Photo by Bruce Buchanan Design
We're standing in Bruce Buchanan's cozy work space. The natural light looms fantastic; a spectrum of tones set the mood, giving the place a palpable warm feel. Buchanan moved into his studio at 78th Street Studios almost a year ago. Sheets of hand blown glass are filed by color. There are projects in progress, those completed for clients and Bruce’s own artistic endeavors.
“I had no product for a long time. It was lot of showing people that I can do stuff and that there are artists who still work in this medium. It’s got so many bad connotations because of that 1960s-1980s super craft time where all this machine made garbage glass was available," he says. "It’s like either sun catchers or old church windows or Tiffany, but there’s plenty of really happy middle ground. I like traditional design. I like geometry. I like solid craft you know.”
Buchanan admits that he is a little striped obsessed. Hanging along the western wall are very simple yet highly contemporary stained glass works. He used hand blown German glass that has so many nuances the shadows are an extension of the piece. Bruce informs us that simple artworks like these require the finest material.
“The glass is blown as a vessel cut down and laid flat. That’s how they create hand blown sheet glass. It is the most human glass you can get.”
The colors are so juicy and luscious we come close to experiencing synesthesia.
As we discussed techniques artists employed without the use of today’s technology, Bruce pulls out the trammel points (handmade compasses) he uses on patterns. He is currently working on a badly bowed window.
“These are beautiful hunky bevels and they’re bowed and a mess, so I’m tasked with taking it apart and rebuilding," he says. "This is zinc, which is unforgiving. It’s very strong, but when it goes it really goes.”
Buchanan starts with a crayon rubbing of the window and frame to create a map, which helps to alleviate any overthinking. He does a lot of manual plotting and graphing without a giant printer plotter to assist him. He explains that, “It’s like industrial quilting. It’s pattering and sizing and pulling together the materials and planning.”
Arguably, stained glass is a first foray into color theory. One sits and contemplates, cognizant of light and how it throws through the glass. We talk about art history.
"Glass holds the purest form of color. It changes so much with the light and is so light dependent," Bruce instructs, "It’s hard to put a finger on as it really crosses all movements."
Bruce is more interested in how one can become a better viewer of stained glass than leading a traditional course. A few weeks back the artist led a guided tour of St. Augustine Health Campus in the Gordon Square Arts District with Columns and Stripes, the young friends of the art museum. He wanted to give them an idea what the medium is like and so he gathered them in his studio to cut glass.
“People don’t understand really what the materials are at all; they're confused by it. Then we walked over to St. Augustine to look at the 1969 chapel and a 1910 chapel. We experienced very different stained glass right under our noses that nobody gets to see.”
After studying graphic design at Kent State University for a couple of years, he transferred to Cleveland State University where he completed his art history degree. As it often happens after graduation, many artists find themselves in tedious jobs they can’t stand. “I finally hated that office job enough that I started really networking. Six weeks later, I quit my job and I was climbing on churches.”
In 2001 Buchanan was sent to a class where he lived for a week and learned how to paint saint heads and the like under the tutelage of glass painter extraordinaire, Kathy Jordan. Glass painting is similar to working with enamels. Basically it comes down to additive and subtractive processes. The areas that look like brushstrokes are additive. Everything that fades is subtractive. For example, the artist will paint a layer over the whole piece and then use a badger brush to remove or subtract the powder/pigment when it dries, creating subtle shadows and light.
Finally we get to talking about display and Buchanan advises, "People want to put old windows in light boxes that have electric light shining through it and I think, well if that’s the best answer you can come up with, I guess, but not having natural light passing through it is a killer. There’s the changes of the season, which perpetuates the change in the natural lighting. One doesn’t need these super grand ideas when quiet design is so effective. When you do it right it has a gravity of timeliness. You don’t have to grab into that bag of bells and whistles all the time. The glass itself is so flipping seductive, so let it be the star.”
For more about the artist and studio hours, visit his site here.