Below are "behind the scenes" images (click photos for detailed descriptions) of the design and execution processes I used to create a hyper-detailed stained glass portrait of Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Biggie Smalls/Notorious B.I.G.) from the iconic Photobooth series by photographer and filmmaker Barron Claiborne.
While most of the physical steps are traditional methods that have been employed by other stained glass artists and craftspeople for many years, I have developed some of my own techniques for designing the templates that I create digitally, which allows me to much more quickly and faithfully reproduce the images and photographs my portraits are based on (as well as design from scratch), as opposed to old school methods with pencil and paper. I am sharing these techniques not only to show the amount of time and effort it takes to create this type of art, but also to share with other artists/crafters how to do what I am currently doing if they desire to do so (although when I showed a photo of this panel to one of my glass suppliers and I told him how many pieces were in it after he had asked me it’s size, he just smiled and said “You’re insane!”).
When I originally learned the craft from my mentor Saul Farber in the mid to late 1990’s, the designs began as sketches or drawings or photos of the image, which were then transposed by tracing onto or carefully drawing them on graph paper, to the same proportions as the final piece using the grid of the graph paper to then create a larger grid on the physical paper template used to cut the glass. For example, if the final size of the piece was going to be 24x48”, it could be drawn at 1/4 scale on top of a 6x12” block of 1/4” squares, making it much easier to exactly render by hand the final template.
After Saul’s untimely and sudden death in 1998, his family (none of whom were local) liquidated and closed his business, and despite having apprenticed under and worked for him for 5 years and learning almost all I could about stained glass fabrication, I had not yet learned the underlying business knowledge necessary to take over his position as owner and keep Farberglass running, as was our original long-term plan. (If you would like to know more about my mentor Saul Farber, here is a nice article about him ). Needing immediate employment I then spent the next few years doing whatever work I could find and eventually became a full-time custom picture framer, while still continuing to create and sell my own stained glass work. I eventually stopped making it though because by the end of a day doing production framing work my hands were not able to handle the rigors of stained glass production as well. Needing another outlet for my creativity, I began to experiment with and study digital photography and video production, all of which I eventually phased into doing full-time as a freelancer after leaving the custom framing industry.
Fast forwarding to last year when the pandemic hit and I was forced to close the photography studio rental business that I had co-owned for the last 3 years, as well as having to put my other endeavors on indefinite hold, I made the decision to start doing stained glass again, which I had been considering for some time but had not yet had the time and energy to re-invest in. Since I now needed to find a way to support myself that didn’t involve interacting with anyone else in person for any extended periods of time, I saw it as an opportunity to restart a previous career that had also been cut short by circumstances beyond my control.
If you have it made it this far through these last several paragraphs of long-winded run-on sentences, the reason for my typing them has been not only to give you a clearer understanding of how I arrived at this point in my very storied artistic career, but how I am now applying the knowledge and perspective learned from these life experiences and working in other mediums to elevate and innovate the craft, and be able to manifest things that I never would have been able to accomplish without having had said experiences.