My first posting in this blog featured the design process for a new 6 foot in diameter rose window for Saint Anne’s Church in San Diego California. I decided to follow this window through the process from start to finish so that the parishoners at Saint Anne’s could follow the progress of their window and also, so that other congregations, that may be considering new stained glass, can follow the process and become better informed about the process, materials and techniques involved.
I would have liked to have painted the glass for this window myself but it is nearly impossible for me to paint on glass in the studio. I spend far too much time on the phone and doing spread sheets. What portion of the week I can devote to art is usually spent designing. It takes me forever to paint on glass because of the number of unavoidable interruptions.
Melissa Seiling is going to paint this one. Melissa is one of the very best glass painters working today. Years ago, I recognized that taste in the sacred arts was moving into a post-modern period when traditional imagery would again be favored. (This is why the demand for the best old windows is so great.) So I embarked on a program of skill-building so that my studio could make new windows that were every bit as good as the work of the Munich studios. Melissa (along with Bryan Willette and Rachel Reinfurt) has been at the forefront of rediscovering the materials and techniques that were all but forgotten. I understood that, to achieve this level of proficiency, it would be necessary for my artists to gain lots of experience. They would have to be painting like this all day, every day- there is simply no other way to get this good. It’s just like shooting foul shots, if you want to be the best, you have to practice every day.
Melissa and I spent some time together discussing my concept of this window and we were instantly on the same page about color palette. Working with so many Munich School windows has afforded us valuable insights into the way they made windows. They very deliberately turned-down the volume on the color to allow the draftsmanship to come to the fore. For this rose window, we would do the same-more about this when we get to the glass selection process.
The process begins on the computer. Neil Cippon (studio I.T. guru) had already scanned the original watercolor design into the computer. Father Gismondi provided us with the exact measurements of the window opening, high above the Altar. So in this first step, Neil combines the digital version of my watercolor (in Adobe Photoshop) with the vector-oriented software that all architects use (CAD). In this way Neil can enlarge the window to exact full size. He can even make improvements for instance, in my design there is a border that runs around the entire perimeter and consists of numerous pieces of a regular size and shape. Using CAD, Neil made certain that each and every one of these border pieces is precisely the same.
Next he sends the full-scale image to a Hewlett-Packard plotter, which is really nothing more than an enormous color printer. He made two copies, one in black and white and one in color, the reasons for this will become apparent later.
Whenever a small-scale design is blown up to full size, we must go back and invest the enlarged version with all the of detail that would have been impossible working in scale. In this photo, Melissa is using images from a variety of sources to improve the full-scale version. This is called Cartooning. Sometimes we will draw directly on the drawing that comes out of the plotter but in this case, Melissa has layered some fine cotton tracing paper over the enlargement. On this, she begins drawing in charcoal, which is very easy to erase and change. Some of her information is coming from renaissance paintings of crucifixions but for the hands of God the Father, she had done something we do quite frequently here. She enlisted one of our craftsmen, Simon Grigsby, to model the poses while she photographed his hands with a digital camera. With such technology instantly available, why not make use of it. You can see how the hands have become well defined and dramatic. This cartooning is still in process and she will take her time with this and I will be weighing-in too. This step will influence the final appearance of the window more than any other part of the process because Melissa will be using her drawing here to guide the glass painting process, as you will see.
In the meantime, we received a shipment of glass from S.A Bendheim. We have been buying hand blown German glass from Bendheim for 31 years. We buy so much of it that they deliver it to us in Philly all the way from Passaic New Jersey. Passaic is just across the river from New York City, about a two-hour drive to our studio in Germantown Philadelphia.
The glass for this rose window was only a part of the shipment and Rachel Reinfurt is unpacking several crates to separate the glass for her project (7 windows for Saint Clare of Assisi in Surprize AZ).
Check back here again soon for more progress.