Story and photos by JOYANNA LOVE
For Brad Whitmill, complexity and stress relief come hand in hand through creating stained glass.
He described making stained glass as being “easy, but also very hard.”
“It is kind of like checkers,” Whitmill said. “It is really easy to learn how to play checkers, but to master checkers takes a lifetime.”
His interest in the art form began in 2007 when he was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida.
“I was working on the night shift and I was bored during the day,” Whitmill said.
A colleague joked that he should learn how to make stained glass.
Whitmill took a ‘Well, why not” attitude and went looking for an opportunity.
He found a shop that specialized in stained glass and began learning how to fit the pieces of colored glass together in patterns.
“I really enjoyed it, because I have always been creative,” Whitmill said.
Whitmill said he has not reached master level in stained glass, yet. However, he has had people like his work enough to commission a piece from him.
One of his most challenging projects was creating a stain glass display for a church.
The piece incorporates a cross, Bible and the reference for the church’s favorite Bible verse.
Whitmill created a few drawings of potential designs and sent them to the church for consideration. When they chose a design, he set to work. The design was mounted in a wooden box with lights behind it.
Different styles of glass allow for infinite positives in texture, opaqueness and transparency. Whitmill will often use both types of glass on a sun catcher, varying the amount of light coming through each part.
“There are probably hundreds of different types of glass that you can choose from,” Whitmill said.
Whitmill orders most of his glass from a company in Florida.
Some projects are squares resembling a patchwork design. Other designs are full of curves.
Each project begins as a drawing. Whitmill uses the drawing to create a template. The template is cut out almost like a puzzle with each paper piece representing a different piece of glass. Each piece must fit perfectly, if any of the edges break off, Whitmill will have to make another piece. Pieces that do break can be saved and used to make a smaller shape for a different project.
“There is a misnomer out there that you cut glass, and you don’t, you actually break it,” Whitmill said.
A tool with a carbon tip is used to scour a line on the glass. Then, a specialized pair of pliers —breaking pliers — is used to break the glass along the scoured line. The edges of each piece are then smoothed out with a grinder to remove the sharp edge. Whitmill encases the edges in foil, and then uses carbon to solder the pieces together.
“For the clearer colors, the lighter colors, typically you want to use the silver or the copper foil because it will reflect the light through the piece and it will just make it stand out a little bit more,” Whitmill said.
After the soldering is finished, Whitmill adds a liquid patina to color the metal ends.
“Different colored glass is different costs because of the elements and chemicals that go in to it,” Whitmill said. “Reds, oranges and yellows are the most expensive glass because that actually has gold in it.”
Whitmill has begun experimenting with using glass beads as accents to give a 3-D element to the design.
“I think it lends a lot to it,” Whitmill said.
A wax substance is also added to protect the piece. Whitmill said glass cleanser should never be used on these stained-glass pieces because it will ruin the finish.
“It’s very relaxing and I really like making pieces for other people,” Whitmill said.
Inspiration for his artwork comes to Whitmill from a variety of places. Most ideas stem from his imagination, while others are prompted by seeing other artisans designs on Stained Glass Facebook groups. For Christmas shapes, Whitmill drew inspiration from a coloring book for shapes for stained glass ornaments.
Many of his first projects were gifts for family members.
He designed his first stained glass project to have straight lines ad curves in order to be a challenge. Later, he took on a larger challenge by creating a project that did not have any straight lines.
For a small window, sized piece for his father he featured a boat design patterned after one his father had owned. he designed a large sun catcher featuring the sun and the moon for his wife.
Whitmill’s projects are featured under Whit Stained Glass Designs on Facebook.