West Angeles Cathedral project.

One of several conceptual illustrations that were submitted for the West Angeles Cathedral project.

Designing New Stained Glass Window

WHEN A CLIENT WANTS a new stained glass window, the first and most important step is to listen carefully to the client's request. Of course, we must also consider the architectural space, adjoining windows, building style, light source intensity and direction, and any trees, buildings, mountains, or other obstacles that may block the available light. All these variables must be taken into account during the process of forming the core concept but in the end it all comes down to fulfilling the client's desire.

In the not too distant past we would render our design proposal as a watercolor painting or use colored dyes on transparent film to illustrate our concept for the client's approval. Today we create our proposal rendering using our computer aided design (CAD) system. It takes our artists about the same length of time to create a digital rendering as it did to produce a watercolor painting. However with a digital design, we don't have to start over if the client wants to make changes. Now changes to the proposal, even major ones, such as a complete color makeover or a proportion adjustment are made quickly and simply, allowing us to communicate with our client graphically in a way they can understand. It is our responsibility to demystify the process for our clients.

The client may also need some guidance to help them understand the unique nature of stained glass as a "transmitted light" medium. If you look at a stained glass window in reflected light (from the same side as the light source), you will find yourself looking at a relatively dark surface, with a few light colored opalescent (milky) glass areas. An easy way to experience this is to look at a familiar church window from the outside during the day – you'll notice a dramatic difference. Even the opalescent glass areas have a very different, less interesting characteristic in reflected light.

This brings us back to the rendering. A proposal rendered on paper, by its very nature, is presented in a medium of reflected light. At best, it can only give the client an indication of how the finished stained glass will look. Even a proposal prepared on transparent film, which is a medium of transmitted light (similar to stained glass), cannot portray the depth and richness of stained glass. Very few clients are able to visualize the overall effect of the glass in the finished window even when colored glass samples are presented along with the rendering. For this reason, it is very important to establish a trust relationship between the client and the stained glass artist. The most innovative and poetic work is accomplished by allowing an experienced artist the creative freedom to visualize. Of course the artist must stay within the clients' established design boundaries as well as other considerations such as correctness of religious symbols, liturgy, architectural styles, and artistic style factors such as modern, traditional, abstract, representational, etc.

Featured Church Window

This is an example of a "transmitted light" interior view of the Good Shepherd window in United Presbyterian Church of Morning Sun, Iowa.

This is the same window (as on the left) viewed from the outside during daylight in "reflected light". The contrast is dramatic.