(C) 2011 Light Lust - Sophie Zena Lister-Hussain | WebDESIGN by Svetlana
The art of stained-glass making dates back at least to medieval times. It combines beautifully a range of craft skills with the art of the painter. To many it evokes ancient church windows, but actually it is an important artistic discipline that has survived throughout the centuries intact and largely unchanged, though the colours and designs used by stained-glass artists today would astonish and perhaps even delight their medieval counterparts.
Sophie Lister Hussain is a talented stained-glass artist who grew up on the Isle of Anglesey off the coast of North Wales, which played an influential part in her early artistic inspirations.
‘My fondest memories are of my grandmother, who told me that my fingers were full of skills. She taught me how to knit and to sew and the combining of a multitude of different materials (her experiences during the War years). She also instilled in Sophie, the self discipline to strive to do my very best with any thing I made, never to leave things half done and badly finished ; If you cant do it right first time, then try and try again until you get it right”
This creativity inspired Sophie early on, so that when she left school she was determined to go to Art College, but making a decision about which media precisely to study was not quite so straightforward.
‘I found a course studying Glass and Ceramics at Wrexham College of Art in North Wales; I liked the idea of being able to use light and colour therefore both materials had great appeal. In order to secure a very last minute place on the course I persuaded the course tutor, Mel Harris, to interview me on his lunch hour in the car park. I arrived, to his amazement, with a portfolio of fashion drawings, landscape drawings and paintings, clothes I had made, cloth that I had dyed and an array of large and small abstract pots.’
Once on the course, Sophie realised this was something that really worked for her. She felt instantly as though she’d found her artistic home.
‘It was a great course, because it taught me the disciplines of how
Glass; how to cutline glass; how to think in glass; how large scale colours worked, and how to use them. We also learnt technical skills, such as sand-blasting, surface decoration, kiln work and hydrofluoric acid-etching. We designed for various projects learning how art and architecture could work together. One specific design proposal was for the main window overlooking the pool at Wrexham Swimming Pool. This was my first design project and was to be judged by Eugene Polity (Renowned Greek Stained Glass Artist).’
‘In my final year I designed a window for ‘Western Lulling Fields Parish Church’ just outside ‘Oswestry in Shropshire’, as part of a competition run by the College. My design was made in really bright colours and double plated handmade ‘Hartley Woods English glasses. Everyone on the course had to come up with a design for the window, but my design won, which was a brilliant boost for me.’
After that success there was no looking back and Sophie went on to come Joint
First in the Stevens Architectural Glass Competition (A nationally recognised
prize) to design a commemorative window in memory of ‘Laurence Olivier’.
‘That was a really interesting project,’ she recalls. ‘It
was a competition run by ‘The Worshipful Company of Glaziers’.
My design, which incorporated a line drawing of the national theatre, screen
printed and etched on to glass was lucky enough to win the competition, although
the window was never made it was great to feel that my design had really stood
Winning the First Prize also opened up her first real working experience within a major stained glass studio, as she was offered a work placement during the following summer months at the prestigious firm of Goddard and Gibbs.
After leaving Wrexham College, she studied Two and Three-Dimensional Glass and Ceramics BA Hones course at Sunderland University.
‘It was a three year course that gave me the time to carry on working for Goddard & Gibbs every summer. After finishing at Sunderland I worked for G & G for a year and then took the plunge and went freelance, working for a number of other Studios – I worked for some of the great names in stained-glass making, including Alf Fisher, Bernard Becker, Deborah Coombs and Ginger Ferrell.’
Sophie insists that when it comes to glass there is inevitably more to learn, which is why she is always keen to meet and work with other artists in a spirit of expansion of knowledge.
She started her own business in 2000.
‘I lived on a traditional narrow boat in London and built a make-shift little lean-to studio at the side of the boat. I managed to get lots of Interesting work, making bespoke stained-glass windows, and it gave me the Rudimentary and skill base for all the work I’ve made since.’
The process of working through a commission with the client is something that Sophie likes to oversee carefully from the outset.
‘You begin by meetings with the client and discussing various ideas. You might talk to them on numerous occasions to hone details down to the final design, until they are satisfied. Some clients are quite sure of what they want. Others will totally leave it up to me.’
She still makes stained glass for private houses, but also works for larger public commissions.
