Author Archives: melhowse

The Cartoon

In stained glass tradition the working drawing that an artist uses to create the final glasswork is called a cartoon.

This cartoon is a full scale-drawing or artwork, in colour or black and white. It conveys the essence of the glass work to come; its size and the shape of the glass pieces, and details of applied techniques; paintwork or etching for instance. Quite simply, it is the glass artist’s working guide for creating the work. It represents the artistic transition from scale design to full size work.

Here once, at cartoon stage, you worked out all your compositional and practical challenges.

I was trained at the Swansea Architectural Stained Glass course (1989 – 1992). We had one day a week devoted to life drawing, and learnt to cartoon at 1:1 with Colwynn Morris who had worked for Powells of Whitefriars. It was important grounding in drawing and draughtsmanship. Throughout my career I have continued to use my skills for technical drawing, and direct free-hand working by eye.

Like many contemporary artists I take the best of what is available to me and use it!  Today, it is possible, and also at times appropriate, to create that cartoon electronically. The printed version can be very useful creatively and practically, and also a liberating creative springboard. An example of this in my portfolio is the Sainsbury’s facade where the cartoons were scaled up electronically and used merely as a guide. The actual enamelling was all free hand.  Read about this project in my published journal of 2009: ‘Vitreous Art’.

The thing you have to understand about simply enlarging a small image, is that you enlarge both the bits you like, and the bits that are unconsidered or unseen. You create new design information, sometimes unrecognisaed at small scale. A new brief can emerge – one that must either be managed, or left to chance as part of your art.

In recent years I have reinvented cartooning for my projects. Due to my experience of working with industry, I am taking a different explorative perspective on the part cartoons play in my creative journey.  However, it is a process of distillation where I build even more meaning and direction into the art, on its journey to become an artwork in glass. It has an influence on the choices I make about how my work is made. Sometimes throwing up epiphanies not considered at the birth of the scale design.

Depending on the commission, the practical processes will always be a ‘horses for courses’ set of choices, as you can read in my first blog ‘If turner had a spray gun’ – this can mean any combination art working for a contemporary artist.

The full size cartoon for The Illumination Window for Durham Cathedral was revealed to the project team recently – as I moved forward with the glass in my hands.


Baptism Vessel for Christ Church Kensington

In December I spent a joyful session enamelling on steel. Among the pieces I created was a baptism vessel to grace a new font designed by architect Charles Sheppard.

We look forward to seeing the ‘jewel-like’ hand enamelled vessel in place.

The hand enamelled vessel for Christ Church Kensington.

Detail of the hand enamelled vessel for Christ Church Kensington.



Birdham, St James Update

The facade commission for St james at Birdham has been taking shape, and so is the structure of the building itself. The two will come together next year.

The progressive glass work will span two floors.

The working drawings or cartoons for my installations can often be as invigorating as the glasswork it generates. Although in the early stages of the commission samples conveyed the meaning of tiny scale designs.

It’s going to be an exciting and unusual installation.

The new extension takes shape at St James Birdham, Sussex. The old and the new fabric together.

The new extension takes shape at St James Birdham, Sussex. The old and the new fabric together.

A Vibrant Installation – Otford Methodist Church, Kent

A major contemporary scheme has been installed in two phases at Otford Methodist Church in Kent. This has involved designing glasswork for both the interior and exterior of the newbuild architecture.

Firstly, an elevated and suspended glass cross was given centre stage upon a generous curved dais. The cross forms a focal point to worship within the very modern arena. This textured glasswork is spacial and subtle – further brought to life by coloured light.

In September we installed the large south elevation window. This is a blaze of vivid and rhythmic colour in contrast to the cross. The design is intuitive and free thinking. It is a vibrant expression of faith that faces out into the community, and also brings the focus of worship into the church.

I’ve been working on this wonderful scheme for some while and it has been fantastic to see it come together this year.

Images coming shortly on our website.

Mel Howse during the installation of the south window for Otford OMC.

Mel Howse during the installation of the south window for Otford Methodist Church.

Durham Cathedral Update – Taking Templates

Work is ongoing for my commission for Durham Cathedral. I was there last month with John Mahoney, taking templates for the new stained glass window I am making.

Being close up to the North Quire Aisle window gave me an even fuller sense of the size and shape of this window; its position within the building, and sight lines. This is very helpful as I continue to build on the artwork.

The view from the scaffolding made me appreciate the sheer scale of this incredible building, and the detail of the stonework was a reminder that despite scale this awesome piece of architecture is handmade.

Mel Howse taking templates for the new stained glass window at Durham Cathedral.

Mel Howse high up on the scaffolding outside Durham Cathedral during taking templates for the new stained glass window.

Art Glass Facade for Birdham.

This Summer has been packed with making artwork, getting new projects moving forward and installing designs now made real.

