We really like this definition of glass engraving by Simon Whistler – “My own analogy for glass is to imagine that it is actually made of light; light is sandwiched between two polished sides. Scratch the surface and light comes out at that point. The task of the engraver is to find and release the light in a way that best expresses his ideas.“
Thus, a deliberate violation of the integrity of the polished glass surface is engraving. There are various methods of creating an image, each of which can be attributed to the concept of “glass engraving technique”.
History of glass engraving
The ancient world
Initially, back in ancient Rome and the medieval Islamic world, there was a technique for decorating glass with a diamond.
These were scratches and dots on the surface, a little later the technique of engraving on a machine with stone and copper circles appeared.
Holland XVII century
A very hard, very sharp object, diamond or tungsten carbide, pokes tiny dots on the surface of the glass that are used to form the pattern. The closer the dots, the whiter the surface. Changing the density of the dots creates a range of tints, from the black of intact glass to the white of a carefully engraved area, the image is formed using light that hits the glass where the surface is punctured.
The resulting engraving has a delicate, ethereal quality that cannot be produced by any other engraving method. To look as effective as possible, such an engraving must be properly lit.
XX century. The Revival of Glass Engraving
The pinnacle of works performed in this technique, in our opinion, are undoubtedly the windows in the Church of St. Nicholas in Morton, performed by Sir Lawrence Whistler.
He single-handedly revived the tradition of point engraving in the 20th century, a sophisticated technique popular in the 17th and 18th centuries. His simultaneous use of linear engraving and bit-painting techniques on both sides of flat glass was a great innovation, creating the illusion of perspective in his portrayal of English landscapes.
Sir Lawrence Whistler (1912 – 2002), St. Nicholas Church in Morton.
St. Nicholas Church in Morton, a few miles east of Dorchester, was bombed during World War II. After the war, it was rebuilt, the windows were glazed with simple glass, and for thirty years Whistler engraved them.
The effect is amazing. During the day, the beautiful countryside is visible through the engravings. The images on the glass mix with the real world behind the glass and become a part of it.
When the lighting changes, the impression of the work changes, at night the engravings are perfectly visible against a dark background.
The Thirteenth Apprentice
And here is the Thirteenth Apprentice window, designed in 1987.
It depicts Judas Iscariot at the moment when he hanged himself in repentance for betraying Jesus. His 30 silver coins flow through his fingers to the ground. Sir Lawrence Whistler, called it “the window of forgiveness” and showed how silver coins turn into flowers before they touched the ground.
The engraving of the figure of Judas and the landscape depicted on the glass are so transparent that they absorb the surrounding world and its reflections in the glass, creating the impression of the reality of the unreal. Mirage – visions from the past.
The window was installed in 2013, after the death of the artist.
Traditional glass engraving method
Engraving on the machine
It is very difficult to reach a level where the technical side of the skill of work allows the maximum fulfillment of everything conceived by the author, it is only possible to achieve this through many years of practice.
At the same time, when using the techniques of traditional engraving on a machine, there are a number of restrictions that the author has to reckon with when considering the next work. First of all, this is the weight and size of the object to be worked on.
Engraving on large planes
Engraving with a flexible shaft motor avoids the size and weight problems of the work piece in many ways. I would like to specially note that the engraving method, when the cutting tool is in the artist’s hand, is much easier to master than the traditional one on the machine.
In fact, the pioneer of this method of glass engraving was back in 1953, by the English artist John Hutton. He developed an engraving method using a grinding wheel attached to a flexible drive. For that time, it was an absolutely unique approach to working with glass, which allowed him to solve problems that were impossible in any other way.
He used it to work on the glass “Screen of Saints and Angels” in the west window of the Coventry Cathedral in Great Britain, recreated after World War II.
A giant screen – a window, measuring 21.5 – 19 meters, separates the new modern cathedral and the memorial in the form of the preserved remains of the old cathedral of St. Michael.
They are left as a reminder of suffering and forgiveness. And John Hutton’s Angels trumpet in their background!
It took him 10 years to engrave sixty-six figures!
The figures of Angels are much larger than human growth due to the sketchiness, lightness of the image, their translucency do not interfere with the perception of the entire space as a whole.
Most of the figures are made actively polished with subsequent application of matte fine graphics. They are read in completely different ways depending on the point of view – from the background to which they fall when viewing. Sometimes sparkling, catching light, sometimes reminiscent of a chalk drawing on a dark background. And against the background of a light sky, they become dark.
His technique of engraving with stone grinding wheels gives the work a grain and a shade of chalk drawing, and, unlike the clear and restrained lines of traditional engraving, allows him to convey the effect of preliminary sketches.
