Introduction: Starry Night Stained Glass
Not too long ago I was asked to make a gift for my brother. He really likes Van Gogh's "The Starry Night", and they wanted me to re-create it in glass.
At first I thought- no way I'm going to make this...it's too difficult. It's one of the most recognizable pieces in the world. Something kept nagging at me though- I had thought about doing this before, and this is the kind of thing you think about doing but just never do it because you think it won't live up to what you have built up in your imagination.
I decided to go for it. I'll go through my thought process and show you how it came together in the end.
For this project you need stained glass supplies: Colored glass, glass cutter and cutting oil, grozing pliers, grinder or carborundum stone, copper foil, X-actor knife, flux, flux brush, soldering iron, 60/40 solder, patina (I used copper and black patina), polishing wax and rags.
Step 1: Recognizable
The first step was to create the design. This was not hard-and VERY hard.
It was not hard because I was using the painting itself as a reference. I wanted to keep the lines and imagery as close to the real thing as possible. It was VERY hard because I needed to make some compromises due to the constraints of stained glass, and the tools that I have. If you want an in-depth discussion on how I design for Stained Glass- check out my previous 'ible: How to Design for Stained Glass. That will go into the nitty gritty of the constraints and design process.
I had seen some other people give this a try, and while I like some of them, I felt like there were either too many lines distracting from the overall image, or there were too many colors trying to make up what is actually there.
I'm only slightly embarrassed to say that I thought the dark image on the left was a stylized mountain- a la "Fantasia" style. My wife (an amazing oil painter) let me know that no- it's a tree, and that although it looks black, it's actually many greens, browns, and other colors mixed together to create that dark color. Thanks to technology, you can zoom right into a painting and look at the details. With that in mind, I created several drawings until I was happy with the image I had.
The next task was how to choose the glass. I started with a lot of colors, but again, didn't feel that it would work. When I look at that image- I see BLUE, dark blue, and more shades of blue with other colors mixed in. I wanted to stay true to that, so I used every scrap of blue that I had, and bought a couple pieces that looked like stormy clouds and wispy green lines for vegetation. I decided to let the glass do the work, and I'd keep my lines to a minimum.
Step 2: 7 Years Bad Luck
Once the design was done, it was time to cut the glass. When you cut class, you are actually scoring the glass and hoping it breaks where you score it.
This was where a lot of my compromises had to come in. I didn't want to change the drawing I had too much, but there were some shapes that you just can't cut in stained glass. What I ended up doing was drilling holes in the glass to get some severe inside and outside round shapes.
I use a regular glue stick and printer paper to glue my patterns onto the glass, then I cut to that shape. Some cuts are impossible to get perfect, and you will need to grind them in the next step.
I also decided that I would need to separate some shapes into 3 or 4 more manageable pieces. To make them look like one piece instead of 3 or 4, I carefully laid out my solder lines, and left really small gaps everywhere else. This way, you can see it is a few pieces up close- but from a few feet away you don't notice it.
When cutting glass, cut on a waffle grid or clean your work area often to watch out for splinters!
Step 3: Grind
Once the pieces are cut, there will be some pieces that need to be ground to shape. You can use a carborundum stone for this, but a stained glass grinder makes quick work of it. Just sneak up on the pattern you glued on to the glass.
I used to use printed shipping labels as the adhesive for my patterns, but they are really difficult to wash off later- even under water. I have found that just using a regular glue stick and printer paper gives it enough strength and "stickiness" to grind the glass, but then washes off easily.
Step 4: Foiled Again!
After you have cut, ground, and washed your glass- it's time to foil the pieces. This is where you wrap the edges of your glass in copper foil in preparation for soldering.
This step requires some careful hand/eye coordination, but being careful at this stage will really pay off when it's time to solder. Place the glass on the edge of the copper foil (it's like a thin strip of aluminum foil-tape) making sure it is centered, then wrap it around the entire edge. Pinch the copper foil and burnish it tight to the glass. Try to keep it lined up the entire way around. If you have an edge that does not overlap well- trim it with a X-acto knife.
