Frequently asked questions

this is a set of questions from people over the years


1. What drew you to work with stained glass as opposed to any other artistic medium?

I was studying in the Glasgow School of Art and in my second year moved into the Murals and Stained Glass Department as it then was. I was interested in working with mosaic. One of my tutors asked me if I would like to try making a window. I did, liked it, was commissioned immediately to make a window for a friends house, sold the next window I made and it went on from there. It seemed a very natural medium for me to work in.

2. What mood or expression do you wish to convey through your compositions?

That is entirely dependant on the location I am designing for and the brief I am working to.

3. From where do you draw your inspirations?

I don't have any fixed or usual method. Again it is dependant on the brief. I find that being informed about a subject is the probably most important aspect. Designing in ignorance is usually not a good idea.

4. What would you consider the most enjoyable aspect of your work?

I like the problem solving aspects of designing. I like working on the large scale drawings. These are enjoyable. Making the windows, making the glass work, is probably the most fulfilling aspect.

5. Do you find yours a rewarding profession?

Like all arts it tends to be a way of life rather than a profession.

6. What advice would you give to an up and coming stained glass artist?


Difficult. Concentrate on quality, at the beginning this is more important than profit.


7. What role do you feel decorative glass plays in modern architecture?


The same as it always has. When it is done well and in sympathy with the building it will immeasurably enhance and sometimes dominate an architectural space.


8. Have you customised many pieces for friends and family or incorporated any of your work into your own home?


About the Work Nr. 2


To begin with I have posted here some recent questions from a French student studying History of Art and writing her dissertation.


What is symbolism, according to you?


Symbolism allows me to express complex ideas in a visual form. A symbol has a far greater meaning than the image itself and can be arranged with other symbols to convey complex meanings and relationships.
Symbols can only be meaningful if other people can understand and interpret them.
All imagery is not symbolic and some of the images in my work are also not symbolic. Many of the images are representations and this is different.
You can have symbolic references within a representational image, this has always been used by artists. A symbol is only becomes a symbol when other people can interpret it in the same way. A symbol is not the same as a sign or a logo.


Do you create windows without secret sense?


I don't really try to make my work secretive. Normally all of the content is open to interpretation. I like to make works which have a depth to them but the key to understanding the content is usually quite simple.


Do you prefer to create windows with a general theme or do you use more specific and typical ideas according to the place, and the region of the window?


All the work I make is specific to its location. I think that this is the most important factor in a commission and that is what a commissioned artist should be concerned with. If you look at the various projects I have made, they tend to be very different from each other even if the content is similar. The design of the window which includes colour, tone and, most importantly, composition are the main factors in making a window "look right" in the location. maybe do you prefer to use the both.


Do you prefer that the symbolism in your work is understood by only several people or do you want the sense to be clear for a public at large?


I use symbolism which I hope many people will be able to understand. It does not have to be immediately understandable, symbolism has to be learned before the meaning can be understood. There are very few universal symbols. What a symbol or colour means in one religion or society may, and often does, mean something completely different in another religion or society.


For the commissions did the clients tell you the different ideas that they want or were their explanations indefinite?


More often than not we write the design brief between us. Even when the design brief is presented there are usually possibilities to change and adapt the original concept. I like having a brief. It is a good starting point and an indication in which direction a work should progress.


Do you have a total freedom for the design?


Within the guidelines of the brief, yes.


Do you use the traditional symbolism in churches?


Yes, however if there is a particular point I want to make and no relevant symbol, I will look for a text or a concept which allows me to create a symbol which can be justified. This applies to works for other religions also.


About the Work Nr. 3


Influences from other artists.


This is hard to say. I have been influenced by many I suppose over the years. I was, while at Art School and soon after, very influenced by my Teacher at the Art School. Alfredo Avella. He was interested in Cubism at the time amongst other things and I played with that for a while. CR Mackintosh was also there but not really noticable I suppose. I was looking at Chagall"s work when I made the windows for the Synagogue. I found inspiration from Jasper Johns when I worked on the Dome for the Synagogue. A great friend of mine Willie Rodger has been an ongoing influence. Specific works such as the Millennium Window come from all of these influences to some degree but I haven't seen anything similar.


A question concerning the Glasgow Cathedral Window


It was enjoyable looking at the slide show, as well as being very informative. When you get a commission, how on earth do you begin to work out a price and time scale for it? How much does the finished window differ from the drawn design, i.e. how much do you allow the design to alter as you work? I know that nothing is 100% determined at the start, but I wondered how much freedom you give yourself during the process.


In this case we set a budget at the beginning. We agreed, after a few alterations, the design brief so the theme was set. I then developed the theme. The time scale is set by the deadline, in this case the dedication.
The design is really the concept. As you have been through the slide show then you will know that the next stage is the drawing. This is half scale.
The window more or less develops out of the drawing and although I note what I did in the sketch, working with glass is something different and I react to the glass and what I am seeing rather than trying to copy the design. The time between finishing the design and making the window can be quite long and your ideas develop.