Unfortunately, we have not yet been able to obtain more information about the very process of its work. The presented photographs are undoubtedly staged. It is known from the available texts that the figures of Angels of this size were engraved with stone circles. In the process of work, the circles were moistened with a damp sponge, the removed glass sludge was sucked off by a vacuum cleaner.
John Hutton (1906-1978)
Lawrence Whistler and John Hutton almost simultaneously in the 20th century made a breakthrough in the technique of glass engraving (each in his own), deciding and amazingly embodying it in works on large planes. Both are genuine innovators!
Endlessly respecting the keepers of the traditions of the complex technique of engraving glass on copper wheels, this very method of work, which is little known to us in Russia, the work of famous artists, amazing in texture, surfaces, I want to admit that any search for development should only be welcomed.
XXI Century. Classic and innovative methods of glass engraving
In 2006, having worked for 24 years in the classical technique of glass engraving on a machine, we gradually began to experiment with engraving on large flat glasses. And today we only occasionally return to the traditional technique.
Working with a flexible shaft motor requires a completely different workspace. It is extremely important that it be as convenient as possible for work, thought out to the smallest detail, helping the author to translate his ideas into a work.
We dedicated a report published in the collection of conference reports in the Glass Museum of the Elaginoostrovsky Palace Museum to the technique of glass engraving using a motor with a flexible shaft on large planes.
Here is brief.
A 3-meter long work table with a large water collecting tray allows 2 work stations. Longitudinal crossbar above the table are used to suspend splash guards, mirrors to control the engraving process, install bars to accommodate the glass to be processed and to suspend a motor with a flexible shaft.
The tray is equipped with a system for draining water through the sump from glass sludge.
Conveniently organized water supply and lighting systems in the engraving work area. Height-adjustable armrests allow engraving on the entire glass surface. If necessary, glass up to 3 meters long can be installed in the workspace.
The work uses the original Foredom motor with a flexible shaft with replaceable tips. The tips are equipped with diamond, abrasive, polishing wheels.
Modern glass engraving on large planes
Thanks to the conveniently organized workspace, we are no longer limited in the size of the glass to be processed and we got the opportunity to experiment with new processing techniques.
We in no way claim to be the pioneers in the application of these techniques. Over the centuries of the development of this art, many artists, to one degree or another, began to use them in their work. We just have to follow and creatively develop them.
Sculpture in glass
So in the early 2000s, we increasingly began to use engraving with a coarse grain of diamond tools in our work. This made it possible to transfer glass engraving to the category of carving, i.e. significantly increase the depth of the relief. Thus, the traditional, one of the most classical techniques – engraving acquired sculptural expressiveness.
Thus, we got a new, very important for us, texture of the glass surface. Work with diamond wheels with a grain of 315 microns. gives the picture sparkling effects in the light due to large chips. So gradually we began to form a new palette of textures.
Diamond saw engraving
The development of this direction was the use of a diamond saw for engraving. In addition to the sparkling texture of the glass surface, completely unexpected effects were obtained, which can be called “second light” effects from a saw cut and, of course, a “figured cut”.
Serra – currently at work. The cuts express the power and speed of the movement, Serra rushes through the storm.
The English technique of “pointillism” in glass, the technique of point engraving, has always amazed us with its light, translucent effect. Awesome welcome!
We have it sharper, deeper. Maximum sparkling, catching sunlight. The thinnest veil of pointillism turns into bright deep chips, knocked out with a hammer and a sharply sharpened edge of a scarpel. We called this technique – “punch”.
Palette of glass textures
Backlight - another tool for the glass engraver
In the kinematic object “Awakening” it was necessary for the Mermaid to float out of the depths, and the ice floes sparkled on the surface.
The problem was solved as follows: the mermaid was engraved under the lens and looked through the glass, and on the other side, the end of the lens was cut with a diamond saw far in depth and brightly illuminated.
In the work “Mysterious Worlds” we wanted to get the overall greenish tint of the panel. As a material for work, we took glass with a high content of iron oxide – the usual 6 mm window.
When backlit, the greenish tint of the engraved image, from the edges almost invisible to the eye, gains strength towards the center and is clearly readable, and the longer the path the light beam has traveled, the more color it has gained.
The work used diamond wheels, abrasive rubbers and a lot of “punching” with finely sharpened scarpels. It was this technique that made it possible to convey the fantastic, enchanting glow of space.
To create an image, it is advisable for an artist to use all available techniques for working with glass, and we are constantly striving to diversify our palette.
This is a very interesting creative process!