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How to Start a Stained Glass Studio + Artist Interview

    Stained glass has a rich history where it was used in cathedrals and thrived as an art during the Renaissance period. Today, the practice is still alive and well, and lives on through talented artists who have taken the time to master this intricate craft.

    We’re fortunate enough to have a chance to bring beautiful stained glass pieces into our homes today because of them and their artistic ability.

    Are you interested in the art and wondering how to start a stained glass studio of your own? We had the chance to sit down with stained glass artist Allie Johnston of Sunshine Stained Glass Works to get a glimpse into her day-to-day work with glass.

    Allie will rank starting a stained glass studio on our Beginability meter at the end of the article!

    How Did You Get Started in Stained Glass, and How Long Have You Been Doing It?

    For Allie, starting her stained glass studio started with a dream, and making sure that the time was right. Many crafts are easy and simple to start, but stained glass required a bit more thought and planning.

    Allie: I stumbled across an ad for a stained glass piece in December 2020 and thought to myself, “Hey, I can make that”. I decided to dive into the art a bit more and realized that it is an incredibly expensive hobby to start.

    I thoroughly stalked Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji for months before I finally found a great deal in April 2021. I began to officially make glass in early May 2021, and immediately fell in love with the process. I’m naturally a crafty person (I love to sew, bake, etc.), but stained glass felt like more of a “cool” hobby due to the kind of tools that I use.

    What is the Set-up Like In Your Stained Glass Studio?

    With the tools and supplies needed to work with stained glass, Allie recommends having a large space to work in, This could be as simple as a spare bedroom in your home or your garage if you have one.

    You have to be prepared to get messy when learning how to start making stained glass.

    It’s important to think about the space that your supplies will take up and the room that you’ll need to work efficiently. Remember to save some space to store your glass and foil.

    Allie: My parents were very supportive of my new hobby, and even ‘set up shop’ for me inside of our large wooden shed in the summertime. My studio moved inside to our heated garage for the cold Canadian winter!

    I have one of my father’s tool benches set up for the glass cutting, foiling, and soldering. I have a separate one set up with my glass grinder and ring saw.

    I also have several shelves full of glass to select from.

    How Is Stained Glass Made? Can You Tell Us About Your Process?

    Every artist will develop their own process, but learning from others can help you understand the basics. Allie’s process of making stained glass is very straightforward and shows the care and attention needed when creating stained glass pieces—especially if they’re going out to paying customers.

    There are many tools and supplies needed, so make sure to have the following on hand when creating stained glass art:

    • An idea
    • Protective Gloves
    • Paper & Pencil
    • A selection of stained glass
    • Glue stick
    • Glass cutter
    • Running Pliers
    • Grozier pliers
    • Ring Saw
    • Glass Grinder
    • Copper foil
    • Liquid flux
    • Burnishing Stick
    • Soldering iron (Not the same as used for computers)
    • Steel Wool
    • Patina (Optional)

    Allie:  First, I start by preparing my pattern. I use the “old school” way of making the pattern by drawing or tracing by hand. I also number each pattern piece so that I know which piece goes where.

     Then I select the glass that I think will best suit my project. This can take some time depending on the complexity of the piece, as I want to make sure that all the glass looks appealing with each other!

    I glue down the pattern on the glass with a glue stick to ensure it sticks throughout the process. Then I cut each piece of glass out from the large sheet using a glass cutter. Each piece is “scored” which is when the glass cutter is dragged along.

    This scored piece of glass is cut using running pliers. I normally use these pliers when I am cutting out simple straight lines.

    Next, I cut around the pattern and use my grozier pliers to reduce the amount of glass around it. (This is done so that I have less to grind off.)

    When I have pieces that are difficult to cut, I can use a ring saw which allows me to cut out very intricate pieces of glass.

    Then I bring my pieces to my glass grinder. This is like a Dremel bit in water that each piece of glass is passed along so that it can be smoothed out.

    The glass is then washed so that all the glue and dust is cleaned off!

