Thursday, 22 April 2010

Award For Excellence - Urban Glass

I started the second stage of the Award of Excellence, gifted to me by the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass excited at the prospect of all I would come to learn in the weeks ahead and how I would be able to apply this new knowledge to my own practice. I had a very positive experience on the first leg of my journey, visiting Swansea Institute, Hollywell Glass and Lincoln Cathedral, all three of which provided me with very different and unique skills and techniques that I was able to apply in the studios visited in my second stage. The second stage I have looked on therefore, after getting to grips with the basics in my first three placements, as an opportunity to hone the skills I have already learned and expand on them.

In this report I will look at the two very different studios I had the immense pleasure of being sent to, what projects I was allowed to work on or observe at them, and what I have learned both technically and more generally from the experience. The two studios I was placed in were Urban Glass ran by John Reyntien in London and Chapel Studio's run by Bob Holloway in Kings Langley. I was resident in London from the 5th of January 2010, starting work on the 6th and finishing on the 12th February. I travelled to Kings Langley on the 13th of February 2010, working from the 15th of February till the 31st of March and departing on the 1st of April for home and a brief break before the third and final section of the award. I will talk first therefore, about Urban Glass and follow on chronologically through my placements.

John Reyntien's Urban Glass studio was set up by him around fifteen years ago, and unlike any of my other placements he does contemporary design work as well as restoration and he does not employ any permanent members of staff. The experience of this studio was also different for me because more so than any of the others my efforts there were solely focused on one project and although I saw John Reyntien create some of his own work and I worked briefly on a broken church quarry, my main drive was towards completing a single undertaking.
(Fig. 1. Patrick Reyntien reclining beside an artwork he created to demonstrate painting techiniques at Urban Glass)

John Reyntiens´ father, Patrick Reyntiens is one of the country’s most famous living glass artists and because he is now in his 80s, although still very able, John felt this was an apt time to start thinking about his father’s legacy. Patrick has enjoyed a long career, working on a diverse range of projects and with other important artists, and before he dies his son wanted to make a film about his life, chronicling his career and doing it at a time when his father would still be able contribute to it. I felt this to be a really fantastic idea and I could tell it was something John had really had to pour himself into and was very passionate about.

The fact is however that making a film, and John wanted it to be of high quality, would cost a lot of money. Once it is made he aspired to being able to sell it to a television network if possible, and certainly to sell copies of the video to glass enthusiasts. He was quoted a minimum of £26,000 for this project, although it may inevitably cost much more, and he therefore needed some means of funding it. Although a family trust was set up some years ago he felt he really wanted it to be an undertaking he had sole control over and so would need to raise all the money himself. In order to do this John had the rather fantastic idea of getting his father to create relatively cheap one-off pieces that he could sell to raise the funds. He would also host lunches where his father would give demonstrations and the public could meet the artist and buy his work. I helped at the first of these during my stay there and will give a more detailed account of it later in the report. Finally John will host a talk in April where people can view all of the art and by raffle tickets to win a one on one painting lesson with Patrick himself. All in all a very smart game plan in my opinion that I very much hope raises all the money he needs for the film as it would be wonderful to see.

The one down side to all of this is that John himself will not see a profit from any of this hard work, not at the very least until the film is made and he does have his own studio to run and bills to pay. My placement therefore was aptly timed because my free labour was very much needed and I feel much appreciated. During my stay I leaded and puttied over 150 of the 200 panels his dad had created at an average of seven a day. My presence allowed John to get on with his other work and it gave me the opportunity and privilege to assist on a project I have great admiration for and on the work of an artist whom I very much admire. Patrick himself was often in the studio. He would paint the panels, John would fire them, and I would lead, putty and clean them before John could finally add hooks, black up with zebu and photograph. We worked like our own mini production line. John was very focused on how we could best do things to speed things up and had lots of methods for doing this for me to follow such as not curling the solder because he believed it would waste time and leading several then soldering them all at once because this made it more efficient. These small measures don't sound like much but I think they did make a difference and as there was an awful lot for me to do in a fairly short space of time it made sense for him to get as much out of me as he could in the time that I was there.