Because I created some parts of the image with 3 or 4 pieces of glass, but didn't want the solder lines everywhere, I trimmed the copper foil off in the places I didn't want solder.
As you are foiling, test fit your pieces to the pattern, to make sure everything will fit.
Step 5: Mind the Gap
With you pattern taped onto your work surface (an old ceiling tile in my case), start placing the foiled pieces onto your pattern.
The important part here is that each piece should have a good fit, but there actually needs to be a small gap between the pieces of glass. Not a BIG gap, but they shouldn't be right up next to each other either. The reason for this is when you melt the metal in between the glass, it will form an "I" beam. If there is no gap, there will only be a surface layer of metal on the front and the back, and they will not be connected through the seam, creating a very weak window that will not stand the test of time.
Use push-pins to hold everything in place. I use pieces of wood along the edges to keep everything nice and square.
Step 6: Melting Point
Now comes the fun part! This is where everything comes together-literally.
Brush flux on your solder lines, and solder dabs of solder to "tack" everything in place. Once you have done that, you can solder all the lines. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- You want a nice even bead, this comes with practice. If it is not working, you could have your iron too cold, too hot, or too much flux, which causes the solder to bubble.
- Don't solder all the way to the edge, you need to leave a little bit of space for the metal frame around the edges.
- Don't stay in one place too long- if you mess up, move on and come back to that spot later. Too much heat will cause the glass to crack or fracture.
- Be patient and practice! The good thing is you can keep coming back and re-melting it until it looks right.
Step 7: Cleaning, Patina, and Polishing
Once everything is soldered, you want to scrub it under water with some dish soap. This will neutralize the flux and clean off any gunk left over from soldering.
I like to polish my panel before and after I patina, that is just a personal preference. Some will just patina and polish after. For this panel, I applied black patina to all the solder lines except around the moon- which I did in copper. I also patina'd the 4 corners in copper so they would match the metal frame around the edge.
The last photo shows me using dental floss to get some wax out from between 2 pieces of glass. Because there are some areas that don't have solder but are separated- wax will get in there and create a white haze that is distracting from the blue color of the glass.
Step 8: Devil in the Details
There are so many details in this piece. I made a foam box for travel and storage. I know that this piece will move around a lot, and having a dedicated, safe container for it to travel in was important. It might be a little overkill but hey, why not?!
Something I do on my pieces is solder up to the edge in the front of the piece, but I only connect the solder lines to the metal frame on the back. It can look messy and distracting with all the solder lines connecting to the frame, so I like to only do that on the back.
I have a particular way of connecting the hanging hardware. Instead of cutting them at a 90 degree angle and flooding the area with solder, I trim a 45 degree angle on both pieces, then shorten it on the top piece after inserting (and soldering) the hanging hardware into the side piece. Then I solder the corner together. This creates a joint that is strong, but very clean looking.
The last detail I wanted to point out was on the Church. I used my Dremmel to engrave the windows. Then I used sharpie to fill in the void, and it cleans up really nice with alcohol. It cleans the sharpie marks everywhere except where it was engraved.
Step 9: Final Thoughts
I am really happy with how this piece turned out. I used an iridescent black glass for the tree. It gives me the best of both worlds, it looks black from a far, but when you get up close- you see the colors shining and reflecting off the glass, just like when you look up close to the actual painting.
Sometimes it's great to get out of your comfort zone- like going a little crazy and growing your hair during the pandemic...and making something that challenges and pushes your limits. I will stop short of cutting my ear off...
This painting has inspired millions of people. It represents the starving artist, mental health issues, our desire to make our mark in the universe somehow. It's blue, and moody, and I love it.
It hit me when I finished this piece that even though I worried and slaved over it for many months, it would outlast that effort and keep going long after I am gone. I hope you enjoyed this journey as much as I did! Go make some ART!
First Prize in the