Leadlighting Tutorial Lesson 2: How to make a leadlight. Get started with a simple clear glass leadlight. Design choice.

If using a textured glass for the background and the texture is directional, decide whether to have it vertical or horizontal (the latter usually preferred) and be careful to keep it all the same way, or it will be noticed. (Except in modern designs where it is a nice effect.) Mark the cartoon with a double ended arrow to alert you.

Waterglass is a particularly directional glass and even some Cathedral glasses, which are regarded as non – directional, but is slightly directional if you mix it up.

As you will use many different glass types in your leadlight, at all times cut the largest piece of one particular glass first. Reason is if you are unsuccessful in cutting the largest piece, you can use the rejected piece to cut a smaller of the same, so it is not altogether wasted.


After drawing your cartoon in pencil first, pin it up and stand back and have a good look at it. If you feel that it may be too lead dominant by reasons of complexity, consider what lines could be deleted or changed. It is surprising to see how many lines can be deleted and still retain the theme. More often than not it is usually improved. Only when you are completely satisfied that nothing more could be done to improve it, then it can be inked in. As mentioned before, many people can agonise over drawing the cartoon, there are many free learn to draw sites on the net, just Google Free Drawing Tutorials and there are lots of places where you can learn to draw free which may be a help.

If the design is traditional, it is usually symmetrical – or a mirror image on the centre line so that the design looks the same when viewed from both sides, Art Nouveau being an exception. But remember that if you are making a modern design, or a design that depicts a picture as in a land or seascape and you want it to appear a certain way or direction when viewed from inside, you must draw the cartoon in reverse if you are using paper, so that when you install it, it will appear the way you want it to. (This is so the glass texture is on the inside – more about that later.) Using draughtsman type material as mentioned above under cartoon material, will eliminate this sometimes awkward process, simply draw it as you want to “see” it after you install it, then number, cut and assemble on the reverse side. This is the easiest way to ensure the texture ends up on the inside. (*See also lesson 5.)

A further hint for drawing symmetrical designs accurately is first to draw a centre line and then draw half the design in pencil first on one side of the centre line and when you are happy with it, ink that half in. Next fold it in half on the centre line and if you are using draughtsman material, you will be able to see the line through it to trace, but if it’s paper you may need to use a light box to see the line. Just make sure to fold it the right way i.e. the drawn side down, if you fold it the wrong way you end up with one half drawn on one side and the other half drawn on the wrong side. This is an easy mistake to do so just be aware when you make the fold. After completing the design on one half, then un-fold it and ink in the remaining half.

NOTE: If you have a front entry with sidelights on either side of the door, there are certain things you need to remember, particularly with designs that are not mirror images within themselves. Make sure that when you make the second sidelight, you reverse the cartoon and cut on the other side, so that when you install them the texture in BOTH sidelights will be on the inside because the design is reversed on each side.) Forgetting to reverse the cartoon and cut on the other side will mean one will have the texture on the inside, the other will have the texture on the outside and maybe no-one will notice this, but you will – every time you look at it. (It isn’t necessary to do this IF the design in each panel is a mirror image in itself.) The last photo shown on the right is an example where the two sidelight panels are not a mirror image in themselves, i.e. they are not symmetrical in themselves on the centre line.

The same thing applies to a door that has 2 panels in it. Nothing looks worse than two leadlights of the same design, but each one NOT of a mirror image in themselves, side by side and looking identical when they would look much better as a mirror image in the door if you had reversed the cartoon. (Again in this instance it isn’t necessary to reverse the cartoon if the design in each panel is a mirror image in themselves.) This last paragraph may seem a little confusing, you may need to read it through a few times to get your mind around it. If you have a look at the 5th leadlight photo down from the top in this lesson, which is an Art Nouveau style, you will have a better understanding of what I’m saying. In that instance there are 4 leadlights, but only 2 cartoons were needed. Perhaps an easier way to explain this paragraph is in the same photo, imagine there is only the two centre leadlights. They are a mirror image aren’t they. But if you turned one around they are then identical and if you wanted them identical you would have made them both on one side of the cartoon, which means the textures in both are the same, or the same on both sides. But because we want them to be a mirror image in the door which would look so much better, we must reverse the cartoon so that when installed, both have the texture on one side.

This instance doesn’t just apply to Art Nouveau designs only, if you look at the 6th photo from the bottom in Lesson 1, there is a photo of leaves in a narrow panel. If that panel was in a door that had two openings and you were making two leadlights of this same design, I think you would agree that they would look better as a mirror image in the door rather than identically side by side.


