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Sometimes I like to think that with fourteen years of experience, there’s no project I haven’t done. And then one of my clients comes along and proves me wrong.

One of my favorite clients is a designer I’ve worked with for over ten years. He likes to invent finishes. He’ll say things like, “I’d like a finish that looks like light rain falling on a pond,” and send me off to solve it. After a bunch of experiments guided by suggestions like, “A little more rainy” or “Have you tried flatting oil?” I’ll figure it out and before you know it, a room will have a finish that looks like raindrops.

Recently he asked me to paint a large glass table top, about seven feet by four feet, to look like marble. “Well, that sounds like fun,” I said, “but you know, I’ve actually never painted on glass.” His reply? “Really? Well, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” There’s a lot to be said for the motivating force of someone who thinks you can do anything.

After a series of experiments, I did figure it out.

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The interesting thing about these jobs is that two things are discovered: new painting materials or techniques and fresh knowledge about the bigger picture. So besides learning that Martha Stewart has a great line of glass paint in a gorgeous palette of colors, the job became a lesson in finding the balance between exerting too much control and not enough.

The glass was set up on a large table in my client’s office, supported by small blocks of stone wrapped in rags to lift it off the table a bit. Below, I’ve started the main veining. I drew it out on a piece of paper first, then jumped right in.

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I’m painting what will become the underside of the tabletop. The painted surface can’t be the tabletop; it would look bumpy and strange and could be scratched, so when the painting is completed, the glass is flipped over, the pattern shows through from beneath, and the tabletop’s surface is clean glass.

Because of this, whatever is painted first is on the uppermost layer when the glass is flipped over. This means I’m painting backwards. Instead of working from the background to the foreground, the usual marble painting method, I’m doing the opposite.

This is the view from the other side. The approved sample is in the foreground.

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Any material used to make art has it characteristics; it behaves in a certain way depending on factors like viscosity, the substrate it’s applied to, the tool used to manipulate it, the solvent, and so on. One of the surest ways to become proficient at an art or craft is to understand materials and how they behave. This will allow you to create conditions that will help materials fully express themselves to their greatest potential.

Below, I’ve built up the first layer of paint. The thick glass makes everything look green; the palette was white and taupe with a touch of pale steel blue used as accents.

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While experimenting, I learned that the best results would emerge if I guided the paint using certain tools, but then stepped away to let the paint settle as it pleased to create its natural patterns. I couldn’t step away too soon, though, or I’d end up with a chaotic mess. The paint needed to be controlled, but only to a point.

By the end of the first day, I’d covered the entire surface with veining.

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Depending on its viscosity, acrylic paint will pool, separate and dry in a particular way. I saw that if I created the right conditions, the paint did most of the work, I just had to guide it. The challenge wasn’t painting on glass, it was letting go of trying to completely control the result. The more relaxed and loose I was, the better the outcome. This made it easy to get into that sweet spot of flow, where time disappears and it’s just a day of playing with paint, letting things happen almost on their own, everything coming together like magic.

The second day was spent like the first, building up the paint to total coverage, since leaving unpainted glass would allow you to see through it, which would spoil the illusion of stone. Below is the completed finish.

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Here’s a close up. The colors aren’t accurate, but you can see the patterns.

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And a tighter closeup of the same area.

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Once it was dry, the surface was varnished for protection. If I ever get the promised photo of the tabletop in place in its new home, I’ll post it.

The moral of the story? Know your materials, know your own nature, and learn to recognize when it’s time to either take charge or get out of the way.

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