to stained glass full time. It had been part time from the day I sold my business back in 1984, now it’s full time again. One of the benefits of being self employed is that if I’m having a bad day, I can go to work later. I can adjust my work hours to go along with how I’m feeling. Some days I’m only up to 3 or 4 hours of work and some days I’m up to putting in 10 or 12 hours of work. Depression is not as much of an issue any longer because I’m doing what I love and so my stress levels are at a level I can handle.

But occasionally, the monster of the “artistic temperament” raises its’ head and I have to deal with it. I have found a few ways of coping with depression over the years.

First, when you find yourself getting down, try to look inside and see what is causing the additional stress. Getting down is normal, it’s when you start to not be able to deal with it that you have a problem, so look inside and see what’s going on. Are you facing moral issues that weigh heavily on you? Is your life not tracking where you want it to? What is it that seems to be trapping you? Once you find your answers, you can begin to dream of ways to bring your life back into control, which will lessen your feelings of helplessness. It may be something as simple as starting a savings account for a vacation that you want to take, or starting a plan to get out of debt. Your problems won’t disappear, but your attitude towards them will make them feel less threatening.

Second, make sure that the little voice in your head is positive and not negative. Write yourself a little commercial that you read to yourself everyday and throughout the day. It should be positive and state what a winner you are and how successful you are, it should reflect your dreams and state them as if they are already a reality. This little recitation to yourself will turn away the negative that can grind you down and allow you to get to a place where you can handle things again. When I can’t work up the energy to even read my affirmation, I sing a little song which I made up (patterned on one they taught when I was selling):

It’s a great day to be a glass man,
Best Thing I know,
It’s a great day to be a glass man,
Everywhere I go, go, go, go
Cut my own pieces,
Put them back together,
It’s a great, great day to be a glass man,
No matter what the weather.

It’s a very dopey song, but I find that no matter how down I am, I can mumble this and it raises my attitude enough to croak it and then to sing it and then to believe it. And if I believe I’m happy, then I am.

Third, and most important, I have to let God into my life. When I’m down, I don’t believe in anything, not God and not Jeanne and not my own abilities. But if I can open up just a little and talk to God and ask for help, he always helps in some way. He didn’t give us life so we can suffer, we’re here to have joy and get out of ourselves and look around us and see the good in life and enjoy it and see the suffering around us and reach out to help relieve that suffering that others are experiencing.

Depression is a natural event, in my life anyway. So I figure it must be a natural event in your life as well. It’s neither good or bad, it just is. How we deal with it, that’s what determines the difference between those whose lives work and those whose lives don’t work.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Artists Learn To Live With Disappointment, How To Lessen The Impact Of Setbacks

One of the realities of being an artist is that we take risks with our art and often fail in the process. Sometimes things go wrong with the techniques we are using and sometimes we bring failure on ourselves. We imagine making a beautiful piece that will only take a few minutes, which we begin and it ends up taking weeks. Our studio has many projects in the half-finished stage. We had planned to finish that project right away, but it took more time and as we let time pass, the project takes even longer.

We started one project and jumped right in and cut all the glass for one third of a three panel window. It only took a couple of days. Then we got side tracked by another job with a more pressing deadline. We set the three panel project aside and worked on the new project. Then another project was ordered. It was a couple of months by the time we got back to the three panel project. We had to get it out of storage and clean off all the dust that had gathered on it. Then we started foiling it. There were a couple of pieces that needed to be fixed and we had to research what the colors were supposed to be because by that time, we’d forgotten a lot of the details of the window. We got the thing foiled and then soldered one side of the panel and ran out of time. We had to complete another project, so once again, the three panel project went back into storage. When we got back to it, it needed to be cleaned again, which used up valuable time. And something was happening to us mentally, since we had put off the project so long, we found it easy to put off again. We struggled with color choices, cleanliness issues and direction that “grain” should run through the window, all things that take care of themselves when we complete a window in a timely manner. Finally we just stayed on to the end and completed the panel. It was easy once we dedicated ourselves to the task.

When we started experimenting with hot glass and firing plates in our kiln, we struggled for a long time. We would fire a piece of glass for use on a plate and get bubbles in it and that would be a setback. We’d have to study to figure out what happened and then overcome the fear of failure enough to try another piece. Then we would fire a piece and it would be perfect except for the fact that it broke. Time after time, we experimented with temperatures and glass mixes. And with each failure, we learned more, but we had to fight to continue to try again and again.

Finally, there is the type of failure and disaster that comes in our art by just plain dumb luck, (bad luck). You’re just finishing a panel, nailing on the outer metal to a piece of glass and your hammer slips and breaks a piece of the panel. It’s really no big deal, but now you have to de-solder the piece of glass, cut a new one and solder it in, just to get back to where you were before the mistake happened. This type of accident happens occasionally and isn’t too hard to recover from. It’s the other mishaps that occur that are especially difficult to deal with. When a glass insulator or installer breaks a piece of glass for you, it’s tough to deal with, especially when you hand carried it to them, warned them of weaknesses and begged them to be careful. The worst accidental break is when you don’t tie down the load securely enough or someone trips on an install, or any number of accidents that end up with severe damage. You may just want to go to bed for a week and fins a nice comfortable job in a pillow factory.

So what do we do to fight against despair?

In the first place, determine that once you start a project, you’ll finish it right away. Plan ahead so you’ll be sure to have the time to complete the work in your schedule, then start the work and stay with it till it’s done. This will save so much time in the long run that it will become even easier to stay on schedule because you’ll be saving all that time doing steps over and over again.

Second, when you start learning a new technique or process, take a class. We could have saved ourselves a lot of time and failure by enrolling in a class with a qualified instructor and learning some of the pitfalls to avoid. Instead, we tried to learn by reading a book and doing it on our own.

Third, attack any problem head on. If you break a piece of glass, fix it immediately. If it breaks again, fix it again. Leaving it till later will only make it worse. And when the damage is really bad, try to assess which method you’ll use to repair the damage. Will you fix the broken pieces or rebuild the whole thing? We once spent a month and a half repairing a window, which only took two weeks to build in the first place. We would have been time and materials ahead to have just started over on that project, not to mention the fact that it meant we had to suffer five weeks with our mistake rather than two.

My students sometime tire from hearing me say that “the difference between an amateur and a professional is that a professional will fix their mistakes.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, a true professional will also fix their mistakes quickly.

For more articles on stained glass visit

April-Studio Chemicals

After covering repair techniques over the last few newsletters, I thought it might be helpful to go over the chemicals we use in the studio and their uses.

We use many chemicals in the stained glass studio. It's sometimes helpful to review how they are best used and when they should be used. This helps us achieve better (and safer) results.

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