I will now take you through the process in some detail of how I leaded up each panel. First I stretched several cames of 8mm round lead and 8mm flat lead in a lead vice screwed into the table. The table itself was a hard wood with a long sheet of white card nailed down to it for leading up on top of. The white was actually very helpful because you could see what the glass looked like when you put it down, rather than a dark wooden background as it would be without the paper, which stops you from seeing what you are working on.

I would arrange my bench with the lead all stretched and halved, making it more manageable, towards the back, along with the other things I believed I would need. These included; a small hammer (used for straightening out bent nails and making sure the lead vice bites the lead); an oyster knife (this helps to shape the lead around the glass, especially at tight curved and lifts the flanges to flatten out kinks); A

(Fig.2. image of painted panel being leaded and the tools used)
lead knife (there are different styles but the one John used was straight edged long and flat. It had actually been a pallet knife that at some stage had broken and he'd since filed down. The knife cuts the lead using a side to side wiggling motion as opposed to a sawing motion so as not to bend the lead.); Plastic tool (Aka: a Fid, Larkin or All Nova Tool) used to open flanges by running it inside the lead. It can also close them and fold them down.) Heavy thick based oyster knife (this was just used for hammering in nails which this better than a hammer because it was so wide, unlike a hammer I couldn't miss and hit the glass and I couldn't get the same power behind it.) Pre-cut squares of glass which are slipped in and out of lead as you’re working to hold it in place. Some people don't bother using it and I was never taught to but I found it used in Lincoln and again in London as a very good way of securing lead without marking it. If you just put the nails in right next to the glass they can leave a dent. Pre-cut short lead strips (these are used in conjunction with the glass squares to hold the lead in place. Nails press into the strips as opposed to grating across the glass. Later the strips may be used on their own without the glass as a quick measure for holding it, but without the glass to distance the strips during soldering the extra lead can become attached to the panel, something you don't want.) I also had several sticks of solder, tallow, a wire brush, a plastic brush, a polishing brush, whiting, white spirit, plastic disposable gloves and lead light cement on the table although I would not be needing to use any of these until a little later on.

All of this would be arranged neatly along my bench with everything necessary at arm’s length. Onto this I would then place seven glass panels, as seven was as many as I could comfortably fit in my space and as many as I could complete in a day, and I would prepare to lead them all up in one sitting. I would start at one end with the 8mm round lead winding it around each panel and securing it in place. All joins

(Fig.3. several panels being leaded together and soldered all at once.)
would be mitre cut for aesthetic. Once all seven were done in this way I would turn the gas iron on to heat it up and work my way back along, cleaning the joints with the wire brush and adding talo. When the iron was hot wearing a mask for the fumes I would tack all the joints together being careful not to let the solder go more than half way so I could still easily work with the flanges. If it went to the edge it would be very hard to open the flanges as the joint becomes quite solid.

Once they are all tacked on one side I remove the nails, glass and lead strips holding them in place and put all of these things neatly where they are supposed to be. I have found that it is extremely important to keep your working area completely clean and clear so you can always find things and tidy up as you go along. This being said I would next give the area a sweep to get rid of any lead scraps or dust. Once clear I would use the plastic tool to open the flanges on all of the leaded panels so they are ready to have the second lead added.

I would lay out the 8mm flat lead along the bench and flatten down the flanges along one edge on both sides with my oyster knife. So to look at it, it is open to the heart at one side and completely closed at the other. I would then lead the panels again with the folded side facing into the other lead so it fits into the round hearts open flanges. It was decided the double lead should be used like this on all the panels because it made them look like a more desirable item and gave a nice effect. It was purely aesthetic.

