Open the door of any stained glass studio and you’ll see benches covered in glass shards and wooden cases of lead. Mediaeval-looking hand tools, jars of paintbrushes, wooden battens, paint and stain tests, coloured glass samples and rescued fragments from old panels propped up on the window ledges. Not a place, in other words, where computers seem particularly essential. Peek further though, behind the glass easel and into the office, and you’ll find the control centre for our trade, like all modern businesses, is digital.
A few years ago I wrote a post on the design-related software I was using in my stained glass practice, and many people commented they were surprised just how much use was made of the computer. Despite the fact we work using techniques virtually unchanged in a millennia, we use e-mail. We have business websites. Cloud storage. Accounts. Advertising, Marketing and promotion. CRM. Sales. Inspiration. Research. Teaching. Project management...
Since I wrote the original piece on design tools, many aspects of technology have changed. I’ve found I’ve swapped a few apps in and out, partly in response to improvements in the usability of mobile devices (especially the multi-tasking capabilities of the iPad), but also because there has been a change in the work coming through the studio. As we’ve taken on more complex restoration jobs and I spend more time on site than previously, the need for fast, simple tools to keep everything organised has become paramount. Most of the apps I now use are available on both iOS and MacOS, sync seamlessly, and are fast, efficient and make capturing information, responding to enquiries and designing new work easier and faster.
What follows below is a list of the apps that I use most frequently. It is not exhaustive, nor prescriptive, and simply illustrates some of the many tools available to the contemporary stained glass practice.
Ironically, the final app in the list (Scanbot, an iOS app which uses the camera on your phone to produce high resolution scans) has probably become more important as I have slowly incorporated more traditional drawing methods into my practice - it acts as the link between the analogue and digital worlds stained glass makers exist in. As digital tools have developed, the boundaries between traditional materials and methods have become more blurred for me. All these tools make the workflow of moving a window from initial enquiry to installation a little bit simpler for me, and I hope you find something on the list that’s useful in the way you work.
For collecting, cataloguing and researching images I’ve found no better tool than Pixave. The easy import, watched folders, intuitive tagging, lightning quick search and multiple export options mean that Pixave has replaced Zootool as my image archiving tool.
If you have to write anything longer than an email (for me it’s often condition reports, insurance valuations, and conservation reports), look no further than Ulysses. Deceptively simple at first glance, this app packs a huge punch. There are a huge number of online reviews which describe Ulysses’ huge feature set, so dive in and see if it’s for you. (Previous choice: nvAlt, which I would still recommend for quick note taking on the Mac).
Everyone needs a task manager. I’ve moved to Todoist from Omnifocus for a number of reasons, but the main one is the ability to share tasks. Simple, powerful and versatile enough to scale from shopping lists to large projects, Todoist is a web service so you can tick those boxes anywhere.
An iOS sketching app that combines layers, custom brushes and a lightning fast sketching engine into an approachable and fun to use software package. Procreate encourages digital sketching in an almost paper-like way, but also handles scanned paper drawings for inking well due to improvements in the way files are handled in recent versions of iOS. I wrote this post recently describing how I use this app and Affinity Designer to develop ideas from sketch to glass easel. (Previous choice: Sketchbook Pro).
Goodbye Adobe Illustrator, hello Affinity Designer. An affordable, versatile vector based drawing desktop package with an excellent selection of brushes, Affinity Designer facilitates everything from quick inking of sketches to precise CAD drawing of cutlines. I primarily use the mouse to draw now, but I suspect that in the near future (once Affinity Designer is available on iOS) I’ll move to the iPad for this process. (Previous Choice: Adobe Illustrator).
When it gets messy out there, Omniplan has your back. Omniplan is a simple to use, full-featured project management app for keeping complex work programmes in check. If you know a better way of determining how long it will take four people working different part time schedules to make 19 windows starting on February 8th on a project running over the Easter holidays, let me know in the comments…
This is an app I found completely by accident. I was working on a custom database solution for a way to catalogue a series of window images, with details on size, condition and conservation proposals that I could share with a client. Frustrated by my lack of progress (due entirely to my lack of skills in online database development) I started searching for a ready made solution and discovered Airtable.
You can use Airtable as a simple online spreadsheet to share a table of data, but when you start linking sheets and exploring the various data presentation options (like Galleries or Calendars), a whole new way of collating and sharing information opens up. Watch the intro video if you think it might be for you, but you’re just not sure.
If databases aren’t for you, or you simply prefer to organise things visually, Mind Maps are a fantastic way of displaying and understanding tangled, messy heaps of data. Structuring a conservation report? Writing a proposal for a series of new windows? Jot your ideas down, jiggle the components around and output a structured outline to any number of apps. As well as PDF, DOCX and the more common outlining formats such as OPML and Markdown, Mindnode supports the relatively new Textbundle file format, allowing text and images to be transferred simply between a number of apps.
This iOS app is the neatest, most powerful piece of software I’ve picked up on over the last year or so, thanks to the advice of Fraser and Frederico on the Canvas podcast. Workflow allows you to build combinations of actions in different apps, to automate repetitive tasks. You can choose ready made actions (e.g. to save photos to Dropbox, you combine the “Get Photos” and “Save to Dropbox” actions) or script your own.
The actions are simple drag and drop building blocks, and you can chain as many as you wish together - for example, once you’ve saved those images to Dropbox, you can extract the Dropbox URL, populate an email with that link and automatically email it to someone.
Workflow actions I use frequently include a simple workflow to delete all the Instagram images and screenshots in my phone’s photo album, and another to generate re-useable packing lists for site work. In a more complex scenario, I have a one button workflow which sets up a new project, creates a folder in Dropbox, extracts contact details from the enquiry email and pre-fills an email response with those details and some pre-written text blocks which I can edit to before sending. All kinds of awesome.
With the improvements in pen-based tablet sketching apps in both OSX and iOS, I’ve found myself scanning paper and pencil sketches to use in a digital form more often. Rather than keeping a big old flat-bed scanner around, I use Scanbot via the camera on my phone to automatically upload scans of drawings to Dropbox.
TIP: If you do have a flatbed scanner, it's a great way of scanning glass artwork at 1:1 if you need to keep a record of designs, or to recreate a damaged section. Carefully pop the glass section on the scanner and set your resolution as high as you need.