    Each piece of glass is wrapped in copper foil—this allows each piece to be connected during the soldering process. After wrapping in foil, the piece is ‘burnished’ so that the sticker-like copper foil is fully attached to the glass.

    Once the piece is foiled, liquid ‘flux’ is brushed across the entire piece. This allows for the lead solder to be soldered across the piece, attaching all pieces of glass together.

    Once the soldering is finished, I wash the piece again and rub steel wool across it so that it will have a nice polish to it. Patina is optional on the piece, (it turns the soldering lines either copper or black) and the piece is finished after polishing and adding a string to hang it on.

    Is Stained Glass Dangerous to Work With? What Safety Precautions Should Someone Take When Making It?

    It’s a given that working with glass can be dangerous, but fully understanding the risks that you may take when working with glass can help you decide if it’s for you. Aside from the glass shards, Allie goes into more detail about what else to look out for and be aware of.

    Specifically, you might consider working with gloves, and a mask during certain parts of the process.

    Allie: The process of making stained glass definitely requires some safety precautions! I have nearly had to get stitches in my hand from accidentally cutting myself on glass.

    Sometimes glass breaks in a different way than expected which can create very sharp edges as well as flying glass. It is ideal to wear gloves and goggles during these processes.

    In addition to this, the solder we use is 40% lead so it is important to use proper hand hygiene so that the lead is not ingested. This is why I use silver solder for pieces that will be handled more often (such as jewelry).

    Stained glass also uses several kinds of chemicals such as flux, and patina. It is best to wear gloves during this, as there have been times when the chemicals cause the skin on my hands to peel!

    Lastly, it is important to solder in a well-ventilated area due to the fumes from the soldering iron + flux + sal ammoniac (cleans the tip of the soldering iron). There have been times when after soldering I have been constantly sneezing/blowing my nose due to these fumes.

    Can Stained Glass Be Repaired? Would You Say That Repairing is More Difficult Than Actually Making the Piece?

    It’s inevitable that a piece could break. Accidents happen, and to lose your favorite stained glass piece can be devastating.

    Fortunately, Allie says that repairing that much-loved piece of stained glass is possible, so don’t lose hope! If starting a stained glass studio is your goal, you’re sure to have a few repair inquiries from customers.

    Allie: Repairing glass is almost like the opposite of creating glass. The solder lines are melted and the glass is tapped out of place. A new foiled piece of glass is inserted and resoldered.

    Likely the trickiest part of repairing glass is ensuring that you are able to find and use the same shade of glass!

    Allie’s Stained Glass Cardinal Piece

    How Do You Come Up With New Ideas for Stained Glass Pieces?

    Art requires a level of creativity, something that everyone has a bit of!

    Allie draws her inspiration from nature, but you may find your creative spark somewhere else. A great way to keep track of your ideas is to write them down on your phone or in a journal.

    You can come back to them later in case you can’t think of anything.

    Allie: I take a lot of inspiration from the nature of my small town, more specifically my mother’s garden. I am fortunate to have grown up amongst so much nature & create pieces that remind me of that!

    I’ve noticed that my most popular pieces have been the plant, floral, and bird pieces, so I am really trying to expand those parts of my portfolio.

    Are Stained Glass Windows Expensive to Buy or Make? Is It Expensive to Get Started in the Hobby?

    It’s so important that as a stained glass artist, you charge a fair price for yourself. You have to consider your time and material, and other costs that start to add up.

    As a customer, it’s equally important to be fair to the stained glass artist. Allie explains it from the perspective of the stained glass artist here.

    Allie: Stained glass is very expensive. It has taken me hundreds of hours of practice to work at the speed I do—but stained glass cannot really be made in bulk as the process does not shorten the time it takes to make.

    Like all art, it is important to price pieces factoring in supplies and time spent to make the piece. It is not rare to spend several hours simply just prepping the pattern and supplies.

    Stained glass requires a lot of different tools/supplies to begin. In addition to this, the supplies cannot be bought at a craft store like other hobbies but rather at specialized stained glass stores (which rarely have sales!)

