In the extra bedroom of her cozy Craftsman house tucked away on a picturesque street in Murray Hill, glass artist Danielle Clark of House of Pale is creating meticulous, sun-catching, stained glass masterpieces. When she welcomed me into her home studio, a cute kid was playing video games, and a small, fluffy dog barked at me as I entered. The windows are adorned with crescent moons, hummingbirds, and oranges, all made of brightly colored glass.
Clark has always been an artist and entrepreneur in some way or another. Several years ago she owned a vintage clothing shop in Ohio called Pale Horse. The name and the business both evolved over the years; from vintage clothing to handmade trinkets. It ultimately became all-glass endeavor, House of Pale, after Clark suffered a freak accident. An avid roller skater, she was casually standing around with some friends while wearing skates when she tripped over a rogue cable on the ground. Her wrist was shattered and she broke her pelvic bone, leaving her bedridden for quite a while, and unable to create tiny crafts with her hands. While in recovery, she began watching videos on YouTube about glass art and became, as she puts it, “totally obsessed.”
“I figured as long as I could hold the tools in my injured hand I would be OK,” Clark explains with a shrug and a smile. She quickly developed an intense passion for the craft. “I wake up thinking about glass, and I go to bed thinking about glass.”
Materials: glass, grozer pliers, glass cutter, glass grinder, soldering iron, copper foil, flux
Step 1: Make Template, or “Cartoon”
Clark begins by planning out her image with a detailed drawing. “In the glass world, it’s called a cartoon,” she explains. The cartoon maps out what each piece of glass should look like, including color coding. The piece she’s creating during my visit is a recreation of the famous “I want to believe” image made famous in the “X-Files,” which depicts a UFO hovering over a grainy landscape. It’s a commissioned piece, which Clark says is always a fun challenge.
Step 2: Measure and Cut Glass Pieces
Each piece of glass must be measured and scored perfectly into shape. Then the glass is broken apart at the perforations using a menacing tool called grozer pliers. I imagined glass shattering all over the place and flying directly into my eyes, but Clark is a pro and nothing terrible happened.
Step 3: Grind
Clark takes the glass pieces into her kitchen and grinds them smooth with a large grinding tool in the sink. She warns all involved to wear safety goggles during this step. I opt to stand just outside the doorway and squint.
Step 4: Copper Foil Wrap and Flux
Each piece of glass is then wrapped around the edges with copper foil. “You have to be extra careful to make sure the foil is trimmed and applied perfectly, or it will create uneven lines when you solder it,” Clark explains as she slowly and carefully applies each strip. It’s a meticulous process, but she’s obviously a seasoned pro. She then applies a blue-tinted liquid flux to the piece with a brush, which will help the solder to adhere to the copper foil.
Step 5: Solder on!
Now Clark turns up the heat in order to forge the metals together. As Clark opens the windows, turns on the fan, and heats up her soldering iron, I could swear I hear Tim Allen grunting in the distance. “Once you start soldering, that’s it, you’ll be doing it for at least the next 10 minutes. No breaks. You have to be careful because the soldering iron is so hot that it could cause heat cracks in the glass.” The metal used for soldering is composed of lead and tin alloy, which comes in the form of a coiled strand. She touches the tip of the iron to the metal to grab a piece and then applies it along the seams of the glass, where the copper foil lines the sections. The metal sizzles and liquefies with the touch of the iron, quickly becoming solid again as it cools and fixes the pieces of glass together.
Step 6: Frame, Scrub, and Finish
Once all of the pieces of glass are joined together, the entire piece is framed in a flexible metal called came, which is typically made of lead. Clark then scrubs the piece, applies a patina, and polishes the finished product. The stunning glass masterpiece is now ready to colorfully adorn the windows of it’s new owner.