Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Drawing your own patterns

I think most of us start out copying the designs out of pattern books and I really don't think there's anything wrong with that. Dover publishes a wide selection of copyright-free designs, many of them from first rate artists, and in the beginning we copied all our patterns from sources like this. Now, of course, there are a wide range sources on the web and software that will guide you through the design process. We would also use these patterns in our commission work. It's just so easy to go to the potential client with ready made patterns from a book, especially if your own portfolio isn't very impressive and you're not very confident of your own ability.

We would also do little craft shows here and there and our work sold pretty well, but we knew at some point we'd have to rely on our own creativity.

It's a scary thought, though, when what you draw doesn't look anywhere near as good as what you see in the pattern books. But it's a real thrill when you sell the first piece you've designed yourself.

Some thoughts on composition

Neither of us have a degree in art but we're not untrained. We have taken many courses and training in various techniques and of course we have been doing this work for 30 years. But what I'm talking about now is not from any text book, just some quick tips for beginners from my own observations and experience.

I think many beginners are thinking that the beauty of the glass is all that matters. And it's true that some glass is so beautiful, it's almost a shame to cut it.

But to me the most important thing is line. If the pattern is good it can make up for some poor glass choices.

Look at your design and ask yourself these 3 questions.
  • Are all your pieces roughly the same size?
  • If it's not a geometric design, is the center of attention in the center of the piece?
  • Do you have a lot of cut lines?

All your pieces are about the same size? This can tend to "confuse" the eye, as if it doesn't know where to look. All the pieces have the same size and therefore the same value, there's nothing to focus your attention on.

The center of attention is in the center of the window? Generally (but not always) this makes for a very ordinary looking piece. Your eye tends to stay in one spot not being compelled to travel over the entire composition.

Too many cut lines? This is one of the hardest things to control in designing for glass. Glass is not a very forgiving medium and if you don't allow for its brittle nature it will make you pay. But that doesn't mean you need to put a break line at the tip of every leaf. Rather than a cut line, the leaf can butt into some other element in the design.

Of course rules were meant to be broken and great art, certainly great modern art, almost requires you to break rules. And these don't really qualify as rules exactly, they're more like shortcuts to good design. Things I've picked up over the years.

Process, not product

Finally, while I don't feel qualified to teach design, I think I can offer some advice that could help those who are trying to make the transition from pattern books to designing on your own.

  1. Redesign. Not just a line here or there but try putting that flower on the left, or in a different position. Instead of straight up why not bending in the wind? or even wilted slightly. Maybe a petal has fallen off and is lying on the ground. Maybe a leaf is folded back across the stem instead of sticking straight out. Try moving away from the typical colors. Maybe you could put a dash of violet in that green leaf or some blue in that rose. Approach your work in a "painterly" manner.
  2. Trust in yourself, but don't get so attached to your drawing that you can't make changes. A friend of mine who did go to art school had a drawing teacher who would come and look at a student's work and sometimes reach out and tear it up and say, "That was very nice, now do another one". When I heard that I couldn't believe the guy could be such a creep. But now I think I know what his point was; Don't get so attached to your work that it becomes a manifestation of your ego instead of an expression of your soul. Art is a process, not a product.


  1. Joe, I'm an absolute beginner, and began by reading blogs before I ever touched a piece of glass. Your blog is SO helpful since it seems to be directed towards folks like me. MORE please!!!

  2. Hi Joe,
    I couldn't agree with you more, the process is what it is all about. Have you seen this trailer for an upcoming documentary about stained glass?

    Check it out: