As we officially enter 2016 I thought it would be fun to do something a bit different.
Most everyone is posting about the season, its meanings, their resolutions, and a retrospective of 2015. I decided to focus on arts and crafts instead. Specifically, making suncatchers! In this season of celebrating the growing light in the world, making something that uses light in a decorative fashion seems to perfectly fit the season.
And no worries – you don’t need to be an artist to make something completely gorgeous!
There are several techniques for making suncatchers, of course, but many of them are aimed at children. My favorite grown-up technique is painting glass. Which is way easier than it might sound. And you don’t even need a lot of stuff to do it!
There are two main types of paint you can use, the kind that air dries and the kind that cures in the oven.
Air Dry Glass Paint: The cheaper and more-easily-removable option air dries. I think Gallery Glass is the most popular brand, although Martha Stewart’s paints have good reviews too, and most craft stores carry some version of it. With most types there’s a bottle of outliner that simulates stained glass leading and then a range of colors to make your design. Once it’s dry it can stay on the glass as long as you like and be peeled off/washed off when you’re ready to change it up. This is obviously the way to go if you’re doing windows or pieces too big for your oven. However, it is not washable, not durable, and in my experience these paints do not lend themselves well to detail work.
Oven Cure Paints: The more expensive and permanent option – and the one I prefer – is using a paint that cures to the glass after you bake it. It’s like paint Fimo! Once it’s baked it’s way more durable. It can even be put in the dishwasher (although it’s not food safe). The colors shimmer more, and the method of application lends itself well to more intricate designs. My go-to brand is Pebeo, and I order it from Dick Blick Art Supplies. This line has several outliners for different effects, as well as brushable paints and paint markers.
Here’s a tip: Whichever type you choose, you need a REALLY TINY amount of paint for this. Most every surface we’re used to painting absorbs some of the paint, so we account for that absorption when we figure out how much paint we need for a project. Glass is completely non-porous, though, so a little paint goes a VERY long way. I did most of the work with the paint that lines the caps of the little jars when they’re opened, and even after multiple projects you can barely tell that I’ve used them at all. This particular piece had a lot of outlining work, too, and I think I used maybe a third of a tube.
Anything glass can be painted this way, but a suncatcher needs to be in a window for best effect. That means it needs to be hangable or prop-up-able. And what’s easier for that than picture frames?
The glass that comes in picture frames is my favorite surface to paint. Thrift stores are your friend here. I get much higher quality frames that way than I could otherwise afford, and what I find is always a random surprise. The “well-loved” quality found in thrift store frames only adds to their appeal. I also find that the frame can sometimes inspire that art I paint in it, too.
The frame used in this demo is this really pretty gold color that looked expensive, so the design I chose to paint worked with that. It also cost me a whopping $1, and as a bonus I got to trash the truly awful “art” that came in it.
Note: If you’re planning on using oven baked paints, measure your oven before shopping for glass! Then take a tape measure to the thrift store with you to make sure the glass you pick will fit inside for baking. Ask me how I know this. *rolls eyes*
That’s simple enough. What else do I need?
- Paint brushes. Pebeo recommends super soft natural fiber brushes for their paint, to reduce the appearance of brush strokes. I’m cheap, so I went with a set of mixed media synthetic brushes. I grabbed them at Michael’s with a coupon. If you’re using air dry paint pretty much anything goes.
- A piece of paper or cardboard slightly larger than your glass (which means the backing that came with the frame is too small). The oils on your hands can interfere with the paint’s ability to adhere to the surface, but I find that I need to frequently rotate the glass I’m working on as I paint. Putting the glass on something I can touch lets me easily move it around without oiling up the surface. It also protects my table from any paint that might go over the edges of the glass, and gives me a solid-colored surface to better see my design. The lighter the color the better. Spare wrapping paper, white side up, would be perfect.
- A design to paint. This technique is really best with simple line art. Think coloring books. Luckily adult coloring pages are all over. You can download something for free, of course, but there are other options. The design I use here came from Etsy. Whatever you use, print it out on a piece of white paper.
- You’ll also need: tape, acetone and q-tips, glass cleaner, a cup of water, paper towels, pliers, a palette if you plan on mixing colors, a “scraping implement” or two (explained below), and hanging hardware for your frame.
All supplies assembled? Let’s get started!
- Gently remove the glass from the frame. If it’s a fine art frame you’ll need to rip through the paper on the back to get to the glass. You might need your pliers here to remove some staples or tabs so you can remove the backing. Carefully do what you need to do, and then set the frame aside.
- Clean one side of the glass with the glass cleaner and let thoroughly dry. Carefully center your printed design, design-side down, on the glass and tape to secure.
- Turn the glass over (handling as little as possible from the edges!), put it on your craft paper, and clean that side too. You can now clearly see your design through the glass. Huzzah!
- Using your outliner, trace over all the lines of your design. It’s easy to overlook a line here, so double check. (Hint: If your design has some intricate line work, like Celtic knots, you might want to consider either printing your design with colored lines or using an outliner that’s not black.) The line thickness is determined by the pressure you use, so you might want to practice a bit first. You can also trim the nozzle a smidge to make it wider if you like.