Some of these commissions have been in the planning for a number of years, and so I am elated that construction works at St James Church in Birdham, Sussex have started on site, with a brave and beautiful new extension designed by architect Richard Meynell. I am commissioned to create 24m2 of art glass work for the entirety of the new East elevation. The architectural art has been designed to compliment the architect’s design, and the vision for the glass design was created as an integral part of this scheme’s development since 2012. So there is great excitement that the project is underway and, as ever, my approach is unconventional and will bathe the interior of the building in light.


The Lord Mayor of London: Stained Glass Coat of Arms Unveiled

I was delighted to be asked by The Worshipful Company of Painter Stainers, to create in stained glass the coat of arms of the Lord Mayor of London Andrew Parmley.

The stained glass panel features the motto ‘Deus Tibi Parmula Fortis’ which maybe translated as ‘God is a strong shield to you’. The scallop shell also appears in the design, representing St James of Compostella, Patron Saint of St James Garlickhythe where Andrew Parmley has been the organist for over 30 years. Another notable feature are two blue cats above the helm, symbols of natural strength, agility, wisdom and learning.

The window is installed in the Great Hall at Painters Hall in London, where it was unveiled by the Lord Mayor on 25th May 2017 at The Barnett Dinner celebrations.

The new coat of arms, of The Lord Mayor of London, Andrew Parmley. Unveiled on 25th May 2017.

The new coat of arms, of The Lord Mayor of London, Andrew Parmley. Unveiled on 25th May 2017.

New Work in Enamelled Steel for St Cuthbert’s, Portsmouth.

In March 2017 I spent a concentrated and inventive time working on a new commission for an enamelled steel reredos at St Cuthbert’s Church in Copnor, Portsmouth.

This is my second commission from St Cuthbert’s, and the reredos was commissioned to match our ‘Vortex’ font completed in 2013.  The visual combination of the decorative backdrop, and the sculpted font will create a brave and unique coupling, bringing the visual centre of the worship space to the altar.

The reredos, measuring 2.5m wide x 5m high, was created during an intense period of creativity at A J Wells & Sons.  Wells created some beautiful bespoke colours for the piece which were a delight to use. I worked the enamels for long hours between firings, in order to realise this complex composition.  My time at the factory culminated in a visit from the client who, I think it is fair to say, were amazed and elated at the scale and finish of the artwork that had unfolded.

It is always a joy to bring a concept to life; and the challenge of wrestling the composition and colour into submission at full scale is also creatively thrilling.

The reredos is finally lifted into position by the installation team.

The reredos is finally lifted into position by the installation team.


Paul Nash (1889 – 1946) Tate Britain

We are nearing the end of a quite magnificent exhibition at Tate Britain.

I have been influenced by the painter Paul Nash since a teenager when I discovered a family link to him, so the chance to experience this extensive collection of his life’s work was a delight. The exhibition sets out a complete artistic life, with all the changes in creative style and ideas, that that brought forth.

Concepts that threaded through his career included: flight, the personality of inanimate objects, and the ‘genius loci’ or spirit of a place. He was also a war artist.

I first saw Nash’s work at Pallant House, Chichester in the late 1980’s. As a teenager looking for a creative path I was struck that Nash had managed to make a living out of his art. His painting was meaningful, and good enough to be publicly displayed. He was brave enough to put forward new ideas which made an impact on British Modernism, and he became a leading figure in British Surrealism.

The first time I engaged with Nash’s painting was a pivotal moment for me. Indeed it influenced my need to enter a field of art where my work would be functional and spacial, both aesthetically and physically. Nash’s often abstracted portrayal of the ‘unseen’ was mysterious and inspirational to my vivid imagination.

Paul Nash embraced many areas of design in his time. He explored designs for interiors and architecture, and discussed his views on the modern aesthetic in ‘Room and Book’ his publication of 1932. In it he champions the designs of Robert Adam as having the vision to create perfect harmony. In his chapter on Modern English Furniture he talks at length about the Omega Workshops and the degeneration of this design style into factory products. He also says ’The desire for a definite harmony of forms and colours and textures is more and more apparent. It is in the expression of this desire – however inadequate it may be – that I see a groping for that thread that still links us with tradition. We are searching, not for old styles, but for the principles of our past that we may create a new thing’.

My feeling is that had Paul Nash lived to take his art and into further new mediums, and to greater scales, he would have enjoyed it very much. We can but marvel at what he achieved in such a short time, during and between world wars.

A design for block printed linen in four colours - a Paul Nash design from 'Room and Book' 1932

A design for block printed linen in four colours – Paul Nash from ‘Room and Book’ 1932

' The Modern Aesthetic' Chapter 1. Room and Book written by Paul Nash and published in 1932.

‘ The Modern Aesthetic’ Chapter 1. ‘Room and Book’ 1932.