There is much more to custom, site-specific art than simply crafting up an idea and shipping it off. The nuances of collaborative creativity are subtle, but critical to overall success. For architectural glass and tile art, a nearly infinite variety of textures and colors can be brought to bear, not to mention the artistic content of line, curve, and depth.
In addition, there are the usual logistic elements of integrating art into code-permitted structures, working with tradesmen during major construction projects, and the myriad of other practicalities that seem to accompany every real-world project. Getting this "just right" is one of Susan's many specialties, and she has a long and successful history of working shoulder-to-shoulder with builders, contractors, and designers.
Each project is initially engaged in a developmental mode, with extensive dialogue and interaction. This developmental phase proceeds through concept sketches and ideas, and culminates in full-scale design drawings and a full schedule from design through final installation.
The actual fabrication processes, as with any art form, determine the forms and freedoms of the final product. With this in mind, basic descriptions of the various techniques follow, to help in understanding the materials, creation, and of course the beauty and uniqueness, of each style.
- Full-custom designs for each installation
- Tailored to the exact needs of the architectural space and the client's desires
- All art is hand-crafted in Santa Cruz, California
- Production and fabrication use proprietary eco-friendly processes
In 2008, Susan developed a proprietary formula for concrete-based tile. Unlike conventional tiles, the new tile had a silky feel and luminous metallic sheen and the technique became a mainstay in her artistic repertoire.
As an added bonus, environmentally sound ingredients allow these types of tiles to air-dry to full strength. This eco-friendly procedure eliminates the need for expensive, energy-hungry baking and glazing equipment.
The first pieces of each tile design are individually hand-crafted, using a variety of materials. Once the design "master" is perfected, it is translated into a polyurethane rubber mold. Thereafter, for each additional tile produced, the mold is hand-painted with metallic pigmented powders. When these pigments are cured, the specialized concrete formula is mixed and poured into the mold. A vibrating table removes any air bubbles hidden in the mixture.
When the concrete has cured, it is removed from the mold and hand-finished, creating a soft patina. Finally, a sealer is applied, and a final coating of furniture-grade wax adds luster and protection.
Each resulting tile is artistically unique due to hand-painting, but physically uniform due to mold consistency. This strategy allows for striking displays that are still straightforward to install with conventional tiling techniques. Also, specially made inserts (e.g., fused-glass accent pieces) can be incorporated into a tile art design for beautiful effect on walls and murals.
Why concrete rather than conventional stone or ceramic?
- Coloration is truly unique, and not found in standard tiles
- Material is thicker than most typical tiles, 1/2” to 5/8”
- Cuts easily with standard wet tile saw
- The strength of the material allows for dramatic, deeply carved designs
Fusing is a heat process that joins pieces of glass together, stopping short of completely melting them. Fusing can be thought of as "glass welding", as it leaves the parent pieces of glass intact. For this process, chemical compatibility of the glass pieces is important for stability.
Engraved glass, also known “Brilliant Cut Glass,” is glass that has been decorated entirely by hand by use of rotating abrasive wheels. An artisan holds a smooth piece of glass, moving the piece against various sized metal or stone wheels to cut deeply into the glass and produce the desired design. When polished (with pumice and cork wheels), the lines capture and refract the full spectrum of colors, creating a prismatic rainbow effect.
Historically, cut glass is seen in elegant table ware and small commemorative artworks. Susan Wagner Designs offers this extraordinary technique on an architectural scale, creating distinctive one-of-a-kind entryways and windows
The desired design is drawn onto a vinyl sheet called a “resist.” The resist is then applied to the glass that will be blasted. Each line of the design on the resist is then precisely cut in place, outlining every element of the design.The glass AND the craftsman (impressively protected with bunny suit, goggles and air mask) go into a booth to begin the process.
Different grits of sand, blasted through a specialized air gun, are directed against the glass to achieve the desired look. For different treatments, textures, and results, sections of resist are removed one at a time to allow the sand to etch only the targeted area of the glass surface.
The term “stained glass” can have several meanings, but it is best understood as an art panel made with colored glass pieces cut into patterns, and assembled with lead strips. The term can also refer to the colored glass material itself.
Stained Glass pieces can be made by machine or by hand. Some of the most beautiful glass elements are handmade, using a “glory hole” (glass furnace) to melt the raw materials. Molten glass is then blow-formed into a large cylinder which is cut length-wise to open it out into a flat sheet. The sheet is then placed into an annealing oven to slowly cool. Glass produced in this fashion has exquisite texture and shading, with natural light pouring through it.
Colors in stained glass are achieved by adding minerals and occasionally even precious metals to the molten formula. Cobalt makes a rich blue, and ruby colored glass is made by adding a trace of gold.
Glass painting is a permanent and traditional method of adding beauty to a stained-glass window. In panels with human figures, paints can be used to create expressive faces, hands and drapery. In floral windows, it is a means of adding delicate veining to leaves and petals or adding the surprising flourish of a tendril. Glass painting is also a means of controlling light coming through a stained-glass window, to eliminate glare or to direct the eye to a certain area of the design.
The paints used in our projects are powdered metal oxides mixed with water, oil, vinegar or turpentine. (The choice of liquid determines how the paint will flow onto the glass.) Brushes, pens, sponges, even fingers are tools for creating varying effects. The painted piece of glass is then placed in a kiln and heated up to 1250F degrees, permanently bonding the pigment to the glass surface.
Different types glass paints have their own purpose and firing requirements. “Glass Stainer” pigment is usually black or brown, and applied to a colored piece of glass to create details too delicate to be achieved with lines of lead. “Enamels” are used when many colors are desired on a small section of glass. “Silver Stain” turns glass varying shades of yellow and orange, which can be very effective for accenting.
Our processes utilize the full range of glass painting techniques, from the most traditional, to an ever-expanding repertoire of options.
The hauntingly beautiful magic of glass is a never-ending invitation to both artists and industry, to continuously evolve the looks and uses of glass. The mutual inspiration leads to an expanding portfolio of techniques, and palettes of colors and hues, that help to bring imaginative new works into existence. Susan’s art uses processes that range from 1500 years old, to the most cutting edges of present-day technology.
A recent "hi-tech" project involved the entryway for Christ Child Church, and utilized several technologies that helped to redefine stained glass. The primary project consisted of three panels with a central image of a dove.
The dove was carved by deep sandblasting into a thick sheet of clear glass, creating a translucent bas-relief effect. The dove sculpture is surrounded by specially-coated dichroic glass that shifts color with changing light and viewing angles.
The separate pieces of the dove and bands of dichroic glass are adhered to a tempered glass backing by means of a special light-transmissive adhesive, eliminating the need for any visible means of bonding.
The end result was a mesmerizing combination of sculpture and light, with the lovely character of changing its appearance depending on time of day, weather, and point of view.