Stained glass is often associated with the windows of churches and cathedrals, so the last thing that they’d remind people of is traditional tattoos. Through the right eyes, though, the similarity between these disparate art forms is plain as day. Gina Ferrara illustrates how the two mediums are aesthetically related by translating designs by tattooists into beautiful glasswork. The soldering in her pieces resembles bold line work, and the vibrant panes she uses look just like the color palettes in body art. When sunlight shines through her creations, they glow with warmth, giving the tattoo imagery they’re based on an divine aura.
Though Ferrara has been an admirer of the arts and a tattoo collector for a long time, she only started learning to make stained glass over the last decade. “Not too long after I first started using Instagram about 6 years ago, I started to follow this incredible stained glass artist out of Brooklyn named Twiggy Levy,” says Ferrara. “She had posted one day about needing an intern to help with her website so I emailed her on a whim. I loved her work and wanted more than anything to learn a craft.”
“Twiggy decided in exchange for helping her around the studio, she would teach me stained glass. It was the greatest gift I've ever gotten,” Ferrara continues. “I learned so much from her, and I am thankful everyday. We talk pretty regularly and exchange pictures of our works in progress. Her advice is priceless.” Since learning the art form, Ferrara has been refining her own style through experimenting with various patterns to discover how they translate into glass.
“Drawing patterns is a meditation for me. I've always loved mandalas and sacred geometry, as well as Catholic iconography. I'll sit at my drafting table and draw and redraw pieces until the pattern is perfect,” Ferrara explains. “There are so many ways a pattern can go wrong — whether the glass pieces end up being too difficult to cut or the piece is not stable once it is finished. The pattern is so important.”
Aside from from creating her own designs, Ferrara has collaborated with tattooists to transform their compositions into glasswork. Some of the pieces that she’s produced are even based on body art that she received from them.
“Some of my earliest tattoos were done by Robert Ryan, and his tattoos and paintings have been a huge inspiration for my work and life. I made several large mandala and flower pieces heavily influenced by the tattoos on me,” says Ferrara. “Twiggy introduced me to Hillary Fisher White and she was a big influence on my work as well. One of the tattoos she did for me is a simple butterfly on my wrist, and I went home and almost immediately made it for her in glass. The old cathedral glass primary colors perfectly captured the boldness of the tattoo.”
Working with various tattooists not only inspires Ferrara, it helps her push her style in new directions. “Sheila [Marcello] is such an amazing artist, and was so quick to understand the basics of how a pattern should be designed for stability and beauty,” Ferrara explains. “She has drawn me so many great patterns. My favorite is the giant tiger that hangs in her dining room. What's special about Sheila is her perfect color choices. She pushes the envelope, and I'm able to use some really incredible iridescent glass to try to capture the feeling of her tattoos.”
Collaboration also forces Ferrara to experiment with a variety of motifs, ranging from classic iconography like roses and reapers to more elaborate folk art designs. “I was commissioned by Mario Desa to recreate one of his amazing folk birds in glass,” Ferrara recounts. “It translated almost too easily into the medium, and I loved making it. While I love drawing my own patterns, it's really incredible to see someone else's work come to life.”
Ferrara plans on conspiring with more tattooists in the future to keep honing her craft. She’s ambitious about her art, and only wants to make it bigger and better. “I would love to create more large-scale pieces and push the boundaries of my work. I am developing my own style as I go and try not to do the same thing twice. At the moment I'm trying to finish up some personal projects, like this giant Immaculate Heart of Mary,” says Ferrara. “I love trading other artists for glass. I love giving glass as a gift. I just love to focus on making things for the people I love, and I never keep any pieces for myself.”