How to commission a stained glass window
A stained glass window can enrich a building with colour and brilliance, enhancing the light and creating a focal point that will last for generations. Commissioning a new stained glass window is an exciting process for both the client and the stained glass artist.
The following notes are primarily relevant to new domestic and secular commissions. Advice on commissioning new stained glass for churches, with information about Diocesan Advisory Committee and similar stipulations, will be added here in the near future.
The best work results when a client builds a relationship with the artist that allows scope for creativity.
For large or even medium-sized projects, a successful commission needs three ingredients:
- a champion who will drive the project forward and overcome any obstacles
- an artist with vision who understands the architectural setting, light levels, the relationship of the new window to existing glazing and the needs of the client
- sufficient funds for the project or an ability and commitment to raise them
It is crucially important to find the right artist to work with. For domestic commissions it is worth asking for recommendations. There may be a talented stained glass artist local to you, but it must be stressed that quality of design and craftsmanship ought to be a more important criterion than convenience. You can look online at artists’ portfolios and select someone based on their previous work. Ideally you should visit a finished window or installation to see it in daylight.
The artist should be selected before asking for a design. Creating a design is a large part of the commissioning process and usually involves at least one site visit as well as a thorough understanding of the setting and the client’s wishes. For some significant commissions a shortlist of artists can be invited to submit a design, with a fee paid to each artist in recognition of the time and effort involved in creating a design.
The price of a window is affected by many factors: the artist’s experience; the size and complexity of the design; the type of glass (genuine mouth-blown glass is far more expensive than mass-produced glass); how much painting, etching or engraving is involved; and the installation costs of fitting the window. It might not be possible to establish a final price until the design is resolved but a budget should be discussed at the outset. The artist may require a separate design fee, a deposit for materials and interim payments.
The artist may have a waiting list or other commitments. Stained glass is a labour-intensive process that can’t be rushed. Patience on both sides is required to produce the finest creation.
A detailed design will be drawn by the artist and submitted for approval. At this point she/he will have a clear vision of how the window will be made and of the glass that will be used. Samples of glass can be shown to the client to give an idea of the colours and textures attainable. Occasionally, the design will need re-working until both client and artist are happy with it. The next step is to produce a life-size cartoon or cut-line before work can begin on the actual window or installation. It is important for the artist to keep the client updated on progress and she/he will often invite the client to the studio to see parts of the commission being made.
Once the window is installed safely there should be a huge sigh of relief all round! It is the first time the window is seen properly in the setting it has been designed for, and it is a special moment for both the artist and client. The artist will want to photograph the window in situ for her/his portfolio. The copyright for their work normally always remains with the artist, although she/he are usually only too pleased for the work to be reproduced and celebrated.