Why stained glass is like writing a novel…

It’s obvious I’m going to make associations between the two, but installing this latest commission in a public library in upstate New York, I was struck once again by several common struggles.

1. Patience is a virtue.
This is a long-term, incremental process. You’re not whipping out a 1,000 piece panel in a week and neither will you crank out a 100,000 word novel in a month. Or even two months of NaNo word-padded frenzy. Lock it in your mind that it’s going to take consistent applied effort over a considerable amount of time to make something with legitimate quality. The initial query for this latest commission began back in May. It was installed on November 25th, almost seven months later. I spent over a year writing, then re-writing my first novel. Take the time to do the job right, however long that is.

From thumbnail proposal sketches to the full-size cartoon of the final design; from the glass selection through the uncounted hours cutting, grinding, foiling, soldering and surface finishing; from obtaining accurate measurements to transporting the panels across two states for the install; large projects proceed in stages. You can’t move on until the earlier phase is complete and, more important, you can’t perform phase three tasks until you’ve finished phase two. You can’t grind and fit or solder and patina if you haven’t established the final design and cut out the basic shapes. Likewise, I have to resist the urge to revise, to polish my first draft. That’s second and third draft work. First draft is all basic shapes that make the whole.

2. Devil’s in the details.
Stained glass done wrong is tacky. Stained glass done right is breath-taking. Reason most folks don’t like it is you’ve got to pay attention every step of the way. Screw up at one stage and it effects the following stages and flaws the finished product. One piece too large or cut sloppy, it throws every piece it touches out of whack. It needs to be fixed before you solder and make it permanent.

Also, even though you’ve drawn an outline and are essentially filling in the lines/shapes, it’s what you fill them with that makes the all difference. Kelly green leaves and baby blue sky? OK. Or pay the extra to get hand-poured dappled greens and drawn German antique. Yes it costs more and more difficult to work with, but it’s the difference between Hallmark and Tiffany. I think it was Mark Twain who said the difference between a good word and a right word is the difference between a lightning bug and lightning.

3. Give blood.
It hurts sometimes. Give from yourself and don’t bypass that. There are no shortcuts. I’ve got my 10,000 plus hours in in glass work. I’ve got to do the same with words.


Memorial Window for Patterson Library, Westfield, N.Y. Overall dimensions: 36″ x 76″
Quotation in main panel reads
“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. – Cicero”
Designed, fabricated and installed by P. Todoroff, Glass Graphics Studio. Cape Cod, MA.

4 Replies to “Why stained glass is like writing a novel…”

  1. Good comparison and breakdown.

    As a novelist, you can’t rush the process. You have to do every bit right, including choosing the right word (I’ve heard of that lightning bug/lightning one before and it’s spot-on).

    As for glass … I won’t pretend I’m an expert, but good job on the panels. If that was a novel, it would be the stuff publishers go for. 😉

  2. Thanks much. Glad you like the glass work. Personally, I’m glad it’s finished – and safely installed. I woke up twice in the middle of the night prior to the installation. Talk about stressed…

    Now, back to writing.

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