1. How has the theory and/or history of stained glass been vital to your practice?


I think that the value of looking at the historical works is to see and appreciate qualities such as composition and scale and the use of the materials. There is also a value in looking at the interaction that a work has within the specific location for which it was made. Remove the work from its location and it loses power.


2. Do you think your educational background in art has had a positive influence on your work regarding the refining of intuitive or instinctive approaches?


If you mean the fact that I studied in an Art School, then yes. Without that background of full time study I could not have begun this kind of work. It is, of course, possible to learn and study on your own and to become a professional artist but I think that the time of study allows an appreciation of art to evolve, not only the exposure to acknowledged artists but also the influence of your contemporaries. I also taught for a couple of years in the Glasgow School of Art and through this experience, I learned probably more than I was able to impart to the students.


3. Which elements do you find that you focus on the most when designing a window?


This is always different. Probably the most important factor is the location.


4. What is the procedure you follow once you have been given or written a brief?


I have no procedure. Often a brief is more of a concept than an instruction. It is very important for me to have some kind of instruction or indication of how to begin. The brief can be seen as the first building block or the first step on a journey, the way you go depends on many factors. It is even something to work against or to discard but only if you have something more appropriate to put in its place.

5. What role does the importance of reading and research play with regards to this process?


Research and reading are important in some projects but not all. However, many of the projects that I have undertaken would have been impossible without this level of inquiry. The work that I have done and am doing for synagogues for example, has only been possible because of the time taken to understand aspects of a life and culture other than my own. I believe that this adds dimensions and depth to a work and allows it to be more than decorative. Even for themes that you think you know, it is often enlightening to again to the source and look again.


6. Besides your teacher, Alfredo Avella, has there been an artist who has been a major source of influence on your work?


The other major figure in my life has been my friend Willie Rodger who is a print maker and painter. We have worked together in the past and I learned and continue to learn a great deal from me contact to him.


Non personal influences are many and various, directly and indirectly. Some of these influences have not yet come through into my commissioned works.


My work is also influenced simply by the fact that I make my works at the Derix Glass studio where I come into contact with many other artists and glass artists whom I respect and admire.


7. You mentioned that you enjoy working from a commission basis, as it forces you into other areas of study that you would otherwise not have considered. Is there anything that you are opposed to doing?


The situation has not yet arisen.


8. Do you find that there is a conflict between the traditions of stained glass and contemporary approaches to the medium and if so how do you deal with it in your own work?


I don�t really see and conflict as such. A work should be suitable and appropriate to the location. But there are as many solutions to a project as there are artists and each will think that there solution is in some way appropriate. The techniques are not changing so much. There is the use of silicone instead of lead and enameling of glass and melting of glass, but all of these have been done before. I think that it is our job as artists to explore the new uses and qualities that new techniques make possible, the good artists will make good works, we don�t have to bind ourselves to tradition. I have a tendency to hold onto the traditional approach but mainly this is due to the nature of the buildings in which I make my work.


9. Although you work primarily on a commission basis, what sacrifices, if any, have you made to be commercially successful in this medium?


It is not really a question of sacrifices. As an applied artist, you need to have an area, a space for which you make a work. I am not trying to create a style or a ???. You are asked to produce a work that usually has a significance for the clients, you seldom have a completely free hand. I often prefer to have a problem to solve. This is one of the factors that makes my life interesting. I don�t need only to work on glass there are many other ways of self expression.


10. How important is drawing and design in your work?


For many of the projects drawing is the most important factor. I use drawing to create the first ideas and sketches and then to produce the larger usually half scale drawings from which the working drawings are made. Drawing helps to allow you to understand the themes and solve possible compositional problems. I have taken many of my drawings to a level not really necessary for the creation of a window but the very process allows the concept to be completely absorbed. Once I begin working on the glass, I seldom look again at the drawing.


11. What are the characteristics of a stained glass artist that to you seem vital if you are to be successful in this medium?


I don�t know.

12. What would you consider the most challenging aspect of a stained glass artist?


You have to be prepared sometimes to take on big themes. People have to live with your work often in private and or sacred spaces. You try to enhance a space to evoke qualities. Stained glass can be very powerful and can dominate a space. If you get it right then the interior is enhanced, get it wrong and it is there for all to see.


13. How important do you consider change and development in your own work?


I feel that my work is always changing. I revisit themes but try to look again with fresh eyes. I have begun working with abstract themes recently, some of which have been completed others are still on the way. At the time of writing I am working on a series of abstract works, a set of symbolic works and a design which should have a feel of a Medieval Italian work. Is this a development?


14. What surface techniques and methods are central to your work?


Glass etching has been the dominant technique in my work over the last years. I enjoy using mouth blown flashed glass, it has a unique and special quality. Traditional glass painting is also essential.


15. Do you feel that there is a distinction between stained glass as a craft and stained glass as a fine art and how do they differ?


The craft of stained glass is the control of the materials. The art is what you do with those materials.


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