Glass Painting is the art of applying paint on glass sheets and wares. This art form is globally famous for its stunning look, lesser cost and its ability to make a simple glass window a work of art. Glass paintings today have gone beyond just window decorations. From cutlery and wall hangings to clocks and table tops, glass wares are being given a coat of color to embellish them and define the personality of the painter and subsequently the collector or owner. Indian glass paintings have come a long way from the 18th century beginning in Gujarat to helping homemakers all around the country fill their pastimes. Interior designers to canvas painters, all are dabbling into this art and making great names for themselves using the glass paintings to create a wonderful look for the homes and retail shops.
At present, glass painting in India is done using a number of techniques. Earlier, after painting the glass artisans had to heat it in the kiln to get the transparency and dry the paint. In the present times, with several paint companies making fast drying acrylic glass paints in easily squeezable tubes and other containers, glass painting is reaching every home with people of all ages taking it up as a hobby. Here is a brief overview of the glass painting types, technique, its history in India and its place in the modern times.
Stained Glass Painting- This is an older form of glass painting. Europeans used to literally stain glass in metallic salts and then bring them together to form a picture and stick each glass piece with lead strips on another glass support. The most popular method for stained glass painting today is using paints that are made especially for giving the ancient stained glass look. This creates a more distinctive glass painting. Stained glass paintings are usually seen on window panes and table tops.
Reverse Glass Painting- This type features painting the glass on the back side. This technique is a comparatively newer form of glass painting and a rather economical and weather proof one. Glass paints usually attract dust that stick to the painting making it look old and unclean with time. By reverse glass painting, deposition of dust can be minimized. Also the look is more uniform. This technique is usually used for making glass wall hangings and clocks. The world famous Tanjore Glass Paintings are usually done in the reverse form.
Glass painting can be done either on a plain surface on the front or back, or on bowls or any glass cutlery of a variety of shapes and sizes. Painting on the front is easier than painting on the reverse. In case of plain glass painting, the design once outlined on the glass surface is what is seen in the end. As for painting the glass in the reverse direction, the final picture frame when seen looks inverted. Therefore, reserve glass painting is done with a lot of care. For both styles of painting, first the glass sheet or ware is carefully cleaned with glass cleaner. The outline of the desired picture is drawn. For glass wares artisans go for free hand painting or use different tools to outline the design on the curved shape.
For the reverse glass painting, the picture that is same as its mirror image is rather simpler. But, if it is not the same as its mirror image, the drawing is made such that it is the inverted form of the real picture. To achieve advanced levels of glass painting, the glass is also etched before painting. A number of varieties of paints are used to paint on glass, from slow drying oil paints to fast drying acrylic paints. In case of the slow drying glass paints, the glass sheet is fired in the kiln. During the painting process, the glass is kept on a flat base and stuck using glass stickers so that it is not turned or slanted. For the Tanjore style painting, the areas where jewel decorations are done are the first to be painted. Smudges are cleaned immediately. Oil paints are usually used for producing shading effects on glass. After the reserve painting dries up an aluminum foil is used to give a background to it and produce a pop-out effect.
Glass painting was brought by the Chinese to the Gujarat artisans in India, in the 18th century. But before that, glass painting was known to the western world since before the Middle Ages. Europeans used the art of glass painting to design church windows with Biblical themes and portraits of Jesus Christ and his apostles. Earlier glass artisans limited the ‘painting’ part to just giving finishing touches after sticking stained glass pieces together with lead. Slowly, the whole glass piece was painted and fired in a kiln to get the required look. Artisans, later, learned the art of reverse glass painting, and thereafter, this technique became synonymous to what people called ‘glass painting’. This is the form that came to India.
Gujarat became a hub for glass painters and patrons. Glass sheets were imported from the European countries of Belgium and Britain in the beginning. Indians soon started making higher quality glass for painting purposes. Also, a little while later, the art of glass painting reached South India. The town of Thanjavur or Tanjore in Tamil Nadu became a noted place for this art form. Even today, Tanjore glass paintings are famous all around India and the world for its vibrant colors and use of precious and semi precious stones, gold foil and other jewels to decorate the paintings, making it valuable and a sought after collector’s item. The themes of Indian Glass Painting, earlier, included Hindu gods and goddesses and scenes out of epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata. Gradually the variety of themes expanded to portraits of famous personalities, geometrical designs and nature.
Modern art has also influenced glass painters around the world. For instance, abstract expressionism has heavily influenced modern glass painting. Throughout the world there are more innovations happening in the glass painting sphere. 3D glass painting is a new and upcoming form that is attracting artists and collectors alike.