I worked the second lead around, following the joins of the first lead and mitring them. I again used the glass squares and lead strips to temporarily hold the panels in place while I worked. I wanted everything to be as tight as possible, so there was no movement in the glass and no shafts of light would shine between the leads. Once the second leading was completed on all of them I used the oyster knife to close down the outer edge by running it along the lead at an angle. I also pressed down the inner lead

(fig.4. image shows second lead being added onto panel.)
where the leaded layers met so there was no gap between them. All this needed to be done before soldering because the lead is harder to manipulate afterwards.

Once this is done I solder the front of the panels in their entirety. John wanted me to solder in a stylistic way to give effect, using excessive solder so it was raised in lumps, with the gas iron. I would also solder places around the boarder where there wasn't a joint with these lumps so the panels looked studded. This was for aesthetics again so the panels stood out more, but it was also so the design appeared balanced. The panels all had different amounts of joints based on their individual shapes so some would have looked uneven, if say, all the joints had been on one side that was jagged and the other side being smooth needed none. Then it would not look symmetrical and the joints would really stand out. Instead I spaced extra solder around the borders of all the panels so they all looked similar.

After soldering one side I turned them over and soldered in the same place on the other side. I then scrubbed off the excess talo with a hard brush. Once several were completed I would spend a day puttying them on mass. Some were brush puttied others finger puttied. I used a hard plastic brush the scoop up leaded light cement straight from the tin and literally brush it underneath the lead. For the ones I finger puttied I mixed the cement with whiting until it was of a doughy consistency and no longer stuck to my fingers. Then I coaxed it under the lead by hand. It is hard to say time wise which is best. Certainly the brush is quicker at applying the cement, but it is also far messier and takes longer to clean up. I used a horse shoe nail to go around the edges on both to get off excess cement. I then rubbed whiting onto the surface to soak up oily residue. At the end of the day I would then brush off this whiting so it didn't get the chance to stick.

Once the cement was dry the next day I would go around it again with a nail to neaten up the edges. It was important that no cement should stick out from under the glass and that the lead should be properly filled with no gaps. If the cementing is not done well it looks messy, but it is also not watertight and so on an actual window it is very important to do it well.

I cleaned all the lead with white spirit and tissue. I had to remove all the residue, so the glass was really clean and the lead went back to a dull grey. This took a long time, but once they were all cleaned I polished them with a clean tissue, scrubbing them to produce a mirror shine. They were then polished

(fig.5. Shows a selection of completed leaded panels ready for sale.)
with a soft brush and a little zebo to blacken them up, before John added copper hoops to hang them. To make these he made a loop in a bit of wire and then twisted the two legs together, so it was a twist and a loop on the end. He then tallowed them and blobbed solder onto the twisted section. He made up many of these at a time and stored in jars for use. To fix them he just held the hoop in place with pliers and reheated the tallow so it would drop down and adhere to the lead. He placed them on the back so they couldn't be seen.

This whole process was repeated many times in the exact same way with the exception of the slightly more expensive and more special additions of which a limited number were made. These also included a painted glass border and were larger. They were however put together in much the same way.

Before the end of my time at Urban Glass I was present for John’s first meet and greet, of which he planned to stage a few. This was an occasion where people, who had prior arranged with John, could come to the studio and view the unfinished work with the intent of buying up the best pieces before they were launched to the public. On this Saturday all of the group were made up of students studying glass part time who know all about Patrick Reyntiens and were very excited to be there. There were fourteen in all and my job was to cater and generally help out behind the scenes while John was up front selling. Patrick also did a painting demonstration which he really got into. It showcased his different painting techniques including mark-making with a plastic hairbrush and feathers. The day was extremely successful. Twenty two individual panels were sold and the demonstration panel itself was sold for £400. Altogether he made £2300 which is about 10% of the twenty six thousand needed to fund the whole film. So a fantastic event that everyone present seemed to enjoy. John was glad of my help because there was a lot to be done and I freed him up to host the day.

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