Karal Studio

Design for flat panel stained glass tutorial.


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One could write an entire book on design, however that is not my intent here. I merely want to provide some relevant points particular to stained glass to assist you on your journey.

Designing for stained glass is relatively straight forward providing you keep in mind the limits of the material you are about cut, i.e. the glass and your level of skill at cutting it.

One can draw literally anything by finding the shadow lines and primary edges. When drawing a new design, don't waste your time with small details, unnecessary or misplaced lines. You need to look only for those edges that define the true essence of your subject.
Keep in mind that stained glass is made from only lines and block colour, there is no shading, blending of colour or minute detail. Your artistic eye will quickly spot errors in a design when lines are curved poorly so, take as much time as you need to get your lines in just the right place, just the right shape.

Draw with pencil, ruler and rubber. Start with light scetching lines that can easily rubbed away. Modify your lines as much as you wish to. If a line is straight, use a ruler, if a line is curved, make sure it is smooth and pleasing to the eye. When you are totally happy with the position of every line in the project, go over the entire project with a fine tipped marker pen. This will create clear lines with crisp edges, no more than 2mm wide. Now, use your rubber to remove all existing pencil lines that remain.

The design illustration below was drawn originally over a photograph with tracing paper and pencil. This drawing was then traced on a light box to white paper and finished off with a marker pen. Notice that only the essence of the bird has been captured by defining just it's primary features.

Also, you must number each piece so that it can be clearly identified once the templates are cut up.
Numbering is also helpful for knowing which way is up. If there is a colour grain in the glass, you can align the template to take best advantage of that grain.

face design

There are simple shapes, curved shapes, difficult shapes, and down right painful ones.
The difficulty of any shape is judged by two aspects. The concave curvature and the width of the shape.
The illustration below shows a general progression of skill in cutting. Easy shapes have straight lines, convex curves only need you to be able to follow a curved line with the cutter. Things get a wee harder when cutting out concave curves. Thin shapes can also be tricky, however knowing the correct techniques handles everything you'll need to cut.
There are shapes you'd best avoid. Combinations of thin and tight concave curves will only give you endless grief. It is better to redraw you design and eliminate shapes that are beyond your skill, than to try cutting a piece several times without success.

There are also shapes that simply can not be cut using a glass cutter, pliers and glass grinder alone but can only be achieved with diamond burs, drills and band saws. This tutorial series will not cover burs and saws because these power tools are beyond general use of most hobby artists.

Using designs from pattern books

There is a wealth of designs available from pattern books at your stained glass supply store. They are a good option if you are a beginner who is not familiar with designing from scratch.
Pattern books are also great for inspiration and most designs can be modified to suit your desire and dimension of window you wish to fill.

Using digital photos or video for design

A great way to get your raw graphic material for designs, is to take digital photos or video.
Recently, I filmed a gannet colony in full swing and got 4o min's of great footage. Edited clip here
By selecting a frame I liked, I then grabbed it and saved the frame as a jpg (as below)

Then I imported the jpg into Adobe Illustrator. I was only 470 by 314 pixels however it sized up and positioned well on a page. It was then printed to paper.

Youtube Video Episode 1
Stained glass design from a picture

Design for Computer Geeks

If you are a computer geek and can draw with vector art, then this is a great way to develop very accurate designs; I use Adobe Illustrator. Coral Draw is another App. very suitable.
I often wish to start with photographic or graphic art material so, the image is scanned then imported into the drawing App.. Scale the image to the size you are wanting the final panel to be. It is then named as the background layer. Lock this layer so that it can't be moved. Modify opacity of the lay down to about 50%. Doing this will take away it's brightness and make tracing easier to see. Create a new layer and name it tracing. Use the pen tool and begin tracing your subject. The colour of the pen needs to be a bright contrast, (blood red maybe)

To check on your progress and see how the lines are coming along, go to the layers panel and click out the visibility option for the background layer. By doing this you'll see your drawing clearly.
Once you've drawn the subject, create a group of all the pen lines, this keeps the drawing as one piece.
Draw a rectangle to the exact size of your window dimensions, this is the panel boarder. Scale and position your grouped drawing to the desired size / place within the boarder.
You can now draw in whatever you wish / need as your background.

When you are happy with your finished work, hide the background layer and print. Keep in mind that your design needs to fall within the largest size of paper your available printer can handle. Larger than this size can be achieved by using the "Tile artwork on multiple pages function, or someone else's large format printer. For examples of designs I've drawn with this method, check out this page.

Scaling up your drawing

If you design is drawn at the finial size, then scaling it is not needed. Sometimes however you may have made your drawing from a photograph or other small artwork so scaling it up to your needed size is necessary. This is most easily done by making use of a large format photocopier to get it up to your required size. Get 2 copies printed, one as your layout sheet (that your glass is assembled upon) and the second copy is cut into templates. The template copy should be printed onto a light grade of card paper.

Using Templates

Once you are pleased with your final design drawing, get your design photocopied on to a light grade of card. Always use a card paper because it provides stiffness you'll need for template handling.
It is very helpful to colour in both the layout drawing and the template copy with felt pens before you cut the template copy into pieces. By doing so, you define the colours of your project and avoid confusion later. "Which template piece goes with what colour?"

Now, it is time to cut the template copy into it's individual pieces. If you've got your heart set on making tidy stained glass, you'll be doing most of projects with templates especially those projects using opalescent glass, curved shapes and those projects you intend to make several times.

When using the copper foil technique, you'll only need to cut each line once. However, keep in mind that if you cut glass to the same size as the templates, the project will grow. To compensate, always cut the glass a wee smaller than the template lines provide...
If you are going to be making a leadlight panel, then you'd best cut your pattern lines totally off each template shape. Double cutting the lines out provides space in the templates that is needed by the heart of the lead canes. There are special template scissors that make light work of this job and can be purchased at your stained glass supply store.

Keep in mind that a well made set of templates are WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN GOLD so it is wise to take good care of them. Make a simple envelope from a sheet of A4 paper by folding it in half. Then fold the 2 open edges over and tape them both closed. Fold up the layout sheet and put it inside the envelope. Finally fold the envelope closed. Name and date your envelope.

Youtube Video Episode 2.
Making templates from a design

Next Tutorial is Designing 3 dimensional objects