The Illumination Window: The Cartoon

Artist Mel Howse discusses the process of cartooning for our newest piece of glass art

In the stained glass tradition, the working drawing that an artist uses to create the final glasswork is called a cartoon.  This cartoon is a full-size drawing at 1:1 scale and can be in either colour or black and white.

It conveys the essence of the glass work to come: the size and the shape of the glass pieces, details of applied techniques such as paintwork or etching. Quite simply, it is the glassmaker’s guide for the coming stage of creating the art in glass.

For me today, cartooning is a process of distillation, where I work out all the compositional and practical challenges of the design at larger scales, on its journey to become an artwork in glass. The cartoon stage often has an influence on the choices I make about how my work is made and sometimes brings about development and new inspiration not considered at the birth of the design.

Image: ©Mel Howse 2019

The opportunities offered today by large-format printing are inescapable, and technology has a place in this historic art form.  However, one must appreciate that in enlarging the original imagery one both gains and loses detail in the process. I think there will always be instances where one still needs to progress the art by hand in order to maintain artistic definition – the hand of the artist, if you will.
Throughout my career I have continued to use my skills for technical drawing as well as direct free-hand working by eye.

Image © Mel Howse 2019

The full-size cartoon for The Illumination Window for Durham Cathedral was revealed to the project team in early 2018. Since which time, the original design has grown in depth, resolution and definition immeasurably.  For this window I have created several large-scale and full-scale fully-developed paintings, in essence, themselves worthy of pieces of art. Putting significant work into this stage of such a commission pays real dividends for the quality of the completed work and one’s preparedness for the last step – the making.

Written by Mel Howse, 2019

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