Nestled just off the high street in Llandysul centre is Cariad Glass, a colourful emporium of stained glass art, owned and managed by creative couple Chris and Justine Dodd. Justine and I met a few years back.
We briefly worked together on a marketing strategy for the Welsh Harp Centre and within hours of meeting, we were chatting and giggling alongside putting a plan into place. Naturally, we kept in touch.
When I later noticed Chris and Justine were running stained glass workshops, I popped by to take a look at their art in the flesh and to watch them and their students at work.
Entering the studio took me back to my time as a design student; raw materials, rugged workbenches, a plethora of hand tools, students meticulously planning their next move and tutors offering advice and ideas.
I was home.
To my right was a taster of their commercial pieces. Beautiful wall panels of colours, patterns and textures; ammonites, hearts, fishes, horses, trees, farming, wildlife…you name it, they have covered the theme.
The pieces need to be viewed in person to appreciate the artistry. Such bold shapes and contemporary styling, a world away from the traditional ‘church window’’ you may be picturing if you haven’t seen stained glass work for a while.
Today’s workshop was Stained Glass Level One ‘for pupils who have never tried stained glass before, or those with limited experience’. After saying a quick hi to the five students, whom were in their element by the time I arrived, I assumed my role as fly on the wall to digest all there was to know about how to be a stained glass designer.
Tools & Techniques
The first stage of the process was to understand the tools of the trade and the basic techniques for marking and cutting. I had a taster of this myself, learning how to hold the glass cutter correctly and draw freestyle around a four sided plain glass shape.
It took a couple of attempts to apply the right pressure and I learnt there’s also the Morton safety break as a backup if the glass doesn’t break naturally. After a couple of tips from Justine, I had cut my first piece of glass to perfection (well it followed the lines it was supposed to and Justine seemed happy with my beginner attempt).
Next was to select the pattern, which forms the template of the final panel. The class selected a mix of designs; a couple depicting a sunrise/sunset and the most popular, an abstract of rectangles and circles. The challenge for the next hour or so was to mimic the pattern with separate pieces of glass, in a paint-by-numbers sort of fashion.
The trick here is to cut the shapes within a millimetre or so of the black connecting lines. If the pieces are too small, the heart of the lead channel will have nothing to hold. If they are too large, there will be no room for the lead channel to lie, pushing the rest of design out of shape.
At this point, students were using ‘art glass’ which they had hand selected from a generous palette of colours and textures. Having seen the variety of approaches by just five students, I realised that this stage is probably the most challenging and one to dedicate time to. After all, the colours and layout chosen here are the ones that will end up on your wall.
Lunch was a good opportunity to find out what inspired the students to come along. It was heartening to learn that two had received the class as a birthday gift and two were husband and wife who enjoyed doing something different in their spare time. The fifth lady had a passion for stained glass and was considering progressing to Level 2 after her introductory course. They confirmed the thoughts I had on arrival…they were loving learning this new craft.
Leading & Soldering
After lunch, Chris gave a demo on leading and introduced us to the lead came. He explained the difference between H channel (‘H’ shaped and used for mid sections of the panel) and C channel (‘C’ shaped and used around the edges). The lead was surprisingly malleable and of course Chris and Justine were hot on health and safety, providing protective gloves for cutting and handling.
Chris showed how to complete the ‘jigsaw’ process, measuring and cutting the relevant lead channel to outline each glass shape, and holding the cut pieces in place with randomly placed horseshoe nails. When the leading was complete, it was time to solder the joints together, the final part of the process.
Thermostatically controlled soldering irons and ventilation fans were added to each work station and students watched carefully as Chris demo-ed soldering the joints, before venturing on to complete their own.
Joints were cleaned with tallow candle wax before simultaneously holding the iron and solder over the lead to allow a tiny piece of solder to drop on and into the joint (a nail biting experience for some). There were a few seconds to smooth out the solder before it started to set and when it did, it was onto the next one.
I have to say that Chris and Justine are complete naturals at teaching. They impart their knowledge in such a relaxed and informal way, yet to the right level to encourage students to explore their creativity.
We chatted about their occasional walking commutes to work, through stunning countryside and along the Teifi River. With this kind of lifestyle, I’m not surprised they love what they do and based on the amount of friends and colleagues that popped in on the day to say hi, it’s clear that people enjoy them as much as we did.
It was really amazing to see how these panels had derived from paper templates into self-supporting structures in several hours. There wasn’t one panel that I wouldn’t proudly display on my wall. As each student completed and helped Chris to add the final touch to enable hanging, I took a few snaps of their pieces up to the light to see the full effect.
‘Wow’ was the word of the day. Some expressed their joy in a quieter form than others, however it was clear to see the smiles this workshop had generated when the students posed for their team photo.
What is so lovely to see on these introductory workshops, is the journey the student takes from complete beginner to final creation. It’s not only the creative process people benefit from when they do an activity like this. It’s also about social interaction, pushing skills boundaries, physical engagement and increasing confidence.
Do you ever read articles like this and wish you had the time/money to do something like it?
Next time a member of your family asks what you’d like for your birthday or Christmas, consider asking for a creative workshop voucher or money to do something inspiring.
I know I would.
Stained glass art and bespoke commissions
In addition to teaching people the art of stained glass, Cariad Glass specialise in commercial art and bespoke commissions (I had the honour of viewing one of their high profile projects before it left the studio).
Cariad Glass workshops are also listed on on Life Seeker.
View the full photo album here.
Thank you to the five students who gave permission for us to photograph their work.