A place to see the light turning glass into art.

Rock & Roll Lamp

My good friend and long time co-instructor at NBCC in St. Andrews, Rod Carney, is a die-hard rock & roll music fan (like me). He contacted me in summer 2017 to discuss an idea we had talked about in the past; a lamp depicting some of his favorite rock & roll icons. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do fan-art like this so I jumped at the opportunity.

Originally the plan was for a tapered 5-panel shade but later it changed to a cylindrical 5-panel shade with vertical sides and a cone cap. This was so the panels could retain their square “album cover” shape and so seated viewers could see the panels better.

Rod had already narrowed his list of 60 potential images down to a dozen that he really liked when he came to see me. Together we reviewed each one for its “glass friendliness” and decided on three of the five final images. The subjects for the other two panels were chosen but Rod left it to me to find material that I could work with in glass.

Here are the five selected images spanning five decades of rock music:

  • Janis Joplin – cover of the 1975 album “Janis”
  • Bruce Springsteen – image from the 1984 “Born in the USA” tour
  • Pink Floyd – cover of the 1994 album “Division Bell”
  • Johnny Cash – poster for the 2005 movie “Walk the Line”
  • Led Zeppelin – cover of the 2012 album “Celebration Day”

First up was Pink Floyd’s Division Bell, a straight forward “easy” design without a lot of complicated pieces. The challenge here was finding the right glass with the gradients of light to dark for creating the shadows on the sculptures. Also, the sky was cut from a single piece of glass so there was no room for error as I didn’t have any more of that glass. The eyes are made from drilled discs of red and yellow glass with a red pupil in the center. Since I couldn’t work copper foil into the tight interior of the yellow ring, I had to glue the red pupil in place with contact cement. Division Bell is an awesome album. I have listened to it myself many times.

Next I decided to tackle Janis Joplin. Rather than try to build the skin tones and shadows on her face and arms from various shades of glass, I decided to learn how to paint on fusing glass and have it kiln-fired for permanence. Ruby Malley at Stained Glass Creations by Ruby in Saint John was very helpful and encouraged me to experiment with both clear and white glass. I liked the results best from painting directly on white glass so I went with that. An interesting note is just how different these painted pieces look from day-time to night-time.

The Bruce Springsteen panel also had lots of skin tones for painting. Plus, the left corner of the American flag in the background was created using blue paint on white glass and kiln-fired. Also, I was very lucky to have on hand a piece of glass that, under light, matches the color of Bruce’s one-of-a-kind Fender Esquire guitar. He has used it in every live performance for over 40 years. I made the frets on the guitar neck out of little strips of copper foil and the whammy bar from a piece of 20 gauge wire.

Led Zeppelin was next. I had a piece of orange Spectrum Inferno that I was excited to use for the sun in the pattern. That glass is no longer available so I’m glad it went into such a worthy project. My first attempt at the blimp was with blue and black paint on yellow fusing glass. Getting the lines to look like blimp lines was a challenge and it took a couple of tries to get something reasonable. Even then, it did not come out of the kiln as expected. So, I scrapped that idea and rebuilt the blimp with long thin glass strips and copper foil technique. Also, there are three little copper foil embellishments throughout the panel so extra care was needed especially during cleaning and polishing.

The fifth and final panel was “Walk the Line”. Cutting up the pattern copy into tracing pieces revealed how delicately slim some of the flame pieces would be. A couple of times even when taking extra care and holding my breath, the brittle red glass just did not want to break along my score line. This made me go hmmmm! Johnny’s head, shoulders and guitar were created by painting on beige fusing glass and fired in the kiln. That was an exercise in and lessons learned in precise line painting.

After all the panels were soldered and I got a good look at them together, I decided to add a half-inch border around each one using black glass. Black nicely frames and separates the panels from each other. This is something I should have done before the panels were soldered, not after… had I thought of it (made more work for myself). Nevertheless, once finished, I moved on to build the cone cap. For interest and to allow some light upward, I incorporated a 30mm beveled jewel into each of the five sections of the cone cap. Purely experimental, I envisioned the lamp casting faceted spotlights onto the ceiling symbolizing the stardom of the musicians.

The tension (read excitement) grew as I began the final hours of construction. I tacked the five panels together upside-down so the top edges would all be perfectly even and allow the cone cap to sit flush. The order in which I placed them was to allow the best distribution of color around the lamp: Janis, Led Zeppelin, Bruce, Division Bell and Walk the Line. Once they were together, but still very flimsy, Monica helped me flip the entire pentagon topside-up with a couple of nervous moments scrambling to keep it from falling apart. Success! Thank you, Monica. Then with the cone cap attached, it started gaining strength. For extra strength, I soldered 20 gauge wires on the inside from the brass vase cap down each of the five seams and also all around the bottom edge.

Taking about 175 hours over six weeks and involving over 400 pieces of glass, this project really challenged me at every phase of construction and I was absolutely driven by the anticipation. I made a few mistakes … some of which I corrected and some I couldn’t but all of which made for a tremendous learning experience. I tried a new technique, glass painting, and I felt all the emotions ranging from delight to despair. I like this new technique even though some of my early attempts came out just OK, in my opinion, especially under light. I still have much to learn about painting on glass and I look forward to that.

In the end, I was very pleased with the results. It looks bigger in real life than it did on paper… that pentagon shape is deceiving! Plus the fact that the panels grew to 12″ square with the addition of the borders. Also, the shade is very heavy (14 pounds) so a sturdy lamp pole and base is definitely required. Visually, the colors are striking with reds and blues predominating. The mix of colors from one image to the next really carries the eye around the shade giving it a “lots-to-see” quality.

Such an unusual lamp; provocative and mysterious… but for those who know their classic rock music, nostalgic and grounded. Especially interesting that it covers five decades of music, the Rock & Roll Lamp is definitely one-of-a-kind and that was Rod’s vision from the start. I’m extremely honored to build it for him and very grateful for the opportunity to further develop my craftsmanship.

Below is a photo gallery showing highlights from the construction of each panel and shade assembly.

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