Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Stained Glass Scroll

I've seen a few stained glass award scrolls in recent years. Each one has been for a peerage. A recent court list came out shortly before the event and, feeling it my duty, I offered to take an assignment to help out. While thinking about the scroll design I wondered why I, the self-declared "Worst Scribe in the Midrealm" don't ever try and play to my strengths. There is no reason why a stained glass scroll could not be for a lower award, and my assignment was for an Award of the Silver Acorn (Midrealm Youth A&S award). A bit of inspiration struck me. Later, a new bit of inspiration struck me.

I manually cut out an 8" circle of clear glass. Using the knowledge Lady Moll had given me last Pennsic, I prepared a heavy matt and applied it to most of the disk. I blended it as even as I could and let it dry.

Once it dried, I laid it directly on my cartoon. Normally my patterns go beneath a thing sheet of plexiglass on my lightbox, however I've learned that even a little distance weakens the image. Placing the glass directly on the paper gives me as clear an image as possible through the matting. I grabbed a stick (specifically a bamboo skewer, I buy them 100 at a time at Walmart) and traced the outline of the white spaces.

When I mixed my matting paint I intentionally went heavy on the gum arabic. I knew I would be handling this a lot and wanted the paint to have solid grip. Unfortunately I then discovered my scrubs couldn't remove the paint. I had to spent between 90 minutes and 2 hours with my skewer in hand, scraping out the spaces. OUCH.

Once I was happy with the white space, I fired it. Fortunately it fired well! Everything looked good, so I began the part that I feared the most: the calligraphy.

I will reiterate, I am not much of a scribe. I can bumble my way through some Carolingian Miniscule or the old gothic hand they taught us in middle school art class. It's not polished and I don't use a dip pen or period inks. I only take assignments when it's an emergency (large lists/short time, etc). I don't TRY and put my terrible handwriting out into this world. Does this seem like a lot of dithering? It is, and I hope to some day be remembered for my glass work, not my scribal arts. Please forgive the atrocity you are about to witness.

Parents, cover your children's eyes. Children, get a parent who will cover your eyes.

At least Their Majesties can rest easy I won't make a profession out of forging their signatures! I suspect Estelle will tell me it's not that bad, etc etc. 

Now, for the calligraphy. I've tried in the past preparing standard water-based tracing paint and a square-shaped brush. I couldn't get anything resembling a good result. I consulted Elskus, as I often do when stumped. Around page 65 of my edition he describes sketching on glass with metal pens. I realized that I should be able to repurpose this method for calligraphy. My scribal betters may be momentarily pleased, for once I grabbed my metal-nibbed dip pen!

I put a small pile of black vitreous paint on my palette and added just enough clove oil to grind and start working the paint into a paste. Once it was well incorporated I added more clove oil until it got near the consistency of black india ink. Elskus is very clear that it must be slightly thicker than *black* india ink. Fortunately at the bottom of my scribal box I had a vial of it for reference. 

Once the clove oil ink was ready I put it into a narrow container (a plastic sake cup, specifically) into which I could dip my pen. I had a piece of paper with lines on it to place under the glass as a guide. I then went to it.

Clove oil does not spread, and is considered a "non-drying" oil. It will dry when heated, however. 

Once the second firing was finished, I applied a much lighter matt with the same paint for shading. For accents I decided to apply some silver stain to the little circles. One last firing and it is complete.

The seal was created in polymer clay by our Dragon Signet. It is intended to be hung from a hole in the scroll, however I opted to use two small soldered jump rings. My original plan was to drill the holes in the glass first, to ensure it would be safe. I forgot and jumped straight into the painting, and didn't want to risk breaking the glass at this point. I drilled one hole for the hanging jump ring. I worked some chain into it and soldered it closed.

Lessons Learned

It is essential to get the paint ground as well as possible. My palettes aren't rough enough and I didn't spend enough time grinding the paint. This lent a certain grittiness to it that made it occasionally difficult to write with. It's hard to get rough palettes without sandblasting gear, however. Hopefully I'll have that remedied before Pennsic.

I had issues with my dip pen and the little reservoir clip. Near the end I just popped it off and dipped more frequently.

Most everyone who saw it asked me why I had the "paint smear" the "smudges" or in one rare case "the shading." The 3D effect was not immediately obvious to anyone who saw the scroll. I will need to keep that in mind in the future. This was my cartoon:

You must learn to love clove oil (or aniseed oil, an alternative Elskus mentions), because you will smell it for hours, days, etc. Over this past weekend Mistress Kirsten said water-based paint will work just fine for this purpose, which would be MUCH easier to clean and correct, though at this point I might miss the clove smell!