‘An earlier project was a window for the Chapel at St. Saviour’s and St. Olave’s Girls School’ in London. They asked me to design two windows incorporating the school motto in glass, so I came up with a bright modern design that highlighted this combining traditional stained glass, glass painting, and contemporary motifs’. The windows were dedicated by the Bishop of Southwark.
After this commission, Sophie was again approached to design and make a Centenary Glass and Mosaic window for the main internal school stairwell. This was officially opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth II.
Sophie is fascinated by all types of glass work, and always looking for new ideas and inspiration.
‘The majority of my work is stained glass. It’s always etched with acid or painted with kiln firing paints, silver stained or surface decorated by sandblasting also stencil work, a combination of any or all of these techniques can give a detailed and rich texture to the surface of glass. Sandblasting - gives glass a frosted appearance to the surface of glass, and can be used to shade areas of clear glass, also used delicately it will blast away the coloured flash on antique glass. Painting - light and feathery strokes and harder trace lines used to out-line shapes and figures, shading and matting bring density and atmosphere, dramatic tones can alter the amount of light the glass transmits. Etching - produces a range of interesting effects, melting away the surface of unmasked glass, often used to grade the colour from an antique hand made glass dependant upon the design.
The time I spend on a design for a client is valuable, the intricacies which allow individualism and personal features are strategically placed within the web of lead, once these details have a position within a composition, and the flow of the window works, only then can the making procedure begin to take place.
I work with both antique glass and machine made glass, colours, shades and textures. Colour selection is almost as difficult as a design for some clients, as personal choice is essentially important. I have a vivid colour palette and enjoy working with dramatic tones. As an art student back home in Wales, I saw and learnt the array of natural colours from our ever changing seasons, Anglesey’s beaches are beautiful examples of nature’s own Art Galleries, together with the boldness of Snowdon’s mountain range. In the stained glass studio the use of colours, tamed to suite and compliment individual taste are unique to each and every client, however the hand made glasses hold spectacular colours, but due to it’s making procedure this unique beauty is reflected in the price.
The making steps are similar in each window project, but every project has its very own individual challenges.
First I measure the window frame– this has to be done very accurately as mistakes during the measuring can be easily overlooked. The rebate, sight size, full making size, tight size and mullions all need to be accounted for, support bars, tie wires, internal steel cored lead, saddle leads, thread leads, the list is endless. I worked recently on a church where the repair work to the frames was almost as essential as the repairs required to the damaged glass.
Designs when they have been approved are enlarged to a full sized working drawing, the details are all marked on the cartoon (a name used for a working drawing) any indication of glass paint, silver stain and etching is marked, drawn to scale and even sketched on to the cartoon. Once the finished design has been translated to actual size, and in the circumstance of a bespoke commission I would invite the client to my studio to view the work so far, this gives us time to address any alterations before the glass is cut.
A cut line drawing is taken from the cartoon; this shows each and every piece of glass, the lines indicate the heart of all the leads, a line that glass cutters know should not to be crossed. “..I disappear into my own windows while making them, in a meditative mind set. Once I have completed all the drawing and the making has started then the hours can really roll by without my noticing”.
Certain factors can slow the process down such as firing a kiln, or waiting for a glass delivery but generally one process ends and the next starts. I have a small studio at the moment and therefore have to be much organised with each and every process. The leading is when all the accurate careful measuring comes together, when all the small pieces fit into each other wrapped and mitred in lead.
Stained Glass tools are very important, I like to hold on to my tools as long as possible, and repair them when they break. I often find myself making a special ‘creation’ tool for a particular job, where I require an extra large spanning compass or a jig of some kind to allow me to repeat a shape or an angle. Tools wear into the hands of the maker, and it takes time to become accustomed to a new tool, glass painting brushes are especially hard to break in and require hours of work to become effective and supple. I use all the old fashioned Lead light Makers tools, lead knife, Oyster knife, lath kin, pliers, hammer and horse shoe nails, nothing fancy other than my oil fed glass cutter.
By the time that the glass is fitted into the leads, the windows soldered and cemented, the old frame amended to fit again, or the new frame securely installed into the building then the finished glass can be installed into the frame.
For Sophie, as for so many artists, it’s the impression of personality, drive and enthusiasm that really transforms a stained-glass window in to something unique and important.
‘With every design I work on I like to think that I apply all my energy and enthusiasm and passion, and I always try to push the boundaries even beyond my own experience and knowledge. If I don’t know how to do something, I love the process of finding out.’