Table of Contents

Designs for leadlights basically fall under 3 categories, traditional, modern and contemporary with sub-categories under each of those. Traditional is broken down into time era’s, Victorian, Edwardian, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, etc. Victorian is usually very geometric in design and mostly all colour. Edwardian introduced a lot of clears into the design and is a softer style away from geometric and is probably what most would call traditional today. Art Nouveau was only for a short period in history just before Art Deco and the designs were usually flowery with sinuous curved lines in long whiplashes. Art Deco was more geometric in style but with more clear textures and little colour. Modern designs can encompass squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, straight lines and curved lines that depict a certain theme or nothing at all. Good artistic ability is very handy in designing these modern styles and they can look spectacular in the right place. Again I will stress that good design content is an absolute MUST for modern work to captivate and hold the interest of those viewing it. Contemporary works embrace so many different designs from country scenes, birds, sailing boats and the like, being too numerous to list.

In some of the older houses sometimes a particular design was carried throughout the house and from room to room. You may have a similar situation where there are windows of identical size in 2 or more separate rooms. It’s a good idea when the design is repeated throughout the house, rather than making them all the same colour, change the colours in each window. By changing the colours completely in each leadlight, it’s not so repetitive and makes you look twice to see what changes were made and creates more interest – so much so that they look like completely different leadlights.

As mentioned in a response to a comment in Lesson 1, once there was only traditional works, but modern abstract designs have now evolved to rival the popularity of the traditional designs and I believe, with the modern style of houses being built today, the modern abstract design that has good design content will eventually be the dominant theme. We are on the verge of seeing what is possible with modern work, it’s just a matter of time and we will all be astounded with what is coming. Google ‘starburst infinity’ and have a look at a very impressive leadlight – this is just the beginning of an exciting era. The starburst isn’t all that technically difficult but it has many pieces, which adds to complexity as well as time.

If you are new to leadlighting and looking at leadlight designs, don’t be too quick to jump in with the first design that takes your fancy, particularly modern designs, because as you become more familiar with leadlighting, your appreciation of what is good design will grow as well. What may seem fantastic now may be so-so in a few weeks or a month, so give yourself a little time to aquire the appreciation so that you are happy with your final choice.

For the best effect, try to choose a design that suits or compliments your home. Perhaps your surroundings can help you decide – do you live in a rural area, leafy with birds, by the sea or town or city? There are so many things that can influence your ideas. Traditional and contemporary designs can work in any home, but modern work is more suited to a modern style home, it doesn’t sit to well in an older heritage style home.

In drawing a leadlight design, always have a regard for glass limitations, knowing what is possible and impossible to cut makes life easier, but if you have a grinder most things are possible. Avoid long thin pieces of glass in your design because they are easily broken, a short thin piece is ok within reason, but long ones – no.

I’ve already mentioned that not everyone has natural artistic ability, if you have, well and good and probably the best advice I can give is to look at as many leadlights as possible before converting your ideas on to paper. In particular, take note of the design and how the artist achieved the end result with break lines eg. from the tips of leaves and similar situations. Try to minimise any break lines and also make them as small as possible – break lines are necessary but the less there are the better the leadlight will look, which is why I suggest to pin it up and have a good look at it before inking it in.

Wherever possible, and it may not always be possible, vary the lead sizes rather than leadling up completely in one size. The leadlight is more interesting to look at using a mix of fine to heavy leads. Let the design dictate the size leads to use, eg. a sailing boat would have a thick lead for the mast, thin leads for the rigging. For landscape designs, use thicker leads for the foreground, thinner leads for the background – this will give depth of scale. In most cases, never use glass for a flower stem as the glass is usually too narrow and at risk of breaking, use a thicker lead. Even most traditional designs lend themselves to varying lead sizes, from small 3.2 leads to large 9.5 leads – all in the one leadlight. In two photos this lesson above, which are traditional leadlights, there are 4 lead sizes in each, 9.5, 5.9, 4.6 and 3.2. These are the main leads that I use all the time as there is enough definition between them to be noticeable when looking at them. There is also two photos of the third last one showing how changing the colours give a different effect. The one above uses pinks and violets, the one in Lesson 7 with the same design uses yellows and ambers.