    At the very minimum, the tools you require would cost about $550CAD ($438USD), which does not include the sheets of glass. The supplies aren’t ones that need to be repurchased, with exception of solder and copper foil—which are about $30 and $20 ($20-30USD) per roll each.

    The price of glass is dependent on several factors such as shade of glass and finish. The most expensive glass to purchase are reds/oranges/yellows/pinks, which can cost over $4/sheet—mainly due to the fact that they use actual gold to create them.

    Luckily, I have had great success through Facebook Marketplace, and bought a glass/starter kit for $150CAD($120USD)! I highly recommend trying to do this when starting out.

    Allie’s Horseshoe Stained Glass Piece

    How Do You Come Up With New Ideas for Stained Glass Pieces?

    Brainstorming ideas is a big part of creating art. It can help to think about your style and what your audience/customers find appealing.

    It should always be something that you enjoy making too, or you’ll lose that creative spark that keeps you going. Inspiration is important, even for an established stained glass artist like Allie.

    Allie: I take a lot of inspiration from the nature of my small town, more specifically my mother’s garden. I am fortunate to have grown up amongst so much nature & create pieces that remind me of that!

    I have noticed that my most popular pieces have been the plant, floral, and bird pieces, so I am really trying to expand those parts of my portfolio.

    Why Do You Think Stained Glass Appeals to Customers?

    Art has a way of touching people and bringing out raw emotions. As a stained glass artist, you can have the chance to touch people in this way with your talent and skills.

    In Allie’s success, she’s experienced first-hand how impactful stained glass can be on people.

    Allie: I have had all kinds of feedback from my amazing customers. Many have told me stories about how their grandparents took on the art when they were a kid and it reminds them of them, and others are surprised to see how ‘interesting’ stained glass can be.

    I try my best to branch out from what most people think of when they think of stained glass to better appeal my art to people my age! Some do consider it a dying art, so it is fulfilling to have people my age be so interested in it.

    Stained glass does thrive in sunshine, so it truly brings light into everyone’s homes.

    What Is Your Favorite Stained Glass Piece That You’ve Made?

    Every artist has their favorite piece—whether they admit it or not! All of Allie’s pieces are gorgeous, but there’s one that stands out for her.

    Allie: Definitely the Georgian Bay scenery in a snowshoe. This is a piece that I had been planning as soon as I started working with glass, but I knew that I needed to truly build up my skill so the piece could be done well. The original snowshoe was gifted during Christmas and took about 40 hours from the idea to the finished piece.

    Allie’s Georgian Bay Snowshoe Piece

    If You Had to Rank Getting Started Making Stained Glass on our Beginability Meter, Where Would You Rank It and Why?

    The Beginability Meter allows us to give you a quick glimpse into how easy it is to start something. One is easy while 10 is difficult.

    We asked Allie to give us her ranking on starting a stained glass studio based on her experience.

    Allie: I would rank it as a 7. Stained glass has a lot of different factors involved in making it and I do think a strong craft background makes a huge difference! Despite this, we are so fortunate to have access to workshops through YouTube, so stained glass is more accessible than ever.

    Beginability Expert Ranking

    Are You Ready to Start Your Own Stained Glass Studio?

    For those wondering how to start a stained glass studio, learning from someone who has done it is invaluable. Allie is an amazing stained glass artist based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada who has made hundreds of pieces for her customers.

    Her studio is called Sunshine Stained Glass Works and you can find out more about her and see some of her work on her website. Don’t forget to follow her on Facebook to stay up-to-date with her work.

    Thank you Allie for the interview, and we wish you more success in the future!

    Have you learned something from Allie about stained glass in this article? Please read more on our blog if you did!

    Will you give what you learned in this article a try?

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    2 thoughts on “How to Start a Stained Glass Studio + Artist Interview”

    1. Hello there, and thank you for your information – I’ve definitely picked up something new. Allie’s expertise is very helpful and the article is well-written. Anyway, I’m adding
      this RSS to my email and will look out for much more of your interesting content.

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