Sunday, 6 May 2012

Elephant No. 217: Painting on Glass

For today's elephant, I thought I'd try painting on glass. Although I've painted with transparent glass paints on windowpanes before, this is actually the first time I've ever painted with opaque paints on glass—on purpose, anyway.

When I was at the art store last week, they were selling these small kits of glass paints for a mere ten dollars. What better incentive to try something than a good deal? The kit includes acrylic paints that the clerk thought might be specially formulated for glass, along with something called "glass medium".

I later discovered that you can actually paint with any type of acrylic paint on glass, the main difference being in how the paint dries and cures. Acrylic enamels, for example, do not need to be heat-set, and will cure completely within a week or two. Regular acrylic paints, on the other hand, generally need the addition of a glass and tile medium to become proper glass paints, and also need to be heat-set. In addition, there are the specially formulated glass paints, which are solvent-based, and need no heat-setting. The latter are the ones that people used to create faux stained glass.

Unless you are creating a reverse painting on glass—which I'll tackle another time—painting on glass is no different than painting on canvas or paper. The main considerations are really only whether you want to be able to see through the paint, and whether you want to have your design play on the opposite side of the piece, if it's not a flat panel. One of my favourite glass-painting artists produces exquisitely detailed tiny bottles which are composed so that the scene on the opposite side of the vessel can be seen through "windows" on the side you're holding.

Two perfume bottles by Lukian Glass Studios.
The bottles are blown by Ron Lukian, then painted
by his wife, Gail Hall-Lukian.

I know that these little bottles are often painted with brushes that are 20/0 in size, so I don't think I'll be creating anything this spectacular today.

For my painting surface, I chose a cylindrical vase, which cost me $1.25 at a discount store. For paints, I used a mixture of the acrylics that came with the glass-painting set, and regular craft acrylics.

I knew I would have a difficult time if I didn't have some kind of design to work with, so I measured the outside circumference of the vase, as well as its height, and made a cartoon to tape inside the vase.

Even then, I had miscalculated, so I cut the elephants apart and taped them onto the inside of the vase separately, figuring that I could fill in the arches later.

I began by painting a bit of pink on the insides of the ears, the tip of the trunk and the toenails. Next, I painted all the grey, and then the colours. I became quite mesmerized by the process, and felt I had to work relatively quickly so that the paints would bond to one another. So I totally forgot to photograph any of the stages in the painting process.

To finish up, I added touches of gold to the elephants, a few fine outlines in black, and the eyes.

I was pretty happy with just the three elephants, but I wanted to see if I could create some approximation of the window effect I like so much in Gail Hall-Lukian's painted glass. So I added the archways, using only gold.

A few tips if you decide to try this:

1. You don't really need special glass-painting acrylics, although the paint will supposedly adhere better if you do.

2. The glass should be cleaned with rubbing alcohol, vinegar or window cleaner before you start, in order to give you a grease-free surface. As you go along, however, it's not going to kill anything if you touch areas where you don't intend to paint.

3. If you get paint where you don't want it, try to catch it and wipe it off before it's fully dry. Once it's dry, you can use a bit of rubbing alcohol on a piece of paper towel to remove anything you don't like.

4. Colours can be mixed and blended, but blending on the glass itself is virtually impossible.

5. The instructions say that you should let the paint dry overnight before applying other layers. I didn't find that it made any difference at all. As long as the paint was dry to the touch, I could layer over it.

6. If you're using opaque paints, rather than transparent ones, remember that—although it may look fairly opaque while you're painting it—it's actually going to allow light to shine through. It's better to err on the side of caution and make your paint a bit more opaque than you think you need.

7. Because the brushstrokes will show when light shines through, it's not a bad idea to pay attention to the direction of your brushstrokes while painting.

This is the kind of piece you'd never put in a dishwasher or use to serve food, but once it's had a chance to cure for a few days, it can be washed by hand. You can also heat-set it on low heat (130˚C/265˚F) in a conventional oven, but it's not strictly necessary. I opted not to, because I wasn't sure if the glass was good enough not to do something weird, and I also wasn't sure if the colours would change. My feeling is always to leave well enough alone.

 The whole thing took me about three hours from start to finish, but it wasn't difficult or boring. I was actually a little surprised at how well this worked out. I wish I'd made the paint a little thicker so that the brushstrokes were less obvious when light shines through, but on the whole I'm quite happy with it, and will definitely try it again sometime.

Elephant Lore of the Day
During the 1940s and 1950s, Gonzales, Texas was the winter quarters for the Dailey Brothers Circus, which happened to have 21 elephants.

In early April 1949, the circus had arranged for the elephants to parade before news cameras. The elephants, however, were not feeling particularly perky, and paraded rather slowly. Nor were they interested in speeding up when urged on by circus staff.

Frustrated, circus owner Ben Davenport sent two cowboys on horseback to the rear of the herd, and allowed them to shoot several rounds of gunfire into the air. Frightened by the commotion of prancing horses and gunfire right behind them, the elephants panicked, trumpeting wildly as they stampeded off in all directions.

Nor did they stop running. Most of the elephants ran about two miles, trampling fences, knocking over mailboxes, and even, in one instance, tearing off the front porch of a farmhouse. One man in a car was so shocked to encounter elephants on the highway that he tore down the road hollering that a herd of elephants was after him.

It took more than two hours for all the elephants to be rounded up. Some were found in the woods, some were cornered against the walls of buildings, and one—a young bull elephant named Butch—was found an incredible six miles away. Davenport brought Butch back to the circus in his Cadillac.

Surprisingly, none of the elephants was hurt, and only two people suffered minor injuries in the melee. Even more surprisingly, the people of Gonzales weren't fazed by the stampede through their town, and the circus continued to winter there for several more years.

Norma Davenport with Jennie, billed as the world's only
talking elephant, Dailey Brothers Circus, ca. 1950.
Photo: Courtesy Murray Montgomery and The Gonzales Inquirer

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