If your design has a leafy theme, try to have the tips of the leaves on or near or over another design part, even on or over themselves, which reduces long break lines from the tips of the leaves. A simple method of drawing leaves is first to draw about 4 leaf shapes with slightly different shapes on a separate cartoon and by using these ‘master shapes’ trace them to your working cartoon where you want them. You can vary the position of the leaves by mixing them up and also reversing them to get the desired effect. Others will never know you’ve only used 4 or 5 basic leaf shapes even though there could be quite a few more leaves in the design. If you look at the photos that have leaves in them – the one above with 2 rosellas and a similar one in Lesson 1, you’ll see what I mean. This is part of good design and it only requires thinking about it beforehand.

Birds are often used in a leafy theme and making an eye can be a little difficult, particularly when trying for realism. Rather than cutting a very small circle of black glass and adding to the design complexity of leading it up, there is an easier, more realistic way. Melt 2 blobs of solder onto the bench about the size of the bird’s eye, then after puttying both sides glue the eye onto the glass with Araldite, or a suitable glue in the right position on both sides. When the glue has fully cured, patina and polish the leadlight including the eye as described in Lesson 7. After this you can paint the eye with a gloss black paint and no matter where you stand, the eye appears to be looking at you. You can do the same thing for an eye on a fish.

If you like roses, which are very traditional, you can find an easy design for a rose in the last photo in Lesson 6. You’ll see this rose quite a lot in other photos of mine but it’s clearer in this photo. You will find roses in leadlight books as well but they are usually too lead dominant with too many pieces where the artist has tried to make the rose look realistic, which isn’t necessary and sometimes spoils the effect. This rose has only 9 pieces and in my opinion, looks so much better than a rose that is overcomplicated. If you like this rose you can print the pages and take the relevant page to a photo copier shop and get it blown up to whatever size you like, then trace it to your cartoon material. Just make sure you set the print to as large as possible to make it easier for yourself.

I have seen some very nice rural landscape and rocky coastal headland type designs where the clever use of a picture or painting has been used as the basis for the design. You just need to simplify the design as much as possible – don’t try to over complicate it with too much detail, which in some cases can become too lead dominant. If you like rural with rolling hills and a little old cottage on top of a distant hill, have some shrubs graduated in height either side and sloping up to the top of the house to eliminate square edges which need a break line. (If you can find a way to reduce or eliminate break lines as much as possible, the design will look so much better.) The shrubs are circular or oval in shape and if you have them overlapping each other, rather than side by side, the background shape is easier to cut out. In most instances, the background shapes are usually the hardest shapes to cut because they often contain internal curves, which are the harder cuts. A streaky, dark brown glass known as ‘tree trunk granite’ will look just like a rusted tin roof on the old cottage. If you have a chimney at the side of the house, having smoke rising from it in curved, twisting lines will eliminate break lines as well. Wispy grey opal looks nice for smoke. Try to use as many different shades of green in the hills as possible, medium to darker greens in the foreground, lighter in the background. Introducing heavier textures in the foreground greens such as dark green granite and putting it vertically will look like grass. In the middle ground use a medium texture and a lighter texture in the background for best effect. You can find many pictures in magazines that would be suitable to convert to a leadlight design. Start by having a picture or a theme in your mind and start looking, you might look at hundreds of pictures, paintings or photos until you find the one you are looking for. There is another benefit in this if you choose to go this way and that is your design is an original, the likelyhood of someone else making the same thing is very remote. This also makes your leadlight much more ‘valued’ and admired by others.

Just a word of advice – if you have the ability to draw a design from your own thoughts, make sure you pin it up and continue looking at it for a week or so before you ink it in because you may want to make some subtle changes or improvements to the design but once you’ve made it, it’s too late. I’ve made the mistake of jumping in too early and not that the design was wrong, if I had allowed the design to ‘grow’ in my mind, it could have been just that much better. You always see things in hindsight!

In so many of the leadlights that my students had made in the photos they had given me, and it never ceased to amaze me, the standard and creativity of the designs were truly beautiful. I don’t believe this was a reflection of my teaching – that was just the mechanics of the craft, it was their own ability to produce outstanding designs. Yes, in some cases there was natural design ability, but most were able to see something from a picture and convert it to a fantastic design and reproduce it in a leadlight – and most of these didn’t have exceptional drawing ability. I can imagine the comments from visitors to these houses and what I am saying here is that if others with little or no natural ability can create wonderful works, so can you.

The most usual place for a leadlight is in or beside the front door, but there are many other places in a home that are enhanced with a leadlight as well. If a kitchen has a window that is situated on an outside wall, it is an ideal spot for a leadlight because you spend a lot of time in a kitchen, so why not enjoy a view through a leadlight rather than plain glass? If the window faces into the back yard, the best design would be a traditional design that has a frieze or a border of colour around the edges that contain a flowery theme with squares or rectangles of clear glass in the centre, so that you can still see into the yard and there are many different designs that reflect this. But if it’s on a side of the house, it really doesn’t matter too much what design you choose because it’s probably not too important to be able to see through unless you have a nice view in that direction.

