TOWER - Modern art glass design how to article

By Lee Baldwin on August 4st, 2011

Tower, original art glass for Eugene Oregon Public Library, 1979, copyright Lee Baldwin

Tower, 84 in X 38 in, Glass, foil work, raw iron
Eugene Oregon Public Library 1979

The Thinking Process

Where does good design come from? If you want original design, it must come directly from you, with no peeking onto someone else's page.

The easiest way to do this is through a lot of sketching. In my early days as a glass designer (Bowen Island BC, 1975) I found myself sketching twisting ribbon shapes, always a favorite theme, enjoying the ways they moved and interacted with each other.

Developing Some Design Motifs

I began working with very straight-edged vertical ribbons, and introduced horizontal creases where the ribbons could change direction. This led to 'shelves' and 'overhangs', which naturally led to lighter and darker shading.

In 1975 I produced my first creased ribbon design, which I called Parallel Harmony. It was the predecessor of a lot of later work. (Please see image below).

Parallel Harmony Number 1, 1975, copyright Lee Baldwin

Parallel Harmony #1, the predecessor of many original designs

The Viewer Experience is Important

What was it about PH1 (Parallel Harmony #1) that was so interesting? First it is simple. A person can just look at it and 'get it' about what the design is doing. Second, shading and shadow cast are very informative to our eyes in interpreting the three dimensional world. This design used those visual skills to put the feeling across. Because of the shadings of lighter and darker glasses, the eye interprets it as an illustration - the line drawing is strengthened by the different color values (darker or lighter) to accept the idea of surfaces which are angled upward, appearing brighter, and which are angled downward, appearing darker.

Evolution of the Ideas

I did not use shadow cast in PH 1, but four years later when I began the Tower design, I was interested in the interplay of the rigid linear ribbon forms with a more flowing, curving ribbon. To help express the relationships in space, I used shadow cast between the three major elements: the tower, which is like parallel harmony viewed in perspective, the wing form, and the flexible ribbon.

Reframing the Interpretation

Also I was thinking about the lead line in the piece. In most stained glass, the lead line is a supporting armature. The lines are always the same size, or a few standard sizes. I wanted the eye to interpret the dark lead lines not as an artifact of the picture plane, but as the edges of the objects in space. Since I was working in foil instead of lead, I was able to taper and shape the lines. For example, in the blur tower form, the lines taper from bottom to top in the same proportionas do the individual glass segments.

Influences from Other Artists

About this time I was writing articles on design for a magazine, Glass Studio. In the intro for one of the articles I quoted French sculptor Auguste Rodin. He seemed to be writing about exactly what I was doing at the time:

Conceive form in depth
Clearly indicate the dominant planes
Imagine forms as directed toward you
All life surges from a center
Expands from within outwards
In painting, observe relief not outline
The relief determines the contour
The main thing is to be moved
To love, to hope, to tremble to live
Be a man before being an artist!

-- Auguste Rodin