Shining a Light on Creativity
Photography By Joshua Alexander, unless otherwise noted.

Californian Jean Alexander quit her successful career as a lawyer to pursue her passion to become a full-time stained glass artist. After studying with renowned glass artists, Alexander forged her own path to become a multi-medium craftsperson.

(c) Lenka Sluneckov

How did you become interested in glass art? Who were your early influences?

Being an artist is a part of my identity. Because they are timeless arts, I love stained-glass mosaics and stained glass paintings. They can be adapted to modern subjects and techniques. While I was working on stained-glass mosaics, a friend sent me photos of Evon Zerbetz’s grisaille (monochrome), glass painting for the Juneau state library. Sylvia Laks is one of the most respected glass painters in the world and I signed up to learn with her for a week. I returned home and set up my studio. Since then, I have not stopped painting.

Kathy Jordan is probably the most influential person in my art. I learned how to paint human faces and how to control my progress on my own from her. Narcissus Quagliata, Tim Carey and others taught me how to create The Resurrection Window, which is the largest stained glass window in the United States. They combine glass painting with glass fusing, where cut-glass pieces and handmade pieces are fused together in a kiln set at 1,490 degrees to create a melded image. To create my own style, I experimented with mixing traditional glass painting techniques with pieces like Sankofa.

You used to be lawyer. What is the equivalent of being an artist?

I created art throughout my career as a lawyer. But now, I’m a full-time artist. Both art and law require you to use intuition, technical skills and research to solve problems or reach a desired result. For many years, I was a lawyer in the state and local tax arenas. Sometimes, I needed to think of creative solutions to problems. While people tend to view art as intuitive and easy, I find it requires a lot of work. Making art allows me to express my creative self in a way that lawyers cannot.

Where do you get your materials and do your work?

I get my materials both from local studios and all over the globe. Artists today have easy access to the best glass, paints, and brushes online thanks to the internet. For example, there are glass producers in France and Germany that are known for their beautiful and clear glass. American-made quality products are also available. The standard glass paint that is used around the world is made in Colorado.
I work mostly at home. I have a small studio, and a kiln. There is a lot I can do. Sometimes I wake up with an idea and go straight to the studio wearing my PJ’s to get started. Sometimes, I will use small-scale equipment to cut, polish or sandblast glass in local studios.

How do you decide which technique and materials you’ll use for a given work?

The design is what really determines the materials. Once I have a design in my mind, I choose the materials and tools that will enable me to make it. Some glass is specifically made for fusing. It is compatible with glass with the same coefficient or expansion (or COE). It is possible to create a design that can be fused together. Flashed glass is a glass that has one layer of one or more colors on top of the clear. You can make designs by etching or blasting away the top-colored layer.

Your work is intricate, so does it take a long time to complete a project? Are you familiar with the best methods?

A glass painter must have patience and attention to details. I don’t like schedules or deadlines. I’ve spent far too much of my adult life running from one thing to the next. I will spend as much time as the piece calls for.

To create a grisaille painting, i hand-paint the design onto colored glasses in four to five thin coats. Painting each layer can take many hours depending on how detailed the design is. The paint is then baked onto the glass. This takes an average of twelve hours. Once fired, the paint is a permanent part the glass. If I make a mistake, it’s necessary to start over. After each piece has been cut and painted, they are joined with lead came [rods], or copper foil. These pieces are then soldered together to complete the design. This is not a quick process.

Making mosaics can be time-consuming depending on how large the glass shards are, but it has a Zen quality to me. Before I start, I make sure to cut all of the glass pieces. Then I let the image develop as I lay the pieces down. I don’t make mistakes because I can always move pieces around until I am satisfied. It becomes permanent when I grout it.

You have done work in homes, including your own. What can stained glass do for a home?

Stained-glass adds beauty, warmth, and interest in any space. In medieval times stained glass was mostly found in churches and public buildings. However, wealthy homes had stained-glass work as well. It was meant to inspire and amaze people. It also gave
The majority of churchgoers were not literate enough to understand the biblical stories.

Do you believe that every picture tells a story?

Yes. But it could be about the artist, creation of the art, or the person who is viewing the art. Art is not a conversation between an artist and his audience. The artist speaks, the viewer listens, and, depending on whether the artist is speaking, the viewer either walks away or fails to comprehend what he/she has just said, it becomes art. The viewer is left with the opportunity to tell a story and the desire to make it.

How do you choose your subjects?

I look for faces that are relatable to me. Female faces have a unique combination strength and vulnerability. My family is something I love to paint, particularly my granddaughter who I call Mini Muse. Joshua is my son and a professional photographer. They provide me with lots and lots of inspiration.

How do you make your art so lifelike?

Light is the key to many art forms. Kathy Jordan taught me that light is everything when you paint lifelike forms. The flat form can be given three-dimensional depth by focusing on the highlights and shadows. The ability to pinpoint exactly where light is reflected can help capture the spirit of a person. Also, determining where it is absorbed into valleys can give rise to unique skin textures. It is a joy to bring life to people’s faces through glass. It’s magic to me.

What does this vocation mean to you?

My passion for art has allowed us to connect with many creative and brilliant people. It’s been a source of great joy and peace for me personally. It’s my escape. It has given me self-confidence and a sense of freedom.

For more info, visit jeanalexanderglass.com

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