Choosing Glass Like the Pros

Is there a secret to glass selection? According to Roy Little, "color is everything." It's hard to argue with a statement like that—although when pressed, even Roy will tell you that, in the world of stained glass art, there's a bit more to it than that. When you look at the work of the incredibly talented team of Roy Little and Jim Raidl (Little/Raidl Design Studio, Cazadero, CA) there seem to be plenty of secrets they're not sharing. Their portfolio is packed full of an amazingly diverse range of projects that are rich in artistry and creativity. But what is truly remarkable is the way they can design a piece to fit so well into its surroundings. As many clients have observed, it often appears as though the piece actually belongs in the room or has always been a part of it.

We spent some time recently chatting with our old friends Roy and Jim trying to pry loose some of their closely guarded secrets. Roy, with his background in fine arts, is the designer of the team, while Jim tends to fabrication work and the important details of their thriving business. Jim and Roy are as much fun as they are talented. A conversation with them is an experience in its own right, but we did pin them down on a few glass selection areas that should be useful for anyone working with stained glass.

Roy's art background includes Trompe L'oeil—a very realistic style of painting. And true to that background, he selects glass very much like a painter chooses colors to add to his palette before approaching the canvas. Roy's first rule of glass selection is to only choose glass for one project at a time. When his pattern is complete and he has a clear idea of what he needs, Roy drives the 2 1/2 hours to his supplier and walks the glass aisles until he has his palette composed. Even if he happens to have several projects to gather glass for on the same trip, he walks those aisles separately for each one. That way, he can stay focused on collecting just the right shades for the effect he's creating in each project.

Little/Raidl Design Studio Rule number two: subtlety is a good thing. If Roy is spotted shopping for glass, he's frequently followed by a fan or two. More often than not, if one of these admirers has a comment about Roy's glass choices, it's that he has selected some ugly glass! That's because he works very hard at realism and, most often, that leads him away from the vivid, peacock colors toward the more gentle and subdued tones. Stained glass can be a very strong medium and unless there's a good reason to go for a big blast of color, Roy suggests resisting that temptation. When you look at the finished Little/Raidl creations, even the skeptics tailing Roy up to the checkout counter will agree, the glass is as stunning as the design. It all comes together perfectly in the hands of the master.

Roy also pays careful attention to the colors and "feel" of the surroundings where a piece will be installed. He picks up the flavors and tones used in furniture and other elements in the room and uses that information to design a look that becomes an integral part of the whole. He works closely with his clients, drawing out exactly what they are trying to achieve with the glasswork. He and Jim like to think of their clients as the artists and the two of them act as the medium through which the art is being expressed. It's amazingly effective and results in work that exists in complete harmony with its surroundings.

Little/Raidl Design Studio Roy did say that "color is everything" but he didn't really mean everything. While color choice is critical, in the world of stained glass there are many other things to consider as well. Glass can have unique characteristics—such as grain, texture, pattern, flow—that can be used to create some wonderful effects in a piece. A classic illustration of the use of a specific glass trait is the piece, "Whirligirl" that Jim and Roy created for us several years back. The carousel horse in Whirligirl is a study in Baroque™. The swirling patterns of the Baroque glass were carefully chosen to portray the roundness of the horse's cheek and chest and the flow of her cascading mane. The result couldn't have been more effective. Another way Roy has used a particular glass characteristic to its best advantage is in the waterfall pieces he has designed. In a single waterfall depiction, Roy has incorporated as many as16 different textures of clear glass to mimic what the eye would see as light refracts off a waterfall in nature. It's truly astounding.

Glass selection is every bit as important as the design of a piece. As you approach your next project, think of Roy Little. "Paint" the piece in your mind as you choose your glass. Really focus on that one project. Picture the room where it will be placed and choose glass to complement the other elements of that room. As you assemble your palette, always look for ways to use the unique characteristics of glass to enhance the effects of your work. And finally, consider Roy's advice: unless you have good reason to come on strong with color—subtlety can, indeed, be a very good thing!

Back to Spectrum's Information Archives