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Thoughts on glass decorating techniques

Painted upcycled small vinegar bottles

A little ‘outpouring of brain’ on the subject of glass decorating…

I hadn’t planned to write a blog post today, but while I was adding new products to the website a few things popped into my mind which I thought I’d share with you, in regard to decorating glassware.

Glassware decorated with vinyl

I’m sure that decorating glassware with stuck-on vinyl has its place in the world, but it’s not something that I can see myself getting into. Decoupage, possibly – but it would have to be in a way that’s really unique (not the same old serviettes that all the other decoupagers use, for example).

I’ve been a trader at dozens of craft fairs in North Wales over the past three years, and a visitor at dozens more. And at almost every one, there’s someone selling glassware that’s been decorated using vinyl.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen hand painted glassware. And if I have, it’s certainly nothing like the designs you’ll find at Mooshkin.

I love that my work is so different to anything I’ve ever seen anywhere else. I believe – and hope – that it’s unique. When you buy a piece from me – especially an upcycled piece of glassware – you can be certain that you’re one of only a handful of people in the world to own something like it. Possibly the only person in the world to own that exact size, shape or design (because occasionally I’ll produce one-offs, or as near as dammit).

Compare this to vinyl-decorated glassware, which often sees many different makers producing almost identical items (how many more times can hackneyed quotes like ‘she believed she could, so she did’ find their way onto handmade goods, I wonder? Where’s the originality?) I’m in a massive crafting group on Facebook with over 100,000 members worldwide. I’m aware of just four members, including myself, who hand paint glass. But there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of members who stick vinyl on glass – and many of them use almost identical designs.

I suppose I can see the appeal that some people might see in buying glass that’s been decorated with vinyl. It looks neater and crisper than hand painted, and it’s more uniform. Well, it would be, wouldn’t it? Printing off the same design an unlimited number of times, cutting it out and sticking it to the bottle… my personal feeling is that there’s little originality in this sort of thing, and the products end up looking like they’ve been rolled off a production line at a factory rather than looking handmade.

I don’t have a problem with that; if that’s what you like to buy, good luck to you! But personally, I prefer something that’s unique and which actually looks like someone had an original idea and took the time and made the effort of making it by hand. And ‘looking handmade’ also means embracing imperfections and irregularities. That’s why I don’t use templates when I paint my glassware – it’s all done freehand, by hand. I paint a lot of leaves, but you’ll never see two leaves that look identical – either in my work, or in nature (which is where I get my inspiration).

I should point out that I know I’m not like other people when it comes to choosing what to buy. Some people like to dress fashionably and decorate their homes according to the latest trends – which means they (and their homes) end up looking the same as everybody else. That’s fine, if that’s your thing – each to their own, and I swear I’m not judging! It’s just not for me. I buy things because I like them, not because a magazine told me that’s what I’m supposed to like; and I’m actually less likely to buy things if they seem to be what a lot of other people would own. I don’t dress fashionably, my hair was blue long before brightly coloured hair became a ‘thing’, and my home is as unusual and colourful as I am – beige and monotone are banned from my house! I celebrate my uniqueness, but if you’re happy blending into a crowd then that’s great too! :)

The bottom line, I guess, is this: if you’re like me and prefer really unusual products, then you’ve come to the right place! :)

Upcycled does not equal cheaper

I’m a firm believer that wherever possible, we should reuse instead of recycling. Although recycling is of course better than chucking rubbish into landfill, it still uses a lot of energy which harms the planet. If you can reuse an item and get a few more years’ use out of it, I really believe you should. I’ll reuse anything I can – old furniture, parcel packaging, gift wrap and ribbons (my wired Christmas ribbon collection includes some that I’ve reused for approaching 15 years!) – if I can reuse, I will.

But people do wonder sometimes why my upcycled glass isn’t sold any cheaper than my brand new glass items.

The reason is that a lot of time has to be spent in cleaning upcycled glass before I can paint on it. And when you’re a maker, time is money!

Brand new glass is often quite cheap to buy, especially if you buy in bulk.

But the time spent in soaking off labels, removing glue residue, and scrubbing glass thoroughly inside and out, means that painting upcycled glass can in some cases be more expensive than painting new glass.

Using the right materials

A final thought on the matter of decorating glass: it’s essential that you use the correct type of paint.

I overheard a couple discussing my glassware at a craft fair once, and while the woman was full of admiration for my work, her partner turned his nose up a little. I heard him whisper: “You could do that yourself with Sharpies”.

Well here’s a newsflash: using Sharpies would not give you anywhere near the same effect as my glass paints do.

First of all, the clarity and evenness of colour can’t be achieved with marker ink. The paint I use, and the technique I use for painting (which is a trade secret) mean that the colour is even, and very clear. When light shines through the paint on one of my painted glass pieces, you get pure, even, stunning colour which projects onto nearby surfaces when strong enough light is shone through it. Colours can be blended and gradated, so you’ll get (for example) a turquoise slowly becoming a dark ultramarine. This is simply not possible with Sharpies (or other marker pens for that matter).

There’s also the durability. When you use markers on glass, even when dry the ink will rub off. I’ve experimented with this just to prove the point to myself. Marker ink on glass is not durable, it’s not fade proof, and it most definitely is not weatherproof. You can’t wash it. You can try fixing it to the glass with a coat of clear varnish or clear glass paint, but this just makes the ink disappear (or at best, lose most of its pigment). It is inferior to specialist glass paint in almost every way.

So if you’re planning on giving glass painting a go yourself, make sure you invest in the right materials. My favourite brand of glass paint is Marabu GlasArt – it’s oil based, so to clean up after use you’ll need to use turps. This paint is not cheap, but it gives outstanding results… a million times better than a magic marker, in any case! :)



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