How to paint stained glass

Here’s one way to paint many layers on top of one another, then fire your glass just once

Today you’ll see the techniques I use to paint a stained glass beast. Yes, you’ll discover how to do it all in a single firing. This is just like I did it for our students in the Netherlands in July. And it’s just like I did it one morning a month ago when Stephen had his camera on. I’ve got lots of demonstrations for you to watch – eight, in fact – so let’s get going now.


One last point before we start. You’ll need a good hour to read this article and watch the videos I’ve made for you. I’m saying this so you can be prepared. The information here is excellent. It’s also free. I don’t want you to miss out. So the best thing is, you know before you start how long the journey is.

1. The undercoat

First up, once the glass is clean: the undercoat

Here’s mine:

Clean glass with undercoat in preparation for the beast

The undercoat: the best foundation for your tracing and shading – so how’s it done?

And here’s an important tip.

  • It takes just a few seconds to apply and blend the undercoat.
  • But it takes several minutes to clean your glass, prepare the paint and load your brush.

OK, so have a look at this first clip here.

I’ve already spent three whole minutes ordering the palette and mixing the paint.

But I still have several essential things to do before I can get on and do the undercoat: that’s how long it takes to get it right …

So that’s the undercoat.

Now for …

2. The main trace lines

The next thing is, you put the glass on top of the design and copy the main trace lines.

I say ‘main’ for a very good reason.

You see, I don’t want to copy all the lines, because I don’t want to turn them all into shadows, which – strange as it may seem – is what I will soon do with these main lines which I’ll trace now.

Yes indeed: it would spoil the effect if everything were shadow.

That’s why you’ll just copy some of them.

Exactly: just the ‘main’ ones.

Again, it’s the mixing of your paint which takes much more time than many people think.

So, in case you missed it, here’s a clip Stephen posted a few weeks back.

Here you see me mixing up my paint for tracing.

Three full minutes to mix:

And three full minutes to paint:

Copy-trace just the main lines

Copy-trace just the ‘main’ lines – the ones you’ll turn to shadows

3. Strengthen

Next, it’s just a case of making these ‘main’ lines stronger.

So now you go over them a second time, as carefully as you can, this time with the design on one side, and your glass directly on the light box.

Here’s what you’re after:

Strengthen the main lines

Strengthen the main lines

People often ask me why I usually trace in two layers (not one).

Well, it’s right to say “usually”, because it all depends.

For example, it all depends on the techniques I’m using, on the shape of the image I’m painting, on how much light the window must let in / how bold the trace lines must be for the eye to see them properly: there really are many, many factors.

But one of the most important considerations is this: especially in this case (as you will see), I need to be absolutely certain the lines are just dark enough for my plan.

If they’re too dark, my plan will fail.

But my plan will also fail if my lines are too light.

What on earth am I talking about?

Can you guess?

4. Lines into shadows

OK, here’s the answer.

Now you use your hake to paint a wash over the whole surface of the glass. Then you blend it while the paint is still wet.

Here’s a quick clip. As you’ll see, it all happens very quickly:

And now you see my ‘problem’:

If my tracing lines are too light, my hake or my badger will rub them away.

But if my lines are too dark, I can’t soften them at all.

And that is why, here, I suggest you paint your trace lines in two stages – it is because you plan to soften them.

The first time, you trace them lightly with your glass on top of the design.

The second time, now with the design on one side, you bring them to the exact strength which you need for this technique to work.



Let’s continue.

5. Details

Now you can add the missing details:

Now add details

Your beast – now with extra details

Exactly! These are the lines you don’t want to soften.

6. Lines around shadows

Next job is, you paint around the shadows.

I say ‘around’ because of course you don’t want to paint ‘over’ the shadows and obliterate them.

Otherwise, what would be their point?

No, you paint around them: a little bit on top, a little to one side.

Here’s your next clip from the film Stephen shot of me that morning:

Obviously there’s a lot more I could say about this technique, but I can only go into this much detail here.

Result: see photo in next section.

7. Strengthen the details

Moving on, you also strengthen the details:

Beast with strengthened details

Beast with strengthened outline and also strengthened details

It’s all relative here: how much you strengthen them depends on the effect you want and where Your piece is going.

8. The thickest, darkest paint of all

And now you mix some thick, dark paint and flood around the outline.

Again, this is a clip which Stephen posted the other day.

This clip always gives me the ‘tingles’, even though I’ve watched it maybe 20 times.

I’ve never seen a better ‘explanation’ of how to stop your paint from blistering in the kiln.

The secret is, to mix your paint every single time you load your brush.

Once the tango starts, you’ll see exactly what I mean:

And do you see how you already understand far more by seeing me paint than ever I can explain to you in words?

I bet you do.

Now you see what you must copy to get the wonderful results you want for your own work.

9. Highlights

So you take a stick and cut through the undercoat to the bare glass beneath:

Use a wooden stick to make the highlights

Use a wooden stick to make the highlights

And then you rub your hands together till they’re dry, then you give these harsh, bold highlights a good softening.

Study this clip here.

I say ‘study’ because if you put in the work and pay attention, you’ll soon see the benefits in your glass painting.

That’s why I make time to talk with you like this: don’t think me or Stephen have time to spare because we don’t.

If you get better, if you learn something, then it’s worth it.

Otherwise we are wasting our time and you’re wasting yours – so I hope to goodness this article and videos are doing you good.

Forgive me: I’m old enough to say I know these techniques like the back of my hand. It’s you I’m thinking about here, and I hope you’re following.

10. Teeth

Now remove the teeth – you’ll see a photo in a moment – and here it’s best to use a needle.

The reason is, you’re cutting through the flooded paint, which is a whole lot harder than just cutting through the undercoat.

11. Texture behind

Since glass is flat and shiny, I often paint on both sides, not just the front (the one which mostly faces people).

My judgment is, painting both sides gives depth to the glass:

Your beast with teeth and also texture behind

Your beast with teeth and also texture behind

It’s not a problem – firing both sides at once.

But I do suggest you test this for yourself and in your own kiln.

The underside will always be less shiny than the top side (because it’s touching your kiln shelf).

I will also say we always use whiting (calcium carbonate), not kiln wash.

OK, so what kind of texture on the back?

It depends. This time I used a toothbrush … And then I rubbed it gently with my hands.

Watch carefully now:

12. More shadows and lines on front – propylene glycol

Now something I haven’t mentioned much before. It’s this:

We don’t just use oil – oil of tar, oil of lavender etc. etc. when we paint on top of unfired water-based glass paint.

For sure, oil is absolutely marvellous, and it’s what the Ancients used.

But this is the 21st century. (I’ve got an electric kiln, right?)

So another medium we also often use is propylene glycol.

Watch this:

What do you think of that?

Do you see how you could use this in your work?

The things is, with this technique you won’t just finish your work faster and with fewer firings.

Your results are also better.

Yes. Better.

And that’s what really counts.

I hope you’ve found this useful.

All the best,