. . . A Suggestion !


By Gary Elshoff,
Artist Member, ASAA

From the Spring, 2013 issue of the
AERO-BRUSH, a publication of the American Society of Aviation Artists

Read the full article below.







Stop! Before you read further, please look at the image to the right. What do you see? What’s there that catches your eye as an artist? What else? Look again. Now, what are the most significant design elements that you notice? Anything else?

Now, please read on.

Several ASAA members, seeing my body of work, have suggested I set down in print a discussion of the skill set and techniques I use to literally, as my slogan goes, ‘Turn a plain window into a PLANE window.’ That being the goal, this article is the first installment of a set of presentations in the Aero-Brush in which I intend to give a peek into how my work is developed and executed. A tutorial, if you will.

It is my privilege and honor to have been selected in 2011 by the ASAA to be the first stained glass craftsman to join that group of distinguished artists. As my chosen medium to depict aviation subjects has, by definition, many unique qualities and characteristics that give a different sense, or feel, to each composition, the opportunity to present a work for the customer that may literally reflect their aviation interest presents special considerations, and certainly, challenges, perhaps not addressed by canvas or sculpture media.

There is a myriad of variables in each work that makes them unique. Some of those elements include: lighting source(s), such as natural light, from what direction?, or artificial light (ambient room light, fluorescent or incandescent); what type of glass to utilize to allow for see-through properties – opaque or cathedral glass?; room décor compatibility; suspension and framing options; structural integrity, if a larger panel; level of intensity of design, e.g. what details are to be included or highlighted?

And that’s just for starters. Once the layout and use are established, the fun begins in figuring out how the star of the show – the aircraft itself – is going to be situated within the overall design. Considerations here include best perspective to capture the essence, or best qualities, of that plane. Factors in choosing the best way to execute the aircraft in glass include: perspective (of course); number and positioning of joints and/or solder seams (they are always there – if foiled, 1/8 inch around each piece of glass, if lead, usually 3/16” or 1/4”; details to be added with vitreous, kiln-fired paints; and, again, the type of glass – not all glass can stand up to the rigor of the kiln; how much of the plane’s components and accessories be depicted as separate pieces of glass vs. dividing them into component pieces (I refrain from using the term ‘breaking them up’ as a nod to one of the most challenging characteristics sic of this medium); and then the type of finish color (patina) of the solder.

Now let me now redirect you to the image at the top of this article. This customer wanted his new Lancair Columbia 400 depicted in a Caribbean motif with his boat included as a secondary element. They are there in that panel, along with the trees (fronds are tough to do – so many ‘points.’) And that is, pun intended, the point of my little exercise with you. Did you notice the mostly horizontal and vertical extension lines when you first considered that work? Most people don’t “see” them until they are specifically brought to their attention. The reason is, I think, that when we look at a stained glass window, our brain effectively edits out those lines because, well, it’s a stained glass window, and we expect there will be line ‘clutter’ in that medium. I don’t know if it’s cultural, or what, but those various lines are what allow for the actual execution of the work. They provide the physical structure of the entire work. Those lines are actually solder seams – each piece of glass is wrapped in copper foil, and then soldered along their full length.

The placement of these lines is critical to the integrity of the work. Too many lines, and clutter begins to develop. Too few lines, and the possibility of stress fracturing (that word, ‘breaking,’) occurs. The rule I’ve learned the very hard way is, if it’s likely to (eek!) break – it will. So the layout and positions of the aircraft within the work is not only visually important, but of structural concern, too.

A consideration of significance is that the cut glass piece cannot just stop at a point – that point has to be extended to the next piece of class. Otherwise it will – break.
Referring back to the Lancair panel, each tip of structure – the end of the spinner, the wing tips, and the landing gear elements – has to be accounted for with extension lines. When they are not adjacent to another part of the aircraft, they have to run out to another glass element, such as the border piece(s). The palm fronds points each have to be accounted for. This detail results in apparent (but necessary) ‘clutter’ about each palm tree. Again, layout and positioning is critical.

I’ve learned that the best way to avoid eye/mind strain is to run those lines in horizontal/vertical plains whenever possible. The random or intentionally curved lines often distort the overall ‘look’ of the aircraft within the finished panel. The straight line will not compete with the unique curves of a planform. Their simplicity will actually seem to enhance, or set apart, the aircraft image within the window panel, drawing your attention to the subject, not the lines. I guess it’s a mind thing.

I know that the discipline of aviation art demands adherence to certain set rules, such as avoiding ‘bad tangents.’ What is one artist’s bad tangent is for me a means to establish the development of a glass seam or joint that is necessary for the successful fabrication of the various pieces of glass into a ‘workable’ and structurally critical component.

Sometimes, though, I get lucky with the lines. Please take a look at this PMB Mariner panel.


Notice that there is a seam above each pontoon that has been worked into the strut detail for each. These lines/seams are structural elements for the glass itself – this was a larger piece used in a pool table lamp. The odd-shaped glass had to stand up to the shock of the occasional wayward cue-strike! Ah, another unique variable not usually considered in other mediums.

As you may be able to discern from seeing my work and knowing a little bit about the challenges and satisfaction I encounter in designing and fabricating these sometimes beautiful windows, there is a special feeling obtained from integrating the disciplines of design, mechanical and structural engineering, physics and even chemistry into a composition that literally glows when held up to the light. I like what I do.

In future presentations, I intend to discuss the techniques for painting on glass that enhance the quality of a work, then on to the selection of the glass itself, and the variables that converge into the decision of what colors, textures and light-refracting characteristics best showcase the work. Glass is neat – no two pieces are exactly the same when brought out from the rolling mill. That is the matrix that makes my job fun.