If you screw up, use a q-tip dipped in acetone to remove the paint and start over. Stubborn lines might need to be scraped a bit with something like a nail file – the outliner is harder to remove than the paint. Allow to air dry before proceeding (about 30 minutes should be fine).
- Color! This is the fun part. Fill in the empty spots of the design with paint. The outliner is three-dimensional, so as long as you’re moderately careful the paint will stay in the lines. If it doesn’t, carefully clean up the error with a q-tip dipped in acetone.Here’s a tip. Using the brushes in typical paint-brush fashion leaves brush strokes. A stippling technique – bouncing the brush up and down instead of brushing it back and forth, like you do with a stencil – works way better. Real stained glass has splotches of uneven color too, so focus more on concealing brush strokes and less on trying to make it look completely uniform.
Also keep in mind that the paint will contract as it dries, meaning it’ll pull away from the outliner and leave a line of clear glass at the edges. I find that leaving a “puddle” of paint in each cell of the design gives me better results, and I usually have to paint sections twice for the coverage I like even so.
Allow to air dry for about an hour. Then very carefully pick up the glass by the edges and hold it to the light. See anything to fix? Now’s the time! After you’ve made all the corrections you deem necessary, set it aside and allow it to air dry for 24 hours.
- Now that that’s done you can turn your attention to the frame! When you put this in a window the back of the frame will be visible to passer-by. If it’s a new ready-made frame it’ll likely be good to go. However, if you’re using a recycled frame you’ll have some work ahead of you.First, of course, you’ll need to remove any remaining staples and other undesired hardware. Then you’ve got to remove all those paper remnants! You tore out the paper in the middle to get to the glass earlier, but unless you are incredibly lucky you’ve got little bits of paper clinging all around the edge. That looks messy. And who wants that?
I’m sure there are other techniques to remove the paper and glue, but here’s what I do.
Place the frame pretty-side-down on a table. Dip your paintbrush in clean water and “paint” the paper all the way around. Let it sit for a few minutes, and then take a scraping implement and scrape the dissolving paper.
When you finish the first pass repeat the process. Once the paper is pretty much gone, move your fingers in a circular motion all along the back of the frame to make the remaining bits ball up. Then scrape those off. Repeat all steps as needed.
You can either leave your frame here – bare wood can be pretty, and that’s what I went with – or you can decorate it. It’s wood, so whatever you’d normally do to wood can be done here too. Paint is the easiest way, but you can also do woodburning, add decorative nails/tacks, etc. Be creative!
- Once you’ve got it how you want it, attach your hanging hardware and wipe down the whole thing. Set aside to dry. If you started the frame as soon as you set the painting aside to dry they should both be ready at the same time.
- After the 24 hours are up on the paint drying process follow the manufacturer’s directions and bake your masterpiece in the oven. Allow to cool.
- Carefully return the glass to the frame. Many mass-produced frames will have bendable tabs that can be used for the purpose. Custom frames don’t. You can get hardware to hold the glass in, but I say “eh” and glue it in with E6000. That means it can’t be put in the dishwasher, though, so think it through before taking that kind of step.
- Hang in a window and admire! You’re done!
Suncatchers, and the making of suncatchers, are wonderful additions to any of the “increasing sun” rituals. I find them particularly awesome for both the Yule and Midsummer seasons.
Don’t be shy about branching out beyond suncatchers, though – you certainly have enough paint! You’ll be surprised at just how useful this technique is for ritual and magickal purposes once you become aware of the possibilities.
For starters, this exact same technique can be used for creating anchors for shields/wards, both in your home’s windows and hanging around a dedicated ritual space.
You can also try painting different shapes. Glass Christmas balls can be painted this way and make fantastic witch balls. Craft stores often have a plethora of hanging glass crystals (like for chandeliers?) that are easily customized with paint, too, and can be used in many different ways.
Dollar store/thrift store glassware can become beautiful custom ritual vessels with some creativity and paint, and if your altar has glass shelves this is another great way to add some character/magickal intent. If you are interested in making your own floating wick oil lamps, glass paint is a fabulous technique for that too.
Like this whole idea, but need to paint ceramic instead of glass? Maybe because you want to make a standing wick oil lamp? You’re in luck – these paints work on ceramics too! They provide a transparent finish. If you want something more opaque Pebeo offers a line of opaque paints too, and they’re used the exact same way. How useful is that?
Oven cure paints don’t work well with mirrors – the metallic backing does not bake well – but air dry paints are just fine. That can add a whole new dimension to mirror-based tools!
The Pebeo markers are particularly suited for painting runes on decorative glass gems, too. Just bake and they’re more durable for divination use than Sharpies are, and you can incorporate the baking process into their magickal making.
Pick up some small glass pendants/beads, or ceramic disks, and paint those too. This can make some truly exceptional ritual jewelry.
See how useful this is? I could go on and on. I hope you have lots of fun with this, and I look forward to seeing some of the creative uses y’all come up with. Happy crafting!