Even a simple Art Deco style consisting of a double or triple border around the perimeter with clear rectangles in the centre is nice. (Not diamonds, it will look too busy with a triple border.) If you think the height of the window isn’t high enough to accommodate a triple border, go with either a double or even a single border – it will need to look right. Design the rectangles vertically and about 75mm wide for best aesthetics. When working out how many rectangles to use across, simply divide the area where they will be by 75 to calculate it up to see if they fit equally. If it doesn’t fit equally, change the width of the rectangles and try again until they fit equally, you may end up with rectangles slightly larger or smaller than 75mm to get equal sizes. Now to complete the picture, draw an oval horizontally in the middle of the area where the rectangles are about 2/3 – 3/4 the size of this area which will look like a viewing portal of clear glass. (How to draw an oval is described in Lesson 6.) Rub out the rectangles in the oval so that it looks like a ‘lattice’ behind the oval. This would be a classic kitchen window in a ‘Queenslander’ style home and is ideally suited to a rectangular window. You can draw a rough diagram to see if you like it. You’ll probably want at least 3 rectangles high, perhaps even 4, depending how high the window is, so divide the height by at least 3 to get more of a lattice effect – particularly on the ends of the oval, 2 isn’t enough. This sort of design is enhanced by the careful selection of the types of glass that you put in the borders and it doesn’t have to be colours, clear textures is a very classic look. You can also combine clear textures with colour, which is my favourite and if you make the coloured border quite narrow (12-15mm) it will look spectacular. If you like the idea of one border in colour and two in clear textures, it looks best with the colour in the inside border, next to the internal rectangles with the clear textures on the outside, so that the border containing colour separates the internal plain clear from the textured clears of the external borders and looks as if it is suspended. This looks far better than colour on the outside border. Try to avoid using a different colour in the corners of the border as it tends to look ‘circusy’. Keep that border all one colour as well, alternate colors isn’t good design. If you like this theme, vary the width of each border slightly and draw the border design so that each row is staggered like a brick wall. This will give added strength to the panel, have a look at some of my photos, you’ll get the idea. Again, as in all designs, have a good look at it while it is still in pencil in case you want to tweak it a little before you ink it in.

It may be that you have a kitchen window that is similar to the photo with the Bluebells and Honeyeaters above, which is a timber window with one slightly larger than the other. In instances like these you have to be very careful how you draw the design so that the design ‘ranges or flows’ with the other one and with continuity. In that particular design there are curves flowing from one side to the other, and also straight lines which need to line up with each other, so when drawing the cartoon, remember to measure the distance between the 2 windows as well as getting the 2 heights right in relation to each other. A curved line needs to look like it continues into the other as if it was an unbroken line and this will only happen if you measure correctly and design accordingly.

Windows are either wooden or aluminium framed and can be in the form of double hung, sliding or fixed and also combinations of these. (There is more about installing leadlights in aluminium frames in Lesson 5.) A wooden double hung window can either be putty glazed or with beads and the lower window is the harder to measure and install. On the lower window it will usually have rebates only on 3 sides. On the top sash of the lower window, there will be a 3-4mm slot extending the length of the frame on the inside that the glass fits into and the glass is either putty glazed into the remaining 3 rebates or with beads. The reason for this slot is because when the window is closed, the top sash of the lower window is hidden behind the lower sash of the top window, which makes it difficult to puttty the top of the lower sash. So in this instance fold down the top of the outside lead with your fid so that it forms a h to fit into the slot. Just make sure you put the ‘top’ outside lead all the way across the entire width of the leadlight. I.E. The 2 side leads butt under this top outside lead – that way you can form the h. When measuring the lower frame of a double hung timber window, measure the distance that the slot extends into the frame and consider it as if it was a rebate i.e. measure the height to include the depth of the slot, which is usually about 5-6mm – that way the leadlight will fit properly after you form the h on the outside lead. Another thing to be aware of is when you chisel out the putty to remove the glass, there will either be push points or small tacks initially put in to hold the glass while the putty cures. Just be aware they will be there. Remember that if you make the leadlight slightly oversize it can easily be trimmed with a plane to fit.

