Okay, I may have used a misleading title. It should read: How My Memories of Stained Glass Classes Inspired My Writing Practices Today and What You Can Learn From the Resulting Metaphor.
I was involved in a lot as a kid. Like, A LOT. Ballet, jazz, tap, Irish step dancing, Girl Scouts, swimming, horse back riding, clarinet, alto clarinet, altar serving, piano (for a month), theatre…I feel like I’m missing stuff. Anyway, you get the gist.
One of the classes I took for a few years was making stained glass (and jewelry crafting). These classes were so unique to any I had taken before – instead of expressing myself through actions, I was expressing myself through what I made with my hands. I’ll never forget the feeling of pushing vibrant glass against the sander, watching the rough edges become smooth as glass crumbs fell away; nor will I forget the toxic smell of the solder fumes as I melted it between two pieces, merging them together.
I remember making an abstract piece, a dove, an apple, and a horse with a feather in its mane.
Before we actually got to the stained-glass-making, my fine arts teacher gave me warm-up exercises that prepared my mind for making art. Looking back, I realize that these techniques are relevant to any artist – not just artisans with physical manifestations of art (stained glass, sculpture, painting) but to artists of words as well.
- Use magazines as sources of inspiration and self-discovery. I will never forget my first stained glass class that wasn’t about stained glass at all. Instead, my mom and I (we took the class together) were brought to a table with a large pile of magazines. We were instructed to look through them and tear out the pages that appealed to us, no matter if they were articles or advertisements. Part of the instruction was that we couldn’t think about why we liked the pages we ripped out. We just had to rip them, which was a very therapeutic type of destruction. The magazines were a little bit of everything from National Geographic to fashion mags. When we were done, it was time to analyze why we tore out the pages we did, which showed the colors and designs we were most drawn to. This helped shape the projects we took on later.
- Journal every step of your process. Another exercise we did prior to starting our stained glass making was selecting a journal. This journal was going to be our “cookbook of recipes” for stained glass. This journal included what inspired us, directions on how to make/shave/solder particular pieces, traced diagrams that we would soon bring to life with colored glass, ideas…this journal included anything related to stained glass, and became our book of guidelines with each new class. I still have it in my possession, even though I haven’t worked with stained glass in years.
- Look through the scraps, and you just might find the perfect pieces for your next work of art. One of the rules of the classroom was to never throw scrap glass away. Firstly, because it was a hazard; secondly, you never know when one project’s scrap becomes another project’s centerpiece. I remember there was a box in the corner of the room filled with such scraps, of every color and every texture. Occasionally, we would rummage through it (with gloves on!) to find just the right pieces for our project.
So how can writers use these techniques from the stained glass class?
- Grab a pile of old magazines from around your living space and tear out the pages you like. Don’t think about why you like the pages, just rip them out. When you have a pile you’re satisfied with, look through it and see if you can find any patterns. Try to piece the images or patterns together in a poem or a scene for your main character. Put your character in one of the magazine images, or paint your poem with advertisements. Make a collage of words out of your pile of chosen images.
- Journaling your writing process helps make sense of what works and what doesn’t. This type of meta-writing can be more of a reflection. After writing a poem or a scene, think of what lead you to writing that scene or a particular line. Write it down. What brought you to that thought? Write backwards, and you might find a road map of which techniques work best for you, and when they do. You can also use the journal for anything writing-related, to revisit when you need a source of inspiration.
- Look through the scraps, and you might just have something. Do you have unused lines of poetry in your notebook, or unused scenes from your novel buried in your computer files? Revisit them, and see if you can use them for new poetry or flash fiction pieces. Recycle your literary scraps and turn something old into something new!
I like to think that all art is related, bouncing off one piece after another in a weave of protagonistic and antagonistic ways. We have seen this all across history, and even today.
If you want to take this practice a step further (and if it is in your means), sign up for a class at your local art museum to work with a medium you’ve never tried before. See how this new art form can touch your writing!