Use a guide for scratching out the circles, they will look much smoother!

Jump rings get hot INCREDIBLY Fast. I have a ring-shaped burn on my left index finger after barely touching the ring with the soldering iron. I wonder if they are plated copper?

It was nerve wracking to take the scroll back, after the recipient and seen and held it, and tear it apart. I was afraid the stain would go wrong, the glass shatter, the drill crack it, etc etc etc. I only had a few days to make this happen, in the future I want to make sure it is completely done before it is turned in before court. The stress is not good!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Putty Party

A few years ago I learned a great shortcut. But first, dramatic tension!

I've wanted to try and make thumb wax for a long time. There is a recipe in Elskus and another in Isenberg ("How to Work in Stained Glass", third edition, my modern glass bible). Thumb wax is used to hold glass pieces onto a glass easel or lightbox for test viewing or while painting.

Elskus' recipe is simple: a quarter pound of beeswax and a teaspoon of venice turpentine. The one given in Isenberg is considerably more complicated, calling for a significant amount of beesewax, a pound of cornstrach, "sweet oil" (olive oil), venice turpentine, and resin. The recipe given, below, must make enough for Tiffany's studio at it's most productive. I cut everything into a 1/6 proportion and still ended up with a lot of thumb wax.

Thumb wax (from Anita/Seymour Isenberg's How to Work in Stained Glass, 3rd edition, P. 188)
1 pound beeswax
1 pound cornstarch
4 ounces resin
7 ounces venice turpentine
1-3/4 ounce sweet oil (olive oil).

Melt the beeswax in double boiler, add the cornstarch one spoonful at a time. Then add resin, venice turps, and oil. Mix thoroughly.

Note that the above is the original recipe, not my reduced portions!

I asked my chef mother about setting up a double boiler. She suggested a good plastic bowl. Being a professional she has high grade bowls. I settled for gladware....

Hey, it doesn't melt...

I made Elskus' recipe first, beeswax and rosin. It's nice and simple to be sure.

The molten thumb wax, in it's cooling bowl

It took a small laboratories worth of scales and calculators to get some of those numbers converted and reduced. Here are the ingredients I used for the Isenbergs' recipe:

The mix being cooked

The two waxes finished, Isenberg on the left (the cornstarch makes it much lighter)

The waxes smell amazing. Beeswax gives off a honey scent when warmed. Venice turpentine is drawn from pine trees, and that is another favorite smell of mine. I also used pine resin. 

If you've never worked with venice turps, it's very messy. It gets on your hands and it wears off within an hour or two. Washing it off was impossible, though I probably don't have the right solvents.

The waxes, after being poured, are very solid. You rip out a chunk and start kneading it with your fingers and it becomes pliable. Unfortunately it leaves a definite coating of turps on your fingers as you use it. Elskus' recipe is much harder and takes more to make it pliable. Once it is warmed up, both seem to react similarly. I immediately had a suspicion that the wax would leave behind residue on the glass, if it's leaving it behind on my fingers. This is probably fine for glass you are going to fire (the wax will run or burn off) and should be fine for leaded glass, but I think this will be completely unacceptable for copper foil:

 Click the pictures to enlarge them. You will see on each piece or pieces a distinct residue of thumb wax.

This leads to my personal favorite thumb wax, something that seemed obvious to me when, in a pinch, I needed something to hold glass to my lightbox.


Ever since I was little I've loved Silly Putty. My parents have made it a point to give me an egg or two of it every Christmas as a gag gift.

I grabbed a handy egg one January when I needed to hold glass to my lightbox while I aggressively blended some matt paint. It worked wonderfully. No residue, easy to clean up, it's sat on top of one bottle or another in my studio for years.

I needed to trace a few bevels to make an accurate pattern of the gaps between. I turned to my silly putty to hold everything together.

There are two other alternatives that need to be discussed: Non-thumb wax (usually beeswax, kept in a crockpot-type thing and applied with an eyedropper). I didn't test it because I don't have room on my benches for a small potpourri pot to keep the wax hot and don't want to deal with clean up. I suspect it would be much more easily cleaned up but I question whether the wax would leave the glass clean. Beeswax is used to... well, wax a lot of things and it applies itself avidly.

I once tried plain candle wax. I don't recommend it. While melting a candle has a lot of benefits for ambiance and seems like it would be a good source, I found it very difficult to clean up; after scraping a lot of it off I had to soak the bevels in hot water and wipe them clean with a rag.

So, for my time and money, silly putty is where it's at. It's not going to hold pieces to a vertical easel, if that's how you choose to paint, but if you work on a lightbox like I do it's a great choice.