If you are making a leadlight to fit in a China Cabinet that has bowed doors you will need to measure the curve very carefully if there isn’t a leadlight installed. An easy way to measure for the curve is to bend a piece of flat lead to the curvature, cutting it a few millemetres smaller and when you are satisfied, flatten it out and this length is the size to make your panel. Take care in removing the curved beading. Sometimes cane is used for the beads, which is easy to form to the curve. In the case of one or both of the panels being damaged beyond repair, at least you can use it to measure from. After removing it you flatten it out on the bench to get the sizes. The design in these types of doors will have a lot of vertical lines fairly close together (50 – 60mm) so that the panel can easily be slowly bent to fit the curve of the door. If you are only making one new one, make sure you measure and copy it identically and use the same leads. If both panels are too far gone you may wish to choose another design, just remember the new design must have vertical lines so that the panel can be bent to fit the door. (You can also incorporate a design in the panels, but remember the vertical lines must project through it.) After making your new panel/s, putty it before bending it to install as it will be difficult to putty it last. I would suggest leaving the panel for a few days after puttying so the putty will begin to set, which will make it easier to do the final clean up after you bend and install the panel. Begin bending the panel from one side working towards the middle, then from the other side. If the panels within the leadlight panel are only 50/60 mm wide, bending will be easy.

After making a few leadlight panels, most people eventually want to try making a copper foil lampshade, which is a natural progression. Some teachers teach copper foiling first before leadlighting, which I think is a very bad mistake simply because a higher degree of accurate glass cutting is required for copper foiling and beginners just haven’t yet aquired that skill. Consequently I know of a lot of beginners who had given up until they learnt leadlighting first. In leadlighting, lead covers the glass which hides any poor cutting and one would never know, but copper foiling accentuates poor cutting because any gaps between each piece of glass is filled in with solder and is very noticeable even to the uninitiated. Having said that lead covers poor cutting, that’s not to excuse it, you should strive for accuracy in both mediums – assembly of both mediums will then be much more enjoyable. I don’t intend to go into the construction techniques of copper foiling for suncatchers, lampshades and the like of which there are quite a few books of designs for copper foiling and most have clear instructions on how to go about it contained in them. Copper foiling was never my favourite medium to work in, lead was my favourite, so I’ll leave it to the experts in that field to dispense the knowledge, but I will say this. Never use a copper foil panel in a window or door that will at some stage suffer wind pressure, it simply isn’t strong enough for that. For those who want to know about soldering a copper foil project, I have briefly covered it in Lesson 4.

A final word on drawing the cartoon, good design IS EVERYTHING. You can have the very best manufacture, but with poor or bad design it won’t get a second look. Good design, even with poor manufacture will always get a second look, because most people don’t know what quality manufacture is anyway. Having said that and you are one of the lucky ones with drawing ability, good design will be second nature to you. However most don’t have this ability but all have some idea what they like and there are so many designs in leadlight books which can be copied directly or combined from other designs to achieve what you want – so this really isn’t anything to stress over. You’ll be surprised what you can find when you start looking. If you are enlisting the aid of a family member or friend with drawing ability, but that person knows nothing of leadlighting procedures, it will be best if you can oversee it happening so that you can advise on what is needed to ensure that no impossible cuts are ‘designed in’ and also in regard to lead dominance. If this isn’t possible, ask them to draw and leave it in pencil in case you need to alter it. Complexity doesn’t always translate to good design and complexity breaks down into two things – complexity as in difficulty, or complexity as in the amount of pieces. Try to avoid difficulty.

When buying lead you may find it cheaper to buy a 15kg mixed box of lead containing a mix of outside leads and internal leads of your choice from your leadlight supplier and most have this service available to customers. You would make a few leadlights from one box. (See chart above.)

One last thing about lead, the only precaution you need to really exercise is to wash your hands thoroughly before eating or smoking and you must be strict in self-enforcing. Most lead poisoning occurs by ingestion through the mouth, a little is absorbed through your skin but again washing your hands will take care of that. I’ve given up having a lead count any more at the doctors, it never shows above normal and I’m handling it all the time, but that’s not to say it’s not dangerous for others, particularly those with poor hygiene.

Never allow children, especially toddlers into your work area unsupervised, simply because they can pick up a small piece of lead from anywhere, which invariably ends up in their mouth. It has been said that pregnant women should postpone leadlighting until after having the child – it may be best to make your own enquires as to whether there is a significant risk even with adequate hygiene.

Even during the soldering process a mask isn’t necessary because you have to boil the lead to produce dangerous fumes. You will never get to this situation in soldering, the only fumes you will get during soldering will be from stearine flux, which isn’t dangerous but be aware liquid flux can produce a toxic fume.

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