My biggest challenge in glass

Reading Time: 5 minutes

New to leaded stained glass, and used to working on smaller pieces with copper foil, Abigail initially thought completing a commission for three large windows might be out of reach. But with the support of other artists and through hours of learning, she pressed on through self-doubt to create this beautiful piece. Abigail writes about her challenges and learnings. 


Listen to Abigail narrate her article:

I never expected to be a leaded stained glass artist. I am self-taught and I have a relatively small studio, so leaded stained glass always seemed too grandiose for me to learn, especially as someone who is fairly new to stained glass. It just seemed out of reach and I was happy in my little copper-foil bubble.

However, when I was approached with the opportunity to create not just one, but three large stained glass windows for a private collector, I knew this was something I simply could not turn down, and I dove headfirst into teaching myself how to make leaded stained glass.  

As with learning any new technique, it was not without its hardships. The first, and possibly the most prominent, was dealing with imposter syndrome – the feeling that you’re incompetent or undeserving of certain opportunities. And these feelings plagued me. What if the panel wasn’t good enough? What if I put all this work into it and the collector hated it? What if I hated it? To get through these feelings, I find the best way out is always through. I put all of the negative thoughts into learning as much as I possibly could, poring over hours of articles and how-to videos, leaning on my community and not being afraid to ask questions when I had them.  

Speaking of community, my local glass shop was an invaluable source of information and help to me. Once the imposter syndrome was quelled, learning the actual technique was a completely different beast. I didn’t want the large window panel to be my first attempt at leaded stained glass, so I approached the women at The Glass Place (Lawrence, PA) and told them about my project. They equipped me with a few patterns to practice on, lead came, zinc came, cement, everything I would need.

Off I went to do my first leaded stained glass panel, and once I was finished, I brought it back for them to critique and give feedback. I did this twice more before I felt I was finally ready to get into the large window panel project.  

Designing such large window panels was a feat on its own (each one being 3-foot wide and 1.5-foot tall), but I had a few inspirations while designing it: 1920s art deco, repeating patterns, different opacities, and the colour pink, which shows up frequently in my work. I wanted a lot of light, so I used clear baroque glass for the background, and a repeating sort of fan-like pattern as the focal point. This made cutting the glass relatively easily, as it was repetitive, but it all had to be very exact as well.

When I was slowly leading it and putting it all together, I was careful to measure for everything to be precise. Unfortunately, I had made a few errors along the way, and when I did my final measurement, it was about 1/2” too long!

This was devastating to me, and the feelings of imposter syndrome crept back in. I had no choice but to take it all apart, recut some of the pieces, and start the lead came from the beginning. Luckily, I saved all the H-came so I could re-use it. I rebuilt it and after many, many measurements, everything lined up properly and I was ready to solder, add zinc came, cement, and do the finishing steps.  

In the end, the first leaded panel I have completed looks great, if I may say so myself. I can look back at all the hard work I put into it, all the things I have learned (including things I learned not to do), and I’m inspired by my own work.

I can’t help but feel this is more than just a leaded window for a private collector. It’s bigger than that. I proved myself wrong in thinking that I would never be able to do this project, and I have grown so much as an artist, not just in design and technical skills, but in how I approach my practice. This was such an invaluable project for me. I’ll take all of these lessons with me as I tackle both copper foiled and leaded stained glass in the future.  

About Abigail Rudkins 

Abigail Rudkins is a multidisciplinary artist, with a background in ceramics and now a focus on stained glass. She is self-taught and finds inspiration for her work in her daily life, focusing on finding and bringing light to the joy in the mundane. She has taught a workshop through Pocosin Arts School of Fine Craft and offers 1:1 virtual workshops. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two cats.