I've been making slide ornaments for a few years now. I've sold them in a variety of places and now I'm selling them at a new consignment gift shop and gallery in the Burnaby Heights neighbourhood, Muckabout Gift Gallery. While setting up shop displays the Muckabout folks were curious about how I create these little light catching gems; a tiny story about the process behind the sun catchers is one that should be shared; so here it is.
My online portfolio includes a page dedicated to my works in progress. The images there tell a good story about my work and how it's made but they don't tell the whole story. I have a background in printmaking and a passion for making relief printing blocks. The sun catchers begin with carving a rubber stamp using printmaking techniques and design. When carving relief printing blocks the design is created by cutting or carving away the areas that will be white, Areas that are designated as shades of grey are created by using textured lines that convey different values. Sometimes these textures are created with parallel lines set closer or further apart , contour lines or cross hatch lines. Other times these textures are created by nicking points out of the blocks surface. The closer together these marks are the lighter the area will be in the image. areas that are not cut will be a solid colour or black. The carving process is a time consuming one; each cut on the block is deliberately made. Since the cuts are reductive (meaning that white areas are removed) focus is required to only remove those areas and to do so in a way that is aesthetically pleasing because the stamping process on glass allows for some or all the carved lines to be included in the final image depending on how thickly the glass paint is applied to the slide surface.
The next step in the process is to clean and begin stamping and painting on the slide surfaces. there are different ways of approaching this.
The paint can be rolled onto the block or stamp in the traditional manner and pressed onto the glass slide. Alternately the paint can be applied to the slide and the block pressed into the surface. Each technique ends in completely different looks in the finished ornament. Once the paint is on the plate and still tacky it can be further manipulated. My favourite way of approaching this step is to brush dry metallic, iridescent or pearlescent pigment over the still tacky surface of the slide. Some ornaments have a single slide treated to this process and are sandwiched with a second plain slide. Other ornaments are made by applying this step to both slides before sandwiching them. Still other ornaments are created in a more painterly manner, dropping, blending and swirling paint onto the slide surfaces. These are then left to dry overnight.
The above process can get a little messy and before we move onto the next stage in their creation the outside of the slide is cleaned of excess paint and fingerprints. in some cases a blade is used to shave off thick blobs of paint before solvent is wiped over the surface with a soft cotton cloth. The slides are handled with a cloth along the edges as little as possible to keep the surfaces clean for the stained glass stage of the process. The finished ornaments are created by using the copper foil method of stained glass crafting. A special copper tape is applied around the edge of the ornament and then folded over the front and back side of the ornament. Since the slides are sometimes transparent in places it is important to get an even frame around the edge of the slides. The slides are carefully placed in the centre of the copper tape, and the excess is carefully folded down over the front and back of the slides with the corners neatly folded down for a clean look. The foil is then burnished flat and overlapping folds are pressed down further. A second round of cleaning takes place to remove excess oils on the copper since the folding and burnishing is all done by hand. Then a chemical flux is brushed on to allow the copper to bond with the soldering metal and the edges of the ornament are soldered together using a soldering iron and lead free silver amalgamate solder. Jump rings are added to the ends of the ornament with the solder and a final clean with solvent is used to clear away any resin that has accumulated along the edges of the ornament from the soldering process.
From start to finish an ornament takes many hours to complete. Each is made with love and care to adorn windows, wreaths, floral arrangements, gifts or the holiday tree.
relief block and carving tool, printing block work in progress
Fully carved blocks ready
for printing process
Glass slides prepped and ready
for paint, printing plus
a little sparkle
Painted and embellished slides will be
cleaned and prepped for the next step
Cleaned glass, ready
for copper foil tape
Soldering in progress. A
precise and delicate process.
Too much contact with the hot iron can damage the glass.