I have always liked stained-glass windows, including those in turn-of-the-century craftsman-style houses and Gothic and Renaissance churches.
After seeing some bowls with melted glass on Pinterest, I was excited to experiment to see if I could create the stained-glass effect in clay. After testing it out with good results, I knew my students would love the sparkle and colors of projects made using this technique.
These clay “windows” do not rely on the sun shining through them to capture the beautiful colors of glass. Instead, light colored clay provides a backdrop for the colors of melted glass to show through. A unique and eye-catching feature of the melted glass is that it usually crackles in the kiln. This is in partly due to the fact that the thermal expansion rates of clay and glass are different. It is important to note, though, that while the crackling is beautiful, it keeps the surface from being food safe.
My “Stained Glass in Clay” unit begins with showing students examples of different types of stained-glass windows, and providing an overview of how stained-glass windows are made. I introduce students to famous American stained-glass artist, Louis Comfort Tiffany, who is renowned for his Art Nouveau stained-glass lamps and windows.
Understanding the stained- glass design process helps students comprehend the role of “lead came,” which holds the pieces of glass together in an actual stained-glass window. While dividing the space into sections is not essential for our clay artworks, using divisions gives stained-glass clay designs a strong linear quality and more closely replicates the look of a stained-glass window.
As a class, we view examples of work done by previous students. Through this, my current class can see designs done with a variety of different styles of bases ranging from geometric to organic shapes, and simple to complex.
After the introduction, students brainstorm ideas and make preliminary sketches, working to communicate ideas important to them. They plan designs that are at least six inches wide, have at least six compartments, and use line as an important design element. Once they have their plans, students are ready to create a base made from a slab of clay.
Slabs can be made using rolling pins with wood slats to help make pieces uniform thickness or, if you are fortunate like I am, using your classroom a slab roller. I show students how a drawn paper template can be used to trace their designs onto the clay slabs. Some of them may want a circle-shaped base; a large coffee can makes a great large, round cookie cutter. (Covering the clay with thin plastic helps keep the clay from sticking in the coffee can.)
Our lead “came” lines are made with coils or narrow strips of clay. It is important to attach a substantial strip to outline the base to ensure that melted glass does not drip out when in the kiln. Attaching other strips creates the divisions of space.
To ensure the pieces do not fall off, I instruct students to use what I call the “S.S.B.S.” method: Score, Slip, Blend, Smooth. When smoothing, cotton swabs work well to get into the narrow crevasses. Students carve their names into the bottom of their projects and then set them to be dried and fired.
The glass can be added before the first firing, but I recommend that students wait until the bisqueware stage to glaze and add the glass, since clay at the greenware stage can be quite fragile. It works well to glaze the clay coil lines first and then add the glass.
Students are amazed at the “magic” of cutting glass. Most have never scored glass using a glass cutter or experienced how easy it is to snap scored glass into two pieces using running pliers. Students enjoy the process of selecting and cutting glass to put into the sections. (Be sure they wear eye protection when cutting the glass.)
When creating real stained glass or fused glass artworks, the pieces of glass need to be precisely cut and the types of glass are important. Fortunately, with this process, glass of assorted types can be mixed and the cutting does not need to be exact. Students discover that glass sometimes changes color when fired, so results are not guaranteed. Glass nuggets, available at craft and dollar stores, work great and crackle beautifully.
As a guideline for how much glass to use, I recommended filling each compartment with enough to cover the section and overlapping any gaps. If after firing the glass does not fill a division, more glass can be added and the project fired again. We fired some projects at low-fire range (cone 04-06) and others at the higher range (cone 4-6), depending on the type of glaze used. Regardless of the firing temperature, projects turned out well.
At the close of the unit we have a critique day. After that, students reflect on their finished work, and write a statement that explains their artistic intent, showcases their visual literacy, and analyzes their finished artworks.
Overall, students love their artworks, as the sparkle and colors of the glass combined with the bold clay lines give stunning results. I have done this project with middle- and high-school students, and think it could also be adapted for elementary school students as well.
Middle- and high-school students will …
• learn about stained-glass master Louis Comfort Tiffany
• learn about the stained-glass design process.
• plan and create a strong and creative stained glass–inspired clay artwork
• use and understand slab and coil construction techniques
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. Refine and complete artistic work
• Presenting: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.
• Connecting: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.
• Sketch paper, pencils
• Clay, clay tools, glaze, kiln
• Wood slats, rolling pins or slab roller
• Glass, glass nuggets, glass cutter, running pliers
•Visual presentation on the work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, and stained-glass window
designs and techniques
Tracy Fortune teaches at Lakes High School in Lakewood, Washington.
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